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It’s A Damn Shane

Hello, I have time-traveled to your October 2013 from the Octobers of 1946, 1967 and 2004, and I am curious to discover if your World Series will be materially different from the ones I have encountered on my journey. May I please see your matchup?

Hmmm…don’t you people ever change?

It only feels like I just woke up from historical, distant and recent memory to discover yet another World Series pitting the Red Sox versus the Cardinals. Rematches are fun every generation or two. You get them squeezed into the same decade and they get a little old if they don’t include your team.

We are also faced with the third World Series in six to encompass Shane Victorino, and it’s not like he drafted in on his teammates’ coattails for this one. Victorino, in case you looked away at the sight of this athlete, philanthropist [1] and Met-buzzing gadfly [2], socked the decisive grand slam that ultimately gave Boston the pennant [3] Saturday night. You can’t argue with the stepping up and getting it done, but you can withhold your applause if you so choose.

Beyond Victorino — whom I might cheer if his and my interests directly intersected but they don’t — the Red Sox seem like a fine bunch of fellows, their story of rocketing from worst to first is inspiring (even if it reflects really badly on Bobby Valentine’s 2012 influence) and if they want to grow beards that stretch from Fenway to Philadelphia, that’s their business. I spent one adolescent summer in a smoldering second-team romance with them, and though 1978 didn’t work out so hot on that Dented front, I’m now and then moved to maintain the slightest of embers for my old A.L. flame. Such lingering if mostly faded affection for some things Red Sock appeared permanently snuffed out by the New England attitudes of October 1986, but it turned out I was in a fairly forgiving mood afterward.

Nevertheless, the Red Sox have Shane Victorino, so that’s pretty sickening. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have Yadier Molina, so they sort of cancel each other out in my perceived enmity…except Molina’s a bigger part of the Cardinals’ overall success than Victorino is of the Red Sox’…but Carlos Beltran is on the Cardinals, and though I’m operating at narrative [4] capacity verging on overload where so-called “Señor Octubre” [5] is concerned, the thought of a team with Beltran trumping a team with Victorino is always appealing.

Unless the team with Beltran is the Cardinals, then the arrangement is laced lousy with loopholes.

It’s one of those whaddayagonnado? World Series, albeit at a lower level of default disgust than that which could be otherwise generated. A World Series featuring a stew of teams, players and fan bases you prefer to not see repeatedly rewarded could be far worse, as any Mets fan sentient in 2009 and 1999 could attest.

Though I’ll get over it in a matter of hours, I’m genuinely sorry the Tigers couldn’t break through (though a DET-STL World Series also wouldn’t be anything baseball doesn’t already know from in storybooks, film clips and “didn’t we just have one of those?” recollections). Since the dissolution of what was left of my once-beloved 2002 Angels, I’ve been without a favorite American League team. Detroit would be a nominal choice to fill that role, though I’ll admit I’ve never given them a ton of thought when they’re not right in front of me. Yet my familiarity with them from the past three postseasons and our recurring Interleague visits since 2010 combined to draw me to their cause on a temporary basis this time around. I found myself in the 2013 ALCS not rooting against the Red Sox at all but definitely pulling for the Tigers.

That didn’t work out, either, as they emitted undeniable signals in every one of their losses — even the dramatic ones — that they would eventually conjure a way to secure defeat. Perhaps if Miguel Cabrera, who wasn’t moving all that great when he was raking at Citi Field in August, didn’t appear in dire need of a wheelchair or at least a chaise lounge his team would be playing Game Seven tonight or already preparing for Game One Wednesday night. But I’m pretty sure Bobby Ojeda would roll his eyes at that thought and remind Chris Carlin that at this time of year, everybody is hurting, so suck it up and strap ’em on.

Putting aside Cabrera’s wounded walking, the tantalizingly talented Tigers just lacked the crispness necessary to put away an opponent that was no less than their equal. If there was a rundown to be Throneberryed, a ground ball to be Jefferiescized, a double play to be Castilloed into or a tenuous lead to be utterly Heilmanated, the Tigers would do it. As solid and sound as they could be for most of a season or a game, and for as many perennial Cy Young and MVP candidates as they seem to feature, they came to remind me of long-ago backup infielder Don Buddin as he was portrayed by Brendan Boyd and Fred Harris in The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book [6]:

Don Buddin was a creative goat. He was the sort of guy who would perform admirably, even flawlessly, for seven or eight innings of a ballgame, or until such time as you really needed him. Then he would promptly fold like Dick Contino’s accordion. Choke. Explode. Disintegrate. Like a cheap watch or a ’54 Chevy. He would give up the ghost and depart. […] If there was a way to make the worst out of a situation, Don Buddin could be counted on to find it.

Don Buddin was a Red Sock most of his career, but finished up as a Tiger in 1962. Figures.

While Detroit inevitably Buddined, the cameras captured Jim Leyland calculating how much he was aging and how few chances he might have left to return to a World Series. When I see his face, my instant impulse is to think what a shame that Good Ol’ Jim has never won the big one; then I make a quick correction to my thinking and remember, no, the 1997 Marlins, that was Leyland. He won a ring and accepted accolades and got to enjoy the whole bit for a good five minutes before Wayne Huizenga systematically dismantled a world champion. Maybe that’s why it seems like he’s never gone all the way. There were those three consecutive autumns in the early ’90s when his Pirates couldn’t make it over the hump and now there’ve been these three in the early ’10s when his Tigers fell similarly heartbreakingly short. Jim Leyland wears the face of proud disappointment like no manager I’ve ever seen.

It’s hard to recall that he once interrupted his stoicism with a smile at the end of an October [7], but he really did. Granted Jim Leyland winning his only World Series as manager of the Florida Marlins was like Chuck Berry earning his only No. 1 single with “My Ding-a-Ling,” [8] but when you hit the top of the chart after years of trying, they all look line drives in the next day’s box score.

Mike Matheny or John Farrell will soon tie Jim Leyland in the World Series rings accumulated while managing department. Shane Victorino could very well have twice as many parades thrown in his and his teammates’ honor as Tom Seaver, or Yadier Molina could wind up with three times as many as either of them. One among Nations identifying themselves as Red Sox or Redbird is guaranteed a third full-out celebration in the span of less than ten years. Truly, you can drive yourself to distraction if you peer at these things with excessive granularity.