And so it begins (again)…
October is here, bringing with it shorter days, autumn leaves and bulk candy sales.
And the Major League Baseball Playoffs leading up to the World Series!
The really big news this season is the Pittsburgh Pirates. After twenty years of losing seasons, they finished this season 94-68 (.583) and came very close to winning the National League Central Division. In fact, they were in first place at several times during the season, including through much of August. Sadly, right after my birthday the St. Louis Cardinals elbowed their way into the top slot and kept it.
They did capture one of the wildcard spots and won the elimination game against the Cincinnati Reds. As I write this their second game against the Cards is in progress. They lost the first one yesterday. If they lose again today, that’s probably it for the Pirates. [Update: they beat the Cards in their own ballpark 7-1! Go Bucs!!] The League Division Series games are best of five, but it’s hard to come back from an 0-2 deficit. Their only edge will be home field advantage for games #3 and #4.
What makes this especially important for Pittsburgh fans is that losing again this year would make it a 21-year losing streak. And 21 is the number of one of the great baseball players from the past, Roberto Clemente, who wore #21 for Pittsburgh during his entire career (1955-1972).
Fans didn’t want a 21-year losing streak associated with his number! Had they suffered another losing season this year, they’d almost be forced into the idea of deliberately losing next year just to avoid cursing the number 21.
But they’ve had an incredible season this year. Finished with a winning record, that alone is big for Pittsburgh. To some extent, anything more than that is gravy, but having gotten into the actual playoffs, that’s pretty great gravy!
I really hope they can beat the red birds. You have to have villains, and my baseball villains include the Cards and the (damn) Yankees. They’re just too good, they just keep winning too damn much. [Keep in mind, this is all in fun. Both are great teams with a time-honored history.]
Speaking of the (damn) Yankees, their absence in the playoff roster comes after a less than ideal season. They did finish with a winning record (85-77), but finished fourth in their Division! (In point of fact, they tied for third place with the Baltimore Orioles, but “B” comes before “N”, and “O” comes before “Y”, so they sort into fourth place under both their names.)
No doubt the bullshit with “A-Rod” has been a major distraction, and (perhaps more importantly) they’ve lost some key players to injury. It’s definitely been a hugely emotional season for the Yanks. Ace closer Mariano Rivera is ending his career this season, and so is starting pitcher Andy Pettitte.
Some of the side-show involving Rivera has been deeply touching. When he pitched here, the Twins gave him a rocking chair made of bats his pitching had broken (acknowledged by many as one of the better gifts presented). He’s one of the great people in the sport, not just an outstanding player, but an outstanding human being.
His final appearance at Yankee Stadium was a real tear-jerker, especially when Pettitte and Jeter came out to take him off the mound — not a dry eye in the place.
And with Rivera’s retirement, the last player still wearing Jackie Robinson‘s number, #42, leaves the field. (The number was retired throughout Major League baseball in 1997, but players wearing the number at the time could continue to wear it. Rivera wore it specifically to honor one of baseball’s greatest heroes and with the blessing of Robinson’s wife.)
The Yankees now have the distinction of retiring #42 twice. Once for Robinson, and again with Rivera.
Truly the end of an era.
Speaking of “this will end in tears,” it’s been another very disappointing season for my Minnesota Twins. That’s three years running of shitty baseball from a club that just can’t seem to get it together.
[I’ve mentioned before the irony of getting so into baseball in 2010, having them win the Division (94-69) and then sinking into the crapper.]
They fell flat on their face in 2011 (63-99). They managed to “hold the line at 99” and not lose 100 games, but it was a close thing.
If they’d lost just three more games they would have tied the record for worst season in franchise history (which starts in 1961). If they had lost four, they could have at least ended the season with some sort of record!
2012 was not much better. They finished 66-96, and many of us hoped that that was it. The 2011 record, at .389, was third worst in franchise history (you can’t go by just the win-loss record in comparing years, because not all years consist of 162 games).
The 2012 record of .407, was the fifth worst. Or maybe sixth worst; the third-worst slot is actually a tie between 2011 and 1995.
The sad, bad news: This year’s record, 66-96, ties us with last year, which means that of the seven worst years in franchise history, three of them come from the last three years. Pretty sucky time to be a Twins fan.
Word is that next year isn’t likely to be much better. Recently we learned they extended manager Ron Gardenhire‘s contract for another two years. I’m fine with that; I don’t think this is his fault. They’re also bringing back the same coaches, and that I do wonder about. Twins have pretty gadawful pitching, and after three years of that shit one has to wonder about the training and coaching.
Attendance at our new (in 2010) Target Field fell in 2011 and more in 2012, and while the announcers claimed it was back up this year, it appears it continues to fall (see chart below). I’m glad people have boycotted and hit them the one place it will truly hurt them. I didn’t go at all this year (I confess some of that involves not having anyone to go with and more just thinking the game is actually better on TV (and I have better beer here, and there’s no line at the restroom)).
Speaking of unfortunately baseball results, my condolences to my friends in Texas who are Texas Ranger fans. It’s been another “damn, so close” season for the Rangers. In 2010 they went all the way to the World Series only to lose to the San Francisco Giants. Again in 2011 they made it to the WS, but fell to the (dreaded) Cardinals (they did go all seven games though). Last year they only managed to capture a wildcard spot and then went down to the Orioles in the elimination game.
This year they were in first place in the Division through much of the season, but as the year ground on, they fell behind and ultimately didn’t even get a wildcard slot this year. They did tie the Tampa Bay Rays for the second wildcard, but lost the elimination game. As with Twins fans, Ranger fans will just have to hope for better times ahead!
Also in the condolences category: The Cleveland Indians whose performance this year gained them the first AL wildcard. Sadly, the drum is silent in Cleveland now; they lost to the Rays (who’ve been amazing this year). Just out of AL Central loyalty, I would have liked to see Cleveland in it.
As it is, I’m a little conflicted. I loved Boston when I visited, and I like the Red Sox. But the Detroit Tigers is another team I really like and respect, and they’re in my Division. And ever since Moneyball, I like the A’s as well. I’m a bit miffed at the Rays for beating the Tribe, so they’re really the only ones I’d prefer to see lose.
On the National League side, as a former Los Angelean, it’s nice to see the Dodgers in the playoffs! They were off to a bad start, but they’ve owned the NL West since they caught fire (which many attribute to Cuban rookie phenomenon Yasiel Puig (a guy who’s been so much the talk lately that I spelled his name correctly without looking)).
I obviously also favor the Pirates, and I really need to see the Cards lose. I favor the Nationals over the Braves, so I’d just as soon Atlanta lose also. That leaves me conflicted between the Bucks and the Dodgers.
All that said, my prediction for the World Series (also known as “famous last words” and “pure guesswork”): It’ll be the Red Sox and Cardinals (so everyone will be in red). My fantasy is Pirates and Tigers, and since I think the Tigers might be worn out, that’ll give the Bucks a good shot at winning it all.
And if so, I think the joy in Pittsburgh might just raise the whole country’s mood!