Sprinting toward the title
It's not about the Detroit Tigers winning the ALCS, is it? It's about the New York Yankees losing. On the front page of ESPN.com is a full-blown picture of the forlorn Alex Rodriguez, with links aplenty beneath to assorted "What went wrong?" and "What do the Yanks do now?" types of stories.
And you wonder why intelligent sports fans shake their heads in disgust at ESPN?
(There is also a main mediawall item dedicated toward imagining if LeBron James was a Los Angeles Laker, which is a nice convergence of ESPN loves. In the same vein, imagine if Tim Tebow were quarterbacking Dallas Cowboys... Except -- yes, that column has already been written. Way to go, Yahoo Contributor Network.)
Here's the important thing: The Detroit Tigers are in the World Series, the American League standard bearers in 2012. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals topped the San Francisco Giants yesterday and are now a win away from the National League pennant.
Let's remember that these two teams finished the regular season with identical 88-74 records, tied for 11th best in the Major Leagues. The Tigers' record was enough to win the AL Central, the Cards' record enough to grab the second NL wild card.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays went 90-72 and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were 89-73. Neither one qualified for the postseason.
There's a baseball cliche that says the season is "a marathon, not a sprint." Well, no. The regular season most definitely has its marathon aspects, particularly when the dog days of July and August come around and everyone's energy starts to lag.
The postseason, however, is most certainly a sprint.
The initial round now is a one-game elimination between wild cards. No marathon there. The next round is a best-of-five; a team with a true ace, like the Tigers' Justin Verlander, merely needs to ride him onward. The league championship series stretches to a best-of-seven, but it too can end in a flash, to the bitter disappointment of Yankees fans. A dramatic ninth inning comeback in Game 1 seemed to give the New Yorkers momentum -- yet their season was over before a full week had passed. The Giants have found themselves in nearly the same straits, splitting two games at home before falling quickly in two straight at St. Louis. Today their season is on the line.
There is a roar of protest to lengthen things out, perhaps in turning the initial wild card series into a best-of-three or best-of-five, perhaps in turning the divisional series round into a best-of-seven. Phooey to that. If you want to hoist the trophy as the best team in baseball: Win. Losing only leaves you with the other also-rans.