On the final day of baseball’s regular season, are we better off now than we were a year ago?
If you’ll recall, last year’s “Game 162” took its place next to “Game 6” as one of the most memorable single days in recent baseball history -- almost certainly the most exciting day of regular-season baseball in the game’s long history.
“Game 162, v.2012” has a slightly different vibe. Last year was about the dramatic conclusions of epic collapses by the Braves and, to great schadenfreude over (not to mention the seeming institutional collapse of), the Red Sox.
This year is about affirmation: Playoff places are secure; the new uncertainty is whether teams are headed to the LDS round or the entirely unpredictable one-game Wild Card.
The upstart A’s and quasi-dynastic Rangers are playing today for a division title or -- more specifically -- avoiding playing in the Wild Card. It isn’t quite the same as “Lose today and you’re out,” but adds a new and more intriguing level of pressure.
The magical Orioles are scoreboard-watching: If the Yankees beat the Red Sox, Baltimore will travel to the loser of the A’s-Rangers game for the Wild Card. If the Yankees lose and the Orioles win, the AL East -- and, again, who goes to the Wild Card -- will be decided in a one-game playoff on Thursday in Baltimore.
It is a new dynamic: Competing to avoid having to play a toss-up “one-and-done” game that, at best, drains your best pitching and emotional energy heading into a best-of-five Divisional series and, at worst, ends your season as abruptly as we have ever seen in the sport.
In the absence of the Wild Card game, the Yankees are phoning it in today, knowing they are set for the ALDS. (Instead, we have the unlikely outcome of Raul Ibanez as New York’s latest October hero.)
The Wild Card may remain a contentious debate, but across the spectrum of baseball politics, we can agree that anything that makes the Yankees sweat is good for the nation.
Today’s Games to Watch:
3:35 ET: Rangers at A’s
7:05 ET: Red Sox at Yankees (ESPN)
7:10 ET: Orioles at Rays (ESPN2)
Today's Best of Sports on Earth: Mike Tanier on the NFL at the quarter-turn, including his league-wide power rankings (topped by the Texans) and awards (Ryan, Watt... Kolb?!)
Adam Greenberg Watch: Greenberg’s K in his high-profile appearance last night was fitting -- he was only guaranteed a second chance at a Major League at-bat, nothing more. Once in the batter’s box, he was baffled by R.A. Dickey (no shame there). Greenberg might have side-stepped baseball’s meritocratic process to get back up to The Show, but there is no avoiding it against Cy-level pitching. Hopefully, the experience gives Greenberg a new and welcome sense of closure.
Miguel Cabrera vs. the Triple Crown: AL MVP debate aside, it is thrilling to be on the cusp of seeing something we haven’t since 1967 -- no fan under the age of 50 has any recollection of watching a player put together a Triple Crown season. That the pre-eminent value of RBIs as a vanity statistic has been largely debunked is beside the point, although it would be fun if someone would create a New Triple Crown, featuring HR, OPS and WAR.
Orioles magic, cont’d: As if you needed any more evidence that Baltimore is putting together one of Those Seasons, last night’s win might be the most unlikely yet -- Tampa’s James Shields put together one of the most dominant pitching performances of the season (arguably in Rays franchise history), and yet a single Chris Davis monster shot gave Baltimore the W. It is unquantifiable, but we are about to find out if “sheer self-belief” is enough to win a championship.
Penn State Scandal: As long as Mike McQueary is filing a defamation suit against Penn State, is he planning to donate the entire salary he collected while a Paterno assistant for the decade following the shower incident? He didn’t seem to mind sporting the Penn State colors while he put his nascent coaching career ahead of the welfare of Jerry Sandusky’s victims.
NFL: If we’re being honest, a healthy Santonio Holmes wasn’t exactly going to solve the Jets’ larger problems on offense. It doesn’t help, but a depleted roster of receivers sets the stage for a running-heavy “Jetbone” offense under Tebow. (Don’t laugh: It worked for the Broncos last year.)
Lolo Jones’ misstep: Jones had no idea Eric LeGrand was a quadriplegic when she trash-talked him after he playfully tweeted her that he wanted to race. LeGrand didn’t take it personally, and it’s hard to believe so many people are giving her grief. Should Jones know of LeGrand and his story? Probably, if only because it is one of the most inspiring sports stories of the past decade. But can you hold it against her if she didn’t?
CFB: Looking ahead to Ohio State-TCU in 2018 and 2019. On the one hand, Ohio State will regret signing a series with TCU, because I think TCU is going to sweep the Buckeyes. On the other hand, in a “four-team playoff” world, where a selection committee picks the field, teams in the small cadre of contenders on the bubble will get extra credit for tough scheduling, even if they don’t win the game. In other words, an 11-2 Ohio State team that wins the Big Ten but loses to TCU will get more favorable treatment from the Selection Committee than an ACC champ that went 12-1 with no tough non-conference games to point to. (By the way: 2018 and 2019? Urban Meyer will be long gone.)
In case you missed last night’s “30 For 30” premiere, “Broke,” about pro athletes burning through their money, the lesson is simple, whether you are an athlete or not: Be sensible about your money, and if you can’t, put in some protections to save you from yourself.
Stadia: More teams should follow the Mariners’ strategy and move outfield fences in.
Last thing: Happy anniversary to Mrs. Quickie. Our wedding eight years ago today set us down a path for the three beautiful kids we have today -- not to mention cemented my status as a die-hard Florida Gators fan.