OAKLAND -- Nate Freiman had mixed emotions after he got the game-winning hit, a bloop single to left with the bases loaded off all-time great pitcher, all-time great guy, for-sure-first-ballot Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera. Freiman, who grew up a Red Sox fan, said he never could root against Rivera, now in his last big-league season. This season is Rivera's victory lap.
I, on the other hand, could root against Rivera. I wanted Freiman to murder him. No nostalgia for me. I was desperate.
I had sat through 18 innings at O.Co. Coliseum. The game was so long I'm sure the Coliseum had a different name when the game started. Heck, when the game started — it seemed like years before — I was a young man with hair and I had my whole life ahead of me.
I sat in the press box thinking the game never would end and I never again would see my wife or my lovely grandchildren, or read a book, or drink a glass of Dry Creek zinfandel. Or hear another voice in my ear besides A's radio announcers Ken Korach and Vince Cotroneo. I'm crazy about those guys, but after 18 innings, I hoped they would develop laryngitis. Maybe they did.
Don't get me wrong. I love baseball. I love Rivera. But there is no room for sentiment when your life is slipping away, when you know people are going out to dinner, are having romantic times, are strolling along the Embarcadero in San Francisco eating a shrimp roll. And you're attending a game that would go five hours and 35 minutes. When I go to heaven, I'll tell Saint Peter I want that time back and he'll laugh in my face and say I should have been a taxidermist.
When Rivera came into the game it was the bottom of the 18th and the seagulls were invading the ballpark. Even they wondered what was taking so long. Rivera looked noble on the mound, but he has lost speed on that cutter he throws, and he's ancient, 43, and I felt a bloodlust in the core of my being. I knew he was vulnerable and I whispered to the A's, "Kill him."
It was him or me.
He immediately gave up a single to Seth Smith. John Jaso, already on base, ran to third. There was only one out. This felt good.
Before Jed Lowrie came to the plate, Freiman told himself Rivera would intentionally walk Lowrie, a switch hitter, and pitch to Freiman because he's a right-handed hitter and Rivera used to own righties. And that's exactly what happened.
Rivera made a good pitch to Freiman, a 92-mph cutter. Freiman called the pitch Rivera's "deal." It used to be a big deal. Freiman swung and the ball shattered his bat, but the ball found a soft place in left field, and Jaso scored the winning run. And I was free.
Free at last. Hallelujah. Free at last.
Freiman, dear soul that he is, saved the ruined bat as a souvenir. It wasn't only that it won a game. Sure, that was part of it. The bigger part was this — Mariano Rivera had thrown a ball that touched his bat, and he would hold onto that religious relic for the rest of his life. Frei-man also kept the game-winning ball and humbly will ask Rivera to sign it.