Prior to the Boston Red Sox's brain-melting comeback in Game 5 Thursday night, it's fair to say that the American League Championship Series had been the Tampa Bay Rays' to win.
Following Boston's 4-2 victory in Game 6 on Saturday, the series is officially anyone's.
What is it that has changed the face of this year's American League showdown? Is it the Red Sox's tendency to thrive in the face of ALCS elimination--a reputation born in 2004, when they won four straight elimination games to defeat the New York Yankees--and solidified in 2007, when they rallied back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Cleveland Indians? Is it the Rays' inexperience? Is it a combination of both?
While many potential explanations hold merit, Metroville happens to believe that the 2008 ALCS has been altered by comedian, actor and radio personality Broderick Steven Harvey--perhaps better known to you as "Steve Harvey".
When baseball fans throughout the country tuned into TBS on Saturday at 8 p.m. EST--the scheduled broadcast start time for Game 6--and found themselves watching an archival "TV Bloopers" special, I'm willing to bet that most of them didn't panic. I, for example--because it was not yet 8:07 EST, the official scheduled start time for the game, when I turned on my television--assumed that, perhaps because of how late in Game 5 had the Sox turned things around, TBS had been unable to put together a pregame show.
When 8:07 EST rolled around and the TBS broadcast switched not to the Red Sox-Rays game but to a syndicated episode of "The Steve Harvey Show", it's fair to assume that most viewers' emotions took a turn. Casual baseball fans probably thought, "Hey, what the hell?"; dedicated fans of the Red Sox or the Rays probably thought, "HEY, WHAT THE HELL?!"; fans of the comedy stylings of Steve Harvey over baseball probably thought, "All right!".
As a Red Sox fan who is also possibly an honest-to-goodness crazy person, my reaction was something else entirely: I immediately feared that Boston's improbable victory on Thursday night was a product of my imagination--that they had actually lost the game and the series; there would be no baseball on TV until the World Series started on Wednesday, and no Red Sox baseball on TV until 2009.
Later, after the technicians at the Atlanta headquarters of TBS (some of whom I hope are no longer employed) had amended their colossal gaffe, my thoughts turned toward the possibility that there existed any Tampa Bay Rays fans (among the few hundred real fans, mind you, that existed prior to the current season) neurotic enough to have experienced a delusional episode similar to mine during the twenty minutes that "The Steve Harvey Show" supplanted the ballgame. What must they have been thinking? Had the Red Sox victory in Game 5 been a product of their imaginations--as I had briefly feared was the case for me--they would not have turned on their televisions on Saturday evening to watch a baseball game: the ALCS would have been over, the Rays would have reached the World Series and wouldn't be playing again until Wednesday. The only possible explanation, in their minds, would have been that...
The Tampa Bay Rays never existed!
Somewhere around 1995 or 1996, they--living lives of total unfulfilment in the farthest corner of the American Southeast and being baseball fans with no interest in the ticky-tacky Florida Marlins--had, in an unconscious preemptive countermeasure against their suicides, withdrawn from reality and conjured the establishment of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, down the very last detail. The twelve-year history of their beloved baseball team WAS NOTHING BUT A FEVER DREAM.
How fucked up must that have been for them during those twenty horrible minutes?
It was likely fucked up enough that, even after TBS had righted its sinking ship Saturday evening, there's no way that the tried-and-true Rays fans dedicated enough to have experienced a psychotic episode of such severity could have completely gotten their heads back in the game before its end. And when a team's most dedicated fans don't have their heads the game...the team doesn't have their heads in the game. The fewer the amount of truly-obsessed fans, the more influential is each individual's karma upon a team's performance. It's superstitious-science. If you don't understand it, you're not a real fan of any professional sports team (which could easily make you a current supporter of the Tampa Bay Rays).
So here we are, heading into a decisive (and--at least as of a few days ago--inconceivable) Game 7. If you think that you can honestly predict which team will win, you're either (A) a member of one of the two opposing clubs (in which case: What up, Youkilis! Sweet beard! (and/or) Hey, Grant! Is it "Balfour" or "Ball Four"? WOOO, go Sox!) or (B) a multi-divorced degenerate gambler whose children won't speak to him (in which case: Sorry Dad keeps intercepting those letters with the checks in them, Biological Dad!). It's anyone's game. Should the Rays win, I will be very, very, very sad, as a Red Sox fan...but also (comparatively much less) happy, as a baseball fan, to see a small-market, low-budget team make it to the World Series. Should the Red Sox win--as I hope they will--I will be very, very, very happy...not just for my team, but for the few Tampa Bay Rays fans who are (relatively) old-school enough to be obsessed enough with their favorite baseball team to occasionally become mental patients. Why?
Because those Tampa Bay Rays fans will finally, through their hard-earned agony, have experienced the rite of passage that is a team curse.
In their case, it would be: "The Curse of Steve Harvey".
Gotta start somewhere.