Go, Red Sox. Go, Indians. Go, Orioles. Go, Tigers.
I'm rooting for the New York Yankees to lose their game in Baltimore Thursday and the Chicago White Sox to lose at Detroit. I always root for the Yankees to lose, but in this case it's nothing against them, or the White Sox, or the opponents of Boston and Cleveland.
I just want all three teams in the wild-card chase to be tied going into the final weekend, and I want the Indians to be only two games behind the White Sox, which would give them a chance to sweep Chicago at home in the season's last three games and win the Central Division. I don't care if they do it. I just want it to be possible.
The Red Sox play the Toronto Blue Jays Thursday, the Indians play the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, both at home.
It hasn't always been inspiring to watch this bunch battle down the stretch for the three remaining American League playoff spots, but this weekend really can be a humdinger because the schedule has worked out just right: The Yankees in Boston for three and the White Sox in Cleveland for three to end the season.
ESPN will show the Yanks-Red Sox game Friday night, and will have at least some coverage of any games with playoff implications Sunday.
The Yankees have played like a team in a pennant race all month. They've gone 18-8 and haven't lost consecutive games since Sept. 1 and 2. They've gone from trailing the Red Sox by two and a half games in the Eastern Division to leading them by a game, thanks to Boston playing decent, but not great, drive-for-the-title baseball, going 15-12.
The Indians were playing out of their minds for most of the month. They've been incredible. Hot since August, they went on a 17-2 streak that ended Saturday. During that streak, Cleveland made up eight games on the White Sox in the Central Division to trail by only a game and a half, thanks to Chicago stumbling to a 9-10 record over the same period.
Forget that "game a week" stuff managers of teams in distant second place are always talking about. That's how you make up a big deficit. You get smokin' hot while the leader cools off. The Indians' 17-2 string included taking two of three from the Sox in Chicago.
Since Saturday the White Sox have split four games while the Indians have lost three in a row, so the lead is back up to three. Why do teams do that so often, come charging from way down in the standings to get close, maybe even pull slightly ahead of the team they'd been chasing, then cool off, right then?
It happened to the Oakland A's this season too. They were 11 games behind the Los Angeles Angels in the Western Division on the morning of June 12, then went 42-11 over the next two months, culminating in two straight wins over the Angels to push Oakland into first place by a game. The A's promptly lost eight of their next 10 to fall behind again. The two teams seesawed for the next month before the Angels got hot and put them away.
Is it just my imagination that this happens a lot? Maybe I'm ignoring all the times a team comes from way behind and just blows right on by. This same effect happens within individual basketball games. A team's down by 20, roars back, then cools off and the game is even for a while.
Anyway, back to the Indians, their current three straight losses weren't just any three in a row. Cleveland -- which had won 17 of 19, keep in mind -- lost at Kansas City before going home to lose two in a row to the Devil Rays. Two worst teams in the league until Wednesday, when the Seattle Mariners' losing streak brought them down to Tampa Bay's level.
Baseball's great like that.
So here's how it is. The Yanks lead the Red Sox by a game in the East. The White Sox lead the Indians by three in the Central. The Red Sox and Indians are tied for the wild card.
Want a prediction? OK. The Red Sox are the odd team out. This will be the best possible thing for Red Sox fans, who can revert, however briefly, to their habitual self-pity and literate martyrdom.
Winning a championship last year put a crimp in that act. Having a payroll among the game's highest and management smart enough to know how to use it is going to destroy the routine in the coming years.
Enjoy missing the postseason while you can, Red Sox fans. Your days as the Other Evil Empire are coming.
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You think "suck" sucks? That sucks [PERMALINK]
Thursday's USA Today has a terrific story about linguistics and baseball.
That is, it's about the word "suck," as in "Yankees suck," a popular T-shirt in Boston that Red Sox officials ask their fans to turn inside out at the ballpark.
Reporter Erik Brady interviewed several linguistics and English professors, who agreed that the word is changing. Young people don't hear in it the same vulgar, sexual connotation their elders do. To their ears, "Yankees suck" just means "the Yankees are lousy" or, more specifically, "I don't like the Yankees."
Brady points out that the word has become mainstream enough for the Dish Network to use it in an advertising campaign. The slogan: "TV doesn't have to suck."
Hofstra linguistics prof Robert Leonard notes that this happens all the time in language. "Meanings change," he wrote Brady in an e-mail. "'Rock 'n' roll' and 'jazz' both started as terms for sexual intercourse and were slangy ways to refer to the musical forms. Now they just refer to the musical forms for the vast majority."
Leonard suggests that although the Red Sox have asked their fans to cover up "Yankees suck" shirts at the request of parents, this is a rare case where it's the sensibilities of the elders that need protecting from vulgarity. To kids, "suck" isn't vulgar.
I mention all this because these things interest me but also so I can tell you that I spent my entire seven years at the San Francisco Examiner -- some days more actively than others -- trying to get the word "suck" into a headline.
It was a pretty liberal newspaper in a very liberal city, but I struck out. The years were 1989 to 1996, so it's not like these were "Leave It to Beaver" times, either.
I think it took me a week to get "suck" into a headline at Salon. That's because we were publishing weekly at the time.
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Generosity update [PERMALINK]
Here's an update on the exciting RBK Touchdown Squad, the "charity" "challenge" in which Reebok has "generously" "offered" to "give" $1 million to good causes if a handpicked group of six quarterbacks combines to do something this season that no group of six quarterbacks has ever done: throw 207 touchdown passes.
Needing some cheap P.R., I've joined the challenge by matching the offer.
Three weeks into the season, the boys -- Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, Mark Bulger, Matt Hasselbeck, Byron Leftwich and Chad Pennington -- have combined to throw 26 touchdowns, meaning they're on pace for 139. Ooh, just shy!
Looks like Reebok's insurance company can rest easy, not to mention my friends, who won't be getting appeals to help me raise the $1 million I've "promised."
The Touchdown Squad had to average 2.16 touchdowns per man per game from the start of the year to meet the challenge, meaning they needed to average seven each after three games. Only McNabb, with eight, has done his part. Bulger has six. Nobody else is over four.
And nobody's missed much time to injury yet. Pennington's out for the season and will be replaced on the squad by Eli Manning, who has so far thrown five touchdown passes. Those don't count because he wasn't "in the lineup" as long as Pennington was playing. Pennington had two touchdowns before he went down.
I'm doubling my pledge. If the squad throws 207 touchdown passes, I'll give $2 million to charity. And! I will start being nice to people.
I don't know what's gotten into me. I guess I'm just feeling "generous."
Previous column: Sports and the E.R.
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