Historically, baseball is known as America’s pastime. And while the National Football League as has surpassed baseball in popularity, it’s nights like these that remind me that baseball was always my first love.
With the Tigers having clinched quite some time ago, I decided to take a night as a baseball fan and watch the Wild Card races unfold. It was a long wait, as 3 of the games went over the four hour mark, but in the end I was rewarded with excitement, heartbreak, and elation to the depths which I have never seen in one night.
The National and American League Wild Card races were all but won when September started. The Atlanta Braves were 8.5 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals. The American League race was even farther apart, with the Boston Red Sox ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays by 9 games. Injuries to the Red Sox and the Braves played a huge role down the stretch, with both teams having to piece together rotations, still the hard work of the past 3-4 weeks wasn’t finished and it came down to the last night of the season.
Oh what a night!
Both the Rays and the Cardinals didn’t allow themselves to ever believe that they were out of the playoff race. Led by two of the better managers of the game, Tony LaRussa and Joe Maddon, both teams fought tooth and nail to earn the opportunity to play themselves into the playoffs tonight. While a lot of people are going to focus on the crumbling of the Braves and the Red Sox, and of course there was some of that, the Rays and Cardinals did everything they needed to win those last two playoff spots.
The game that started last, the Cardinals vs. the Astros was actually finished first. Their game was never in doubt from the start. The Cardinals jumped out to a huge lead in the 1st against the Astros, and starter Chris Carpenter took care of the rest. While that game was going on, the Braves took a 3-1 lead going into the 7th, and that is when the Philadelphia Phillies scratched out a couple runs to tie the game and send the game into extra innings. It was almost as if you could tell just from watching this game that the energy was all wrong for the Braves.
Having struggled down the stretch, the Braves were a team that were waiting for the bad to happen, and in the 13th inning it finally did. With runners at 1st and 3rd and 2 out, Hunter Pence (who also threw Uggla out at the plate) of the Phillies got completely sawed off and blooped a ball he couldn’t have thrown in a better spot between 1st and 2nd base. It was the type of run scoring hit that could only happen to a team that was collapsing. I felt horrible as I watched Dan Uggla helplessly try and get to that pathetically weak hit, and thought, no team should have to lose that way.
But baseball is a funny game, and seldom fair to those that are struggling.
The emotions were just as high in Baltimore, where the Red Sox ran out ace pitcher Jon Lester on 3 days rest. Lester, who has been horrible in September, pitched his butt of tonight giving up two runs to the Orioles in 6 innings. In a game interrupted by a rain delay, the Red Sox came out in the top of the 8th with a 3-2 lead. With Marco Scutaro on first, Carl Crawford lined a ball into the left-center gap with Scutaro on the run. What should have been an easy run, turned into a play at the plate where Scutaro was thrown out. The only reason he was thrown out was Scutaro hesitated between 2nd and 3rd because Oriole LF Nolan Reimold completely sold out and almost made the catch. If he doesn’t do that, we might be talking about a game between the Sox and the Rays tomorrow. Again, like the Braves game, the energy watching it felt like the Orioles were destined to win, especially after that play.
An inning later in the bottom of the ninth, it was Reimold again victimizing the Red Sox, lining a two strike double up the right-center gap to score Chris Davis who doubled with two outs as well. This was against closer Jonathan Papelbon and tied the score 3-3. The next guy up was light hitting Robert Andino who lined a fastball into LF to score Kyle Hudson who pinch ran for Reimold. Andino’s single was literally missed by an inch by a sliding Carl Crawford.