A slice of October glory

This baseball playoff season has already seen the disappointing exits of the sport’s two most storied franchises, some nail-biting finishes and one of the most terrible calls in postseason history.


The Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees and their virtual All-Star rosters that are worth more than $300 million combined are no longer factors this year, having already been eliminated by the Chicago White Sox and the L.A. Angels, respectively. No David Ortiz walk-off homers, no Manny being Manny, no Evil Empire. But the absence of some of the game’s marquee names and clubs isn’t a disaster, despite what Fox executives might think (the World Series is broadcast on Fox).


The year 2005 will be remembered as the year that the Red Sox became “just another team” and their diehard Red Sox Nation could finally accept a play-off loss with a simple shrug of their collective shoulders and the acceptance that it just wasn’t their year. But to teams that have been “just another team” for years, 2005 could be the year that they become the team.


For the St. Louis Cardinals, who got steamrolled in a four-game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox last year, now is the time to win and earn redemption. Now is the time, with a Cy Young candidate in Chris Carpenter and a generally solid rotation to back him up. Now is the time, with a fearsome lineup that features at its heart Albert Pujols, who is a lock for Cooperstown someday. Time to say goodbye to Busch Stadium, which is being torn down in favor of a brand new ballpark, preferably with a World Series win.


Or perhaps it will be the Houston Astros who trot out the immortal and ageless Roger Clemens, a 43-year-old iron man, who will claim the Series and a slice of October glory. They face a huge task in the NLCS and must find a way to scratch enough runs across home plate to compete with the St. Louis juggernaut.


The ALCS has already featured the one of the worst calls in the history of the postseason. The Angels felt for sure they had White Sox catcher AJ Pierzynski out on strikes, but umpire Doug Eddings had only signaled a strike three, not an out. It appeared that the pitch was so low that it struck the ground before being caught, thus necessitating a tag on Pierzynski. The veteran catcher reached first base to extend the inning and the Sox went on to win a controversial game to lock the ALCS at 1-1.


The Angels and the Sox both have a good chance to reach the Series. Chicago is looking to get back to baseball’s biggest stage since 1919, the year of the Black Sox, the team that threw that year’s World Series. The Angels are hunting for their second Series appearance (and win) in six years. They knocked out the Giants in 2000.


So here we are. Four teams that network execs don’t even want to see playing. Four teams who have fans that say stick that in your ear. At the risk of alienating three of those fan bases, here’s a conservative pick: St. Louis over Chicago in six. But it’s October, that glorious month of baseball where predictions, no matter how conservative, usually end up wrong. And that’s just fine with me.