Sunday, April 7, 2013

Going Once, Gone Twice: The Brothers Upton and the Odium of Carlos Marmol

It was like they were back home. Back in Norfolk, Virginia. Back before the million dollar deals, the magazine covers, and the glamour of the Major Leagues. Melvin "Bossman Junior" Upton and his younger brother Justin were children again, knocking baseballs around the backyard. It was a simple game then, and last night proved that not much has changed.

Going to the bottom of the ninth, the visiting Chicago Cubs managed to hold onto a 5-4 lead. Carlos Marmol, Chicago's oft-chastised closer, was in to save the victory. He has a habit of making things interesting. Even with the season in its early stages, Marmol had already proven to be virtual revolving door. Allowing the maximum amount of run possible without blowing the game. So in the clear night of spring in Atlanta, push might finally come to shove.

First would be the elder brother, B.J., whose Opening Week struggles were well noted. He finally shook the demons from his back and found his first base hit. Now, down a run, he needed another. If he were to be out here, his singular hit of the season would be quickly forgotten. Big brother came up big. His bat was swift as it had been in years past in Tampa Bay. His eyes presided over the pitch from release to the point of contact. Upton had cast the 3-1 pitch deep to center. Cubs center fielder David DeJesus tracked it to the wall in vain. It was gone. Long gone. Game tied. Turner Field erupted in a hybrid of relief and unbridled joy that their 75 million dollar man had finally proved clutch. As he walked back to the home dugout, shoulders back and chest out, he received a high five of congratulations from the man on deck- his little brother Justin.

Carlos Marmol was shaken. Surely understanding the pressure of the situation, as it was the station of his occupation. He had been the closer on the North Side of Chicago for years. Marmol had lived the highs of being one of the most dominant relief pitchers in baseball. Now, it appeared that those days were a blurred blip set distant in the rear view mirror. He had given up a game tying score to one third of the Braves fresh faced outfield, and knew there was no way he could afford to give up another run if he was to keep his job. The weight of his struggles now latched to his spine. A tie would be a prayer answered.

Two batters later, after dismissing budding superstar Jason Heyward, Justin Upton stepped into the box. Little brother was already one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. Marmol knew that. Upton had already homered in the game, a shot that put Atlanta on the board in the first inning and tied the game at one. His brother had just done likewise in the final frame. Justin could now win the game with one swing. Every kid who plays baseball dreams of hitting a walk off home run. Few ever do. Even fewer get to play baseball with their brother. Hitting home runs in the same game? Hadn't been done since Cal and Billy Ripken did it 17 years ago. No pair of brothers had ever hit home runs to tie and win a game in the same inning. When they were younger, the Uptons had dreamed of a moment like this. Now it was as near a possibility as ever.

Marmol delivered. Upton read the pitch. The bright red seams were order in the chaos. Justin's bat met the 1-2 pitch. As he dropped the bat, he paused to gaze at his colossal result. In that moment, perhaps he realized what he and B.J. had done. As the ball cleared the field, once again over DeJesus, the game ended. Marmol hung his head and walked back silent to the visitors' dugout. The Cubs filed back to the locker room. Justin Upton had hit a walk-off home run. Rounding each base, the hero acknowledged the crowd. Waiting at home, his teammates. Including one he had known his entire life. Two swings had taken the Braves from the hands of defeat and delivered them to victory. No pair of brothers had ever done that. Now the Uptons stand alone in baseball lore.

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