Wednesday, October 5, 2011
MLB playoffs- Yankees, Rays; Question for Red Sox fans
I know I’ve said it here often but I really do love baseball. And the best thing about the first round of the playoffs is that they actually play afternoon and early evening games—the kind you can watch to conclusion without worrying about being tired the next morning. Of course if you are a fan of the New York Yankees only a rain out is going to give you the chance to see your team play in the afternoon because they are locked into that primetime slot at 8:37 p.m. every night.
(Am I the only one who has noticed that in the MLB promo about memories being made in postseason about 90 percent of those memories involve the Yankees? I’m convinced if there had been the kind of video available in 1951 that we have today we would have seen the Yankees WATCHING Bobby Thompson’s shot rather than the home run itself).
The Yankees do provide almost unique theater—I say almost unique because the soap opera that is always the Red Sox is right up there. As of this morning, A.J. Burnett is now worth the $82 million the Yankees paid him because he managed to deliver 5 and 1/3 innings of one run baseball in Detroit last night. Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson would have retired in disgust if they ever came out after 5 and 1/3 innings in a postseason game, but these days any pitcher who can go five innings without getting shelled is a future Hall of Famer.
What’s funny about Burnett’s performance is that if Curtis Granderson doesn’t make a catch that DOES belong on next year’s October promo with the bases loaded in the first inning, he probably doesn’t get out of that inning and may never be able to pitch again in New York. Seriously. That’s how close it was. It sounds funny to say about anyone who plays for the Yankees, but Granderson (who made another terrific catch in the sixth inning) is underrated. In fact, he and Robinson Cano are both underrated because there’s so much focus on Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and, to a lesser degree, Mark Teixeira.
Cano and Granderson are, without any doubt, the Yankees two best players—C.C. Sabathia and Mariano Rivera are in a different category as pitchers—and Granderson is, from what I can read and hear, the best talker in the clubhouse. Regardless, if the Yankees end up in The World Series, people can point to his catch as the reason. He saved their season.
One other Yankees note: I had to drive to Comcast SportsNet last night because Washington Post Live is now on at 10:30 p.m. (WAY past my bedtime) and, as I always do, I flipped on the Yankees broadcast because John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman crack me up. I like them both personally, but it is truly funny to hear the panic in their voices when the Yankees falter.
When Burnett gave up the home run to Victor Martinez in the fourth inning to close the gap to 2-1, Suzyn was semi-hysterical. “This is the problem with A.J. Burnett,” she said. “He’s like the little girl with the curl. When he’s good, he’s very good, when he’s bad, he’s very bad. In fact, he’s HORRID.” (The home run was the first hit Burnett had given up). Watching the replay, she added, “Uch, look at that. If you put it on a tee you couldn’t have laid it in there any better for him.”
She and Sterling spent the rest of the inning taking deep breaths as Burnett maneuvered through trouble. “Think he’s on a short lease?” Sterling said at one point. “You bet he’s on a short lease. This is an elimination game.”
Sadly, by the time I got back in the car after the show, the Yankees had the game in hand and Sterling was reduced to wondering if Joe Girardi might give, ‘Mariano,’ (he says it with about seven syllables and never uses a last name) an inning.
So, TBS gets a Yankees-Tiger game 5 and all the executives at Fox will be praying that the Yankees advance.
All four series have had some drama to this point—although I admit there was no way I could stay up for all of Milwaukee-Arizona last night.
I honestly don’t know how to feel about The Tampa Bay Rays. As Tyler Kepner, who writes so well about baseball for The New York Times, pointed out this morning, their seasons are almost always the same: they compete superbly because their front office is so good and because Joe Maddon is such a good manager, and they come up short at some point because they simply don’t spend enough money to get that extra key player—the way the Texas Rangers spent $80 million last winter to get Adrian Beltre.
The Rays have now been in the playoffs three of the last four years—truly remarkable given that they play in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox, each of whom probably spends more on its postgame clubhouse buffet budget than the Rays spend on players.
What’s sad is to see fewer than 30,000 fans in the ballpark for a postseason game. The Rays drew less than 1.6 million fans this year. The ballpark is absolutely awful and that’s a big part of the problem. The other problem is that there are more Yankee fans living in the Tampa Bay area than Rays fans.
Major League Baseball never should have put a team in Tampa—not without a promise to build a stadium with a retractable roof, the kind the Marlins are getting next year after almost 20 years of playing in a football stadium that’s ALMOST as awful as the dome in St. Petersburg.
And yet, somehow, the Rays, after being truly terrible for 10 years, have made it work the last four years. It’s just a shame almost no one down there cares.
Finally, I have a question for any of you out there who are Red Sox fans: As soon as the last day of the regular season concluded, I was convinced there was a book to be done that would focus strictly on that final day, arguably the most dramatic in regular season baseball history. I thought—think—that if you go back to the eight teams involved in those four deciding games, focusing on the four teams fighting for the playoffs but also including the other four teams and get players, managers, coaches, broadcasters to walk you through that day in detail, you have one hell of a story.
My agent, Esther Newberg, who is one of those Red Sox fans who is STILL mad at Bill Buckner, says the story might be good but no Red Sox fan will buy the book even if you get really good stuff from Theo Epstein, Terry Francona, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz et al.
I understand that feeling. In 2008 when my book on Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina came out, I got a really nice note during spring training from Gary Cohen, the Mets longtime play-by-play announcer who is a good friend. Gary wrote that he loved the book, in fact thought it was the best one I’d written.
I wrote back, thanked him and asked him if it might be possible to come on for an inning or two one night to talk about the book, the process of writing it, why I chose Glavine and Mussina—typical promo stuff.
Gary’s answer was to the point: “John, I loved the book and you know I’d love to help in any way. But after the way last season ended (Glavine getting shelled for seven runs in 1/3 of an inning with the season on the line on the last day) there’s not a Mets fan alive who wants to hear the name Tom Glavine again anytime soon.”
He was, of course, right.
So, Red Sox fans, is Esther right on this one too?