BY MARK SAMBURG
Record Sports Editor MARK SAMBURG refused to give a postseason forecast last issue out of a deep conviction that the Red?Sox would be eliminated in the first round by the Angels. This article was held for publication after the Sox elimination from the playoffs.
The Steal. Mr. October. The Big Red Machine. The unforgettable plays, the heroes, and the legends have always been born in October. Magic dominates from the first pitch until a single victorious team drips with champagne and cheap beer.
Baseball cannot be reduced to the page. Many have tried, and none have yet succeeded. I have no illusions about my own ability to capture baseball in mere written words. Baseball must be lived, breathed, and loved.
At its worst, in meaningless games played in forgotten towns in the last week of June, baseball is a game of irresistible personalities. At its best, with the finest closer in history standing four outs from another World Series and an unknown speedster hovering off first, it is an immortal collection of images and stories. October baseball is effortlessly immortal.
I tried to write a preview of the weeks to come—an inadequate effort to predict the unpredictable. Even if I could, (and I can’t), even if I wanted to (and I don’t), I wouldn’t. The magic of October baseball is inextricably tied to not knowing. The truth? Nobody knows what October will bring. We can guess, and we do, but balls will take bad hops, pitchers will find one final masterpiece in arms believed to be out of gas, and doctors will stitch tendons together, leaving the hopes of millions in a blood-soaked sock. Any claim of October clairvoyance is an affront to the majesty of the playoffs, blasphemy against the interminable tension of the game’s greatest month.
The moments are here, the heroes waiting in the wings. In New York, a third-baseman waits in pinstripes, eager to prove his October chops, desperate to leave behind autumn failures. Last year’s champions wait in Philly to do what few have done. An old ballpark, beloved by its players and fans, hated by those who journey to play beneath its billowing roof, waits defiantly, not yet ready to say farewell to Minnesota baseball. A brilliant manager—maybe the best ever, stands on the brink of another St. Louis October. The hero of two Boston autumns, exiled and nearly forgotten, waits with New York’s own abandoned legend, both awaiting redemption in southern California. In a moutaintop humidor, leather and twine soak in moisture to hamper their flight—to level the most unlevel field. Three thousand miles away, a seemingly unstoppable lineup carries the memory of a lost tenth man as they face another inevitable tangle with their classic October nemesis. Far closer, just across the river, an eternal underdog, newly acquainted with the bliss of victory, places its hopes on the shoulders of a diminutive second baseman with drive unseen outside the greatest of champions and a dominating closer who has yet to allow a run in any of his Octobers.
Nobody can know who will emerge victorious, or which seven will face the long walk back to a clubhouse unprotected by plastic sheeting, empty of champagne and newly opened boxes of caps and t-shirts. All we can know is that October is upon us, and that it has brought the best of baseball with it. There is nothing like October baseball; even on television, the dirt is drier, the grass greener, and the intensity palpable. Baseball sizzles in the playoffs. Listen to your television or your radio. If you’re lucky enough to make it to a postseason game, close your eyes for a moment between pitches. You will hear baseball, and you will hear the intensity of these games and the men who play each game as if there are no more games to be played. For some, this will be true.
For those lucky few who will set their cleats on the dirt of a field over the next four weeks, the pressure is never higher than October. For the millions of us who live and die with each pitch from their ace, each swing from their #9 man, the next month is the pinnacle of sports fanhood—a marathon at a sprint’s pace. Enjoy the games. Suffer through the horrible play-by-play commentators that national networks shove down our throats, replacing our own beloved broadcast teams. Marvel at Craig Sager’s postseason “wardrobe” (and your ensuing epileptic seizures). Hang on each pitch. Love the heroes. Remember the moments. Take this month to experience baseball at its finest. And yes, of course, GO SOX!