September 30, 2005
David Ortiz:
I don't care that Manny hits behind him: Don't. Pitch. To. Him. He smacked a HR in the 8th and the GW RBI in the 9th to carry Boston to a W. MVP? For now.
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

Just. Get. In.

There's no shame in backing in with a brutal second half. (Just ask the White Sox.)

There's no shame in crawling in with a shoddy record. (Just ask the Padres.)

There's no shame in stumbling to the finish. (Just ask the Cardinals.)

There's no shame in winning the division with no fan expectation of winning the World Series. (Just ask the Braves.)

This is the key lesson of the last weekend of the 2005 baseball regular season, one of the best finishes we've seen in the ESPN Era.

Just make the damn playoffs.

The Yankees shouldn't care whether they win the division or the Wild Card. Neither should the Red Sox. (The Indians have no choice.)

Make no mistake, your rooting interest is in an unprecedented DOUBLE-playoff: NY vs. BOS on Monday for the East, that loser vs. CLE on Tuesday for the WC. (But, hey: Take any one-game playoff combo you can get.)

But what IS locked in is that ONE of those three teams will spend October watching the playoffs on the couch.

If it's the Indians: It's an unfortunate finish to a thrilling second-half run. "Wait 'til next year!" Indeed.

If it's the Yankees: It's the biggest embarrassment in franchise history: A $220 million payroll that finished the season in the same spot as chumps who paid a fraction of that.

And if it's the Red Sox: It establishes that there truly is a karmic balance in the universe. But memories of 2004 should keep Red Sox Nation happy. (It better.)

If the Wild Card Era of the MLB postseason has taught us anything, it's that being the Wild Card is just as good as being a division winner, if not better.

The only stigma in baseball comes from not making the playoffs at all. So even if the weekend's rules are "odd-man-out," the job is simple:

Just get in.

AL East Showdown
The MLB playoffs start today. This weekend's season finale in Boston is every bit as meaningful as the ALDS or ALCS or even the World Series. Another unique twist in a rivalry we figured could get no wilder.

Because it could result in either the Yankees or Red Sox missing the playoffs, a staggering ending to the 2005 season. And no teams are more important to baseball than those two.

Aaron Small: Yanks' unlikely ace goes 10-0. (Cy? Why not?)
Roger Clemens: Wants to pitch Sat, regardless of standings
New Giants/Jets stadium in NJ: Teams make deal (via NYT)
Mark McGwire: Returns to Busch for appreciation night. LOL
Will Peterson: Giants CB may miss the rest of the season
Sloppy NBA fashion: Stern says they'll crack down on slobs
Of course, most fans would be giddy if the AL East runner-up missed the playoffs. Most loathe both teams so much, they don't even care which, as long as one of them doesn't make it. (But be honest: You'd miss 'em.)

Meanwhile, don't think AL MVP voters won't be watching and basing an entire season's body of work on how A-Rod and Papi respond this weekend. For now, give Papi the edge for Thursday's heroics.

ChiSox Clinch
There's no pressure on Chicago. Even if they lose all three games in Cleveland, they've clinched the Central division title.

That's bad news for the AL East runner-up. What is the White Sox' motivation for doing anything but playing to avoid injury and wearying pitchers?

(And would Chicago really want to play the AL East runner-up in the ALDS? That's like begging to get ousted by next weekend.)

NFL in Mexico
Finally, the NFL recognizes "Mexico": Don't try to buy a jersey with the country's name on the back, but enjoy the novelty of the 49ers and Cards playing on Sunday night in Mexico City, in what can only be described as the "Which USC Player Will Be Drafted No. 1?" Bowl. (8:30, ESPN)

NFL Week 4 Subplots
Game of the Week: SD at NE
How banged up is the Pats' D? No bigger test than a surging Tomlinson and Brees-to-Gates.

Injury Watch: PHI at KC
For two weeks, I've wondered about McNabb and for two weeks, he's been awesome. At Arrowhead will be Philly's toughest game of the year.

Prove-It Game I: DET at TB
The Lions lead the NFC North? Not for long. Bucs continue to feast on conference patsies; look for Caddy to keep riding downhill.

Prove-It Game II: DEN at JAX
The MNF W over KC feels flukish, simply like home-field advantage. The Jags are a bonafide Top 5 team in the AFC if they beat 2-1 Denver.

What's Going On Here?!
IND/TEN: Peyton. TDs. Now.
HOU/CIN: Bengals NFL's best?
Blackout, Schmackout
Kudos to the NFL for lifting its normally strict TV-blackout policy in San Antonio, so displaced Saints fans living there can see their team.

See Big 5, right, for more.

CFB Wknd Preview
Trap Games for the Top 4?
USC (1) at AZ St (3:30, ABC)
Watch the heat in scorefest.

Texas (2) at Mizzou (12, ABC)
Whoa: V. Young vs. B. Smith

VA Tech (3) at WVA (12, ESPN)
Big rivalry; Hokies motivated

FLA (4) at Bama (15) (3:30)
Toughest game of Gators' year

Notre Dame Showcase Game:
At Purdue. Boilers have won last two, but those were in Willingham Era, not Weis Era. Irish O too much. (7:45, ESPN)

Heisman Watch, Big Ten Style:
*Minn RB Maroney at Penn St.
*Mich St QB Stanton vs. Mich.
*Wisc RB Calhoun vs. Indiana

More: Don't expect a let-up from Michigan State, hosting rival Michigan (12, ABC)... Teams of intrigue? Cal and Texas Tech.

Blank Giants 1-0 to move to 80-79. Doesn't San Diego understand that its cachet comes with making the playoffs as a LOSER? 81 or 82 wins is l-a-m-e.
Today on
Quickie: Live!
Page 2 Index
BBTN Extra
More NFL W4 Subplots
Ravens get off the schneid?
Which Daunte shows up?
Raiders, Randy desperate?
Eli continues to progress
Are the Skins really 2-0?

NFL Week 4 Office-Pool Picks: CIN, IND, NE, NO, NYG, TB, SEA, JAX, BAL, MIN, KC, OAK, ARI, CAR (LW: 11-3, Season: 26-20)

NL Wild Card: Sure, the Astros could wrap it up tonight, but if they blow a 2-game lead to Philly with 3 to play, that's a HUGE choke.

AL Cy: As much as I'd love to see journeyman Aaron Small get it, Bartolo Colon earned it with his 21st W and a West title. (Vote Small 3rd!)

Jones-Tarver III: I'd love to think a motivated Roy Jones Jr could take back his title (and dignity) from Antonio Tarver. But I'm not seeing it.

Welcome back, Midnight Madness: One of the best traditions in college sports returns to ESPN, with coverage on ESPNU later in October.

As fans (and media) show MLB love this weekend, let's be clear: So much for the sport being decimated by spring steroid issues. Just saying...

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