- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

NEW YORK. — The hangover from Wednesday night’s extra-inning thriller between the Oakland A’s and Boston Red Sox still could be felt 3,000 miles away at Yankee Stadium hours before Game 2 last night of the Minnesota-New York series.

“I was dozing in and out, but I woke up in the 11th inning and watched the end of it,” Twins catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “It was incredible. Small ball is the way some teams have to play.”

The bunt by Ramon Hernandez that scored Eric Chavez in the 12th inning and gave the Athletics a 5-4 win over the Red Sox only served to remind New Yorkers how vulnerable the Gullivers are to the Lilliputians in a division series — as if they needed any more reminding after the Yankees’ 3-1 Game 1 loss to the Twins on Tuesday.

“The Red Sox can make you crazy,” said Chris, a New Yorker at the ballpark last night who had stayed up until the wee hours watching the Oakland-Boston game. If Wednesday night’s game made them nuts, then yesterday’s embarrassing 5-1 loss to Oakland, putting Boston behind 2-0 in the best-of-5 series, might have even had Yankees fans feeling sorry for their Red Sox brethren. Well, maybe not.

What did it do to Red Sox fans? They’re used to it.

Yankees fans were looking forward to the dream matchup of a New York-Boston American League Championship Series because there is nothing like a good hate to get New Yorkers stirred up. Oakland, despite having played New York twice before in the division series, doesn’t quite do it.

But to play the Red Sox — and, of course, beat the Red Sox, which Yankees fans fully expect to do — would be icing on the cake. There’s just one thing, though — someone left the cake out in the rain.

The most drama — and for TV honchos, the highest ratings — would be a pair of championship series between Boston and New York in the American League and Chicago and San Francisco in the National League. It doesn’t get any better than that.

There are Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs fans all over the country. And the Giants are sexy because they have the best player of his time, Barry Bonds, and they would be facing their old manager, Dusty Baker, if they played the Cubs.

The Red Sox and the Cubs in the World Series? Wrigley against Fenway? Off the charts, baby. It would be like some sort of holy pilgrimage, and one sect — either Cubs or Red Sox fans — would no longer be referred to as long suffering.

Alas, the A’s, Twins and Florida Marlins, who tied their series against the Giants 1-1 with a 9-5 win Wednesday, aren’t exactly cooperating. And while there are several dream World Series matchups, there are also several nightmare scenarios. Imagine the Twins and the Marlins in the World Series. They could show that on C-Span for all the interest there would be.

Yet both teams play a great brand of baseball with aggressive baserunning, strategic hitting and strong defense. The Marlins are a far better team than most people know, and if you love the game, they and the Twins probably would be an exciting series — as long as you have a scorecard so you know the names of the players.

Let’s face it: Juan Pierre, Doug Mientkiewicz, Alex Gonzalez and Cristian Guzman are names that, for the most part, only Mrs. Pierre, Mrs. Mientkiewicz, Mrs. Gonzalez and Mrs. Guzman are going to recognize.

“We don’t have big-name guys, payrolls, superstars,” Mientkiewicz said. “We stopped worrying about what we don’t have and started making due with what we have.”

Great. A wonderful story. David against Goliath. The underdog against the Evil Empire. Everyone cries about the big spending that ruins the game — the Marlins, Twins and A’s have a combined payroll of $184million, just $4million more than the Yankees spent this year — but here we are, facing the possibility that at least three teams that shop at Kmart have a chance to make the World Series.

Where will you be? Watching “The Bachelorette.”

We might love a good underdog tale, but we are drawn to big-name guys, payrolls and superstars.

Of course, there are always the Atlanta Braves, tied with the Cubs at 1-1 in their series. But years from now, when archivists are viewing films from the strange game of baseball that used to be played here in America, the Braves will be like the “Zelig” of postseason play. They will keep showing up in the films, but no one will be quite sure why.

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