Death by Pedro
September should have been R&R time for Indians fans, since the Tribe wrapped up a playoff berth around Flag Day. Instead Clevelanders spent the month watching the scoreboard and getting edgier than Bobby Valentine. How could the Indians lead the American League in victories, as they did for most of September, only to draw Boston in the first round of the playoffs?
The Red Sox, of course, have Pedro Martinez. He was 23-4 with a 2.08 ERA, 312 strikeouts and a measly 37 walks in 212? innings through Monday. If he wins twice in the best-of-five Division Series—a good bet, since Boston has won 22 of his 29 starts and he's 4-0 lifetime against Cleveland—the Sox will need just one victory in the other three games to advance.
Such numbers have kept matchup-minded Cleveland fans rooting schizophrenically. They cheered for the A's in Oakland's wild-card race against the Red Sox. They rooted for the East Division-leading Yankees against Boston until the Red Sox swept a recent series at Yankee Stadium, at which point it made more sense to root for the Red Sox against the Yanks, hoping Boston would win the East and face the West Division-champ Rangers in the first round. Tribe fans even found themselves backing the Red Sox against their beloved Indians for the same reason. They rooted for everyone against Texas, but then it became clear that the one way Cleveland could avoid Martinez in the first round was if the Rangers wound up with the league's best record and had to face the wild card—so they began rooting for Texas against everyone else. Is that clear?
Scoreboard watching shouldn't be this maddening, and it wouldn't be if the playoffs' first round were best-of-seven like the league championship series and the World Series. "Seven games is a much fairer gauge of who has the better team," says Reds manager Jack McKeon. "There's no question that Arizona, with Randy Johnson, and Boston have an advantage in a short series. I'd hate like hell to have to face Pedro."
If any postseason set should be best of seven, it's the Division Series. Giving a club that didn't win its division a chance to knock off the best team in the league with a mere three victories cheapens the whole season. That's why it's vital to beef up the first round.
You can argue that the season is already too long, but if it is, another couple of days won't matter, especially days that are full of postseason drama. So let's make the Division Series four out of seven before it's too late—before some poor Cleveland fan's head explodes.
The New Comeback Kid
It's the perpetual barroom question—fourth quarter, trailing by a touchdown, who do you want at quarterback?—and it has a new answer. With John Elway retired to life as a beer spokesman, the Patriots' Drew Bledsoe has become the NFL's premier fourth-quarter miracle worker.
The Pats held off the Giants last week without last-minute heroics, but with a pair of fourth-quarter comebacks already this year, Bledsoe has 16 such turnarounds through the third game of his seventh NFL season. That's not far short of Elway's 18 in his first seven years. Elway went on to win 43 games with late comebacks, nine more than active leader Dan Marino, who had 12 in his first seven seasons.