I was talking with a friend the other day, and I’ve written about this before, about how to try and feel about the MLB playoffs. It’s clear to everyone now, after a while without it, just how different it is from the regular season. It’s like the 10 teams graduated from the regular season to participate in a different competition, one that resembles baseball as we know it but isn’t quite. It’s like Champions League soccer, where sometimes a loss is enough but that would never work in a league season.
I thought about this again last night as I trudged back home after Game 1. 162 times, or maybe less, I wouldn’t be so focused on tiny moments from one baseball game. I wouldn’t focus on Starlin taking a half-moment to stare at his liner, costing him third base and eventually the Cubs run (I’m more focused on that than I am Gary Jones’s send on Baez’s single. Amazing how these dominoes fall, no?) One two-strike pitch to Curtis Granderson wouldn’t be bouncing around my skull in June. Montero behind the plate instead of in front of it (A word on this: I wonder if with the new rules about a path to the plate if this isn’t how catchers are going to do it more often, to avoid having to reach to the back of the plate. They don’t have to be four feet behind it like Montero was, but maybe this is where catchers are going to decide they have to be to reach more runners. I’ve heard it talked about).
But all these things come together in a playoff game, moments that would be dismissed in the avalanche of ones over 162 games, and you can’t get past them. And you can’t get past wondering what they might mean in four or five days’ or a week’s time. It can swing wildly. After Dexter Fowler missed a homer in Game 1 in St. Louis by a foot or two, we wondered if that would stick out. When was the last time you thought about it? Certainly not after Soler’s homer in Game 2 you didn’t. But at the time it seemed really important.
I had forgotten that playoff baseball can be over in a blink. With hockey and basketball you at least get one day between each game. That Cardinals’ series? Five days. It was a work week. It could be a whole new series or the Cubs could really be up against it barely in the span of 24 hours. This is the rhythm of baseball, but it seems at odds with the pressure-packed, frantic nature of playoff baseball. During the season baseball is a constant companion, something that’s just there. And then October hits and it’s a constant inebriation/hangover. It’s not just a companion, it’s basically everything. I feel awful most of the time now. But hey, that’s what we graduated to with the Cubs winning 97 games.
-I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in TBS’s coverage of baseball. First, they do a great job on TNT (aside from Reggie Miller, obviously) of covering the NBA. And I’m not even really a basketball fan. But they’ve constantly packed their studio show and broadcast booth with good analysts who can show you things you didn’t see and be entertaining about it. TNT’s coverage of the NBA treats their viewers like adults, rare in this shout-it-louder era of sports coverage. They also had a pretty plain, what-not-to-do blueprint from Fox. Namely, hiring Harold Reynolds.
Instead, we’re given Cal Ripken, who despite his name has nothing to say. Ernie Johnson is just not a play-by-play guy. There’s a decent booth to be fashioned out of Brian Anderson, Ron Darling (who is real good), and Dennis Eckersley who isn’t bad and is certainly entertaining. But Eck and Anderson has to carry around Joe Simpson. The studio show is a mess, as Pedro Martinez is an outsized personality but doesn’t have much to analyze. Gary Sheffield? Whatever. And the less said about Dusty Baker the better.
One day we’ll get it right, I hope.