ORLANDO — The hope is that these games will provide three-hour escapes for some people, somewhere in a grieving United States. The truth is that, for many, there is no escaping the terrorist attacks that have put this country in a trance for nearly a week.
But nonetheless, it's time for baseball again.
Major League Baseball resumes play after a six-day layoff. Six National League games are on the schedule. The lone American League game—the New York Yankees at Tampa Bay—has been postponed. The Mets will play at Pittsburgh on Monday night.
Atlanta visits Philadelphia to start a four-game series that may either end the Phillies' playoff hopes and get them closer to challenging the Braves for the National League East title. The Phillies stand 3 1/2 games behind the Braves.
"While I recognize that the suffering from Tuesday's horrific tragedy continues, I believe in the spirit of national recovery and a return to normalcy," Commissioner Bud Selig said at a press conference in Milwaukee. "Major League Baseball as a social institution can best be helpful by resuming play at the most appropriate time. I believe that time is Monday."
Most teams are down to their final 18 or 19 games (the Boston Red Sox have 21 remaining), and there are many storylines left that might provide intrigue.
At the forefront is Barry Bonds, who has 18 games left to break Mark McGwire's record of 70 homers. Bonds has 63. The Seattle Mariners, at 104-40, would have to finish 13-5 to break the 1906 Cubs record of 116 victories. Arizona Diamondbacks Manager Bob Brenly has changed his pitching rotation and will start Randy Johnson on Monday night against Colorado.
It means that Johnson (18-6) could make five starts before the season ends, bettering his chance to break Nolan Ryan's 28-year-old record of 383 strikeouts in a single season. Johnson has 336 strikeouts this season, only 48 away from breaking the record. And despite his great season, Johnson's teammate, Curt Schilling, may win the NL Cy Young award.
Breaking records—or better yet, the moments that record-breakers can provide—is hemmed into sports culture, one of the reasons we like to watch. Though it would be foolish now to say a sports accomplishment can heal a nation, there is no doubt it can help, at least at that moment.
In the American League, the playoff field appears set with the Yankees, Mariners, Oakland Athletics and Cleveland Indians all feeling comfortable. The National League, however, has plenty of doubt. None of the NL division leaders are ahead by more than five games. In the West, the Diamondbacks hold the slimmest lead. They are ahead of Bonds' San Francisco Giants by 1 1/2 games, and the Los Angeles Dodgers are only three games out.
In all, eight teams are vying for the National League's four playoff spots. The wild-card race alone is five deep. The Giants are in that spot now, but they are ahead of St. Louis by a 1/2 game, ahead of the Cubs and Dodgers by 1 1/2 games and ahead of the Phillies by just 4 1/2 games.
And that picture could get more complicated if the division leaders change.
The jumbling of the schedule will also mean that both Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. will end their careers at home instead of the road, which is more fitting. But try telling that to some fans who paid up to $1,000 for tickets to Ripken's Sept. 30 game in Yankee stadium, thinking that would be his final game.