“This pitcher’s name is Sam Moll. Sam Moll…” came the voice from my left. Shin-Soo Choo had just hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning to end Raul Alcantara’s night, and subsequently his 2017 season. It was Choo’s 22nd home run, which tied his career high for a single season (a mark he had hit twice before: 2010 in Cleveland and 2015 in Texas). This is the minutae you expect to read in a baseball article, and there will be more of it in a moment. But first, there was an ellipsis to be untangled, and a voice to be identified to you, the reader.
I waited a beat, as I sometimes do when I hear the voice to my left. I don’t know why; I know I’m about to learn something interesting. But sometimes I wait, because the season is long and games this time of year tend to feel longer, and a second killed is a second passed.
“Sam Moll…” the voice repeated, waiting for an audience. I turned and looked at T.R. Sullivan, the MLB.com beat writer who has covered the Rangers for 29 years. I consider T.R. to be a mentor. We don't agree about everything, but there is not a trace of doubt that he cares about me, and every other writer that he has helped to shape as they come through this press box. T.R. can recite just about every intern he's had since he joined MLB.
He can also recite every capital city on the continent of Africa. I learned this in Spring Training this year; I was skeptical, so I pulled up a list and he rattled them off. He is known to tweet about the phases of the moon and 1960s NFL trivia; the man helped Mel Didier write a book. So when he puts an ellipsis on a half-sentence, you listen, even if you first procrastinate for no good reason.
“Alright, Levi,” he said, once I had turned. “What great American poem contains the words ‘Sam’ and ‘Moll’ in the first stanza?”
“Is 'moll' spelled the same?” I asked, as if I would know the answer if the poem contained the word “mole” instead of “moll”. I love poetry, and I can disappear inside a book of Pablo Neruda’s words about love and romance; I used to pick apart Edgar Allan Poe’s rhyme patterns when I first started writing songs. But I am a poor excuse for a poetry fan. I couldn’t have answered this question if the game had gone fifty innings.
“There are strange things done in the midnight sun, by the men who moll for gold,” T.R. began. “The Arctic trails have their secret tales that would make your blood run cold / The Northern Lights have seen queer sights, but the queerest they ever did see / Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge / I cremated Sam McGee.”
“The Cremation of Sam McGee” was published in 1907 by Robert W. Service, a poet who did not in fact cremate one of his friends, but who did spend a lot of time in the Yukon during the Gold Rush of the late 19th century. The whole poem takes about five minutes to read aloud, a feat you can hear Johnny Cash accomplish here.
The Rangers won 5-3 tonight. Martin Perez finished his season with a strong outing, entering the 7th inning having allowed just three hits, and while his night (and season) ended on a three-run home run to Renato Nuñez (it was the first of Nuñez’ career), the Rangers already had a 5-0 lead by then. Nomar Mazara’s first-inning single made it 2-0, and gave Mazara 99 RBI on the season. It followed an Elvis Andrus double, and when Andrus crossed the plate, he had surpassed the marks of 300 total bases and 100 runs scored on the season. In the fifth, three more runs: a Shin-Soo Choo two-run home run and a Willie Calhoun RBI single. Calhoun had three hits on the night, boosting his batting average from .182 to .269.
After the game, Banister would speak in approving tones of Calhoun’s performance. “Everything he's doing now has got to give him a great confidence to finish out the year,” the manager began. “…and go into the offseason feeling good about himself, ready to come to Spring Training ready to compete for a job.”
For Calhoun’s part, he just said that he has been focusing the last couple of games on “slowing the game down,” a phrase we hear often in this clubhouse. Pressed to expound, he smiled a little. “I just try to really relax and just think to myself ‘it’s just a game’. And (think) that I’m supposed to be having fun with it, not stressing about it and not taking it-- obviously, I take it really serious, but just trying to have fun with everything.”
The 5-3 mark on the scoreboard would hold through a dominant Keone Kela 7th, a tempestuous Jake Diekman 8th, and an uneventful Alex Claudio 9th. With the win, the Rangers ensured that they will not finish in last place in the A.L. West, which is a small thing, but it is an important thing.
After the game, I looked up the lyrics to “The Cremation of Sam McGee”.
“T.R…” I left an ellipsis of my own until I knew that he was listening.
“I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it’s moil.”
“By the men who moil for gold.”
“I know,” he said. “I must confess that I do know that.”
The 2017 season has not been a successful one for the Rangers, and there comes a time when even the most ardent fan is content to let the scorched earth regrow over the winter. But there are only two games left to hear stories about 1961 Giants or the the time in late December 1967 when Washington blocked a punt in the end zone and scored a safety, beating Pittsburgh 15-10 or the cremation of Sam McGee. I will miss that over the winter as well.
These are small things, but they are important things.