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SCOTT SIMON, host:

The Detroit Tigers are just a game away from the World Series. They're up 3-0 against the Oakland Athletics. Kenny Rogers, the pitcher, who at 41 is almost as old as Kenny Rogers the singer, shut out the A's yesterday, as he did the Yankees last week. It all came down to the ninth inning for the St. Louis Cardinals. They scored three runs to tie up the National League Series 1-1 last night in New York, beating the Mets 9-6. Both series continue today.

But this year's post-season took a tragic turn this week when a small plane carrying New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle crashed into a high rise on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

I'm joined now by Howard Bryant, staff writer for the Washington Post. Howard, thanks for being with us again.

Mr. HOWARD BRYANT: (Washington Post): Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: You covered Cory Lidle back in 2001, when he was an Oakland A.

Mr. BRYANT: When he was with the Oakland A's, yes, and I was covering the Yankees during the American League division series. A great series back then. And yeah, he pitched game four against the Yankees. A sad game for the A's. It's a really, really sad story. When I heard about this, it was very strange because we were actually covering the Redskins and we're watching it on television and then, you know, slow tidbits of news began to come out and then the phone started ringing, you know, from California, because the A's were about to play their series.

And it's a very interesting thing because - Mike Lupica wrote a very column about how Cory Lidle was more famous in death now than in life. He was not necessarily a very popular player, and it was interesting to me because he was one of those guys who had a lot of outside interests, and in baseball, if you don't eat, drink, sleep baseball, then people kind of question your dedication. The one thing is that he loved to fly. He loved to gamble and he'd had all these different things that he did, and I was very interested in how the story began to change, that when he was a player, these issues were always part of controversy for him, and unfortunately this happens and it was just very sad.

I was very shocked for the whole thing, especially when a young player - when something like that happens to an athlete.

SIMON: Family man too, of course. Let's do talk about baseball. Boy, the Tigers look like they've timed it just right. They were on a descent a little bit towards the end of the season. Kenny Rogers is pitching maybe better than he ever has before.

Mr. BRYANT: Well, Kenny Rogers - they have a look about them and we saw it last year with the Chicago White Sox.

SIMON: Yes, we did. Thank you, Howard.

Mr. BRYANT: You did see that last year, and the thing that they have in common is that they pitch. They had two things in common. One is that they pitch, and if you pitch, you can win. The New York Yankees, I think, know that because they didn't pitch.

But the other thing, too, is that when you go through the end of the season and you struggle, just like the White Sox did at the end last year, it gives you a certain toughness to go into the playoffs, because you had to really earn it. It looked like you were going to be that team that fell apart at the end and you were going to be the laughing stock, but suddenly you're still there, and then that gives you a strength that I think a lot of teams don't have.

It's going to be very interesting when you watch the Mets, on the other hand, because they hadn't played a tough game since midsummer, and now they're in a difficult playoff series as well.

SIMON: They're tied up with St. Louis and there were some questions towards the end about St. Louis.

Mr. BRYANT: St. Louis is an 83 win team, but once again, they had to struggle to make it, and I think, once again, it's very hard to go on cruise control for so long and then find yourself in a difficult series and say, okay, now we have to turn the light switch on. Can we do it?

On the other hand, the Mets are the superior team. Willie Randolph did a great job with that team and he should be manager of the year, and they should win at least the next couple of games and win the series and go to the World Series.

But once again, when you're St. Louis, suddenly you're saying to yourself, okay, we're not that good but we're 1-1 going home and if we win our three games at home, we're going to the World Series.

SIMON: Do the Mets have the pitching?

Mr. BRYANT: Well, the Mets had the pitching.

SIMON: That I know. Early in the season. Nobody...

Mr. BRYANT: Exactly. But that's the big question, is that you lose Pedro Martinez. You lose Orlando Hernandez, the great post-season pitcher, El Duque; he's not there. And you wonder if that's going to catch up to them, because eventually - and now with that rain delay, they've got to play four games in a row, now you start to wonder if those injuries are going to catch up to them.

SIMON: Yeah. Well, nice time of year, isn't it, Howard?

Mr. BRYANT: It's a great time of year.

SIMON: Yeah, I think so, too. Howard Bryant, always a pleasure. Howard Bryant's most recent book is Juicing the Game.

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