If you’re a sports fan, you have to love October.
For me, the Major League Baseball playoffs is the ultimate sporting finale – a transcendent realm for fans, where every pitch, every swing and every hit can send one to the heights of ecstasy or the depths of despair, delightfully painful and excruciatingly fun to watch.
My sentimental favourite is the Milwaukee Brewers which will lose Prince Fielder next year. Timely hitting with some surprise-pitching performances could launch them into the World Series.
But there is really only one match up that is truly worthy of the World Series and that is between the two top payrolls in the MLB, the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies.
I loathe the Yankees almost as much as Brussels sprouts. Unfortunately, they showed Tuesday night that they can even win with A. J. Burnett on the mound; so I don’t see Detroit’s Doug Fister (13-11) out pitching the Yankees’ rookie Ivan Nova (16-4) tonight. It’s a crime, considering C.C. Sabathia ($23 million) and A. J. Burnett ($16.6 million) together make about the same as the whole Tampa Bay Rays roster ($41.9 million).
Philadelphia’s starting pitching is so superior to the Yankees, it should be no contest as far as stats go. But statistics don’t show everything, as Burnett proved.
The Phillies also have a pretty powerful hitting lineup for an NL team. They’re the odds-on favourite to win but that’s what everybody said last year when the Giants stole the title.
All the same, I’ll take the Phillies in seven – much like the Bruins in hockey, I can’t bear to pick the Yankees.
The NHL season also quietly (except in Winnipeg) resumes today – for a year that may see the most dramatic changes in its storied history.
Brendan Shanahan is the new judge of the headshots and he’s doling out fines like Halloween candy. Already there have been nine suspensions costing players over $700,000 and that’s just in the preseason.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing, it’s just that hockey, as we once knew it, is going to change.
The axing of Sean Avery from the New York Rangers Tuesday is a hopeful sign that the end of the tough-instigator-with-marginal-skills type guy is nigh.
Tragedy breeds change and there was nothing more sobering than the deaths of three former tough guys this past season while the NHL’s marquee player, Sidney Crosby, sits idle in the press box with post-concussion symptoms.
In football and hockey, rules will change, players will be fined and suspended to hasten an end to the concussion era. In hockey, it will mean less hitting, zero fighting and no-touch icing.
Who knows what hockey will look like in a couple years – perhaps one perennial ‘All-star’ game after another, where skill and “the trap” determine the winner.
I will miss the brouhahas and the bone-crushing hits. I suspect it is all part of an ongoing evolution, just as the era of Philadelphia’s Broadstreet Bullies gave way to the skill and speed of the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers.
We are on the cusp of a new epoch of sport, both in hockey and football, not necessarily because we want changes but because we need them.
My bold Stanley Cup prediction: Boston has the same team as last year if not better but I will go out on a limb and guarantee they won’t repeat.
The Bruins will be supplanted by a reinvigorated Crosby-led Pittsburgh Penguins who will meet the Canucks in the final. Not playing Boston may be the best thing that can happen for Vancouver. This time, a more experienced Canucks side will win the cup in six despite another riot.