In what will go down as one of the greatest softball games in morning television history, Team Today outlasted the Zucker All-Stars on Friday, 10-8, in a 15-inning thriller that will be forever seared in the minds of all those who witnessed it.
Team Today struck first, taking a 3-0 lead in the opening inning, but the Execs fought back with five runs in the third. A tight defensive struggle ensued, though Team Today managed to eke out a few more runs to eventually claim a slim advantage (marked, memorably, by Nick Palladino's mammoth home run to right field). In the bottom of the ninth, the Execs found themselves behind, 8-7, with two outs and nobody on. With an exquisite sense of timing, an unidentified member of Zucker's team crushed a deep line drive over Today centerfielder Tiki Barber's head for a game-tying homer (pay no heed to the fact that he missed second base).
And so began an exhilarating and exhausting journey into extra innings. Time after time, Zucker's Ten threatened but failed to score, thwarted by the defensive prowess of Fleschner's Finest. Meanwhile, Zucker and his own squad's fielding frustrated Team Today, as the score remained unchanged -- 8-apiece -- into the 11th...the 12th...the 13th...the 14th...the 15th.
With each inning, the tension reached seemingly impossible heights. Looks of amazement passed between players on each side. Sara Pines's child, who at the start of the game was merely a precocious 3-year-old, had, by the 15th inning, graduated from college. There were even rumors that the president had signed a bipartisan health care reform bill. Can't anybody here score a goddamn run?
Finally, an opening. Top of the 15th. Feliciano Garcia leads off for Team Today with a single to left field. The tension pulls a bit tighter. Next up, Matt Greenfield walks -- and in a quirk of co-ed slow-pitch softball rules, because a woman, Stephanie Giambruno, is up next, she has the option of also accepting a base on balls. She accepts.
Suddenly, the bases are loaded with nobody out. The idea of scoring a run, still, is not to be believed. But up comes Marc Victor, Team Today's steadfast pitcher.
At this point, things get hazy. Maybe it was the heat, the dehydration, or the utter ridiculousness of the entire situation, but most of the players on Team Today entered into something of a collective dream sequence, unsure later of exactly how everything unfolded, but sure of this: Marc Victor got a hit. Marc Victor got a hit!
A clean single to bring in a run. Finally, after five scoreless extra frames, Team Today had regained the lead. Three batters later, another hit by yours truly brought in another run.
So the teams entered the bottom of the 15th with Today ahead, 10-8. Once again, Zucker's side sought to rally, to plate those elusive runs, but the efforts were for naught.
Despite a memorable fight, worthy of victory, the Zucker All-Stars ultimately came up two runs short. And because history is written by the winners, I have focused on the deeds of Team Today.
What has frequently been Today's downfall over the years was, on this day, its greatest strength: defense. From Dana Roecker's magnificent, sprawling, bystander-avoiding catch in left field, to diving outfield grabs by Ryan Osborn and Armen Setrakian, to play after play after play made cleanly and with utter confidence by Jen Wilson at second base, to the most jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, legendary moment of them all: Tiki Barber's throw from centerfield that seemed to defy the laws of physics, gaining velocity as it whistled through the Central Park air, missile-like, reaching a crescendo of speed as it -- CRACK! -- snapped into Marc Victor's glove at home plate, before Victor tagged out a sliding and confused runner who seemed absolutely certain he would score. The play ended an inning, killed a rally, and kept the score tied. And, for a time, anyway, seemed to break Team Zucker's spirits -- and Victor's right thumb.
After the game, there was no trophy presentation and no speeches. Just some bar food and beer, for after the most epic of games, simply being victorious was all the satisfaction Team Today needed.