September 28, 2010
David Price(notes) of the Tampa Bay Rays and C.C. Sabathia(notes) of the New York Yankees each did his thing Tuesday night, pitching a dominant game and helping his respective team clinch a playoff spot.
Yes, excellent work. Just not very suspenseful. That's pretty much how the pennant race in the AL East has gone since mid-July, when the Rays and Yankees broke away from the Boston Red Sox, and others, to make the season a two-team affair.
The wild-card system is partly to blame. Yes, because of the safety net, a very good second-place team is rewarded with a playoff spot. But there's not much drama to the race. If one doesn't win the AL East, it's no big deal. It looks better on the trophy, or the flag, but you get to the playoffs just the same.
The side effects have been felt in Tampa Bay, which has its celebrated problems with attendance. One night after Price and Evan Longoria(notes) said a crowd of 12,000 on a potential clinch night was "embarrassing," 17,891 fans showed at Tropicana Field to watch the Rays assure themselves of a playoff berth. Earlier, the Rays announced they would give away 20,000 tickets to Wednesday's game.
Why should someone bother spending his or her disposable income on a game in September, when October — the real season with real big ticket prices — draws close?
For New York, it's not so much attendance but attention span. Manager Joe Girardi has struggled to figure out how exactly to prepare the Yankees for the stretch run. Should he put pedal to metal? How important are these games in September, with a playoff spot virtually assured, when you don't want to mess up the team's postseason?
The wild card — created to help drum-up interest in the dog days when pro and college football comes to life — is actually helping to make baseball less interesting in the AL.
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