Jewish World Review Sept. 30, 2003/ 4 Tishrei 5764


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Consumer Reports

Post-season palpitations | At the risk of encouraging the few detractors of this column, I may temporarily be losing my mind.

It was a postcard-autumnal morning here in Baltimore on Monday as I walked with my boys to the new school, scooting them along to arrive before the eight o'clock high-tech alarm rang. It's a far cry from our NYC routine the past several years, flagging down a cab for the half-hour ride to the Upper East Side, instructing the driver repeatedly not to miss the turn at Central Park South.

Along the way, crossing the intersections of St. Paul and N. Charles St., we kicked apples and chestnuts on the ground, gabbed about the upcoming Quentin Tarantino film, saw more squirrels than union members at a Democratic National Convention and considered the fate of the Boston Red Sox.

I've written before that the Curse of the Bambino, at least in my 41 years of following the Bosox, is as real as the left-wing bias at the New York Times. Every season, the new players who make up the team's roster protest that they don't believe in no damned curse, and that may be. But I'll bet Nomar Garciaparra, despite comments to the contrary, is haunted by Mr. Ruth. After all, one look at Nomar at the plate, a study in OCD with his tugging and pulling at batting gloves and wristbands, says it all. Accordingly, on the way home from school that morning, I spied in the distance a black cat and promptly crossed the street.

It gets worse: In the past several weeks I've worn only blue or red shirts, turned off the tube when a dud reliever like Todd Jones or Scott Sauerbeck takes the mound, and I keep a 1915 silver dollar on my desk as a reminder that once upon a time the Sox were World Champions.

As I'm writing, it's two days before Pedro Martinez faces Tim Hudson at Oakland's monstrosity of a ballpark, and there's no choice but to predict the Sox will win this first round of the playoffs in five games. That makes me nervous, too. The other match-ups are easier: The Braves choke again and fall to the Cubs in four; Giants sweep the Marlins; and the Yankees take the Twins in five close contests.

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Which brings me to another conundrum, one that I've gone back and forth on, endlessly, with fellow Sox fans. Should Boston prevail over Oakland, which team would you rather face for the American League pennant? On the one hand, the Twins seem an easier mark. On the other, as my friend Rick suggests, reaching the Series wouldn't be complete without passing through Yankee Stadium.

After thinking about this more than is healthy, I agree with another buddy, Chris, who thinks Rick's purity angle is a lot of bosh. He wrote the other day: "I honestly don't care who they play. Maybe your reflexive Yank-hatred comes from being a Sox fan who's had season tickets at the Stadium for years. But for me, the rivalry is all about the annoyance of Yankee fans. So if the Yanks get past the Twins, then it will be another exciting episode in their rivalry. If the Twins emerge triumphant, then I won't give the Yanks another thought until April.

"I don't worry about the Twinkies, squeaker champions from the weakest division in baseball. Who scares you in that lineup? Torii Hunter? [Yes. And Shannon Stewart, mostly.] Do you realize the Twins picked up Jesse Orosco? If I were a Yankees fan, I'd feel like I won the lottery-getting to face this guy after suffering through his moon shots all year. I think the Yanks will go through them in three games, like a chainsaw through custard. If I'm wrong about that, then I think the Sox will go through the Twins in four.

"A betting man would say the toughest teams in the playoffs are going to be Oakland and San Francisco, because of the pitching. If we get through the first round, I like our chances."

I admire Chris' cool, calm and collected approach, but I'm guessing that's a front. We've been through this many times in the past decade, and if he's not wetting his pants like Sen. John Edwards right now, I'd be very surprised.

Quickly, before moving on to Dick Grasso, Paul Krugman and my main man, Dr. Howard Dean, a rundown on MLB's post-season awards. Roy Halladay's a lock for the A.L. Cy Young, as is Eric Gagne in the N.L., although I'd prefer the Cubs' Mark Prior. The Cardinals' Albert Pujols deserves the N.L. MVP, I think, if only for putting up with manager Tony La Russa, but Barry Bonds wins easily. There's a lot of jabber about the Yanks' Jorge Posada taking the A.L. award in a muddled field, but I think teammate Hideki Matsui or Boston's David Ortiz is more worthy. I don't buy that Matsui's a real rookie, not with all those stellar years in Japan (what, baseball in Asia doesn't count?), so I'm with future Devil Rays superstar Rocco Baldelli for rookie of the year. Also, count me in for Florida's Dontrelle Willis.

Finally, as proof that it doesn't take an amateur to screw up predictions before the baseball season begins (I picked the White Sox, Angels, Diamondbacks and Phils to win their divisions), a look at Peter Gammon's March 25 ESPN online column is interesting. Gammons, the sports equivalent of Robert Christgau, said: "Barry Bonds will make a serious run at batting .400"; "Minnesota will win the most games in the AL while Arizona will win the most in the NL"; "Kerry Wood will win 20 games"; "Junior Griffey will make a run at 50 homers"; "On Aug. 1, we will be doing a story on whether or not Manny Ramirez can win the Triple Crown"; and "George Steinbrenner will threaten to fire Joe Torre by May 15, but will wake up and instead trade David Wells by July 1."

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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