Has the regular season lost all significance to us as fans?
In the 2010 stretch drive, we watched the Yankees rest their players for the looming Postseason tournament. While there were voices on both sides of the debate, all parties had to agree their was a heirarchy of achievement in which the World Series placed at the top. This reduced the substance of the argument for those of us gunning for the division crown to purely nominal terms.
And the Yankees don’t even hang a little felt pennant unless they win the Series.
But we marginalize the regular season at our own peril. Sooner or later, and possibly even this year, it’s all we’ll have. In those years, I don’t intend to stop being a fan, so I think it’s a good idea to try to realign priorities in order to make that fandom possible. After all, what value is the regular season if losing out on the World Series invalidates everything that preceded it?
Baseball viewed through the prism of the postseason ignores the fact the foundations of championships extend all the way back into April, and even into surrounding seasons. It’s an iceberg viewed from an airplane – most of the mass is underwater.
But no more! We have exhumed the “Lost Classics” of regular seasons past. Games that deserve our attention. Games that defined players and teams, that set-up championships, that were epic poems in and of themselves. Without these games, there are no Hall of Fame inductions, no retired numbers, and no parades. And after all, isn’t baseball a summer game?
THE BIRTH OF COOL (AND CONFIDENT) – July 4th, 1995
Our first extract from the vault of “Lost Classics” hails from the pre-natal days of the most recent dynasty. It was Independence Day, 1995 and the Yankees were visiting Chicago. We need not describe their opponent any further, because way back in 1995, there was no interleague play. Both teams, division leaders at the time of the 1994 strike, were struggling since the return to play and found themselves on the frowny side of .500.
The Yankees had problems in the rotation (I guess as almost every team does almost every year) and were searching for answers. Even back in 1995, Jack Curry had the goods:
Without Jimmy Key for at least the rest of the season and probably without Melido Perez and Scott Kamieniecki until the second half of the season, the Yankees have desperately searched for starters. They have talked on the phone about trades and searched on the farm for the right prospect.
Rookie Mariano Rivera had debuted earlier in the season and spilled his first cup of coffee with the Yankees right down the front of his brand new uniform. He got the ball four times and was awful three times. In 15 innings, he allowed 18 runs, and even more striking, walked as many men as he struck out – eight. He got battered back to Columbus dragging a 10.20 ERA behind him. But in Columbus, something clicked.
Rivera had not allowed a run in his last 20 2/3 innings in the minors, so when the right-hander returned on Monday for his second stint of the season with the Yankees, he carried a scoreless streak with him. … In his last start, Rivera won a five-inning no-hitter for Columbus against Rochester. … With a microscopic 1.17 earned run average in five starts at Columbus and a 1-2 record and 10.20 e.r.a. with the Yankees before today, Rivera had a goal: to prove he could win in the majors.
Rivera earned another shot in the bigs. He faced the Chicago White Sox who were an above average offensive team – they could hit for average and scored the fifth most runs in the American League. It wasn’t a powerhouse, but it wasn’t a bad representation of the division-winning White Sox lineups from 1993 and 1994. And they couldn’t sniff Mo’s stuff.
He struck out 11 batters, and nine of those were swinging whiffs. When they put the bat on it, they could only manage weak contact as the Sox grounded 12 outs to the infield while getting only four balls to the outfielders. Dave Martinez (later corroborated by John Kruk on Baseball Tonight) offers Curry a likely explanation: “The scouting report we had said that he throws about 85 or 86,” White Sox outfielder Dave Martinez said. “He was throwing a lot harder than that.”
Frank Thomas got him for two singles and a fly out, but in those days, that was not a bad line versus the Big Hurt at his most bone-crushingest. None of the rest of the team had any chance, though the veterans were annoyingly patient and worked all four walks (Kruk twice, Dave Martinez and Ozzie Guillen). Robin Ventura made two loud outs (around a swinging strike out), so I guess he was able to square it up a little bit, too.
Not only was Mariano dominant, he was only in one mini-jam the whole game. It was the type of jam that you’d expect from a rookie, but one that seems totally uncharacteristic given what we know of the pitcher today. After Paul O’Neill staked him a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth with a solo jack, Mariano committed the cardinal sin of walking the lead off man Dave Martinez in front of Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura. He got Thomas to fly out, but then balked Martinez over to second – that’s one of three balks in his 16-year career.
With the runner in scoring position (the only one he would allow all game), he bore down and struck out Ventura to culminate an eight-pitch at bat. He lost John Kruk on a full count, but rebounded to strike out Warren Newsome to end the threat.
Already cruising, after the fourth he found a higher gear. He allowed only one more single and one more walk, and struck out six to wrap up his night. He left after 129 pitches and eight superb innings and his final line tallied 11 strikeouts, four walks, two hits, and zero runs. The Yankees iced the game with a couple of sac flies and a Bernie Williams triple. John Wetteland wobbled in the 9th and gave up a run but never had to face the tying run as the Yanks won 4-1. I assume there was much rejoicing.