Sports: Baseball Playoffs And An NFL Game To Watch

Baseball playoffs are heating up with pennants on the line. Over in the NFL, the game everyone's watching this week is a battle of rising teams. Meanwhile, the NBA is still locked out, and if it stays that way, it could mean no Christmas games. Host Scott Simon and NPR's Tom Goldman talk sports.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.

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SIMON: The St. Louis Cardinals, they're now a game away from the World Series. Will the Tigers claw their way back against the Rangers tonight? Who will win this week's NFL battle of two undefeated teams who are on the rise? Will there be basketball for Christmas?

Why don't I stop asking all these questions and let...

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SIMON: ...Tom Goldman come in? Morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: You expect me to answer all of that?

SIMON: In order, if you can recall them, my friend.

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SIMON: Listen: 7 to 1, St. Louis over Milwaukee last night. What happened?

GOLDMAN: This is an audio representation of what happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAPPING)

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GOLDMAN: Oops. Oops, I dropped something. Scott, errors happen. Milwaukee is not a good defensive team and the Brewers picked a rotten time to show it. They committed four errors. The worst was a grounder between infielder Jerry Hairston's legs - he looked like a croquet wicket. It came with two outs in the second inning and then allowed to move runs to score. That really set a bad tone for Milwaukee.

St. Louis hit the ball well. Their relief pitching was great. Now it's back to Milwaukee where the Brewers have the best regular season home record, but the Cards have won four of their last five in Milwaukee - looking pretty good for St. Louis.

SIMON: Of course, the Rangers are going to try and do what they couldn't accomplish on Thursday, which is to finish off the Detroit Tigers and go on to the World Series.

GOLDMAN: Yes, they have not been dropping things. The Rangers are up 3-2. They have two chances in Texas to win one game. And again, you have to like the Rangers' chances. Detroit is hanging in there but you have to do more than hang in there, I think, versus this talented, young and deep Texas team.

I mean, Scott, how scary is it for the Rangers' opponents that Nelson Cruz usually bats seventh in the lineup - that's way down there. And all he's done so far is set a League Championship Series record with five homeruns.

SIMON: I have loved these playoffs. The games, until last night, the games have been close, some wonderful performances. Yes, and people like Nelson Cruz who you, you know, step up at just the right moment. These are all middle of the country. they are middle-class teams in baseball's hierarchy. And do we have any indication if the rest of the country is excited as I am?

GOLDMAN: Well, if you judge by TV ratings, the rest of the country is not excited. And it's ironic isn't it? You know, baseball prides itself on having parity; revenue-sharing appears to be working. As you mentioned, opening day payrolls for these four teams range from 10th to 17th. Yet national TV ratings are down a reported 15 percent for the first round of the playoffs. Reports on the current League Championship Series is that the national ratings are even lower.

It's got to be frustrating for Major League Baseball.

SIMON: Briefly, let's dabble in football. The Lions and the 49ers are the marquee game this week. I mean a couple of years ago you'd have to give away tickets to that match.

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GOLDMAN: I tell you, you know 5-and-0 Lions versus 4-and-1 49ers, both finished last season at 6-and-10. And, of course, we're only three years removed from the Lions' 0-and-16 embarrassment. Yeah, again, parity.

And, you know, to shift to yet another major sport, Scott, the NBA owners have to be pressing their collective noses against the glass, so wanting the kind of competitive parity they're seeing in the NFL and Major League Baseball.

SIMON: Yeah, but I would tell you there is something to be said for having a standard of excellence. You know, when the Bulls had their great run of six championships, for that matter. You know, when the Yankees and the Red Sox; when the Celtics and the Lakers, I think this is a rising tide that lifts fan interest all over.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, I think that's a really interesting point. Surely, fans in Milwaukee and Minnesota, say, would love to see their teams do well. But this, more than the NFL and Major League Baseball, is a star-driven league. And a league, as you mentioned, whose popularity over the years has been driven by dominant franchises and rivalries between dominant franchises.

SIMON: Yes or no, Theo Epstein is going to wind up with the Cubs?

GOLDMAN: Ooh, don't know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GOLDMAN: It depends on...

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GOLDMAN: How's that? It depends on compensation. What will the Cubs give the Red Sox - money, players, both? They sure want him in Chicago where, as you well know, the drought, the curse, no championship has now stretched several thousand years, I believe.

SIMON: Yeah, two millennia, if I'm not mistaken.

GOLDMAN: A hundred and three, let's call it that.

SIMON: All right, NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

SIMON: And as we mentioned, according to reports, the Cubs are close to a deal with the Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein.

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