The 2004 season is over.
For the Yanks, it means a 101-61 record, first place in the American League East, and a tough playoff schedule with the Demon Johan Santana starting at least two games of a 5 game ALDS, followed (if we're lucky) by a 2002 revenge match between the Yankees and Angels, or a rematch of last year's ALCS.
(Honest to God, I'll probably have to quit my job if we have another Yanks/Sox championship series. They're too exhausting to simultaneously follow and have full-time employment.)
It was a year in which the dead (the Houston Astros) came back to life, and the Chicago Cubs showed that only in the Lord of the Rings does the destruction of an evil relic mean that all will be well and good with the world.
The single-season hits record fell to one of the most unique artists in the game today (indeed, after we nicknamed Kenny Lofton "Lil' Smacky" I should have simply declared Ichiro! "Big Smacky" ... maybe I held off because I feared it would sound like racially stereotypical pidgin English). That is going to be one insane Strat-O-Matic card.
An even more insane strat card could belong to the Barry Bonds, who shattered his own walks record, and deep-fried his own intentional walks record. The catcher gave Barry four wide 120 times last year, roughly 17 more walks than Alfonso Soriano will see in his entire career (Just joking, Player. I halfway expect to see you back in the Bronx next season). Sadly, a nutritional supplement purveyor, a power-mad Attorney General, and a bad final week of the season might each overshadow Barry's awesome 2004.
Elsewhere in the world, enemies of Michael Lewis were putting pins into voodoo dolls of Mark Mulder this last month, with depressing results. More rally monkeys and inflatable noisemaking torture devices for Southern California! Have the Dodgers and the Angels ever made the postseason in the same year? For the moment, in 2004, the dream of the Freeway Series lives!
In the NL, two of the classiest, most successful franchises of the past decade won their divisions in a walk. Mostly, both of these teams had been written off as having not enough pitching. Not enough of us are scratching our heads and wondering what we can learn from this.
Closer to home, the New York Mets found out that Kaz Matsui's a player, except that he didn't quite field as well as expected, run fast as fast as they thought, or hit enough to make them happy. Their team, overall, turned out to be like that, so they sent their easy-going manager packing (Using the oh-so-sheek "You're fired ... In a month" method. It'd serve them right if Art Howe spent the entirety of September stealing all the front office supplies his car could carry). Then they sent their promising GM not-quite-packing, and yet sadly, their ownership remains the same. The Wilpons are trying to out-Dolan the Dolans. Luckily, there is only one Shandon Anderson, and the Mets can't have him!
In the AL Central, the Twins were the division's Yankees -- expected to win, challenged by local rival, got their stuff together mid-season and ran with it. They may've turned a corner in two ways: first, Johan Santana transformed from a pretty good pitcher to The Unbeatable Demon Johan Santana, just an "a" and an "n" away from "Satan"; second, they finally served the abundant youth in their minors, jettisoning Doug Spellingerror in favor of Justin Morneau, a guy who should be in all those Rookie of the Year conversations. Both of these fellows will be on abundant display in the ALDS.
That kinda talent makes me nervous, but it's a good kind of nervous. It's good to feel a little tight when you're playing in the playoffs. That's where the focus comes from -- and if you're a fan, where the excitement flows from.
The baseball season's over, but baseball still has a ways to go. Enjoy!