The Rays will clinch a playoff berth over the next few days. Mathematical probability and countless simulation engines prepared me for the day a month ago. The appearance will be their second postseason berth and, with it, my second October with real rooting interests. The importance of this October to the franchise’s future cannot be understated and as such, I will not state it at all in this piece. Instead, I want to delve into the playoff atmosphere itself.
Every franchise in this tournament has playoff experience at some point or another. There are new fans who have never experienced it before and those are the ones I write to, and if I do my job correctly, veterans of the battles can sit back and nod their heads in agreement. How is this going to feel? What should I anticipate? Are the rumors about ballyhooed levels of tension about playoff games legitimate?
From my experiences, those rumors are correct. These games play by different rules. Rules that expressly state results as the king, prince, jester, and maybe the queen too. You can be the better team and play better baseball, but if the breaks go against you, then the series can too. Danger is always on a game’s breath. Ask me about playoff meltdowns, I will point to game five of the 2008 American League Championship Series. Ask me about believing that my team will break my heart and I can point you to the dark night following game six. Ask me about exuberant triumph and unshackling emotion and I will point to the celebration after game seven, in which Carl Crawford’s reaction will live on in my heart and soul well after he moves on to his next team.
It is the way of the stage, of the presentation, of everyone knowing that this could be the final series of the year — hell, knowing that this will be the final series of the season – and of knowing that many fans are watching. I have never felt more self-conscious about my favorite players than I did during the World Series run. Did folks think any less of Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena because of their ill-timed slumps? Is everyone convinced that B.J. Upton cares and can play this game? Will J.P. Howell get props or will he continue to live under the shadow of bullpen by committee scorn and distaste? Will the broadcast ever utter the name Andrew Friedman and attribute the success to him too, or are Chuck LaMar and Joe Maddon the only names known?
Some of that is admittedly petty and me being overly attentive, but that is what you can expect starting next week. All of the lights and adrenaline and emotions will flow through you and occasionally shock you like electricity. The buzz will stick to your veins throughout a game day and off-days are both, 1) a nice (if brief) reprieve from the pressures of enthrallment, and 2) a reminder that this is what death encompasses.
I will refrain from calling the playoff experience a drug, even if that means I cannot address Yankees fans as addicts or the Pirates fan base as straight edge. Instead, the best simile I have is this: it’s like placing a compression sleeve on your heart. It will feel tight and awkward for a while, but at its best it will come as a revolution.
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