But in October, there’s always plenty of company when it comes to holding your head in your hands, muttering, “We were two games ahead,” or “We only needed one more strike” or “We hit 245 homers this year and now we can’t score one stupid run,” or “We were 10 games better than those guys for six months and now we lose thanks to Daniel Descalso?”
How on earth can the Detroit Tigers wallow around for 152 games, then wake up the last 10 games of the season, sneak into the playoffs from a weak division and, all of a sudden, end up rested, happy and favored in the Series?
Baseball lovers enjoy boasting about the near-perfection of their game, how the same 90 feet distance between the bases and the 60 feet, 6 inches between the pitching rubber and home plate are just as suitable to the athletes of 2012 as they were to 1912. Oh, there’s no clock and on and on.
But baseball does have just one little itsy-bitsy problem that it has never solved and never will. Since 1903, the sport has tried to figure out a fair way to decide its annual champ. No answer yet. As wild cards proliferate, the difficulty becomes only greater. So you could probably call that a flaw. In fact, it’s such an elephant in the room that we simply agree to ignore it.
Upsets happen in Super Bowls or NBA Finals. Nobody wants a predictable postseason. But baseball is often uniquely bizarre. If St. Louis had won Game 7 of the NLCS on Monday, then two teams with 88 regular-season wins apiece would have met in the Series. Put another way: The top 10 regular-season teams would all have been left out of MLB’s world championship while two teams that tied for 11th in wins would get to fight it out.
Eleventh versus eleventh? Really? It was close. Someday, it’ll happen.
If you want a symbol of postseason baseball, consider this: What was the three-run turning point play of that Game 7? The Giants’ Hunter Pence hit a ball three times with one shattered-bat swing — yes, he hit the ball, the bat exploded and touched the ball two more times before it curved wildly past the Cardinals shortstop. The momentum in a pennant-deciding game was born of a play few had ever seen before.
Baseball has two radically different seasons that are hardly related to each other. They’re barely cousins. For generations, fans have been asked to make their own private peace with the enormous gulf between the 162-game examination and the postseason pop quizzes that let one team pile on the mound, spray champagne, brag about its “character” and act like it is really better than everyone else — even though, much of the time, they aren’t.