In the course of a season, one makes choices. Whether one can enforce his choosing is another matter.
For example, it was quite human-natural to decide whom we wanted to play when — when, not if; ah, 2006…do you really have to end? — we made the postseason. That it was a nonbinding referendum was beside the point. If our choices had any impact on any of our fate, we'd be brandishing 44 rings (baby).
In any event, I'm sure we all made hypothetical choices. We sure didn't want to play the Cardinals, the only team with a real chance to knock us off. Until we probably wanted to play the Cardinals, barely hanging on as we speak. We also didn't want any part of the pitching-rich Astros, preferring to play some hitting-impaired outfit like, uh…the Astros. The Giants and all that experience (creaky bastards). The Reds and all that scrappiness (callow bastards). The Diamondbacks and Webb (and nobody else).
Bring 'em on!
I mean keep 'em away!
It doesn't work. The Brewers were on my radar a long time ago as dangerous. They fell off it almost as long ago, but you know what? I still wouldn't want to play them in the playoffs. Unless they were who was put in front of us. Then it's, you know, let's beat the living crap out of the Brewers.
All of which brings us to our last hypothetical of the regular season. We know we're not going to be playing an N.L. Central team in the first round and we know we won't have anything to do with San Francisco, Arizona or Colorado. And because we won't play anybody from the East at any point (au revoir at last, Philadelphia — who knew waving the white flag would very nearly succeed?), that leaves us one from Column LA and one from Column SD.
Dodgers or Padres? Padres or Dodgers? By tonight, we'll know how the NLDS sets up. Right now, it goes like this:
• The Padres beat the Diamondbacks, we play the Dodgers.
• The Padres lose to the Diamondbacks but the Dodgers lose to the Giants, we play the Dodgers.
• The Padres lose to the Diamondbacks while the Dodgers beat the Giants, we play the Padres.
What to do, what to do? And for whom to root, for whom to root?
I'm not good at this. I know I'm supposed to be wanting to keep Houston from sneaking in for several reasons, starting with Clemens the Juicer, continuing with that fucking funhouse full of yahoos and ending with my longstanding personal animus for all things Astro. But they were playing the Braves last night, and the Braves are still the Braves (technically speaking). Plus, damn my editorial impulses, the Astros have been quite a story. Wouldn't it be something to see this Houston-St. Louis thing go into double-secret overtime? Then again, this is no occasion to be kibitzing from the balcony. Self-interest is all that counts. I don't want to deal with Houston in the second round if there is a second round for us.
And now that I've said that, I don't want it posted on the bulletin board in the home clubhouse at Busch Stadium. Or that of the Western Division team that might beat either one of them.
Where was I? Oh yeah, I'm not good at this. I don't think it's healthy to take sides in battles that don't superdirectly concern you as long as you have skin in the game. That make sense? Well, consider our so-called choices.
I don't want to play the Dodgers. They are one of the three teams, along with the Phillies and Astros, that stuck around in the last month who reminded me of us when we were just dangerous enough to do marvelous things in '99 and '00. They have an odd mixture of Hall of Fame locks and candidates (Maddux, Kent, Garciaparra), all-time gadflies (Lofton, Drew, Furfuckingcal) and guys whose names half the time escape me but always seem to be doing something to somebody (like that catcher and that closer and who knows who else). Plus there's the requisite recent ex-Met who is lurking in the weeds and ominously blowing bubbles, Marlon Anderson. He'll want revenge. Beware storylines like that and like all those ex-Red Sox showing up but not Pedro. The ghosts of '88 also figure to hover.
I don't want to play the Padres. The ex-Met factor is off the charts, of course (Cameron sure has gotten hot), but there's a more frightening reason: They don't frighten me. We saw them seven times this year, three times less than two months ago plus I've seen them a good bit on Extra Innings, yet I still fail to retain who's on that team. Try as I might to get into a tizzy over Jake Peavy and Chris Young and Woody Williams and that fuck David Wells, I keep defaulting into “yeah, but they're Padres,” which is stupidthink. Trevor Hoffman became righteously reviled here for a week in July, but can you really hate Trevor Hoffman based on an exhibition? Before his unhelpful All-Star meltdown, I carried a vague admiration for Trevor Hoffman based on his not being Mariano Rivera. As for their bats, besides our old Mikes (and Manny Alexander), there's Brian Giles and that first baseman for whom I accidentally rooted for a portion of one plate appearance when Piazza was visiting and Klesko, I think, but maybe not that irritating shortstop who's been hurt but definitely that second baseman whose father was once traded for Al Leiter. He really killed us in April (the second baseman, not Leiter). And that other catcher who fills in for Piazza like clockwork late in games. And I'm sure I'm leaving out tons of guys who can hurt us.
I'd avoid the Dodgers and the Padres if there were a more appealing option, but taking our division title and going home would actually rather suck. So later today, after the two Western qualifiers sort themselves out, I'll be waiting at the proverbial airport to theoretically chauffeur to Shea the National League Wild Card winner. Finally we can stop being hypothetical and start rooting for us and against our definitively determined Division Series opponent.
Whatever is said about aces who are hurting, third starters who are in personal transit, rookies who are grating on veteran nerves and first basemen who are mysteriously sitting from “soreness” (say, isn't what Delgado has what Beltran had before it was a quad?), we just showed for the 96th time in 2006 that we're a team I'm pretty certain nobody would freely choose to play.
But it's not like they have a choice in the matter either.
Luckily, YOU can choose to purchase a Faith and Fear t-shirt. Just a couple of days left to place your order before they go back in the vault. We're like Disney that way.