- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Who do you root for in the postseason? That's easy.
Root for the Twins. Because Bud Selig wanted to smother them. Because owner Carl Pohlad was ready to hold the pillow. Because they survived both to reach the American League championship series last year. Because they had to overcome an even greater obstacle this year -- a 7½-game deficit in July. Because Shannon Stewart deserves MVP consideration even though the Toronto Blue Jays signed his paychecks until mid-July. Because 55,000 homer hankies waving in the Metrodome air conditioning are as inspiring as the stars and stripes flapping in the breeze.
No, root for the Athletics. Because they have a payroll as low as the Tigers but are making their fourth consecutive postseason appearance. Because general manager Billy Beane and his staff have proved that you can win -- and win consistently -- on a budget that would make Montgomery Burns weep. Because if they win the World Series, Bud won't be able to blame economic disparities anymore. Because we can't wait for the updated paperback edition of "Moneyball,'' the one with a chapter on the 2003 World Series.
No, root for the Red Sox. Because the United States has won two World Wars since Boston last won a World Series. Because Pedro Martinez is the most dominant and exciting pitcher in baseball under 6-feet-10 inches. Because they're a team of ballplayers who look like they're more interested in six-packs than six-pack abs. Because Ben Affleck needs something to make up for losing J-Lo. Because if they win it all, we'll never have to hear about the Curse of the Bambino again.
No, root for Atlanta. Because Greg Maddux has been so good and so consistent for so many years, they ought to name that award after him. Because there are bottles of 12-year-old Macallan Scotch that haven't been as good and reliable for as long as Atlanta. Because this team can actually hit, instead of lulling audiences to sleep like their predecessors did. Because if the rest of the corporation produced like this, AOL-Time Warner wouldn't be in such a mess.
No, root for the Cubs. Because they haven't reached the World Series during Oprah Winfrey's lifetime. Because they didn't win the World Series during Katharine Hepburn's. Because if the Cubs reach the World Series and Sammy Sosa was caught with a corked bat, there wouldn't be any room for any stories about Lacey Peterson or the California governor's race or any other silly stories that constantly pollute the airwaves. Because if they make the World Series, they'll have to have somebody good sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame,'' won't they?
No, root for the Giants. Because they paid for their ballpark instead of fleecing the taxpayers. Because Felipe Alou has given so much to the game, he deserves to finally begin one winter watching ticker tape float down like snowflakes. Because Barry Bonds was both superhuman and human this season. Because he deserves to wear a world championship ring in addition to all his other jewelry.
No, root for the Marlins. Because the team still might be offering items from the 1998 fire sale on eBay. Because manager Jack McKeon is older than Wilford Brimley but still has one of the game's sharpest minds. Because Dontrelle Willis is younger than Britney Spears but still has one of the game's most electrifying arms. Because given their awful attendance, they need all the fans they can get. Because win or lose, they still have to report to Jeffrey Loria.
No, root for the Yankees. Because ... ummmm ... well ... let's see . . . give me a few minutes, I'm sure I'll come up with something ...
No, on second thought. Don't root for the Yankees. Definitely don't ever root for the Yankees. Don't ever root for the Yankees under any circumstances.
Root for everybody and anybody else, though. Just don't use those annoying thunderstix.
Boxscore line of the week
The Blue Jays finished short of the postseason for the 10th year in a row and in third place for the sixth consecutive season. But Carlos Delgado gave them something to cheer last Thursday when he hit his 300th career home run in is first at-bat, his 301st his next, his 302nd his next and his 303rd his last, making him the 15th player in big-league history to homer four times in one game. Delgado's line:
4 AB, 4 R, 4 H, 6 RBI, 4 HR
Lies, damn lies and statistics
Here are how the postseason teams break down in terms of payroll: Yankees (1st, $157 million), Red Sox (3rd, $101 million), Atlanta (4th, $99 million), Giants (5th, $89 million), Cubs (8th, $86 million), Twins (15th, $68 million), Marlins (20th, $53 million), Athletics (21st, $49 million). The worst eight teams in terms of payroll: Tigers (23rd, $47 million), Devil Rays (30th , $19 million), Padres (25th, $45 million), Mets (7th, $87 million) Cleveland (22nd, $48 million), Brewers (28th, $28 million), Reds (19th, $58 million), Rangers (11th, $73 million) and Orioles (16th, $68 million). The Yankees paid $1.55 million per victory while Oakland paid $510,000. The Tigers paid $1 million per victory. The team with the 29th highest payroll (Toronto) won 86 games. The Mets paid Mo Vaughn almost as much as the Devil Rays paid their entire team. ... Albert Pujols had a great season and came close to a triple crown, but his final numbers - 43 home runs, 124 RBIs and a .359 average -- would not have won the triple crown in any of the past 10 seasons, either. They wouldn't have even been enough to have led the National League in any of the traditional three categories last year. ... The Mariners have the best record in baseball (393-255) over the past four years, averaging 98 wins and spending more than 600 days in first place -- and have exactly one division championship to show for it. The Athletics have been in first place a quarter as long during the same span and have three championships. Seattle has blown eight-, seven- and 6½-game leads during that span. . . . Don't blame it on the pitchers. Seattle became the first team since the 1966 Dodgers to use only five starters -- Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia, Joel Piniero, Ryan Franklin and Gil Meche (who missed the past 2½ years with arm injuries) the entire season. "It's a significant accomplishment,'' pitching coach Bryan Price said. "And we got 15 wins and 185 innings from the guy in the No. 5 hole (Meche) when we were wondering whether he could go a month without blowing out his arm.'' ... The Tigers avoided tying the Mets record for most losses in a season by rallying against reliever Jesse Orosco, whose pro career began in 1978 when Alan Trammell played his first full season in the majors. Detroit averaged fewer runs per game (5.64 runs) than the 1906 Hitless Wonders White Sox (5.77 runs). ... The world of literature and sports suffered a loss last week with the passing of George Plympton. Plympton was a marvelous writer and his participatory journalism is a joy to read. He also made his mark on baseball. He created Sidd Finch for his famous spoof in Sports Illustrated and though he couldn't match Finch's velocity himself, Plympton was able to get Willie Mays out on a popup in an exhibition game while working on For "Out of My League.'' He'll be missed. ...
From left field
The postseason participants are familiar ones -- all eight have made the playoffs since 1997. Meanwhile, it will be another October off for the usual suspects. Here are the 10 longest postseason droughts:
Win Blake Stein's money
This week's category is: Long Waits That Don't Involve The Women's Room At Wrigley Field.
QUESTION: What is the longest drought a team has gone between postseason appearances?
ANSWER: The St. Louis Browns were in existence 43 years before finally reaching the World Series in 1944. And they didn't even get to leave town -- their opponents were the St. Louis Cardinals.
"I think that last at-bat might have been the toughest I've ever had.''
-- Edgar Martinez, who received a thunderous standing ovation Sunday for what may have been his final at-bat. After hitting .294 with 24 home runs and 98 RBI at age 40, he hasn't decided whether to retire or not.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
There are good reasons to root for each of this year's playoff teams -- well, except for the one in New York.