Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Endless Summer Game

The NFL draft and today's Red Sox-Yankees game will both start a little after 4 p.m. The draft will close as close to 9 as the league can manage. The odds that the Sox-Yanks will still be going on at that time are 6-5. Odds they won't yet have reached the ninth are 2-1. Odds that I'll watch any of the game before 7 p.m. -- off the board.

What is it with these two freakin' teams, anyway? Neither is what they once used to be earlier in the decade, but they're still fine clubs, legitimate contenders. Yet when they get together, they kill their sport, turning baseball into an exercise in creative dawdling. Committing to watching from the first pitch on is akin to that summertime vow to read "War and Peace" at the beach instead of one's usual Elmore Leonard. A four-hour game in regulation is no surprise. A three-hour game means either a Boston or New York pitcher threw a no-hitter.

Last night's 5-4 Sox win had all the drama you could ask for-starting at approximately 10:40 p.m. Until then, it had the fast-paced excitement of a cricket Test Match, only with more runners left on base. Baseball affords infinite opportunities for stopping what action there is, and the Yanks and Sox know every trick, from an inability to throw first pitch strikes to the mound conferences every time an enemy baserunner reaches second (or first if it's after the fourth inning).

Mark Teixeira may be the newest Yankee, but he fits right in. A called strike is his occasion to step out of the batter's box and review the situation, the count, the score, his entire philosophy of life. Sometimes, Teixeira would conclude his reverie by looking up at the general direction of the Citgo sign. Do the Yanks have a sign stealer up there? Or did he have some popsie sitting in the Monster seats? At least I could understand that last one.

Baseball's most storied rivalry has become entirely too fraught with meaning. It's like the 2003-2004 ALCSs never ended in the minds of the Sox and Yanks, and their seasons and entire self-worth hang on every pitch. The result is sluggish and unhealthy. It's baseball's equivalent of a heart with clogged arteries.

When a manager brings in his pushing 40 Hall of Fame closer for a four-out save in April, as Joe Girardi did last night, he is a) an idiot, b) putting just a bit too much emphasis on the moment. Jason Bay's game-tying homer was horsehide karma at its finest.

Too bad it happened to Rivera. I usually cheer up when I see him or Jonathan Papelbon enter a Sox-Yanks game. That means it might have less than an hour to go.

The Yankees are an old team, and old teams play slow baseball. What's Boston's excuse? Oh, right. Working the count. Working the count to the tune of 13 men LOB. Another point for Rivera and Papelbon. Since they usually throw strikes, guys hack. Sometimes they even hit it.

As you may have heard, baseball has a little empty seat problem this spring. Most of it is economics, but when you're selling entertainment, the consumer's cost-benefit analysis has a lot to do with the show you're presenting.

Any fan in Boston or New York last night could have taken his/her significant other to dinner and a movie and returned home in time to catch all the significant action in the game, while spending far, far less than they would have to have sat in Fenway Park and watched the whole thing. May I suggest that's a dangerous equation for the two richest, most expensive franchises in the game?

I have nothing against either the Red Sox or Yankees. In theory, such as when reading their box scores, I admire both clubs. But every time they meet, supposedly the finest show their game has to offer, three little words pop into my mind, often around the second or third pitching change.

Jumped the shark.


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