Saturday, October 13, 2012

The baseball playoffs and Xanax

The wise guys in Vegas that set the odds on sporting events are probably eating Xanax like popcorn. Just when you think you have a "line" on something, WHAM, the unexpected happens. What a weird year in the world of the major league playoffs.

Consider the Oakland A's. Where did those guys come from? They weren't supposed to be contenders. Back on June 30 they were 13 games behind the two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers. With only 10 games to go, they were still 5 games behind -- and look what happened. The mighty Rangers faltered, the A's got hot, and capped it off by sweeping a final regular season 3-game series at home against Texas to win the AL West. Apparently dazed, Texas was sent to the canvas for the count by the Baltimore Orioles in the one-game knockout wild-card game. My, how fast the mighty can fall.

The Orioles weren't supposed to be all that good either. Sure, they started out the season with a bang, but everybody figured they'd go back to their usual nesting place towards the bottom of the division before the year was over. They didn't. They got better. Where did THOSE guys come from?

In the NL, the Cincinnati Reds were on cruise-control, as were the Washington Nationals. Wait a minute. Washington?? Since when do they win anything in Washington except elections, tax dollars and free country club memberships? Where did THOSE guys come from?

Then everything went crazy. The San Fran Giants, already down 2-0 in a NLDS, waltzed into Cinci and did something that hadn't been done all year. Beat the Reds 3 straight. Right about now, Reds' manager Dusty Baker might be having a heckuva time trying to pass that toothpick he always chews on, and swallowed when the Reds' whole glorious season came crashing down. And a sports book at Caesar's Palace popped a pill.

The Detroit Tigers, heavy pre-season favorites to easily win what was widely perceived as the weakest division in baseball, barely squeaked into the playoffs in the final days of the season. A wise guy at Bally's heaved a sigh of relief. Poor guy. It seems when they have to pay off on long odds, his bosses don't like it one bit, and his thoughts turn to what it might be like at the bottom of Lake Mead, so he took a couple pills just thinking about the possibility.

Then bang, bang, the Tigers go up 2-0 in their ALDS against the A's. All they had to do was win one out of 3 in Oakland. But remember, small payroll Oakland had swept the once mighty squad of mega-buck Rangers at home under similar pressure, and appeared to be a team of destiny. Could they do it again to the Tigers with all their multi-millionaires? The A's won game 3, then game 4, and probably the ghost of Charlie Finley himself was tuned into game 5. It would be the deciding game, with the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young award winning Justin Verlander taking on the team that seemingly wouldn't be denied. But denied they were. Turns out, an ace pitcher on his A-game, who throws a 4-hit shutout, with 11 strikeouts along the way, has a way of trumping destiny sometimes. Evidently, this Verlander guy is pretty good. Who knew? But a guy in the back room of Bellagio re-upped his script just in case.

So now the Tigers will square off against the NY Yankees, who were taken to 5 games themselves by the upstart Orioles. Like the Tigers and Verlander, the Bronx Bombers also had to use their ace pitcher, one C.C. Sabathia, just to get to where they are now. Justin and C.C. will both start off the next series at the bottom of the rotation, so in that respect, neither has an advantage. Sometimes the odds work out that way. And the pharmacies in Vegas experience a short lull.

Things are a bit different in the NL. San Fran was fully expected to be a dominant team this year. Problem is, that team is coached by Jim Harbaugh and plays football. The team that plays baseball, the Giants I think they're called, were quietly putting an end to the swan-song season of Larry Wayne "Chipper" Jones and his Atlanta Braves. As a lock for the Hall of Fame, Chipper has no worries, so he doesn't need a bunch of pills. On second thought, he's got four kids and is going through a divorce -- so maybe a couple. Beats Lake Mead though -- I think.

It also turns out that this is the first year all 4 division series' had went to the full 5 games in the 18 years the format has been in existence. The odds on that happening? According to the experts that compute such things -- about 2%. A long shot, but it came in. No doubt, some people bet on it somewhere, and maybe a young "book" at the Rio struggled with the child-proof cap on his bottle of 1000 milligram goodies.

And the Washington Nationals mentioned above? They shut down their ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg just prior to the playoffs, because after having "Tommy John" surgery last year on his throwing arm, it was predetermined that he only be allowed to throw so many innings this year.  Given the folks in DC hadn't seen a contending baseball team since maybe the days gold coins were still used as currency, that's a crying shame. That would be like the Detroit Tigers losing Verlander -- and then where would they be? Nevertheless, they hung in there, and had a game 5 of their own at home, and were leading 6-0 after 3 innings. Hurray for the Generals, they might finally win somethi....oops, that was the Globetrotter thing. Sorry, wrong doormats. At any rate, the game and series seemed well in hand. But it was not to be.

As birds do, those pesky St. Louis Cardinals kept peck-pecking away at the lead. And in the end, the Nationals wound up just like the Generals always did. Losing.

The Cardinals seemed to fly under the radar all season, much like they did last year -- but in the end -- we all know who won the 2011 World Series. That wasn't supposed to happen. The good people that make Xanax might have been working overtime to provide the sudden demand in pills from the MGM and Monterrey Bay on one end, to the Stratosphere on the other, where the wise guys were crunching numbers along the Vegas strip in back rooms. Their colleagues on Fremont St, the old downtown under the roof, were probably gulping their own not-so healthy dosages as well.

And now here we/they are. Tigers/Yanks and Giants/Cardinals. Who will win either series, let alone the World Series? If I knew that, I wouldn't be writing a sports blog for the Oakland Press in my spare time. I'd be in Vegas with whatever money I could get together, looking up those pill-poppers. It's a crap shoot, and yours truly never did quite understand all the nuances of that game either.

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