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Sports: Chances In Baseball And NFL Midwest Battle


This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.


SIMON: Baseball's pennant races are in full swing. Will the words Baltimore, October, and baseball be heard in the same sentence for the first time since Cal Ripken Jr. was in short pants? But times are more trying for the Pittsburgh Pirates. And the battle in the American League Central between the surging Tigers and some nimble pale hose. For more, we're joined by Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine.

Howard, morning. How are you?

HOWARD BRYANT: Hey, good morning, Scott, how are you?

SIMON: Fine, thank you.

Let's talk about the American League East first. The Baltimore Orioles are tied, tied with the New York Yankees.

BRYANT: It's incredible. It's an amazing, amazing story. They hadn't...

SIMON: This is like the Russian army being tied with Monaco's police force, yes?


BRYANT: Well, and no one quite knows how they're doing it. They're doing it with smoke and mirrors and magic and fun. And it's been an amazing summer in Baltimore, considering that the Orioles are giving up more runs than they score. And they simply are unbelievable in one-run games. And it's extra inning games.

They've won 27 out of 34 games, where it's a one-run game. And those are the games where usually things balance out. At some point you're going, OK, that ten game losing streak's supposed to happen right now. But it's not happening. You've got 20 games left or less than that. And they're right there.

They haven't been in the playoffs since 1997 when Mike Mussina and Cal Ripken were there. And it's been a great, great year. It's one of those things that makes baseball so much fun all of a sudden. Everyone talks about the money and the $200 million Yankees and the $170 million Red Sox, but there's Baltimore, one of the great stories of the year.

SIMON: However, Pittsburgh, sad times. I mean, for the past couple of years they've come out of the gate beautifully, gotten a lot of people excited. Brown statue of Honus Wagner there is dancing. And then we get to this point in the season. They are, I believe, 14 games behind Cincinnati, just a game over .500.

BRYANT: Well, it's not just that. You've got a wildcard, so you've got two extra chances to make the playoffs. The Pirates haven't had a winning record since Barry Bonds left at the end of the 1992 season. This year, they were 58 and 42, just last month. It was looking like they were on their way to making the playoffs and to be at least .500, to say to their fans, hey, look, we're going in the right direction for the first time in 20 years. And now this. They're 14 and 29 since. And they even got beat by the Cubs. I mean, if you get beaten by...


SIMON: Yes, I've gotten some - some Pirates fans have been shaking my hands.

BRYANT: If we're losing to the Cubs, we know it's wait until next year time. So they're 72 and 71. They've got one last stand to make. And this would be a very, very, very sad collapse, because the people of Pittsburgh don't deserve this. It's a great baseball town and they were very, very, very close this year. So let's hope they've got a last stand in them.

SIMON: Let me ask about the great South Side of Chicago, because you have a good old-fashioned championship race, you know, daily check-the-standings, what's happening, listen-late-at-night race between the White Sox and the Detroit Tigers.

BRYANT: Yeah, and let's not forget the Tigers were in the American League Championship game last year, in the series. They were just a couple of plays away from taking a game seven - taking the series to a game seven with Texas. And so they're a great team.

But the White Sox are another traffic story. Robin Ventura, first year manager, and he's been a terrific influence on them. And they're hanging in there. They're a game ahead of the Tigers, and it's going to be an everyday check-the-standings type of thing. It would be a good story for baseball for them to make the playoffs as well.

They won the World Series in 2005, but the Tigers - everyone had thought they were going to come in and blow that league away - that division away and they've haven't. So, once again, just like in the American League East, the American League Central is one to watch everyday.

SIMON: Yeah. And in the 15 seconds we have left. Oakland is just three games behind the Texas Rangers.

BRYANT: And don't sleep on the Oakland As, actually probably the best story in baseball. "Moneyball" strikes again. Billy Beane and company out in Oakland, amazing job. They're going to make the playoffs as well. So the meek have inherited the earth this year.


SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN the magazine. Thanks so much.

BRYANT: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.