Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Games 133-135 - Mets, or 72 Bottles of Beer in the Cart

Phillies 7, Mets 0
Phillies 4, Mets 2
Phillies 4, Mets 1
Record: 59-76

It was throwback hitting weekend for the Mets, as the whopping three runs they plated in the three games versus the Phils brought back those early-season memories. You remember, those days when "slugging percentage" was a misnomer, when leads were nonexistent, when Roger Cedeno was the leadoff hitter who led the team in strikeouts. Well, it all came rushing back this weekend. Kevin Millwood, Randy Wolf, and Vincente Padilla thoroughly stymied the Mets' "hitters," holding them to eight hits in 27 innings. New York led in but one of these 27 innings. And Cedeno was the Cedeno of old, going 0-for-12 with 5 K's.

I took a beating at the beer store, for sure (the Phils now lead 8-7 with four to play), but here's a concession. Of the ridiculous chaos of seven teams within four games of the NL Wild Card lead, I see myself rooting for the Phillies over most of the others (except the Cubs), and the Mets just helped them significantly by playing dead for a series.

This race is certainly the best argument in a while for the expanded playoff format. I have traditionally held a . . . traditional outlook regarding baseball's postseason, opposing the expansion of qualifiers. I just feel like baseball's 162-game season is the truest measure of which teams are the best. Nowadays a team just a few games over .500 can sneak into the playoffs alongside 100-game winners, and while clearly not the better team, they may be better suited for the short series. The NFL has but 16 games for the cream to rise to the top, so it's important for more than the teams with the best regular-season records to qualify. Major League Baseball has a summer (with a chunk of spring and a sliver of autumn) chock full of ballgames to separate the wheat from the Mets. (Plus, wild card additions bring MLB closer to resembling the other major sports, which is almost always a bad thing.) I realize that my argument is a plea for more recognition of what the Atlanta Braves have accomplished over the past decade; no, this realization will not curb my zeal for pointing to their postseason failures. It's part of the Hypocritical Oath I took when we started this column.

It's odd that a guy who's a bit more progressive in his thinking in most of his dealings has such a staunchly conservative take on the national pastime. I like the National League, not merely because my favorite team plays in it (and not because they're the Senior Circuit -- I wasn't around in 1901, so the AL isn't like the ABA, USFL, or XFL to me), but because they don't have the designated hitter. I think artificial turf is detrimental to playing careers, sure, but it's also an eyesore and changes the outcome of certain plays. Domes eliminate rain-outs but ruin the effect of going out to the park. ("Take me in to the ballgame, anyone?") I liked baseball when I first knew it, in the 1970's. The owners were no longer able to manipulate the players, thanks to Curt Flood, Marvin Miller, Andy Messersmith, Dave McNally, and a bunch of others; on the other hand, the salaries weren't nearly as grotesque as they have become, and the union and agents weren't quite the monsters they now are. And the teams that ran through the others like a hot knife through butter for six months out of a year (The A's dynasty, the Big Red Machine, Reggie's Yankees) didn't have to jump extra hurdles to get their just desserts. Plus, Oscar Gamble's 'fro was so nice. Wow, who am I, my grandfather? Enough already.

It doesn't sound like it, but my point was supposed to be that despite my views on this era's playoff format, this NL Wild Card finish is gearing up to be the most exciting pennant-ish race since the number of playoff teams doubled. What with my team having been eliminated on Memorial Day, I am rooting not so much for one team but for a gigantic pile-up of contenders that comes down to the final weekend of the regular season. I'm sure the Mets will do what they can to help their opponents stay in contention.

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