I played in a head-to-head, weekly fantasy baseball league through ESPN.com this year. The league was based on points and had negative stats, which made it really interesting. For instance, a pitcher getting a win was worth 10; a loss was -5. It was the first time I ever had a fantasy baseball league. Ten guys from work all threw in $100 (except one guy, who only threw in $10, then disappeared). So there was $910 up for grabs at the end of 26 weeks – a 24-week regular season and a final four playoff. The split was 700/200/100.
My team, called the Paper Boys, finished second in the league with a 16-8 record and played Detroit Rock City (also 16-8) in the semifinals of the playoffs. The other semifinal matchup was Freakshow (20-4) against the Ice Men (14-10).
With the money up for grabs, I became completely obsessed with my fantasy baseball team during the semifinals. If I won the semis, I was guaranteed $200. If I lost, the most I could get was $100 and I could end up with nothing. I sat on my couch in front of my TV watching any baseball game that was on. They all seemed to matter. Tim Hudson pitched seven shutout innings, then came out for the eighth and gave up three runs and took the loss. I almost cried. Tears of rage. I threw all the papers off my coffee table onto the floor. That asshole could have gotten me 39 points if he left the game instead of coming out for the eighth inning. I was sitting with my laptop in my lap, checking box scores of other games. I was refreshing my fantasy baseball score every minute. Did Aaron Harang get the win? Detroit Rock City picked up Chris Capuano on the last day of the week and I watched in horror as he pitched a gem. But his bullpen failed and Capuano got the no decision.
Detroit Rock City was run by a pouty guy that worked downstairs from me. He refused to talk to me during the playoffs. At first he I thought he was joking, but as the week wore on it became serious. He wouldn't return my phone calls and he avoided going near my office. He was really mad when I beat him 476-425. He came around when he won the consolation round and got $100.
The other semifinal was also interesting and I was obsessed with watching those scores also. Freakshow was a master of exploiting the nuances of the league rules. He would add and drop players depending on who was playing that day. It wasn't really like running a baseball team, it was a transaction contest. I've never met the man but I don't like him. He might be a priest for all I know, but I don't like him because of his fantasy baseball tactics.
But during the playoffs, Freakshow's moves backfired. He picked up pitchers who bonked. His batters took rest days. The Ice Men beat Freakshow at his own game, 484-358. The Ice Men were run by a friend of mine who also works in my building. We wasted a lot of time talking about fantasy baseball at work. It's an explicit violation of the rules of our work place to do fantasy baseball because it's considered gambling. It should be a violation because people spend so many work hours agonizing over a fake baseball team.
The Paper Boys were in the finals against the Ice Men. I definitely thought I had a better team, but the Ice Men kept making roster moves to pick up different guys. It was almost impossible to predict what players would perform during the last week of the season. Young pitchers were shutting it down. September call-ups were getting tons of playing time. Old guys were getting surgery. Contenders were resting for the playoffs. It was all luck.
Going into the final day of the season, the Ice Men were up on the Paper Boys 468-464. It was an incredible soap opera. My eyes shifted continuously between the baseball game on TV and the box scores on my computer. I read as many online articles as possible to try to figure out if Albert Pujols was playing that day. He did, and went 0-5. Damn.
The final day was incredible. Barry Zito pitched well for the Ice Men. Chase Utley turned two double plays. The Paper Boys' great performance came in a night game. The fantasy week was so tight that everything hinged on my final starting pitcher of the season, Seattle's Felix Hernandez. This guy caused me major heartburn during the season. He pitched a one-hitter against the Red Sox in April, then went on the DL, pitched poorly, then started to come around. Now his team was out of playoff contention and it was the final day of the season. I had no idea what was going to happen. But he was amazing. He mowed down the Rangers. After eight innings he had allowed just a few hits, had eight strikeouts and was looking great.
I was praying for Hernandez to pitch the ninth. It was a night game in Seattle, so I was sitting at my computer watching the gamecast around 1 a.m. That's where you sit there watching the stats update continuously. I was feeling pathetic but there was a lot of money on the line so I couldn't think about sleep. Hernandez came out for the ninth inning. I was sure I was going to win with a Hernandez complete game. He got the first two outs no problem. Then the gamecast wouldn't update. I was hitting refresh but nothing was happening.
I was in a state of shock when I realized what happened: a pitching change. That asshole Seattle manager took out Hernandez so he could get the standing ovation, and he was bringing in the Ice Men's closer, JJ Putz, so he could get an ovation too. I was giving the Seattle manager the middle finger. Actually I was giving my computer the middle finger, but it was directed at one John MacLaren. With one more out, Hernandez would have scored 50 fantasy points. Instead he got 38. Putz got the out and got a save, good for seven points for the Ice Men. I thought I was going to puke. If Hernandez stayed in and got that last out, the Paper Boys would have won the week, 532-521. Instead the Ice Men took a 528-520 victory. With that one decision John MacLaren decided who would win the Boston Baseball League.