Here we are in late September, and tight races are everywhere down the stretch of this baseball season.
You may yawn now.
Yeah, the Colorado Rockies are just 2 1/2 games behind the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West, and the Milwaukee Brewers are 2 1/2 games behind the division-leading Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. And, yeah, both of the Wild Card races are getting cozier by the moment. In the NL, the Brewers hold a three-game advantage over the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Rockies sit just 1 1/2 games behind those Redbirds for that second and final spot. In the AL, the Yankees have the first Wild Card spot by 2 1/2 games over the Oakland A's.
This isn't 1993, though.
With high drama happening every second of every game in September for both the Atlanta Braves of Greg Maddux, David Justice and Bobby Cox and the San Francisco Giants of Barry Bonds, Will Clark and Dusty Baker, the Braves won 104 games to the 103 for the Giants in the old NL West, and the Giants didn't make the playoffs.
That was The Last Great Pennant Race before this Wild Card madness took place.
Remember? If not, read this.
Birth of the wild card drains life from game
July 26, 1994
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
By Terence Moore
This is exactly what we were talking about when those knuckleheads who run baseball decided to ruin the game even more last year. They expanded each league from two divisions to three. Then, after they plucked something out of the ozone called a "wild-card team" to make the playoffs in each league, they told every sucker they could find that this was good.
Right. So that's why we have this week throughout the National League all of these testimonials to nothingness. At Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, for instance, we have a little meeting between the two best teams in the National League East. Elsewhere, in the NL Central and NL West, we have little meetings between the two best teams in those divisions.
What does this mean?
Well, almost nothing. These games are on the schedule, and fans will bother to show up for most of them. But there really is no incentive anymore in either league to become absolutely the best that you possibly can be during the regular season, not unless you just really want to be.
"That's our situation," says Braves shortstop Jeff Blauser, whose team now trails the Expos by 2 1/2 games after Monday night's 6-4 loss. "Since our team and the Expos are so close to each other in the standings, and since we both were picked to do well this season, neither one of us wants to have to settle for making the playoffs as a wild card."
Games lack any real drama
Adds Blauser, "It would be like you just backed into the thing. Plus, given what we've accomplished over the last three seasons by winning our division, we'd like to do it again."
Yeah, yeah. But if the Braves or any other team makes the playoffs this season as only a wild-card team, we think they'll take it. That's not our point here, though. Our point is that we, along with anybody else who knows the difference between home plate and a resin bag, could have told you last year that baseball would be in its current situation. Unless you're into mediocrity, we're talking about a lack of true drama in the game right now when it comes to pennant races.
It used to be that the roots of a pennant race began around this time each summer and produced excitement and anticipation. No more. These new divisions and this wild-card thing have made pennant races obsolete. If anybody cares, either the New York Yankees or the Baltimore Orioles will win the AL East. Either the Chicago White Sox or the Cleveland Indians will win the AL Central. Either the Braves or the Expos will win the NL East. And we're guessing that nobody really cares about the western divisions of either league, where reaching .500 is considered the Promised Land.
We will say this. If the players don't strike, and if all six divisions stay tight near the end, and if the cow jumps over the moon, pennant races will live in baseball like never before.
Fans will react to anything
There is the present, however, when a giddy crowd of 43,596 thought enough of this Braves-Expos series to show up Monday night. The place definitely rocked in the bottom of the second inning when the Braves stormed ahead on Ryan Klesko's two-run homer and Terry Pendleton's solo shot. There also were hefty sighs after the Braves' bullpen allowed the Expos to surge ahead for good in the seventh with three runs.
You'd have thought this was a pennant race or something.
Then again, if you're a Braves fan, you're prone to react strongly to anything these days. That's because your heroes were DOA at Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport early Monday morning after they arrived from St. Louis following a 4-5 road trip.
Still, despite the enthusiasm, this wasn't 1993, when the Braves played electric games against the San Francisco Giants along the way to overcoming a 10-game deficit. This wasn't 1992, when the Braves held wars with the Reds throughout the summer along the way to another divisional title. There also was the beginning of the Braves' current rise toward goodness in 1991, when they survived the Los Angeles Dodgers during another one of those real pennant race of old.
Now it's Braves-Expos with a possible wild-card berth awaiting the loser.