The Opening Pitch: This is the MLB Playoffs of the Decade, literally.
If you were going to set up a decade-ending playoff scenario that reflected the decade at a glance, this would be pretty close to it:
Six of the last nine World Series champs, plus three World Series runners-up. And they include the most important teams of the decade:
You get the drama of the decade: The Yankees, seemingly unstoppable in 2000 but actually heading into the twilight of their dynasty, with thrilling WS losses in '01 and '03; the playoff miss in '08 and the overreaction that vaulted them into '09.
You get the top moment of the decade: The Red Sox, who broke the Curse in '04, before they turned into the team of the decade when they banished it by winning it all again in '07.
You get the backbone of the decade: The Cardinals, obliterated by the Red Sox in '04, but restoring Red Bird Nation in '06.
You get the thrill-ride of the decade: The Rockies, who put together a once-in-a-generation run to make the 2007 playoffs, streak through the NLDS and NLCS -- only to be finally stopped by the Red Sox.
On the Dodgers, you get the manager of the decade: Joe Torre, who -- if he makes it to the World Series -- is on track to face his old team, and the oddball of the decade, Manny Ramirez, who is our generation's greatest hitter ... and biggest flake.
You get the most overlooked juggernaut of the decade: The Angels, whose 2002 title was only barely more impressive than its owners' willingness to spend like the Yankees and Red Sox.
You get the reigning champs: The Phillies, suddenly resurgent and carrying the title that none of the others can claim: "Reigning champs."
And then there are the plucky Twins, who just pulled off an unprecedented comeback to win their division -- a perfectly uplifting parting gift, even if they are about to get decimated by the Yankees.
We are on a collision course for a Yankees-Red Sox ALCS, replaying the greatest series in baseball history (2004 ALCS), and -- if the experts are right -- a Yankees championship to bookend the decade.
Now that's what you call "closure."
Yankees over Red Sox in 7
Phillies over Cards in 7
Yankees over Phillies in 5
Game 163: Twins win! Twins win! Wow. Now THAT was a game. You don't have to be a fan of the Twins or the Tigers -- just a fan of baseball or a fan of any win-or-go-home. The consensus was that the game was an instant classic, made all the more so by the reality that the game's winner was winning something (because they certainly aren't winning the ALDS round against the Yankees). You've gotta love clinching the division, with a road opener at the league favorite 20 hours later.
Immortality for the Tigers: They are the first team ever to blow a 3-game division lead with 4 to play (although it was really 5 to play, because it took a 163rd game to bounce them). One more clarification: That's more ignominy than immortality.
LDS Notes (for both my WS picks): Midseason import Cliff Lee will start Game 1 for the Phillies. ... Girardi's big gamble: Benching Posada for Game 2, when Burnett pitches. ... How can you not love a triple-header -- including a workday-distraction leadoff -- to start the playoffs?
Jets trade for Braylon Edwards: The Jets get the game-breaking WR they need to complete their transformation into the AFC's top contender; the Browns acknowledge that their season is already over. And the ultimate lesson? In Cleveland, you don't mess with LeBron.
Tebow returns to practice: But he didn't have any contact and he hasn't been cleared to play Saturday at LSU ... yet. I'm not sure it's in anyone's -- Tebow's, Florida's -- best interests to have him out there playing this weekend. Looks like a kickoff-time decision.
Bradford Watch: As long as Sam Bradford isn't leading Oklahoma to a national title -- that IS why he passed up being the No. 1 overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, right? -- he might as well have the surgery, end his OU career and start prepping for the 2010 draft.
Crabtree signs with 49ers: There, was that so hard? No guarantees he will have any impact for weeks, let alone this season. But there is a reason he was the most talented player in college football last season -- now, if the 49ers can only get the guy a franchise QB.
NFL Must-Read: Albert Breer dissects the Broncos' early success with Josh McDaniels. What a story: Five weeks ago, the conventional wisdom about McDaniels was that he was in over his head; now, he is the league's biggest wunderkind since Jon Gruden in Oakland. What a difference "and-oh" makes.
(One more: Michael Tunison's weekly Designed Rush column is always a must-read. This week: Speaking of preseason expectations, that Bears-Broncos trade for Jay Cutler seems to have worked out for everyone, hasn't it?)
Media: Vikings-Packers was the most-watched TV show in the history of cable TV. Say what you want about Brett Favre, but the guy drives an audience. (This also shows that "fragmentation" of viewers isn't complete - we come together to watch big NFL games in primetime.)
NBA GM Survey: Lakers repeat. They got 61 percent of the votes of the NBA's annual poll of GMs, and that feels like a safe bet. I'm intrigued that more picked the Celtics and Cavs to win the East than the defending conference champ Magic. GMs hate Vince Carter that much, eh?
NBA 2010: You will find no LeBron-like free-agency drama from Kobe. He'll sign an extension (in the process, making peers like LeBron and Dwyane Wade look like petty mercenaries – never mind Kobe's own dalliance with leaving the Lakers for the Clippers a few years ago).
NBA Must-Read: Shoals on 2010 free agency scramble.
NBA Preseason: LeBron and Shaq make their debut. As expected, it was a success (and an event). They are the trendy pick to win the East, but didn't the Cavs have the best record in the East a year ago? And look where that got them. ... I'm still waiting for someone to explain how Shaq will handle Dwight Howard in the playoffs.
More: Gilbert Arenas is back ... and he is a distributing PG, rather than a dominant scorer. He had 10 assists in 24 minutes in a Wizards preseason win over Memphis.
NBA Rookie Watch: DeJuan Blair had 16 rebounds in 19 minutes. It's just the preseason, but still. (Fellow Wizards fans, you may weep at any time that the team let this singular talent slip through their fingers on draft night.)
SN Countdown No. 22: Bobcats. Shoals makes the case that while the Bobcats might not be successful, they are interesting -- MJ-Brown, Chandler replacing Okafor, freaks like Alex Ajinca and Gerald Wallace. (Eh: I dislike Larry Brown enough to not care about this team.)
The Last Word: "Don't do it, Urban. Play your backup quarterback and watch your team rally around him. If you win at LSU, all the better. If you lose, so what? It could've been much worse if Tebow plays when he's not ready to return." -- SN college football writer Matt Hayes on Urban Meyer's decision to play -- or not to play -- Tim Tebow at LSU.
Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/danshanoff.
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