Yes, your team hasn’t reached the playoffs in a while. Haven’t even been close, really. That was the Detroit Tigers’ fate for an 18-year stretch, which in NO WAY had anything to do with trading away low-level prospect John Smoltz. It was a period of numb feelings, prized pitchers who blew out arms, and shoulders – at least the ones that did remain intact – primarily being used to help the body turn around and see how far the ball traveled. It was a dark comedy that never ended. It was “Fargo” turned into a TV series.
The hope — and when futility spans three decades, that’s all that remains — is that a terrible team transforms into a mechanical war machine capable of producing terror and timely hits. At some point your team will become this, if only for one season. They’ll have a rotation that stays healthy, a lineup that doesn’t chase pitches, and a manager that’s suddenly brilliant.
And then October is going to be the worst month of your life.
In the deciding Game Five of the 2011 ALDS, the Tigers edged the New York Yankees, but barely, three games to two. All I remember from the game was pacing around my bedroom, trying not to yell incredibly loud so as not to startle my dog, my neighbors, and keep composure just long enough for my wife to not think less of me. This was as successful as could be, until Jose Valverde struck out Alex Rodriguez to end the series.
Then there was Game 4 against the Oakland A’s on Wednesday night. Despite the Tigers putting up tally after minuscule tally on the scoreboard, everybody in the building knew the A’s wouldn’t quit, nor was their sack of magic runes completely barren. When Jose Valverde’s fastball suddenly created a batting practice flash mob (it never topped 93 mph, something I don’t think I’ve ever seen this year) and the A’s capped a two-run comeback in the ninth, it was the most helpless feeling I had watching a baseball game. Sports became stupid and then I became stupid for letting this stupid sport make me feel nauseous.
Even on Thursday night, when Justin Verlander enjoyed a two-run lead in the middle of his 11-strikeout shutout, there was still that pang of concern that, at any moment, the dark arts employed by the werewolf-based Oakland organization would be cast, resulting in five runs and a movie sequel in their honor.
When Verlander pitches the game of his life and I’m still nervous, that should demonstrate how terrible it is to watch playoff baseball, and why it’s better to enjoy it as an impartial observer. When the lead grew to 6-0, I felt a little more relaxed. Even after the game, I felt like I had to stay awake, Bible and crucifix in hand, just in case the A’s somehow rose from the ground and walked off with my brains and the win.
I’ll say this about a playoff series: once your team wins and advances, it’s a sweet feeling. Merely reaching the Division Series round is a terrific accomplishment, something easily lost in a “World Series or bust” mentality. It almost, almost makes pulling your hair out during the series worth it. But there is a severe downside as well: advance in the playoffs, and then there’s another set of games to turn around and be more of a wreck than the Edmund Fitzgerald.
Editorial Note (D.P.):
Shut up Karl RT @dadboner: WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!
— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) October 12, 2012