Tonight, we witness an event as rare as a Phillies World Series title–a Phillies playoff series that goes the distance. It’s happened only twice: the 1980 NLCS, a best-of-five series that was won in five, and the 1981 NLDS, a special best-of-five series that was necessitated by the strike that split the 1981 regular season in half. The Phillies lost that one to the Montreal Expos. That’s it, in 129 seasons, only two playoff series that went the distance–the same number that the Boston Red Sox had in 1986 alone.
So if we’re not exactly in uncharted territory here, we’re close. And like most unfamiliar things, the immediate reaction is fear. And so I find myself of two minds the morning of the biggest game of the season: on the one hand, cognizant of who is taking the mound in red pinstripes, and that he was brought to Philadelphia for precisely this moment. On the other hand, fearful of the possibility–no matter who’s pitching, it’s more likely than we’d like to think–that the best team might not win. Space is not, in fact, the final frontier–Game 5 is.
When you’re looking into the great abyss, you start to go a little nuts. I, for one, have been unusually itchy these past two days.
I’ve started tabulating bizarre and non-predictive stats in the hope that somehow I’ll be able to game chaos theory enough to give Roy Halladay another couple inches of drop on his change-up. For instance: I’ve tried to decide where I’m going to watch the game by tabulating the Phillies’ record in playoff games, since 2007, based on where I watched the game. But they’re best–with a two-game minimum–when I don’t watch the game at all. After that, at my college campus, where they were 11-6, but that’s 550 miles away. After that, a bar in South Jersey that’s close…but just burned down. So that didn’t make me feel any better. What about the Phillies in elimination games? Maybe I’ll feel better then…except the Phillies are only 3-4 in elimination games in my lifetime.
For those of you who think that I don’t experience baseball the way many of you do, just because I pay attention to advanced stats, the playoffs are the time I drop the pretense of being a rational observer and descend, in case you couldn’t tell, into unbridled, weeping, knee-hugging, maniacally-laughing hysterics. Sure, I still pay attention to in-game strategy, but the playoffs are not a time for rationality.
So in a sense, tonight’s game is what we all asked for when this season started. And Halladay, at home, against Carpenter on short rest. We shouldn’t be nervous. Right? Okay, that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself. No need to be nervous.