Saturday, October 06, 2007


I'm not a baseball fan. The season consists of 162 games. There's probably no one that watches the entire season. There isn't enough time. At that point, you just care about the wins and losses. In many ways, baseball makes you care about the race to the postseason but not so much the individual games. One reason that football is so enticing is that the season is 16 games. You worry about one game a week, and fans watch each and every game.

I don't have any particular team I root for. Maybe I'd like the local teams to do well. The Orioles. The Nationals. But both are mildly awful. The Orioles, in particular, are in the same division with the Red Sox and the Yankees. Usually, one wins the division, and the other enters as the wildcard.

I suppose no other sport makes reaching the postseason so meaningful as baseball. At one point, baseball had four divisions, and only the four division winners made it to the postseason. This meant a lot of teams were out of it halfway through the season. However, other teams were often winning division year after year, and they felt it a kind of birthright to make it to the postseason.

The wildcard really made things interesting. The number of divisions went from 4 to 6, and two more wildcards were added. Each of the 6 division winners made it to the postseason. Then, of all the remaining teams, the one with the most wins makes it as the wildcard. This year, the National League had potential for a four way tie. It had a one-game playoff that put the Rockies in over the Padres. The Mets collapsed, despite a 7 game lead with 17 games to play to fail to make the playoffs.

In baseball, the individual games don't matter much. It's the final result. How to accumulate enough wins to make it to the postseason.

I lived with a Red Sox fan, who had lamented their inability to beat the Yankees. Indeed, they hadn't won since 1918. There was a claim that there was a "curse of the Bambino" which referred to Babe Ruth, who was traded to the Yankees, as Ruth then performed his magic for a rival team. The Red Sox were perennially a good team, and had several chances to win over the many decades, but it was in frustration.

In 2004, the Red Sox, winner of the wildcard, faced the dreaded Yankees again. The previous year, they had played til a seventh game, and a Yankee player of little note (but who happened to be the brother of one of the announcers) belted a run, and broke the hearts of Red Sox fans once again.

2004 looked to be even worse. The Red Sox fell back 3-0, and many Red Sox fans felt that this year wasn't meant to be. All that "cowboy up" and a fun bunch were going to lose to New York. Again. But then, they scrapped out a win, in the 12th inning. And they did it again in the next game. And then, they won a third. And it was 3-all, and the Red Sox fans wondered whether their team was just torturing them, just tantalizing them.

Get their hopes up. Get the series tied. And lose it in the seventh. But it didn't happen. The Red Sox took a comfortable lead, and won this series in a way that made up for all the agony of all those years. To come back from 3-0, against the dreaded Yankees, to snatch their obvious, ordained victory from them, to wipe the smug "Well, you guys played hard" from their faces, was all the more sweet.

Of course, they still had to win the World Series, but that was anti-climatic. It was a sweep.

Since then, neither the Red Sox or Yankees have won, but the Red Sox seem to take as much glee in the Yankees not winning as them winning, as the likelihood of the Yankees losing in the postseason is more likely than the Red Sox winning it all. And given their postseason success, having them not achieve their yearly goals of winning it all gives Sox fans such delight.

Perhaps for that reason, and perhaps because the Orioles are nearby, that I will root for the Yankees to lose. I don't really despise them because I simply don't care about baseball that much, but it makes watching games more interesting. If you can't find a team you like, then the second best thing is to find a team you dislike. And it's no more fun than watching during the postseason, when things really matter.

But that's the kind of fun the postseason is, provided you care about who wins and who loses. Most people find the fascination of sports about the silly passions we have for one team or another, and the uncertainty of who will win, and the improbability of winning in some situations.

Baseball, for instance, is such a defensive sport, that being down one run can mean a loss. This is not basketball, where it's hard to stop points from being scored. Since one run can be the difference, and since pitchers are so good, baseball often brings stuff to the brink. The pitcher gets one person out, then another.

A player gets on base. Another is walked.

And so it happened last night. The Indians were up 1-0 in the series. The Yankees had a tenuous 1-0 lead. Then, the midges came out, like some Biblical plague, and swarmed the field. These miniature relative of the mosquitoes don't bite, but they do annoy, as bugs are wont to do. Most of the pitchers had bug spray to dissuade the midges.

Joba Chamberlain wasn't so lucky. The pun-masters were out. As crafty and successful a pitcher as he had been all season, the midges wouldn't leave him alone, and he couldn't control his pitches, eventually, giving up a run, letting the Indians tie it.

And it went to extra innings.

Manuel Rivera, the Yankees most celebrated closer, had people on base, but managed to serve his two innings without incident. But closers are special purpose, and despite his success, they didn't want to play him more than two innings. He had done his job.

Luis Vizcaino came in to relieve. And as is common, players get on base, and pretty soon, the bases were loaded. And there were two outs. And it went the full count. Three balls. Two strikes. And it was the bottom of the 11th.

And Travis Hafner struck a shot solidly, and drove in the one run that won the game.

And the Indians were up 2-0.

And the Yankees lost. Again.

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