Like all gods, the Baseball Gods are fickle and inconsistent when it comes to handing out divine justice in this world. “Anything can happen” is the commonplace phrase when describing the MLB playoffs, and this year it’s especially true. With this year’s field expanding to 16 spots, there are more teams in the running than aren’t. If losing as many games as it wins makes a team mediocre by definition, two sub-mediocre outfits have a shot at this World Series.
Wild Card teams are underdogs and often enough, with pitching and some luck, one can rise to Cinderella status. Six of the last 20 winners of the World Series have been Wild Card teams. Almost always, they are very good teams that reached their season’s peak performance at the right time.
But this year the gods have seen fit that Cinderella’s horrid sub-.500 stepsisters, the Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros, should have a shot at the World Series slipper too. The Dodgers dispatched the Brewers in the first round quickly enough. But the Astros rolled easily through the first round unscathed and are another story.
This year, Fate’s undeserving favorite is once again the most morally and ethically bankrupt of the stepsisters, the Houston Astros. They have the ugliest won-lost record of any of the contenders, but what really sets them apart is their recent history of cheating, as exemplified in the 2017 World Series, which many people feel was stolen from the Dodgers via the practice of stealing signs.
After being shown to be guilty, the players got off scot-free. They didn’t show much contrition. On the contrary, they looked arrogant and like they thought they were entitled to the World Series trophy they clearly cheated to attain. The general manager got fired and the team had to give up a few draft choices. A gauntlet of jeering fans at every stadium they visited was bound to be their lot this year. But Destiny had other plans and the fans were denied their opportunity to express their outrage in public, vitriolic terms. Maybe their unworthy reappearance in the World Series would provide the Dodgers the opportunity to get some redemption with an asterisk.
I have witnessed the destruction that can be wreaked by the vengeance of the storied Baseball Gods. I attended game six of the 1986 playoff series with the Boston Red Sox and I will bear testimony to the utterly silent, resigned recognition of the fans as they left Anaheim Stadium. The results of the final two games were a foregone conclusion. After being one pitch away and coming up short, the Angels weren’t going to the World Series. They spent almost a decade in the wilderness until Disney bought them and won in 2002.
I was sitting upstairs past the foul pole when Adam Kennedy’s three home runs and the Angels iced the 2002 American League Championship. The game was pretty much out of reach for the Twins by the sixth inning and I watched the celebration in Anaheim Stadium begin about then. And I later watched the seventh game of the World Series, when Giant manager Don Baylor prematurely gave the game ball to pitcher Ramon Ortiz, Somebody up there noticed, and the Angels came back and became the first American League Wild Card team to win the World Championship.
Anything can happen in the postseason. And in a hurry.
Jerry Howard’s “Baseball Notes” is posted on Fridays during baseball season.