Jerry Milani
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October 3 - October… My Time of Year

"The only reason I don't like playing in the World Series is I can't watch myself play."

- Reggie Jackson

When I was growing up in the 70’s, baseball was still king. There were maybe four or five other sports
even on the landscape – football, basketball, hockey, and maybe golf and tennis, but baseball,
especially in New York, was still it. Today, there are dozens of other sports, many of which have left
the National Pastime as the National Past-its-time in terms of popularity, particularly in the 18-to-34
demographic, of which I am, sadly, also past-its-time.

But for me, through strikes, lockouts and synthetic performance enhancers, baseball is still at the top,
which means October ranks just ahead of April as my favorite sports month. As a Yankee fan, October
has meant seeing my team still in action as the weather turns crisp for the past 10 years, for which I
am grateful. I am also fully aware that my four-year-old nephew has never experienced a Yankee
championship. Egad!

I’ve never been too good at predictions (the first bet I can recall is on a 1979 Yankees-Mets Mayor’s
Trophy Game – 95 cents in bets!), but that hasn’t stopped me from semi-educated guesswork, as
The Writers NFL Picks and my various other failed pool attempts – not to mention my column last
year on Jim Leyland – will attest. But, here they are anyway: my thoughts on the Division Series
matchups, and how I think they’ll go. See you in the LCS…

National League – New York Mets vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

All year, the Mets have been conjuring up memories of 1986. They’d just better watch out for the
ghosts of 1988. That, of course, was the year that the 100-win Amazin’s bowed out in the NLCS to a
Dodgers team that was no pushover but was a decided underdog, especially after dropping 10 of 11
games to the New Yorkers during the season. The 2006 Mets have led for almost the entire season,
mostly behind a lineup which gave its strong bullpen plenty of leads to shorten the games. The
Dodgers emerged as the Wild Card from a mediocre pack of contenders, but boast perhaps the
strongest starting staff still standing and a serviceable bullpen, which goes a long way in playoff
baseball. Maddux vs. Glavine is a nice Game Two matchup. And 77-year old El Duque is one of the
great post-season pitchers in history, and with nine wins after the mid-season trade which brought
him to the Mets, has shown he still has the guile to get the big wins. While I’d like to think that the
Dodgers’ on-paper pitching advantage would be enough to pull the upset, I think that it will only get
them one win, if that, in the series. I’ll take the
Mets in four.

National League – St. Louis Cardinals vs. San Diego Padres

Has there ever been a seemingly more nondescript pair of Division winners meeting in a playoff
series? The Cardinals nearly had their wings clipped down the stretch and come into the series on a
steep downward flight. And they’ll be facing a tough duo in Jake Peavy and Chris Young in the first two
games. The question is whether Albert Pujols, the best player on the field, can make a difference
between two mediocre offenses. But sometimes the most exciting series come from such evenly-
matched squads. I expect crisply-played ball with two great managers with contrasting styles, with the
Padres winning in four.

American League – New York Yankees vs. Detroit Tigers

For the past six weeks or so, most Yankees fans, and probably the team brass as well, have been
expecting a Yankees-Twins matchup. But the Twinkies made their improbable run to the Division
Title, and the Yanks get the young and possibly gassed Tigers instead. Either way, the Yankees
would be prohibitive favorites. Their lineup – with Hideki Matsui hitting seventh and Robinson Cano
ninth – rivals the best of the past 25 years, reminding me of the mid-90’s Indians lineups, with Travis
Fryman hitting eighth. Their pitching, while not as strong as the late 90’s championship teams, may
be deeper than any the Yanks have brought into the playoffs since 2001. Experience is also squarely
in the Yankees’ favor, with perhaps the biggest October performer of all time, Mariano Rivera, and
post-season stalwarts Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and even Bernie Williams making all the
difference. The Tigers would need to recapture the magic of the first five months of the season and
get exceptional efforts from their young starters to have a chance. I see the
Yankees advancing in a
sweep.

American League – Minnesota Twins vs. Oakland Athletics

This is the best of the four matchups, in my view. Minnesota chased down the Tigers, making every
game count down the stretch, which keeps them in top form. But their rotation is set, as probably Cy
Young winner Johan Santana skipping his last start to pitch the opener and a potential game five.
Both teams have strong pitching, and two Santana starts give Minny an advantage. But if Zito keeps it
close, Oakland’s superior bullpen can neutralize that edge, and the other pitching matchups favor the
A’s. The extra home game will help the Twins if it goes five, but I think it ends before then.
Athletics in
four close ones.