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ISSUE 118 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/24/2004

Not so fast

By Ryan Maus
Sports Editor

Friday, September 24, 2004

Ah, the glorious season of autumn. Leaves begin to fall from their branches, temperatures drop, and students everywhere are forced to leave behind the carefree bliss of summer vacation for the oppressive confines of the classroom. Yes, fall conjures up many different images, but for countless sports fans around the country, fall means just one thing: football season. Millions of people around the nation have been waiting anxiously for seven months to plop down in front of their TVs and watch grown men beat each other senseless for 60 minutes every week.

Now, dont get me wrong; I enjoy watching football as much as the next guy. Ill cheer on the Vikings and ridicule the Packers every Sunday afternoon, just like every other red-blooded Minnesotan. But unlike many other fans, Im not about to hand over my full sporting consciousness to those brutes on the gridiron. In my mind, fall still belongs to Americas real national pastime.

The 2004 baseball season is shaping up to be a memorable one. Barry Bonds, arguably the greatest player of all time, recently became the third member of baseballs incredibly exclusive 700 Club, joining Hank Aaron (755 homers) and Babe Ruth (714) as the only players in major league history to hit over 700 homers in a career. The Mariners Ichiro Suzuki is chasing George Sislers record for most hits in a single season (257), a mark that has stood for 84 years. These accomplishments, while certainly noteworthy, pale in comparison to the battles that are raging in the leagues four remaining pennant races.

On the West Coast, the Oakland Athletics recent slump has allowed the 2002 World Champion Anaheim Angels to creep back into the playoff picture, while across the Bay, the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers are batting for supremacy in the National League West.

The two most hotly contested playoff races are shaping up in the AL East and the NL Wild Card. The Chicago Cubs, a trendy preseason pick to represent the National League in the World Series, have underachieved all season long and are currently fighting tooth and nail with the Giants and the late-emerging Houston Astros for that final postseason spot. Bonds and the Giants currently hold a slim lead, but that could change at any time.

Even Hurricane Ivan decided to throw its hat into the ring. Torrential rains forced the postponement of a number of key games. Both the Cubs and the Florida Marlins will play multiple make-up games during the last two weeks of the regular season, taxing their pitchings staffs and possibly affecting the outcome of the playoff race.

Predictably, none of these races are receiving the amount of publicity which has been given to the decades-long rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox, elevated this season to previously unseen heights. This annual battle got an early start this year, as both teams were major players in the Alex Rodriguez sweepstakes last winter. The Yankees (naturally) emerged victorious while the Red Sox slinked quietly away with their tails between their legs. A bench-clearing brawl in late July only intensified the tension between these two long-time adversaries.

Up until about one month ago, it appeared that the Yankees owner George Steinbrenners off-season shopping spree would be enough to buy the Bronx Bombers their seventh consecutive division title. They led the second place Red Sox by a whopping 10 1/2 games on Aug. 16, a seemingly insurmountable deficit. But a series of defensive-minded trades made in late July (one involving Minnesota malcontent Doug Mientkiewicz) finally began to pay dividends for Boston: they won 25 of their next 30 contests and cut the Yankees lead to a mere two and a half games.

It was only this past weekend that the Red Sox fell back to earth, losing a key series in New York to fall four and a half games out of first. The two teams play each other again this weekend in Boston, and it seems only a Red Sox sweep can keep Steinbrenners Evil Empire from taking the division crown once again.

While its hard to ignore the juggernaut that is the NFL come September, Im here to remind you that Sunday isnt the only day of the week featuring hard-hitting sports action. If the regular season is any indication, the 2004 baseball postseason promises to be must-see TV. Dont develop helmet-vision this fall, sports fans: you may miss the real highlight of the season.

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