|Last-place teams miss out on playoff fever|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 18 September 2007 11:25|
Dontrelle Willis sits at his locker, ignoring the TV and the buzz generated by the capacity crowd in Chicago.
``Can we win tonight?'' Willis pleads to no one in particular. ``Puh-leeze?''
The answer turns out to be, ``No.'' The Marlins lose, as they've done most nights for the past month. That's the reason they're out of the postseason race, playing before tiny crowds and counting the days until the offseason.
The Marlins aren't alone. In Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Cincinnati, September is typically a time for players to start thinking about hunting and fishing trips, family vacations and perhaps arbitration.
Elsewhere, playoff fever has broken out. For non-contending teams, it's as though a party is being thrown and they weren't invited.
``We put ourselves in this situation,'' Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla said. ``It's not about getting invited. This is the kind of party where you've got to invite yourself.''
The same teams seem to endure sorrowful Septembers every year:
-The Marlins won World Series championships in 1997 and 2003 as the NL wild card team but, more recently, late-season tailspins have become a tradition for the franchise, which has never challenged for a division title.
-The Royals have extended a stretch of only one winning season since 1993, and they haven't made the playoffs since their World Series championship in 1985.
-The Reds on Monday clinched their seventh consecutive losing season, the longest in a half-century for the once-proud franchise.
-The Devil Rays are again in last place, where they've finished every year but one since their first game in 1998.
-And then there are the Pirates. A defeat Saturday locked up their 15th consecutive losing season, one off the Phillies' record of 16 in a row from 1933 to 1948.
``My own family calls us losers,'' Pittsburgh pitcher Ian Snell said.
Buddy Bell knows how meaningless games in September can become a bad habit. Bell, who plans to step down as Kansas City manager in two weeks, has played or managed more than 3,600 games without ever making the playoffs.
``There have been some situations where I had to get in somebody's face because they couldn't wait for the season to end,'' Bell said. ``But I think that's pretty rare.''
Some teams out of contention remain feisty in September. The Devil Rays have played their best baseball of the season recently, stoking optimism for 2008 thanks to a potent lineup, an improved bullpen and solid starting pitching led by Scott Kazmir and James Shields.
``It's different from the old days,'' all-star left fielder Carl Crawford said. ``It's a different attitude.''
Bad teams tend to fade at the finish, straining to find motivation by embracing the spoilers' role against contenders.
``It helps when you're going to places like Chicago and Milwaukee, where there will be crowds,'' Reds interim manager Pete Mackanin said. ``It's different if you're home and you've got 10,000 people in the stands.''
Matchups involving non-contending teams are sure to trigger yawns. A showdown for last place in the NL East brought the Washington Nationals to Miami last week, and there were 375 fans on hand for the final game of the series.
``It's a little sad that you can count how many people are in the stands,'' Florida first baseman Mike Jacobs said.
``It looked like an extended spring training game,'' Nationals manager Manny Acta said. ``It was so sad and so lonely. The umpire could hear every word.''
Not surprisingly, teams out of the playoff picture in September rank worst in attendance. Tampa Bay and Kansas City are last and next-to-last in the AL, while Florida, Pittsburgh, Washington and Cincinnati bring up the rear in the NL.
The Marlins are notorious for poor attendance, and lately they've reached a new low. Ticket sales for one recent game were announced as 12,345, reinforcing suspicions the organization fabricates such numbers, and the typical turnout for recent games has been 3,000 or less.
``You can hear people talking - to themselves,'' Jacobs says.
Foul balls in the first row behind home plate land on empty seats. Fans rooting for the visitors outnumber Marlins supporters.
``It would be nice to have a bunch of fans,'' Florida reliever Lee Gardner says. ``But it's not like we're putting a lot on the table for them to rush through that door.''
For that reason, in places like Miami, Pittsburgh and Kansas City, September's not about the postseason. It's about football season.
AP Sports Writers Fred Goodall in Tampa, Joe Kay in Cincinnati, Alan Robinson in Pittsburgh and Doug Tucker in Kansas City, Mo. contributed to this report.