Baltimore Orioles: In twilight, duende touches the DH

Savoring that certain something in the Orioles-Red Sox epic game in Fenway

May 07, 2012|Dan Rodricks

Before we move on to other business, we need to savor that baseball epic on Sunday, when the duende visited the Orioles in Fenway Park. The duende is from the realm of the metaphysical, a certain something that rises from dark corners to imbue flamenco dancers, singers and athletes with perfect skill and grace under pressure. I think I know it when I see it, and I saw it with the Orioles in Boston.

I've presented this theory of the duende at work sparingly over the years. To do otherwise — to suggest its presence in a wishful way, without certainty — risks diminishing its meaning.

"It was what Ted Williams had even when striking out, but Stan Musial lacked when hitting a home run," was how the late jazz critic and Boston Globe columnist George Frazier put it. He meant no disrespect to Mr. Musial; Mr. Frazier was just suggesting something about Mr. Williams — star quality to the nth power, charisma, flair — that his baseball-slugging peer from St. Louis lacked.

In music and other performance art, duende is considered the difference between genius and mere talent, and George Frazier used to compose lists of the duende haves and have-nots. (Fred Astaire had it, but not Gene Kelly; Judy Garland, but not Shirley MacLaine.)

I prefer to see the duende as something ephemeral, appearing here and there, in flashes of brilliance or dramatic irony or perfect chemistry. It is something atmospheric, a spirit you can sense at extraordinary moments.

The expression "tener duende" means "to have what it takes." Federico Garcia Lorca, the Spanish poet, called duende the "energetic instinct" found in great flamenco dancers and matadors. "All one knows," Garcia Lorda wrote, "is that it burns the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, that it rejects all the sweet geometry one has learned, that it breaks with all styles."

So that's why I sensed the duende as evening fell on the East Coast on Sunday and the Orioles and the Red Sox battled to a 6-6 tie through 15, then 16, then 17 innings. That was a game that broke with all styles.

Certainly there have been 6-6 ties before, and extra-inning games before. We've even seen empty bullpens before, and non-pitchers called to pitch. But you could sense something surreal in Sunday's twilight.

And central to the story: Chris Davis, who is a designated hitter and first baseman, was summoned to the mound for the last two innings. He was asked to succeed as a pitcher after having failed miserably as a hitter.

Mr. Davis had struck out five times, the last time in the 10th inning with teammate Nick Markakis on base. At the plate in the 13th inning, Mr. Davis hit a ground ball into a double play. He came to bat in the 15th and, with a chance to knock teammate Matt Wieters in from second base, grounded out. Even in the top of the 17th, after teammate Adam Jones had put the Orioles ahead with a three-run homer, Mr. Davis could not muster a hit off Darnell McDonald, the Red Sox outfielder who had been called to the mound after Boston ran out of relievers. Mr. Davis grounded out to end the 17th. He had been completely skunked at the plate — no hits in eight at-bats.

But you see how the duende works: Sometimes it rises up in the dark moments and puts the performer to the test — the flamenco dancer who needs a final rush of energy to leave her audience in awe; the opera singer who must summon bravura for the perfect finish to her aria; the baseball player who has been asked to save the day.

Mr. Davis already had held the Red Sox scoreless in the 16th. His teammates had pulled off an extraordinary play in that inning, relaying a throw from the Green Monster to home plate to deprive Boston of what would have been the game-winning run.

In the twilight Chris Davis got Mr. McDonald, his non-pitcher pitching opponent, to ground into a game-ending double play. Mr. Davis was 0-for-8 at the plate, but he was the game's winning pitcher. Sighting whales, seeing rainbows, seeing the duende rise in a performer or his team — we have to savor these moments, and fix them in sweet memory, before moving on to other business.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM. His email is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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