It spins constantly, with every 24 hours bringing a complete revolution. The world of baseball, especially this time of year when days grow short, nights become cool, leads get small and stomachs turn queasy, can grab you by the collar and demand your attention every single day. No other ports can do that, not when they are bogged down in endlessly boring shootarounds, morning skates, pro-ams or, worst of all, closed practices.
Or maybe you had forgotten. This, after all, is the first full baseball season in three years. Maybe the 1994-95 strike short-circuited your circadian rhythms. If so, then last week set you right, like one of those bright boxes of light prescribed for sufferers of jet lag.
Nothing is better for baseball's postapocalyptic recovery than the kind of daily drama that occurred in the penultimate week of this season. Monday, Sept. 16, brought us hit lumber 3,000 by the Minnesota Twins' Paul Molitor; Tuesday gave us the resignation—in every sense of the word—of Pittsburgh Pirates manager Jim Leyland and an improbable mile-high no-hitter by the Los Angeles Dodgers' Hideo Nomo; and Wednesday showed us 20 strikeouts by the Boston Red Sox' Roger Clemens.
The rest of the week pulsated with the incomparable excitement of divisional races going down to the wire, with fortuitous matchups that underscored the need not for the gimmickry of interleague play but for more intradivision games. Four of the six division leaders played their closest pursuer on Thursday, highlighted by a fierce doubleheader in New York between the Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles.
On Friday the Atlanta Braves essentially fended off the Montreal Expos for good; on Saturday the Seattle Mariners slugged their way into the record book and down the necks of the nervous Texas Rangers; and on Sunday the San Diego Padres brought Nomo back to earth, or at least sea level, with an urgent victory over the Dodgers.
The good old days are back. Tune in tomorrow and every day. At week's end four division titles were either clinched or all but assured, but there were still four playoff spots to be decided in the season's final week.
A milestone hit by the classy Molitor touched off a belated run on the box office
What could have been more bizarre than fans lining up at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City last week looking to buy tickets to a game the last-place Royals had already played? It was Kansas City's good fortune to host the game in which 40-year-old Paul Molitor of the Minnesota Twins rapped the 3,000th hit of his career. The feat sent souvenir hunters running for the ticket windows to ask, "Got any for yesterday's game?"
While 16,843 tickets had been sold before the game, only about 7,000 fans showed up at the stadium. But after the game took on historical significance, an additional 9,900 tickets were sold over the next 72 hours.
Molitor has played 19 seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Twins with quiet, classy professionalism and a hitting stroke so pure that former Royals third baseman George Brett, a fellow member of the 3,000-hit club who was in attendance on Molitor's big night, said, "You could place a full glass of water on his helmet when he swung and he would not spill a drop."