At this point, I don’t even like looking at the scoreboard. It got easier when the division slipped out of reach and I could just root for the Rays to beat everybody, but the rest is kind of muddy. Do I want the Red Sox to push the Blue Jays further back in the wildcard race, or do I want Boston to lose so the Yankees might be able to host the wildcard game? And what to make of the Oakland-Seattle series? Would it be better for one team to sweep the other, or would a split be better? It’s just too much.
Such is the nature of a pennant race, especially one augmented (or bastardized, depending on your point of view) with so many extra spots. I remember seasons when there was nothing more boring than September baseball, as the Yankees and I basked in the glory of a double-digit division lead and looked at the playoffs as a birth right rather than a pipe dream.
Ah, but times have changed. It’s natural to look at each one of these games as life and death, to curse our luck and load a dropped foul ball with the weight of an entire season, but we all know the truth. There is no greater measuring stick in all of sports than the 162-game Major League Baseball season. When each of those games has been tallied, you are, as another New York coach once famously said, what your record says you are. These Yankees won’t look back at a dropped popup, a six-run ninth inning, or any of various trips to the injured list. You can’t pinpoint anything in this haystack full of needles; the pinpoints are everywhere.
The irony of baseball’s playoff expansion is that while it may have created more excitement in some corners of the country, it’s diluted it in others. Out in California, many are making the argument that the Giants and the Dodgers are the two best teams in baseball. Were it not for the wildcard, this would be a playoff race for the ages, but both teams are already making postseason plans. (The Dodgers, sadly, having built one of the best starting rotations in recent memory, a stable of pitchers that will make them the favorites in any postseason series, face the possibility of elimination in a wildcard game without any of their superior depth coming into play. Will it be exciting? Certainly. Is it what baseball is meant to be? Absolutely not.) Oh, and because baseball refuses to fix inequitable brackets, the Giants’ (or Dodgers’) reward for having the best record in the National League will be what baseball feels should be the weakest playoff entry, the wildcard team. In this case that means the two best teams in the sport will face off in a first round five-game series. To quote another New York manager, “It’s not what you want.”
But the wildcard allows us to dream. As inept as the Yankees have looked recently and at various times throughout the season, they can still win the World Series, and that’s the downside of the wildcard. In theory, you could put the Baltimore Orioles into the playoffs and watch them win 12 of 20 October games and host a championship trophy in the end. If there is any sport that should not have expanded playoffs, it’s baseball, but here we are.
And so dream, I will. If the Yankees can finish up business against Texas and then win six or seven of their last nine against Boston, Toronto, and Tampa Bay, there will be at least one more game. At this point that’s all I want. One more game.