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There was never any doubt. As he rounded third base in the ninth inning on Saturday, Houston Astros second baseman JosÃ© AltuvÃ© was going to be out by at least 10 feet at home. The diminutive AltuvÃ© was trying to score from first base on a hit into the right-centre gap by Carlos Correa.
With the score tied at one in the ALCS Game Two, AltuvÃ© was the only one who had a chance to make a winner out of Houstonâ€™s veteran pitcher Justin Verlander, whoâ€™d spun a 124-pitch masterpiece to that point. It was also a chance to send the New York Yankees home to the Bronx trailing two games to none, a tough hole.
But if he was thrown out â€“ as seemed likely â€“ it would give the Yanks momentum and the chance to win the game in the 10th inning with Verlander surely pulled from the game. For a franchise that had never won a World Series, having their star thrown out by 10 feet would be more of the pain the franchise had endured over the years.
So AltuvÃ© knew what was risking on his mad dash as he ran past the Astrosâ€™ startled third base coach. Sure enough, the relay throw from Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius came toward a waiting New York catcher Gary Sanchez in plenty of time to get AltuvÃ©. Bad gamble by the Houston sparkplug.
But then the relay throw took a short hop just in front of Sanchez. The Yanks catcher seemed to know who was barreling toward him and the consequences of fielding the throw cleanly. Maybe it was haste to grab the ball to tag the speedy Astros player. Maybe it was the knowledge that AltuvÃ© was a crafty player whoâ€™d likely make a smart slide.
Whatever the reasons, Sanchez bobbled the bounced throw, AltuvÃ© knifed past him to touch home with the winning run in the game. Astros win. Pandemonium in Houston.
How to describe the play? Great might be the best descriptor. AltuvÃ© â€“ whoâ€™ll likely be the AL MVP â€“ is a great player. The timing, the daring, the drama â€“ all very exceptional. You might see a play that dynamic in a playoff game once a year. If that. Great by any definition.
But the five-letter word great has become the most overworked superlative in sports. Its currency to mark out something unique is as worthless as a Confederate dollar. Great is now used to describe everything that we used to call terrific, excellent, exceptional, brilliant. Itâ€™s also used to describe things we used to call interesting, okay, pleasing and diverting.
â€œWhat a great play!â€ â€œHeâ€™s a great player.â€ â€œThat was a great move.â€ The Rod Black vocabulary. Used so casually, it robs the true meaning of AltuvÃ©â€™s audacious dash in Game Two. Or the stoic effort of Verlander â€“ a sure Hall of Fame pitcher â€“ as he mowed down the New Yorkers with a mix from his arsenal of pitches.
AltuvÃ© is a great player, one of the top five players in baseball at the moment. But if you listen to the TV talking heads or the radio voices, Kevin Pillar of the Blue Jays is a great player. As is catcher Russell Martin. So are any number of good players who make the occasional notable play on the diamond.
The same in hockey. Sidney Crosby is a great player. But Phil Kessel is also called a great player. So is P.K. Subban. And Milan Lucic. When all that they do is exhibit some of the elements that make greatness. Crosby has them all. There might be five great players in the NHL playing at their peak at the moment. But you could stock about 10 teams with the guys broadcasters and pundits deem great.
This abuse of superlatives extends to the word “success” as well. During Game Two, various players were said to have good success against a certain hitter or hitting a particular pitch. Is there bad success?
We donâ€™t need this much great. We need more terrific, excellent, exceptional, brilliant. So that when we have those players, those moments like Game Two we can use the word great and it will resound with us in a warm, satisfying hum at having seen something we will tell people about in 10 years.
Troy Media columnist Bruce DowbigginÂ career includes successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he is also the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster.
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