Culbreath: It’s different in OctoberWritten by Matt 'Shaggy' Culbreath | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ll admit, when September starts, I forget about baseball.
It’s not baseball’s fault… well, maybe it is. It’s just been on for so long, that it becomes background noise. The wallpaper of summer. Is there a baseball game on? Of course there is.
They play 162 regular season games — that’s more than a third of the year. Baseball just gets to be so accessible, that there’s nothing special about it by the time August comes around.
When football starts? Forget about it — baseball goes on the back-burner.
And then October comes, and it’s different.
OK, to be honest, it started as September was winding down, and those final playoff spots start coming into focus. Cleveland was in it until the final week. Detroit may have clinched its spot in the postseason early, but they never claimed the AL Central crown until the last day.
There was some serious pressure coming down the line.
And then, those wild card games. Those silly, stupid, hate-to-love0′em wild card games.
In theory, I shouldn’t like them. One game series in the playoffs? It feels unnatural for baseball. Baseball playoffs are built for five- or seven-game series; the one game thing just doesn’t feel right.
You see, there were these three years in a row where there needed to be a divisional tiebreaker: one-game playoffs between the two teams to decide it all. They were tense, they were exciting and they were unique. So what better way to ruin that than to do it every year!
Yeah, except that they’re awesome every year. They’re still tense, and they’re still exciting. And this year? Oh man, it started off beautifully in Kansas City: the long-suffering Royals faithful, on the outside looking in since 1985, had to play one more game to make the playoffs proper, against the Oakland A’s. The A’s, who started off the season in a rocketship, had spiralled back to Earth down the stretch, and limped into the postseason. The game? If you wrote it that way, it
would be considered too cheesy. The Royals get up early, the A’s take the lead in the middle. KC ties it up in the bottom of the ninth to go to extras. Oakland scores a run in the top of the 12th, and Salvador Perez, hitless the rest of the night, drives in the run on a walk-off single to push the Royals through. It’s the kind of story that baseball loves to tell, and it was in that silly, stupid, one-game playoff.
The National League game between San Francisco and Pittsburgh, while not a dramatic, was still a neat spectacle at PNC Park. San Francisco shortstop Brandon Crawford, who grew up cheering the Giants, hits a grand slam for his favorite team in the playoffs. Madison Baumgarner pitches a four-hit complete game shutout. And while the Giants thumped the Pirates 80,
the Pittsburgh fans stayed all nine innings, cheering the whole way through.
Now, as the divisional series proper play out between the Royals and Angels, the Tigers and Orioles, the Dodgers and Cardinals and the Giants and Nationals, baseball will once again occupy a big part of my mind as the NFL works through its bye week schedule. Every year, it takes me by surprise how quickly I fall back into baseball for the postseason. There’s just something about the diamond in October.
Matt “Shaggy” Culbreath is sports director for Newsradio 1370 WSPD.