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Post-season frolics

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If sports are your thing Octobers can be special with all the acts flowering at once. But maybe not so much this year.

Pro-football grinds heavily toward mid-term, but there's as much talk of bounties and concussions as of whatever ails the Patriots.

The hockey season, which normally would be unveiling with glorious promise these increasingly nippy days, can no longer be held to even technically exist. Thanks a ton, Mr. Bettman.

Basketball is gearing up but most of the attention has been on the prancing of all-stars on the continent. What pray tell is that about?

As for the collegians, Boston College -- the alleged local standard bearer -- is 1-5 and sinking, although fair Harvard again fights fiercely. Maybe they can atone for the academic indiscretions of their basketball brethren.

And then there is baseball. No doubt the subject has become anathema to you as you choose to ignore the mood swings at Fenway. Not since since Pinky Higgins got run out of town near a half century ago has there been such skepticism.

Be honest with us, chum. How much precious angst are you prepared to shed over the search for a new manager for the Town Team from a roster of candidates you've never heard of? The game they seem to be playing in the olde ball yard's inner sanctum resembles "pin the tail on the donkey," which may be apt given that's how their last two managers have essentially been treated.

Elsewhere, however, the game thrives and for those lucky towns that qualified this year for the ever expanding post-season cotillion the argument is being made that it's never been better. One concedes some truth to this claim with great reluctance because the obvious contrivances of the new playoff system remain infuriating. There has to be a better, fairer, more honest way of doing it. But until that elusive nirvana is achieved we are left with what we got and however flawed it's working; or at least it has so far this October.

The first two rounds -- including that quirky "play-in" thing staged by the wild-card winners -- have been near spectacular. There was surpassing drama in all four division showdowns.

In the National League, there were the stunning comebacks of the Giants (from two games down) over the Reds and the Cardinals (with a four-run rally in the final inning) over everyone's sentimental choice, the wunderkind Washington Nationals.

In the American League, there was a near classic in the Oakland-Detroit series nailed down by the Tigers only when their ace, Justin Verlander, finally stashed the furious uprising of Billy Beane's upstart A's. Even better was the Baltimore-New York passion play, decided by an Homeric performance by CC Sabathia, and along the way there was after that unforgettable evening Raul Ibanez became a folk hero. But then "heroes" have abounded all over these playoffs, to be out-numbered only by "goats."

Many felt cheated by the demise of the Nationals and Orioles. Government is on the defensive and the nation's capital is getting trashed in this lamentable election season but the two baseball teams that reside there have become immensely popular, and with good reason.

The Orioles' rise under the inspired tutelage of Buck Showalter may have been baseball's nicest rags to riches tale since the Red Sox "Impossible Dream" saga of 1967. But it was the Nats who became the entire region's true sweethearts. A brash young crew, they were thought to be a year away, but under the sage and feisty direction of old-pro Davey Johnson their quantum leap earned them baseball's best record. It was the Capital's merriest summer since the 1933 Senators of Joe Cronin, Heinie Manush, and Goose Goslin, copped their last pennant only to lose the Series -- naturally -- to Bill Terry's Giants.

But you need a silver bullet to thwart the relentless Cardinals who have perfected the dubious art of lying in the weeds for months, biding their time, then striking lethally for a playoff post as the regular season expires. It's quite an act. They've done it four times in the last seven years winning two championships including last year's which they virtually stole from the Rangers. The taming of the Nationals, however, may have been their ultimate coup.

It wasn't pretty. Five times Washington's fuzzy-cheeked kid closer Drew Storen had the Cards down to their last strike in that epic ninth inning Game-Five meltdown and five times he lost the hitter as a dazed Manager Johnson, totally out of options, watched in horror. It was the biggest ninth inning comeback in the deciding game of a playoff series in baseball history, and that's a lot of history. It's also a distinction that only the town that so long prided itself as being "first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League" could fully appreciate. The Nationals are young as well as foolish. They will be back. Maybe!

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