Anyone else remember the early-90s wacky football classic Necessary Roughness? Texas Somethin' Armadillos? Bad team, rough but well-meaning coach? Scott Bakula as the forty year-old hot-shot freshman QB? Some lady in the role of Sally Kellerman from Back to School? Sinbad? Kathy Ireland as the proto-Sue Mercer? Search your feelings; you know it be true.
A quick aside about Necessary Roughness - one that relates to baseball, I might add: I didn't see the movie in the theater, but, by my recollection, it battled it out with The Last Boy Scout for Best Picture honors that year. So I was intrigued one October Saturday night in 1992 when it appeared on HBO. Homecoming night, as I recall. And I recall this because I was there with my date at her friend's house. Big house, Italian family. The friend's parents were out of town. I think it was mob business. Anyway, we were supposed to have dinner at this big mob house and then go to the dance, but dinner was postponed on account of the friend's boyfriend getting his car stuck in some mud while driving off-road for the purpose of hiding . . . well, I always assumed it wasn't milk or grape juice. And believe you me, this car was stuck like Jack Cust between third and home. His extraction efforts futile, he was about to give up and bum a ride back to the mob house when an inquiring county police officer took an interest in his activities. Officer Friendly thought it appropriate to inform the lad's father about his son's struggles. I am certain pop appreciated the notice.
Back to the mob house, where the father's son's girlfriend was so stressed out she forgot to bake the lasagna - she put it in the oven and then couldn't figure out why it was not getting unfrozen and edible. The rest of us were watching . . . Necessary Roughness. And just before the climatic game between the Armadillos and somebody generic (mighty North Texas State A&M, I reckon), through the front door came the mob daughter's boyfriend. The first thing I noticed was the guy was running. I thought this strange. Perhaps he needed to avail himself of the little boy's room? Maybe, but then I noticed the fella's father running after him. I thought that even more strange. What was he doing there? Did he likewise need to make use of the facilities? It was a big mob house, so I figured appropriate accommodations could be made. And then I noticed the father was brandishing a baseball bat. Maybe he was headed to The Diamond and made a wrong turn? No; it was late October, after all.
Just as the winning field goal or trick play or trick play-involving-a-fake-field-goal or whatever it was succeeded on the tube, we observed the kid sprinting up the stairs with his father - bat still at the ready; I think it was an open stance - gaining ground in a hurry. The staircase in the fancy mob house was exposed, and it led into a hallway overlooking the living room. So we saw everything. And everything would include the poor kid balling his eyes out and hurriedly locking himself in a bedroom, his father pounding at the door all cartoon-style.
My date's friend - the kid's presumably mob-related girlfriend - made some calls or something, and eventually the father was mollified. He took his leave, and we didn't have lasagna. But at least I'd seen Necessary Roughness.
I recently took in a second viewing of Necessary Roughness. It was on Encore. I don't understand what it is with that network. It shows generally crap movies, but I routinely get sucked in on weekday evenings at like 10 or 11 pm. And I hardly ever watch any television unless it's baseball or History Channel footage of World War I soldiers running really fast-like or blowing things up. Just yesterday, my dear grandmother called me at work. A transcript of our conversation:
- Hey, did you see So-and-So's the father?
- Who's So-and-So?
- The father of the baby.
- Whose baby?
- Oh. No, I hadn't.
Well, like I said, I watched Necessary Roughness on Encore, and trust me that this relates to tonight's rather stunning victory over the Braves.
At some point in the movie - probably after Bakula scores with Kellerman Light, or perhaps after the stock Togetherness Sixties Pop Tune Rendition and Dance Party - the Armadillos start turning it around. It's inexplicable, really. And their first evidence of improvement is against . . . Kansas, I think. Here's a team getting routinely pulverized 73-0, and the next thing you know the scoreboard says three-zip. Against Kansas, a real school. I even think the Jayhawk jerseys and logo were used. If I were Coach Mangino, I might sue retroactively.
Lord only knows why the 'Dillos were hanging around in this particular games, but they were. Ireland ended up kicking a late field goal, and the result of game (to use a Baseball Stars phrase) was a tie. Which, the point was, might as well have been a win for such an awful team.
Tonight, the Nats hung around in an inexplicably close, low-scoring affair. Jason Bergmann fashioned his best Nick Neugebauer impersonation, walking everyone except for the guys he struck out. Heading into the fifth inning, I do believe every Atlanta plate appearance had ended in one of three possible results: (1) a walk, (2) a strikeout, or (3) a fly ball to Ryan Church. And the fly outs were more notable (including Church's catch near the wall on John Smoltz's inning-ending drive) than frequent.
I'm not sure how, but Bergmann's night was a success despite teetering toward disaster on multiple occasions, mainly early on. He walked the first two batters and then struck out the side. It seemed like Chipper and Andruw strode to the plate with RBI opportunities abounding, but they never broke through. Bergmann pitched six innings of one-hit, four-walk, eight-strikeout ball, matching the great John Smoltz frame for frame.
Despite Bergmann's effort, it didn't really seem like the Nats should be in it. Smoltz was also cruising, and the early innings had inflated Bergmann's pitch count, so you knew he'd be handing over the contest to a worked-over bullpen. But, as with the Armadillos, it held together. Following an eight inning uprising, the Nats were celebrating too.
So it's a win - a nice win, but nice wins don't count double in the next morning's paper. We consequently happen upon a fundamental difference between a big league baseball season of 162 games and, say, a pro football of one-tenth that length. In football, this kind of win (worst over best, or thereabouts) would inspire a week of rejoicing or, more likely, wailing and gnashing of teeth concerning the better team. It would be seen as a big event, like when Cincy knocked off KC, the last unbeaten team, three or four seasons ago. But in baseball, it's a frustrating loss for the Braves, but those things happen. And it's a very nice win for the Nats, their second, but it's only their second of anywhere between - pick two figures - 45 and 75. There's a lot of space between that handshake, so to speak, and it's the games to come that will decide whether the Nats fit in on the low end or the high end of that range. In other words, some people insist this team will be historically bad, and this victory shouldn't really dispel the notion if you're already inclined to it.
But let's not discuss the future now. We're in the present, and at present the Nats have a winning streak. Much rejoicing. Maybe Felipe and Ronnie and Austin and Dmitri and the Ryans will break out a rendition of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" in the clubhouse.
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A note on the game: When Bergmann was struggling with his command early on, Bob Carpenter and Don Sutton noticed he might be more comfortable working out of the stretch. This makes sense, considering Bergmann's minor league walk rate went down after he was made a reliever. Carpenter suggested the possibility Bergmann could pitch out of the stretch exclusively, even as a starter. Sutton said he couldn't remember a pitcher doing that. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I recall Frank Wills doing just that for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1989. I think I remember that because I must have watched the Blue Jays on a Saturday game of the week and Tony Kubek made mention of him doing that. I recall thinking it was strange. However, the record reflects Wills making only four starts for the Jays in '89 and four in '90, as he was mainly a reliever those years.