Ratto: The fun part of the playoffs ends Wednesday

A’s vs. Rays poised to produce a wild-card classic

Ray Ratto
September 30, 2019 - 11:11 am

Stephen Lam/Getty Images

The two most resistible forces in the universe gather Wednesday in Oakland for the right to get subsumed by the best team in baseball, which probably isn't fair to either the Oakland Athleticals or Tampa Bay Used-To-Be Devil Rays. Then again, what's fair got to do with it? If 97 wins doesn't get it done, next year win 108.

The A's and Rays are what can properly be called "tough outs," in that they do not lose easily, not even to teams like Houston. The Astros went 14-12 against Oakland and Tampa, which while still okay is still about 20 fewer wins than they actually achieved. I mean, only an idiot would prefer either the A's or Rays to Houston, but either series should last awhile. If not, then all this doesn't matter anyway.

But why are they both resistable? Because nobody has been paying much attention to their mutually impressive seasons. They managed to be fourth and fifth in a league in which each division winner won at least 100 games, and nobody much noticed. They did that small-payroll-big-results thing that people lie about admiring, and everyone paid attention to other things. Oakland has assembled one of the finest infields in modern baseball history and the average sports fan can name two, tops.

So here's the beauty of all that: Under the radar is good. In a world of robotic click-counting middle-management droids, the cool is found where the masses do not congregate. The A's and Rays can amass their fans and have the numbers to become a certified cult if they want to. That they are playing each other is a cruel joke, but Wednesday is still a good day for baseball because they are only a joke to people who prefer brand shopping and following the amorphous herd.

The A's have tried to market that way for the past couple of years and seen incremental attendance increases in a sport that has reached a 16-year-low in total attendance, but they have been up against their own stupid past and the Warriors. The Rays have been making the same mistakes by bitching incessantly about their ballpark, as though sitting in the dead of Florida humidity is going to inspire greater allegiance and a new $2 billion domed park doesn't sit well with the taxpayers — which is as it should be.

But none of this is the players' collective fault. They have adhered to their end of the bargain, and between them they make a compelling reason for not having a sudden-death play-in game. Wednesday ought to give us a gloriously drawn-out extra-inning game that has lead changes and home runs and brilliant pitching out of jams and diving stops and all the athletic things that baseball fans swear by even though the overwhelming evidence that baseball as an industry only wants the home runs. Let this be a game in which both Bob Melvin and Kevin Cash shine tactically, and that the game ends on a bizarre turn that people will talk about for years.

And then baseball can have its new, slower, action-less three true outcomes for the rest of October. For all the good that'll do them.

Comments ()