There are five common examples of conflict in literature: man versus self, man versus society, man versus nature, man versus technology, and man versus destiny. Writing about an individual baseball player carries similar restraints. Either the player will start off well and end well, start off well and tail off, start off poorly and heat up, or start off poorly and become irrelevant in short order. Those storylines can entail a week, a month, a season, or entire careers.
At the beginning of the season, James Shields was a storytellers dream. Something weird has happened since, though, in that his story has gotten better. Ernest Hemingway created the, “[Noun] is our Paris,” line that transcends his original work, and Shields’ April feels like one last stand reminiscent of the glory days. After the Toronto complete game shutout I told Tommy we had about 28 starts left. Today’s game took another off the table, but not before cementing more joy.
Feelings fade, tears evaporate, and we lose paradise, but what we create during those moments can bring back the memories—if only as a light hum, a ghost, of the original exuberance. Music works in a similar fashion. Perhaps fittingly, Shields has dumped Du Hast as his warm-up song, opting instead for Day N Nite by Kid Cudi. B.J. Upton used the same song as his ditty during the 2009 season—his performance minima. The song, those lyrics, that beat, they bring back the feelings of soured expectations and undesired results.
Shields is overwriting those embittered memories. Few pitchers threaten back-to-back-back complete games, but Shields came within three outs of completing the task. One wonders, had the offense scored more runs (and on today, that can be restated as: Whether Matt Joyce had scored more runs) if Shields had gotten a longer leash. Alas, Joe Maddon played for the win—not individual accomplishment—and that is all you can ask from a manager.
Perhaps the near-completion of a feat is more lasting. Few talk about B.J. Upton’s cycle, but in a year’s time, how many will recall Sam Fuld’s could-have-been cycle? Matt Garza’s no-hitter was thrilling, but his almosts carry weight in memories too. Perfection is the goal that no human can reach. To be perfect is to be inhuman. Flawed is humanity, but not Shields. Not lately, not when he goes eight, strikes out 12 (tying a career-high), and allows a run.
Twenty-seven or so starts to go—make them count.