Baseball enjoying classic pennant races

All year long it’s been New York, Tampa Bay, Boston. New York, Tampa Bay, Boston.

“I’d like to do something to those Yankees,” my die-hard, Red Sox-loving grandmother said. “But I don’t know what it would be.”

No one knows. And it doesn’t seem to matter. All year long, New York, Tampa Bay, Boston.

Now comes news that the Red Sox at least made a run at bringing Johnny Damon back to Boston. He probably could have the full beard back by breakfast if he stopped shaving now. It might have been nothing more than a sentimental boost, but that’s something. It was worth a try. This is a division race, a pennant race we’re seeing. This is when you make moves. You do anything you can. This is when everyone’s all in.

In the Ken Burns documentary running in our mind’s eye, we envision baseball like this, going down to the wire all the time. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s how we like to remember it. That’s the way it should be.

Bobby Thomson just left us the other day. It was his homer leaving the Polo Grounds that wrapped up the most famous pennant race of them all. Now that was baseball. So is this.

New York, Tampa Bay, Boston. We’re officially living in the Good Ol’ Days.

Look all around the standings. This is as close as the division races have been since baseball split into six of them.

The White Sox are within striking distance of the Twins. The Cardinals are fighting mad and breathing down the necks of the Reds. The Phillies are right with the Braves. And thank goodness for those refreshing San Diego Padres. But they’ve got to shake the Giants first.

The Giants. Bobby Thomson. Now that was baseball.

So is this. The Giants are right there in the wild-card race, even with Tim Lincecum in a slump. The guy with the Bad News Bears hair has been less than an ace, and still, San Francisco can smell the postseason.

“In my mind, I feel like I’m getting back to form,” he told reporters after his last outing, which was his fourth straight loss. It’s the worst streak of his career. And still, his Giants are in it. Still, they march on.

Still, if the Freak can find himself, the wild card gets wilder still.

The wild card. I admit, I was not a fan of it. This isn’t football. This isn’t March Madness, with its at-large bids. No, this is baseball, and half of its appeal is that it’s still half in the past. Its biggest fans are running Ken Burns in their heads, even as they take in tonight’s real-time game.

Is Brooklyn still in the league?

(No. But that quote will live on as long as the “GB” spot in the standings does.)

We still dwell in the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field and Elysian Fields. The crack of the bat brings us back. Bobby Thomson just left us. It seems like he was just with us.

And he was. Every time someone hit a late-inning homer, he was Bobby Thomson. The Giants won the pennant all over again.

That’s what baseball was about. And so is this. Baseball is about races. And the wild card? Well, it did water things down. It did irk the Bob Costas in all of us. But this season there are races. And then the wild card brings races within races, races upon races. This season, it’s New York and Tampa Bay and Boston. And the Phillies surging. And the Reds and Cardinals brawling.

And the Red Sox trying to bring Damon home.

This season it’s as close late as it’s been in a long, long time.

In our memory, baseball was always like this, going down to the wire all the time. Did it? Well, no. Of course not. But that’s the way it is today, right now. Tonight.

Giants-Dodgers. Now that was baseball. But so is this. Cue the music. Call Ken Burns.

Every once in a while, the Good Ol’ Days happen while you’re watching. It’s exciting.

You won’t find Keith Hernandez asleep in the booth these days.

Or, then again, maybe you might. He does announce for the Mets.