By Bryan Hoch
• The Yankees and the Red Sox are done playing head-to-head in the regular season, which means that the destiny of whoever claims the AL East title will be determined by patsies like the Orioles and the Devil Rays.
Both are clubs that Boston and New York should easily be able to take care of, but with such a slim gap – 3-1/2 games – separating the bitter rivals as of Wednesday, every slip and fall by either team will be magnified hugely.
The Sox lost a game this week by blowing a late lead against the Orioles at Camden Yards, and in the end, it’s going to be those kinds of losses that define exactly who manages to come out on top.
"There is no walk in the park," Yankees reliever Jeff Nelson said this week. "These are the teams that give you the most trouble. All these teams play hard. Everyone gets up to play the Yankees. Just because they lost (a lot of) games doesn’t mean they’re going to lay down for us."
Perhaps Boston’s best chance to make up the deficit – if they can hang tough against the "spoilers" – may come Aug. 22 – 24, when the Yankees head to Chicago to take on the slugging White Sox in a three-game set. During that homestand, Boston will welcome the Orioles onto the grounds of Camden Yards, hoping to see Roberto Alomar and the White Sox provide some much-needed help.
For the team who doesn’t come out on top in the East, it’s certainly not a given that there will always be that Wild Card to fall back on. Boston is holding a leg up on the Mariners as of right now, but it’s risky business to assume that will be the case through the next three weeks.
Bottom line: if the Yankees want to be playing in October, they’d better stay strong and go get that division title. Nothing’s guaranteed.
• The Marlins are in the thick of a postseason chase themselves, and with eccentric lefty Dontrelle Willis apparently returning to form over his last two starts, Florida’s hopes are looking that much better to be appearing in October.
After dismantling their 1997 World Championship club in heartbreaking fashion, Florida became a baseball wasteland and a forgotten franchise. Playing their home games in an awful, empty football facility in Pro Player Stadium, the Marlins looked like a better candidate to contract themselves than to compete.
But Willis’ arrival in May changed all of that. He went on a ridiculous 9-2 run as he faced major-league hitters for the first time and has become something of a phenomenon in Miami – fans show up at the park dressed as cardboard freight trains ("The D-Train," they call themselves) and the Marlins have responded by introducing the D-Train Flex-Pack, a ticket package containing tickets to all of Willis’ starts.
"It’s awesome," Willis says. "Nobody was thinking we were going to be in a pennant race being 10, 12 games back (of the Braves). Now, we’re all thinking about going to the playoffs. It’s good for us to be in it."
Good for the Marlins, and good for baseball. Meet your NL Rookie of the Year.
• If nothing else, at least the aural experience in the Mets’ clubhouse is improving. This week, the team apparently discovered the commercial-free Music Choice TV networks on the Shea Stadium satellite package, abandoning the usual feed of ESPNEWS and similar sports-related programming.
The Mets are no longer Geritol Row, not since David Cone retired, but that doesn’t mean they can’t act like an old man’s team once in a while. Resident veteran John Franco was apparently thrilled by the new options on the flat-screen televisions, punching in the code for the all-1980’s music channel and blasting the volume control to ‘40’.
No matter the TV or your age, 40 is loud. It seemed even more so reveling in the delightful musical experiences that are Bananarama and Night Ranger.
• As part of the ceremonies honoring the somber anniversary of Sept. 11, Far Rockaway resident Hubert Hinds was invited to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at Shea Stadium on Wednesday. Hinds represented Windows of Hope, a 9-11 organization for those who perished at the restaurant Windows on the World atop Tower One.
Hinds, a Trinidad native who has lived in Rockaway for the past 28 years, lost his wife, Clara, in the terrorist attacks.
E-Mail Bryan Hoch at bryanhoch@ yahoo.com.