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Fame fleeting in some places for MLB elite

OPINION by Bob Wisener | October 19, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

What if baseball staged a World Series that nobody watched?

Such thoughts are possible with Cleveland, Philadelphia and San Diego still capable of hosting a Series-clinching parade. (The National League championship series opened Tuesday in San Diego while after a Monday rainout, the American League division set between Cleveland and the New York Yankees went to the brink in Game 5.)

With favorites falling like autumn leaves, most with players known to the general public, the national pastime has produced one October surprise after another. And the month is barely half over with two more rounds of playoffs, both best-of-seven affairs, remaining.

Instead of a Subway Series, New York sports fans might be distracted by football and talk of a Giants-Jets Super Bowl. With the Eagles 6-0 after a marquee win Sunday night over Dallas, Philadelphia might become the city of champions with, say Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber, joining Rocky Balboa, Julius Erving and hockey's Bobby Clarke in the local sports pantheon. (The Cowboys, 4-2, appear in no rush to replace Cooper Rush at quarterback with Dak Prescott, he of a first-game injury).

The first playoff shock came opening weekend as the Mets' September swoon extended into the year's 10th month with a three-game loss to San Diego in the new wild-card round. First-year manager Buck Showalter, after watching his team lead the NL East much of the season, came under fire from the New York media that loved him all summer. How, it was asked, could a team sending Max Scherzer and Jacob DeGrom to the mound and with slugger Pete Alonzo be held to one hit in its final game? And with Scherzer allowing four Citi Field home runs in the opener.

A bigger story was brewing in the Bronx with the Yankees facing early exit in a season that Aaron Judge hit an American League-record 62 home runs. Whether manager Aaron Boone could survive another October crash would be the talk of cab drivers in the five New York boroughs. Before homering in Game 3 Saturday, Judge started slowly against Cleveland, although defense and the bullpen were bigger culprits for New York (That's not Mariano Rivera walking to the hill in the ninth inning any longer.) Thankfully for baseball's biggest spenders, staff ace Gerrit Cole, the Game 4 winner, sent the series back to New York, with the city's tabloid headline writers putting on game faces.

The National League produced the two biggest surprises in the first week. Atlanta and Los Angeles, favored to meet again in the league-championship series, lost four-game sets to Philadelphia and San Diego, respectively. That's a Phillies-Padres NLCS, one I don't remember anyone predicting.

The Braves and the Dodgers have become what ESPN's Michael Wilbon calls, along with the 2019 Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, "dynasties of one." San Diego, where no playoff game had ever been witnessed by fans at Petco Park, closed out its northbound I-5 neighbors before a mob that out yelled those for the NFL Chargers (now back in LA, where the franchise started).

That and the Braves-Phillies scrums were enough to make one ask what respective managers Brian Snitker (Atlanta) and Dave Roberts (Los Angeles), each with a WS title in this decade, did to help their teams. Roberts, a 2004 WS hero with Boston, looked increasingly lost, going along with a misguided philosophy to leave everything up to the bullpen, a curious choice for a team with Clayton Kershaw and letting closer Kenley Jansen get off to Atlanta.

Philadelphia is doing it in a season that manager Joe Girardi (2009 Series winner with the Yankees) was fired early. The Braves, surging past the Mets in the NL East down the stretch, played uninspired baseball, reverting to form of past Octobers. Remember "when the leaves turn gold, the Braves will fold."

Closer to home, the NL Central champion Cardinals expired in two games after Ponce de Leon seasons for retiring Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina. They won baseball's weakest division, then tossed away Game 1 against the Phillies in the ninth inning and were blanked in the season finale.

Frankly, if the teams had been seeded on past performances, the Cardinals might have been last of 12. Their devoted fans took it all in stride, certain they were being served prime rib when at times it resembled chopped steak.

Cardinal Nation is more willing to forgive than fan bases in Los Angeles and New York, where "what have you done for us in the last five minutes?" might be heard when neither city is throwing a Series parade in October.

Print Headline: Fame fleeting in some places for MLB elite

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