The old cliché is worth repeating before baseball's playoff season begins, perhaps as early as tomorrow. It's not how you play early, it is how you finish.
If so, there are several teams pointed in the right direction. The New York Yankees are chief among them, poised to start a long, cozy ride through the playoffs. They're a team that has turned the recent spate of late-season baseball collapses on its ear. A few years ago, the New York Mets gagged away two successive playoff appearances. Last year both the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves broke down like a 1973 Ford Mustang. All of those teams share the same characteristics. They "felt" the team coming behind them, and panicked. Unable to win to stem the tide, they panicked some more. Losses compounded. The lead shriveled, and the teams behind sensed blood on the victims and came harder. Eventually, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Yankees, with one last win against the horrendous and disinterested Boston Red Sox, will have fended off a relentless rush from the Baltimore Orioles by doing what other collapsed teams couldn't - win regularly and ignore the train behind them. For all of the Orioles heel-nipping, they never pulled ahead of the Yankees. As hot as the Orioles have been for two months, they never could accomplish the paramount goal - first place.
Keeping the Orioles at arm's length, or less, bodes extremely well for the Yankees as the post-season approaches. In previous years, the Yanks never felt doubt or fear as the season waned, and lost an edge when the switch needed to flip. They'll have no such issue this year, having had to win each day, and many times in come-from-behind, magical fashion. They're hot.
The Texas Rangers, however, are poised on the other ledge, having squandered an enormous division lead to the Oakland A's, of all teams. They escape either way, with a division championship or wild card berth, but the manner in which they arrive in the post-season is decidedly less than celebratory.
If you're looking for hot teams as the playoffs begin, look no further than the Bronx.
Glenn Vallach has been a New York Mets fan since foolishly abandoning the mighty Yankees in his youth after Mickey Mantle retired. Since the fond, fleeting memories of the Tom Seaver, Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee years, he sits quietly yearning for a fraction of the success enjoyed annually by the team that inhabits the borough in which I was born...waiting and hoping...waiting and hoping.
- · Yahoo! Sports New York Mets page
- · Yahoo! Sports New York Yankees page
- · Yahoo! Sports Baltimore Orioles page
- · Yahoo! Sports Texas Rangers page
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