- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 19, 2004

NEW YORK. — For the second straight season, the World Series will seem almost an afterthought in the wake of another dramatic New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox American League Championship Series.

“Each game is a series onto itself,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “Each game has a life of its own.”

And, you could argue, sucks the life right out the Fall Classic. Lately, the World Series has taken a back seat to the more tension-filled and exciting LCS.

The Yankees and Red Sox are incomparable, the greatest rivalry in all of sports. Only something like the Yankees and the New York Mets, which took place in the 2000 World Series, can come close in anticipation. And yet, that Subway Series fell short of the hype, with the Yankees winning in five games.

A White Sox and Cubs Series conceivably could match Boston-New York. Last year’s anticipated Cubs-Red Sox Series — with their long-suffering fans and hard luck — would have given the World Series some cache considering the teams’ legions of fans across the country.

But last season the baseball season ended, for all intents and purposes, when Aaron Boone sent a fly ball into the night in the 11th inning to beat the Red Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS. You would be hard-pressed to recall many memorable moments of the Yankees-Florida Marlins World Series — a six-game dud.

There is a good chance this year’s World Series, be it against the Houston Astros or St. Louis Cardinals, could have a similar fate given the toll this ALCS has taken on the New York and Boston players.

It’s not unusual for the LCS to trump the World Series in excitement. Last year’s NLCS between the Cubs and Marlins was a seven-game drama that produced the legend of Bartman and the Marlins’ come-from-behind win in the deciding game.

Let’s face it: Save for the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks, which Fox analyst Tim McCarver called the greatest he had ever seen, there have not been many classic Fall Classics lately. You could make a case for the 2002 Series between Anaheim and San Francisco, but while entertaining, it did not earn a place in postseason lore.

Part of the reason for the somnolent Series are the two rounds of playoffs a team has to survive to reach it. Before 1969 a team won the pennant by winning the most regular season games. There were no hoops to jump through. The two best teams won their respective leagues and played the World Series.

Then in 1969 baseball split into four divisions and the division winners met in a best-of-5 LCS series to earn at trip to the Fall Classic. The five-game series made it difficult to sustain a dramatic arc, but when the LCS switched to seven games in 1985 things started to change.

In the first seven-game ALCS, Kansas City edged Toronto 4-3 and St. Louis beat Los Angeles in six games, decided when Jack Clark hit a three-run homer in the top of the ninth off Dodger reliever Tom Niedenfuer. The following year, Boston rallied from a 3-1 deficit, helped by Dave Henderson’s dramatic ninth-inning homer in Game 5, to win. In the 1986 NLCS the Mets defeated the Houston Astros in 16 innings in Game 6 to win the pennant.

Sure the ‘86 World Series — the Mets-Red Sox and Bill Buckner’s famous miscue — managed to outdo the LCS. However, as the years have gone on, and particularly with the addition of yet another tier of playoffs in 1995, the World Series has become as anti-climatic as the Super Bowl.

Fox television analyst Al Leiter, who went to the postseason with three different teams, said the World Series remains the crowning achievement for a player, but the road there has changed the dynamic of its intensity.

“There is a feeling that there is a fear of losing a League Championship Series, when you know you are only four wins away from a World Series. That sometimes carries the weight of relief that you got there,” he said. “And with the wild card added, it creates the opportunity for division rivals to play against each other in the playoffs. The hated rivalry between teams like the Red Sox and the Yankees, and the history between the two teams, adds to it. You could have the Giants and the Dodgers in an LCS and that would probably outweigh any World Series.”

Yankees outfielder Gary Sheffield said it best when he said of this ALCS: “It doesn’t get any more intense than this.”

So if this is the best baseball can get, why bother going on?

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