These past few years have been tough for baseball.
Black eye? That would’ve been a flesh wound.
This was much more biting. The game was old, boring, without action and, well, had maybe passed America by with football and basketball the Batman and Robin of American sports.
The Houston Astros’ tarnished World Series four years ago didn’t help. An increasingly uncomfortable dynamic between “millionaires and billionaires,” a.k.a. players and owners didn’t help.
American culture had thumbed its nose to baseball.
Worst of all, a pandemic-disrupted season that exacerbated all of those issues and more.
While baseball has a lot of work ahead of it, the one thing the league has going for it in the fall of 2021 is the magic of October baseball. When the chips are down, the stadiums are packed and the teams are fighting tooth and nail for every out, there is nothing better.
And this year’s postseason has been a perfect reminder for anyone who might have forgotten. Just look at what we’ve already seen just a week in.
The first winner-take-all, one-game elimination showdown between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in 43 years.
An epic one-game playoff between a 106-win wagon of a Los Angeles Dodgers team and a St. Louis Cardinals club that practically went the whole month of September without losing.
That N.L. Wild Card game featured two of the best starting pitchers of this past generation in Max Scherzer and Adam Wainwright, and it ended in a thrilling walk-off home run to set up the first ever playoff series between the Dodgers and their heated rivals, the San Francisco Giants.
But wait, there’s more.
The hated, cheatin’ Astros? They’re back and still a World Series contender, and the Chicago White Sox aren’t even trying to mask their contempt. Now we’ve even got an old fashioned baseball beef brewing after White Sox reliever Ryan Tepera accused the Astros of shady business.
Houston manager Dusty Baker’s response? “I never even heard his name before we played the White Sox.”
Awesome. and incredible.
Even the least compelling series to casual observers, the NLDS between the Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves, has been a lot of fun. All three games so far have been close, the pitching has been outstanding and now the Braves are one win away from pulling a pretty stunning upset of their own.
Not bad for a club that had to trade for an entirely new outfield at midseason after five-tool superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. was lost for the year.
Best of all, baseball’s out of the bubble and the crowds are back in force. You’d be hard pressed to find a better atmosphere than the one we saw at Fenway Park last Tuesday for the AL Wild Card Game, or at Dodger Stadium the following night.
After last October’s made-for-TV production, it’s been a refreshing reminder of how much we’ve missed true, authentic playoff baseball.
And more than that, it’s been a perfect showcase of all this sport still has to offer.