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Dreaming of What Could’ve Been, and Is

Welcome to the Weekend That Could’ve Been.

The Breeders’ Cup is back at Santa Anita, celebrating its 20th running. The World Series is back at Yankee Stadium, readying for a sixth game, and maybe a seventh. Two venerable American pastimes -- baseball and betting -- should be bracing for their grand finales, but instead of focusing on the names on the marquee, we keep coming back to the no-show list.

The Chicago Cubs could’ve been here, but they dropped the ball.

The Boston Red Sox could’ve been here, but they stayed with Grady Little too long.

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The great Empire Maker-Funny Cide rematch could’ve happened here, but retirement beat Empire Maker to the gate.

So many other big names could’ve been here, but they got lost in transit.

Barry Bonds.

Candy Ride.

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Barry Zito.

Mineshaft.

Gary Sheffield.

Azeri.

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The New York Yankees, of course, couldn’t have cared less, but that was before the scratches started getting personal Thursday night in Florida.

Jason Giambi, scratched from the starting lineup because of a sore knee.

David Wells, scratched after one inning because of back spasms.

Alfonso Soriano, scratched by Manager Joe Torre because of an inflamed hitch in his batting stroke.

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Subsequently, the Not-Quite-the-Yankees lost a second consecutive game to Florida to fall behind in the Series, three games to two, and if they don’t find a way to outscore the Marlins tonight, they too will be scratched.

A closer look at who’s in action and who’s missing in action on television this weekend:

TODAY

* Breeders’ Cup

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(Channel 4, 10 a.m.)

In 1984, a new tradition was born at Hollywood Park. It was called the Breeders’ Cup. Four years later, an old tradition was laid to rest. It was called the Dodgers in the World Series. Unlike the Dodgers, the Breeders’ Cup occasionally brings its fall classic to Los Angeles County, as it does today, with all eight races at Santa Anita Park being televised live by NBC. Like the Dodgers, this Breeders’ Cup could also use a few more horses.

* USC at Washington

(Channel 7, 12:30 p.m.)

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ABC brings you the latest chapter in USC’s uphill climb toward the Sugar Bowl, where the top two teams in college football will allegedly meet. For those who find human logic preferable to computer, consider this decision made this week by ABC officials, all of them allegedly human: Brent Musberger, not Keith Jackson, will handle play-by-play duties at the Sugar Bowl. ABC or BCS, isn’t the idea to send your very best to the Sugar Bowl? Score one for the computers.

* Northern Illinois at Bowling Green

(ESPN2, 1 p.m.)

While the Huskies of Washington play host to USC, the Huskies of Northern Illinois visit Bowling Green. And where is ESPN dispatching its “College GameDay” crew? Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso will be in Bowling Green as “College GameDay” makes its first visit to a Mid-American Conference game. And why not? Northern Illinois is ranked No. 12, Bowling Green No. 23. The MAC has as many teams in the top 25 as the Pac 10.

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* Arizona State at UCLA

(Fox Sports Net 2, 7 p.m.)

Arizona misses a late field-goal attempt and UCLA moves to 2-0 in the conference. Cal bounces a field-goal attempt off the upright and UCLA moves to 3-0 in the conference. I wonder whether Karl Dorrell has a bet down in the Breeders’ Cup.

* World Series, Game 6

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(Channel 11, 4:45 p.m.)

After breaking Curt Gowdy’s record for most World Series games called during a broadcasting career, Tim McCarver goes for No. 80 tonight at Yankee Stadium. Joe Buck noted McCarver’s record-setting 79th game during the fifth inning Thursday night and then, with perfect deadpan delivery, quipped, “We congratulate you. And I know I speak on behalf of all of America when I say, Tim ... enough!”

McCarver called his first World Series game in 1985, for ABC. It took McCarver nearly two decades to catch Gowdy in World Series games called. As for World Series words spoken, McCarver passed Gowdy in 1986.

* Chicago Blackhawks at Kings

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(Fox Sports Net, 7:30 p.m.)

Another sport, another cursed Chicago team. The Blackhawks come to town owning the dubious distinction of having gone the longest -- 42 years -- without winning the Stanley Cup. And this weekend, they play two teams that could give that mark a run for its money -- the Kings tonight, the Ducks on Sunday.

SUNDAY

* Dallas Cowboys at L.A. Rams

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(ESPN Classic, 6:30 a.m.)

Yes, boys and girls, 30 years ago, Los Angeles had a football team that actually played in the NFL. It was called the Rams, and on Oct. 14, 1973, the Rams defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 37-31, on four touchdown passes from John Hadl to Harold Jackson. Can you believe it? And that Ram team was coached by Chuck Knox. Can you believe it?

* Denver Broncos at Baltimore Ravens

(Channel 2, 10 a.m.)

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Once, Denver and Baltimore had quarterbacks named John Elway and John Unitas. Today, they’re Danny Kanell and Kyle Boller. Catch them while you can. Don’t think you’ll be watching this on ESPN Classic in 2033.

* Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

(Channel 11, 10 a.m.)

After losing to the Colts and the 49ers, the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers are 3-3 and desperately need a victory to avoid falling three games behind Carolina in the NFC South standings. After bleaching his hair blond, Bill Parcells has won five of his first six games as coach of the Dallas Cowboys. In the NFL, they call this, yes, apologies in advance, a do or dye game.

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