In my head the baseball season is divided into three distinct parts. The first, of course, begins on Opening Day, a red-letter day on my calendar. (Incidentally, I can’t be bothered with spring training. I know that sounds like blasphemy, but with teams wearing t-shirts instead of uniforms, players with wide-receiver numbers, and pitchers jogging around the warning track while a game is being played, it just doesn’t feel like baseball to me. Sue me.) Those first few weeks of the regular season are like gold, but not for the reasons you think. I’m a Yankee fan, you know, so it’s been sixteen years since I needed the false hope that Kansas City fans cling to in April. For me, those games are a reunion with old friends. “Look, there’s Nick Swisher! And hey, Robinson’s swing looks just as quick as it was last year. Wait a minute, can Derek Jeter possibly have — gulp! — grey hair?” Even Michael Kay’s voice, absent from my living room for six months, is welcomed back with a smile.
The second part of the season begins on a different date each year. The day after the Yankees clinch their playoff spot, I take a break. I have little need for what usually amounts to five or six games of makeshift lineups and anticlimactic results, and the freedom from the nightly pull of the game feels like a vacation. Auditions for the 25th spot on the playoff roster remind me too much of spring training, and after living and dying through 158 games, I just don’t have the energy left to care about who Royce Ring is and whether or not he might make the postseason roster. If I see him standing on the chalk on the first Wednesday of October, I’ll pay attention. (I must admit, though, that I loved Joe Torre’s old tradition of allowing one of the elder Yankees to manage the final game. Who can forget watching Clemens come to the mound to pull David Wells, or, as Emma reminded us, Bernie Williams sending himself to the plate for a pinch hit double. Good times…)
The third part begins today, and it’s the only part that really matters. You sweat and bleed with the team for 162 games spread over six months, and suddenly five games in seven days will determine the value of the season. The Yankees will match up against the Twins in the first round of the playoffs, and I can’t even pretend to be concerned. Sure, once I sit down in front of the TV there will be butterflies, and I’ll get nervous if Minnesota manages to jump out to an early lead, but right now I keep coming back to one thing — it’s the Twins.
We’re not supposed to say things like that. Somehow the characters I string together here are suspected by the superstitious to have some affect on CC Sabathia’s fastball or Alex Rodríguez’s psyche. If I predict victory, or worse yet, if I assume victory, I’m somehow casting some terrible jinx over the team. Rubbish. Jinxes are for little girls who say the same word at the same time and count to ten to silence their best friend. There are no jinxes in baseball.
So here’s how things will go. CC Sabathia is CC Sabathia, so let’s just write down Game 1 as a Yankee win and move on. In Game 2 the Twins have the audacity to pitch Carl Pavano. I can’t find a link to support this, but I’ve also heard that they’ve brought in Jeff Weaver to relieve in that game. This is the Twins’ only hope. Pavano throws eight solid innings, Weaver comes in for the save, and the entire island of Manhattan bursts into flames, taking the Bronx down with it. But since I can’t see that fairy tale coming true, I’ll put my money on the Yanks in that game also.
When the series shifts to New York for Game 3, Phil Hughes will finally get a chance to erase any bad memories he might have of last October when he takes the mound in the potential clincher. Like a lot of folks, I think it might’ve made more sense for Hughes to pitch in Minnesota, but Joe Girardi surely made that decision because he preferred Andy Pettitte over Hughes in a possible Game 5. What Girardi doesn’t know, though, is that there will be no Game 5. Hughes will cruise in Game 3.
Yankees win, the Yankees win. Cue Sinatra.