The series is not what you think. The series is not the World Series, but the now-longer, more winding road of the initial playoff series.
We seem to have decided on this year’s Playoff Theme, and it is: Dude, Do We Even Have to Have Playoffs? Not unsurprisingly, this argument is most favored by teams who have steamed along well all year, then spontaneously combust at the end of September.
If you remember a time when the Reds weren’t a disaster wagon hitched to a monster truck that just burst into nuclear-powered flames, this should sound familiar to you. The general consensus, at least amongst those of us who only encounter the playoffs every geologic age or so, is that advancing successful teams directly to a championship is the dumbest, most unAmerican, Boomerist thing anyone has ever heard.
Well, maybe there’s another side to it. Let us forget, for the moment, that Great American Ball Park is now the southern hub for the Factory of Sadness and that Major League Baseball no longer insults you for taking in air on a regular basis. Suppose that the Reds posted a winning record for most of the season, and, due to quirks of the schedule, rainouts, corn, and the eternal spirit of Al Leiter, they are tied for a playoff berth. The night before the game, our starting pitcher, Joey Votto, and Redzilla are all involved in an unfortunate but non-fatal accident involving texting while synchronized swimming.
Now do you wish you had that bye? Is our team still the best team in the division?
It might be, but it’s also not the best team at that particular moment. But here’s the terrific thing about baseball: You get lots and lots of moments. In the wake of that devastating one-game playoff with the Mets, we had to admit that while we abhorred the outcome, it was a fair one. We hadn’t happened to bring along a pitcher in the mood to throw a complete game shutout. They did.
There are many games across a long season, and plenty of chances–but when the schedule drains out, each matchup still has a bearing on the final result. The supply of chances is great, yet still exhaustible, and each pitch of every inning of every game carried weight. There were no forevers, but also no throwaways.
Football is an aggressively finite game, and whoever is best on Super Bowl Sunday is the best for the year. That is football’s way, and bless it for that. But we take our time in baseball, and even when the game seems to challenge infinity, as the Astros and Mariners recently attempted, that’s when we draw together the most and when each moment holds the greatest, most eternal significance.