At playoff time, remember to throw those records out the window
By Christopher Heun
When it comes to baseball in October, announcers and sportswriters are helpless in the face of destiny.
Now that the Cardinals have outlasted the Mets for a trip to Detroit to face the Tigers in the World Series, the people who get paid to tell us what happened are falling all over themselves to wax poetic and invoke the power of Providence, Fortune and Fate.
They’re so excited to credit a supernatural force – rather than something obvious, like superior pitching – that they can’t make up their minds about which team is actually destiny’s favorite.
“Destiny seemed to belong to the Mets,” Tom Timmermann wrote yesterday in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the decisive Game Seven the previous night. “All season long they made comebacks to pull out wins, and Thursday night had all the trappings of another dramatic moment headed their way.”
Until, of course, Carlos Beltran didn’t pull it out in the bottom of the ninth. That meant fickle fate was really fingering St. Louis: “Destiny writes Cards' ninth-inning script” was the headline Friday on MLB.com just hours after the game was over.
Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press was so giddy about the Series matchup that he proclaimed, “Both teams in this World Series must feel like destiny's children. One of them is right.” Oh. So, presumably a team must only be blessed with the magical pixie dust of hack sportswriters when it wins. But why can’t it be a team’s destiny to lose? Like the Cubs, for instance. The Orioles, by contrast, seem destined only to finish in fourth place every year. They’re not even good at being bad.
Rosenberg speaks for most sportswriters and others in the media when he writes that “On paper, the Tigers are the much better team -- they won 95 games, compared to 83 for the Cardinals, and they did it in the American League, which is much tougher than the National League.”
To his credit, he points out: “If the Tigers have proven anything this season, it's that the heavy favorite doesn't always win.” That’s true, although it says more about the people picking the favorites, but that’s another topic altogether. To Rosenberg’s discredit, however, he also typed out this zinger: “But if they played games on paper, nobody would wear cleats.” Apparently, he forgot to remind his readers that during the postseason, you can throw the team records out the window.
Both of these Series teams slumped at the end of the season and then rebounded, surprisingly, in the playoffs. I don’t think the Tigers beating the Yankees ranks as much of an upset as the Cardinals deposing of the Mets, because of Detroit’s superior starting pitching. Destiny, her name is pitching.
St. Louis deserves more credit for its National League pennant than simply attributing the achievement to “destiny.” Jeff Suppan pitched brilliantly in his two starts and has won two NLCS Game Sevens in the past three years. Jeff Weaver in the playoffs is throwing like his younger brother Jered. As MSNBC, that trusted source of baseball analysis, put it: “If pitching keeps up, Cards have a chance.”
I happen to think the Tigers will chew up the Cards like red-feathered chum and win this World Series, but whether or not that’s the case, destiny will have nothing to do with it.