For the past several seasons, the Major League Baseball playoffs have been sadly devoid of thrilling storylines. With the exception of the 18-inning Astros-Cardinals instant classic in the 2005 National League Championship Series, the chief plots of the last two postseasons have largely revolved around the big game struggles of the $200 million New York Yankees and the extreme mediocrity of the various National League representatives. By contrast, the 2003 and 2004 playoffs served up such iconic moments as the Pedro Martinez-Don Zimmer brawl, the infamous Steve Bartman’s misguided attempt to catch a foul ball and the Boston Red Sox’ incredible comeback to win the 2004 World Series and end their 86-year championship drought. However, if the events of the past month are any indication, the baseball postseason is back, with several riveting stories to follow.
p. Baseball’s 2007 stretch run was one of historic proportions. While the American League’s playoff qualifiers were decided early with little drama, the National League offered two pennant races for the ages. September 12th, the New York Mets sat comfortably in first place, leading the second place Philadelphia Phillies by 7 games for the NL East title. Conversely, the Colorado Rockies sat a distant 2.5 games out of the NL wild card, trailing the red hot San Diego Padres for the final playoff spot. After that date, however, the Mets simply could not win; and the Phillies and Rockies were unbeatable. Down the stretch, New York lost an abysmal 12 of their last 17 games, blowing the largest September lead in baseball history (the 1934 New York Giants and 1938 Pittsburgh Pirates both blew equal September leads), allowing Philadelphia to draw even in the division with a game to play in the season. On the final Sunday afternoon, the Mets sent future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine to the mound, only to watch as he surrendered seven runs in the first inning to the Florida Marlins, dooming New York to what is possibly the worst regular season choke in the history of the game.
p. In Colorado, the Rockies punched their ticket to the postseason in even more dramatic fashion, winning an incredible 14 out of their final 15 games to tie the Padres for the Wild Card at season’s end. This earned them the right to host San Diego in a one-game playoff to determine the winner of the NL Wild Card berth. The situation seemed dire as the Padres sent probable Cy Young winner Jake Peavy, with his league-leading 2.54 ERA, to the mound. However, Colorado persevered and eventually sent the game into extra innings, only to watch the Padres score two runs in the top of the 13th to take a seemingly insurmountable lead. Yet the Rockies still refused to surrender, scoring three runs in the bottom half of the inning to take a wild 9-8 victory in one of the best games in recent memory, securing their second-ever trip to the postseason.
p. As of press time, the respective Divisional Series had featured a slew of dominating performances. In the National League, the Rockies continued their hot play by sweeping the Phillies behind strong pitching from their starting rotation. Similarly, the Arizona Diamondbacks defeated the Chicago Cubs in three games, rendering their $300 million worth of offseason upgrades virtually impotent against the team with the top record in the NL. In the American League, the Boston Red Sox, baseball’s top overall seed, handled the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim) with ease, riding the hot hitting of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz to a three-game sweep. In Cleveland, the Indians took the first two from the New York Yankees before falling 8-4 in New York, leaving the Indians with a 2-1 series lead.
p. Over the next few weeks, as the postseason plays out, several intriguing plotlines will resolve. In New York, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, fed up with his team’s inability to win when it counts, has issued an ultimatum, declaring future Hall of Fame coach Joe Torre will be fired if the Yankees fail to advance. While it was rumored that Steinbrenner had decided to fire Torre after last season’s playoff collapse only to undergo a last-minute change of heart, it is unlikely that Torre will be able to save his job a second time, as the Yankees simply do not have the pitching to climb out of their 2-1 series deficit with Cleveland. Look for the Indians to win game four in New York and advance to face the Red Sox in the ALCS.
p. This year’s NLCS features two teams that are no strangers to each other, having faced off 18 times this season. While Colorado has the hot hand at the moment, expect Arizona’s superior starting pitching, led by the sinkerballer Brandon Webb, to quell the Rockies’ momentum and lead Arizona to the World Series in a 4-2 series victory. In the American League, while the Indians have looked strong in taking two of three from the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox played as close to a perfect series as can be reasonably expected against the Angels in the ALDS. While their offense is hitting at prolific levels and Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling and Jonathan Papelbon continue to anchor a dominant pitching staff, there’s not a team in baseball that can beat them. The Red Sox will beat the Indians in six, then sweep the Arizona Diamondbacks to win their second title in four years.
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