Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Last of the Clinched Pennants

Last night in Houston, the St Louis Cardinals were one strike away from losing the National League Championship Series to the Astros. But David Eckstein poked a single through the infield, Jim Edmonds walked, and Albert Pujols hit a towering home run to give the Cards a 5-4 lead, which they managed to hold onto in the bottom of the ninth. This sent the series back to St Louis, where the Cardinals will have to win two games to beat the Astros, win the National League pennant, and meet the Chicago White Sox in the World Series.

Notice I said they have to do that to win the pennant, not clinch it. As long as I'm on the subject of diction errors, I might as well cover the misuse of the word "clinch." (A pet peeve of mine for a long time, as anyone who remembers the late lamented Donowords newsletter will attest.)

From the beginning of major league baseball until 1969, when the leagues split into two divisions each, it was possible to clinch the pennant. In other words, late in each season there would come a day when the first-place team was guaranteed to finish first. Let's say the Cardinals have a record of 90-66 with six games left to play, and the second-place team, the Giants, have a record of 83-73, also with six games to play. The Cardinals have clinched the pennant, because at that point they can't fall out of first place. Even if the Giants win their six remaining games and the Cards lose all six of theirs, the Cardinals still win.

Clinching the pennant means that no matter what you do, you can't finish out of first.

Which brings us to the present. When major league baseball instituted divisional play, the top teams in each division had to play each other to determine who won the pennant and moved on to the World Series. So ever since 1969, while it's been possible for a team to clinch a division title, they can no longer clinch a pennant.

And once you're in the playoffs, it's impossible to clinch anything. Yet I still hear sportscasters (who should know better) and fans (who really should, too) say things like "The series is tied 3-3, so if we win tonight, we'll clinch the series."

Wrong. If the series is over when you win the minimum number of games it takes to win it, then you've simply won it. To clinch, there have to games yet to be played, games that will be, alas, meaningless for every team except the one that clinched.

Pass the word.

And Another Thing

+ I'm a native Hoosier who moved to the Des Moines metro area six years ago, and there's an interesting mix of baseball fans here. You'll find people who root for the Royals, the Twins, the Cubs, and the Cardinals, all of which are well within driving distance. And yet last month when I told a guy I was a Cardinals fan, he said "Jumping on the bandwagon, huh?" I seriously considered jumping out of my chair and beating the guy with a legal pad, but instead I said "Yeah, I jumped on the bandwagon when I was three years old and I've stayed on for the last 42 years."

+ Accuse me of jumping on the bandwagon, by golly--I've got a bandwagon for you right here.

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