The Division Series are over, and so far October has provided some good ball games — three great ones between the Angels and Red Sox — but every series started with the eventual loser in an 0-2 hole and none went to a winner-take-all fifth game. Though there was some high drama in the final three games between Boston and Los Angeles/Anaheim, the level of drama in the four series was up there with what you’d find in a nursery school Nativity play.
Thank heaven for Tampa, the $44-million, bargain-basement team that went from worst to first and now brings a dose of old-fashioned bad blood to its match with the defending champion Red Sox. If either of the two LCS series holds the promise of putting some meat on the bones of this postseason, the American League championship has to be it.
The Cubs have already blown their chance to make the NLCS an affair no one wants to miss. The Dodgers are a pretty good draw, especially with Joe Torre, who’s like America’s favorite uncle, and Manny being Manny in the outfield. But they’re playing the Phillies, who, despite a terrific lineup, have yet to establish themselves as a team you have to see. If those teams go deep into their series, it could capture the national imagination, but that remains to be seen.
And until it is, it’s up to the Rays and the Red Sox to give us the drama fans have so far been denied.
The story lines are multifarious, which I think means there’s a lot of them. Boston comes to Tampa not as the division champ but as the wild card. The Rays, with their tiny little payroll and a roster full of players who had to be carded before they could swig out of those champagne bottles they’ve been spraying around their clubhouse, are baseball’s feel-good story of the year. They’re the team of the cliché: Cinderella, the Little Engine that Could, David against Boston’s financial Goliath. The Red Sox are the new America’s team, the most popular squad in the game.
But Boston also comes in held together by duct tape and bubble gum. Third baseman Mike Lowell is out for the series. First baseman Kevin Youkilis is playing third. Reserve outfielder Mark Kotsay is playing first. Manny is being Manny in Los Angeles and his replacement, Jason Bay, happens to be the guy who started Boston’s winning ninth-inning rally in the decisive Game 4 against the Angels.
What makes this one something you look forward to like a cold one at the end of a softball game is that these teams don’t like each other. Back on June 5, they got into a brawl at Fenway. This was no ordinary baseball melee with 48 players hugging each other while two main combatants threaten to slug one another. This was a real fistfight, a nasty bit of business sparked with Rays pitcher James Shields plunked Boston outfielder Coco Crisp.
The rancor hasn’t gone away, and if either of the combatants were to even consider letting bygones be bygones, we in the media aren’t going to let it die. Nor will we ignore the fact that the Rays won the season series 10-8, and even won in Fenway.
Casual fans will tune in to watch Boston. And if both teams can make this a compelling series, everyone will stay tuned straight through the World Series. But they’ve got to make it compelling, something none of the LDS match-ups managed to do.
Maybe it’s the five-game format that works against great drama. Unless the teams split the first two games — and that didn’t happen this year — fans are going to consider the series over and tune out until — and if — it gets to a Game 5. It’s just not enough games to build suspense.
But now the playoffs move to best-of-seven. Lose the first two games of a long series, and it’s not the end of the world as it is in a best-of-five set. As long as it’s 2-1 after three, you’ve got drama, you’ve got an audience.
So let’s have some drama, guys. Let’s have a knocked-down, dragged-out seven-game war. Put a nasty edge on this thing. Make it personal. Make us pay attention. Make us care.
After the LDS, we need it.
ATLANTA (AP) - Matt Harvey pitched six hitless innings, John Buck homered and the New York Mets held off another Atlanta comeback, beating the Braves 4-3 Tuesday in the first game of a doubleheader.
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