Mick Kern on why playoff baseball is so special

Playoff Baseball

Edwin Encarnacion #10 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates with teammates after hitting a three-run walk-off home run in the eleventh inning to defeat the Baltimore Orioles 5-2 in the American League Wild Card game at Rogers Centre on October 4, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.

Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Nothing fills a splendorous summer’s day like a game of baseball.  As the leaves turn colour, and the chilly Autumn winds remind us that its older brother Winter lays in waiting around the corner, nothing takes our mind off the relentless March of Time like a playoff baseball game.

That Voice of Voices, Vin Scully, once summed up the appeal of baseball during a post-season broadcast a number of years ago.  At some point, he said as he drank in the tableau around him, you have to pitch to the player at the plate.  There’s no out-of-bounds, there’s no time limit.  Regardless of the pickle your team finds itself in, the pitcher has to deal with the batter standing menacingly at home plate.

The 2016 American League Wildcard game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the visiting Baltimore Orioles played out according to that script.  11th inning, scored knotted up at 2-2.  The Blue Jays had runners at first and third, with nobody out, when Edwin Encarnacion strolled up to the plate.

Encarnacion, he of 42 home runs and 127 runs batted in this past season, who had gone 0-for-3 up to that point in the game.  Facing an Orioles’ pitcher named Ubaldo Jimenez, not a pitcher named Zach Britton, he of 47 saves this past year.

All Jimenez did, after giving up the first two hits of the 11th, was serve up a fat batting practise pitch to Encarnacion, who launched a no doubter into the left field stands.

The infield drawn in, looking to gun down the winning run at the plate, and hoping for a double play, could only walk off the field and right out of the post-season.

The local fans went crazy, while the faithful back in Charm City were no doubt left scratching their collective heads over the decision by skipper Buck Showalter not to summon Britton from the bullpen.

And there’s the other reason why baseball is still, after all these years, a sport that gets in your blood and stays there, despite strikes and lockouts and PED’s.  Second guessing, that Great American Past-Time. There is no other game in North America where one can critique every move in real time. Because baseball is played to its own internal clock.

Born in the mid 1800’s in the Northeast of the United States, with a parallel development in Eastern Canada, baseball is a child of its times.  Long before telephones, radio, television, VCR’s, video games, cable TV, cellphones, and the Internet, in a time when things moved a heck of a lot slower, baseball was the dominant sport in America.  It reflected the society around it; a time we have overly- romanticized and so hopelessly yearn to return to.

Baseball allows one time to breath.  Sometimes too much so for faster, impatient generations, who have written about the impending demise of the sport for decades, only to watch as the game perseveres even as the world speeds up around it.

That seemingly languorous pace has infuriated many who prefer the amped up adrenalin rush of hockey, or the over-hyped battle by proxy that the National Football League is.

Both those sports are fantastic to watch.  But their power and appeal does not draw anything away from baseball.  If anything, the continuing love affair with watching the local nine take to the field comes from its not-so-antiquated roots.  Without a doubt, the game of today would surprise fans who filled the ballparks back in 1887, and 1908, and 1927, and 1945.  But they’d still recognize the same game under all those fancy uniforms, loud music, huge contracts, and huge stadiums.

You still play nine innings, usually.  You still have to score more runs that the other guy.  You still have to have pitching, pitching, pitching…and now a good bullpen wouldn’t hurt.  You can still slay the dragon with a three-run shot to the upper deck, such as Encarnacion did against the Orioles.  Hustle still matters, and combined with talent (and Major League Baseball is currently bursting at the seams with young, talented players), the good guys will still win.  Or break your heart trying.

While the regular season has its own pace and cadence, which help us mark time as we stretch out the all-too-short summers as long as we can, October baseball is that experience distilled down to its essentials.

The Wild Card game itself sends one team on to the next round, and one team home for the winter.  All that work gone in 9 (or 11) innings.

A four game losing streak in the middle of May might alarm the die-hards who flock to the call-in shows, but there are always ebbs and flows to a 162 game schedule.  It’s no big deal to the guys in the clubhouse.

A four game losing streak in the playoffs is death.

So every pitch, every at bat, every sign, every managerial move is scrutinized with an electron microscope.  In real time.  Because baseball allows us that luxury as fans.  There’s no doubt we’d have made a better decision if it were us in the dugout.  No doubt.

The 2016 Major League Baseball Post-Season promises to add even more golden memories to the overflowing history of baseball.  You can follow all the action here on Sirius XM.  Even in Baltimore.

Visit the SiriusXM MLB Schedule for complete playoff times.

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