It’s gotta be the hair

ESPN.com had a heartwarming story about a little boy and his “Rayhawk” haircut yesterday (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/playoffs2008/news/story?id=3643010).

Young Tampa Bay Rays fan Zachary Sharples got the third degree from his teachers for showing up at school with a mohawk in support of the AL East champions. Fortunately, Rays outfielder Jonny Gomes (top photo) and the rest of the team showed some class and rolled out the red carpet for Zach and his family at Game 2 of the ALCS.

The Rays have gone from 96 losses in 2007 to 97 wins, a division title and a shot at the World Series in 2008 which has made the “Rayhawk” all the rage in Florida as fans jump on the bandwagon to wear the same hairdo as their favorite players.

I just shows the undeniable power sports holds over fans when a hot team can make a lame haircut cool.

With the NBA exhibition season underway I want to pin my hopes on another terrible team rising to the top of the league and making bad hair cool again.

That’s right, I want the Chicago Bulls to shake off last season’s 33-49 record and make a run at the NBA title as Bulls players sport bowl cuts.

If a mohawk can be a trendy “Rayhawk” then there’s no reason a bowl cut (bottom photo) can’t spread like wildfire across Illinois as the hip, hot “Bull Cut.”

* UNSTOPPABLE RAYS: Meanwhile, the Rays are still holding up as my pick to win the World Series.

With a 13-4 win in Boston on Tuesday the Rays are one win away from knocking the reigning world champion Red Sox out of the playoffs and advancing to the World Series.

It’ll be the most inspiring thing for fans of terrible baseball teams since the Twins and Braves went from worst to first in the 1991 World Series.

Boston certainly has the playoff track record to rally from a 3-1 deficit in the ALCS, but I just don’t see it happening against a young, hot, confident Rays team that can close out the series at home if they lose at Fenway Park Thursday night.

The only thing I can see stopping the Rays from sipping champagne at the end of the World Series is if their young pitching staff hits a wall, which is entirely possible.

Closer Dan Wheeler isn’t exactly the second coming of Dennis Eckersley and the playoffs have pushed starting pitcher James Shields over his career-high innings-pitched mark of 215 and starter Andy Sonnanstine has gone from 130 innings in 2007 to 193 in 2008. Relief pitchers J.P. Howell (89 innings in 2007 after just 51 in 2007) and Grant Balfour (81 innings in 2008 between AAA and the majors after 67 last season) are also dealing with heavy workloads.

With the adrenaline of the playoffs, home-field advantage and a world title on the line for Tampa Bay it may not become an issue, but it’s worth noting.

Over in the National League, it looks like the Phillies are in full control of the NLCS with a 3-1 lead over the Dodgers in the NLCS.

For my money, the Phillies are a more competitive matchup against the American League with their mix of speed, power and Brad Lidge at the back of the bullpen.

The ALCS and NLCS could still run through the weekend but I’ll get ahead of myself and call the World Series: Rays in seven games over the Phillies.

* THE ONE BAD THING ABOUT THE WORLD SERIES: The playoffs will shift full time from TBS to Fox once the World Series starts which means sweet, sweet freedom from nonstop Frank Caliendo commercials.

But the bad thing about a shift to Fox is at least 9 innings of Tim “You’re a real man, Deion!” McCarver every night for a week.

If there’s anything good about a sweep in the World Series it’s getting a break from McCarver’s inane babbling.

At least the World Series isn’t on ESPN with ego maniac, old school Joe Morgan.

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