As the requiem-for-Labor Day weekend drew to a close, the baseball pennant races in both Leagues kicked into gear, but especially in the National League, which appears to be where the action is this season.
In the East, the Phillies and Braves were locked in a Chinese death match, with the two teams still to play each other six more times-- including the last three games of the season, in Atlanta. In the Midwest, Cincinnati had pulled decisively ahead of St Louis, although the Cardinals remained in the hunt for the Wild Card. In the West, the San Diego Padres had come back to the pack with the Giants and the fatefully-fast closing Colorado Rockies coming on.
A week later, there are now less than twenty games to go in the season, but in baseball, sometimes even ten games from the end, you still don't know what's going to happen.
Three years ago, the Phillies looked dead in the water when the Mets suddenly collapsed in the last two weeks of the season and the Phillies got to their first playoffs in years. Then in 2008, the Mets came out of Labor Day weekend up by two and half games, only to fade again as the Phillies rolled to their first World Championship since 1980.
On the other hand for Phillies fans, there will always be 1964: six games up with twelve games to go. Because of moments like September 1964 in the Phillies star-crossed history, this year's abundantly-talented team is contending not only with Atlanta and the Wild Card contenders from the West, but with the ghost and demons of Phillies teams past.
Meanwhile, in the West, while the Padres are interesting because they came out of nowhere, and the Rockies, because they mysteriously get hot every September, the team with the most to lose is the San Francisco Giants.
At the turn of century, the Giants were a team built to win in their new "naming rights here" ballpark, and win they did. But as the great Barry Bonds slowly faded, GM Brian Sabean tried to build the team from the outside-in around Bonds, and it didn't work. Now in their third Bonds-less season, the Giants have to win, or Sabean may be sayin' goodbye.
By any measure though, the Giants GM has done a good job with this year's team, piecing together a respectable offense out of a collection of prospects, spare parts and castoffs to go along with the already strong, young pitching.
This weekend was big for the Giants. They went into San Diego, took three out of four from the Padres and pulled into a mathematical tie for first place in the West.
The Giants had been out of the Division lead since the end of May. It should have been a triumphant moment, but on Sunday one of the key spare parts, 32 year-old Centerfielder Andres Torres, went down with a sudden case of appendicitis.
Previously, pretty much of a career minor leaguer, Torres became the Giant's spark this year: a base stealing, home run hitting lead-off man, whose speed in the outfield compensated for the incredible lead-footedness of fellow cast-offs Pat Burrell in Left and Jose Guillen in Right.
Losing Torres is bad, but even worse for the Giants is the irresistible, "who are those guys," rise of the Colorado Rockies who have now won ten in a row, putting them a game and a half behind both San Francisco and San Diego.
The Giants play three more games with Rockies the weekend of September 24-26, and they better hope they can hold their own until then.
If I had to lay a wager today, I would bet on the Phillies to win the East, the Giants to win the West, Cincinnati in the Midwest and Colorado to take the Wild Card.
Perhaps fortunately for me, I don't have the money to lose.
I've also made a personal decision to try and ignore the National Football League until the end of baseball season. I don't know if this will make me a better person, but . . . it couldn't hurt.