Thursday, September 29, 2011

Regarding the previous evening


Just wow.

As I sit here 13 hours after one of the most memorable regular season nights in baseball history, I still can’t shake the feeling that I spent five hours of my Wednesday night watching something that I’ve never seen before and will likely never see again. On one hand, that feeling is awesome, knowing I witnessed a night that hasn’t happened in the more than 100-year history of Major League Baseball. On the other hand, the feeling sucks because it was such a rush that I hate to think I’ll live another 40, 50 or 60 years and never see something like that again.

Four games that featured four teams fighting for their playoff life. And through the magic of the internet, I was able to watch them all simultaneously. Not in the way that I would flip from one game to another to another and then back to the first one. But in the way that split my television into four quadrants and had each game going at the same time.

In the top left was Atlanta facing Philadelphia, with the Braves having blown an August lead of 10.5-game facing a Phillies team playing only to get ready for the postseason and essentially nothing else. Atlanta had been in full collapse mode since late August. The narrative for the collapse was the overworked bullpen. The fact is the team just stopped scoring runs.

In the top right was the Cardinals squaring off against the Astros. St. Louis had been left for dead with many analysts not even considering them a threat for the playoffs. Houston, well, Houston failed to win as many games all season as the Brewers did at home this season. I think it’s fair to say the Astros put a stamp on the game shortly after first pitch and mailed it in.

On the bottom left was the Tampa Bay Rays, the plucky little underdog with a miniscule payroll, terrible ballpark and fans who regularly disguised themselves as empty seats, facing the New York Yankees who were already in the playoffs and took the game so seriously that pretty much anyone who pitched in the game would not be on the playoff roster.

In the final quadrant was the Boston Red Sox, who are the American League’s equivalent to the Braves this season. They had a big September lead and proceeded to squander it like a high school kid getting his first paycheck. They were facing an Orioles team that, well, they’re not good at the baseball.

The Yankees jumped out to an early 7-0 lead off of the Rays’ young ace David Price, leading to disappointment on my part, not so much for the Rays, but for my hopes of a one-game playoff for Thursday. Meanwhile, the Astros rolled over like a well-trained dog, taking any suspense out of the Cardinals/Astros game. In Atlanta, the Braves and Phillies went back and forth, with Atlanta eventually taking a 3-2 lead heading into the 8th inning with their dynamic (if overworked) duo of Johnny Venters and Craig Kimbrel set to work the final two frames. Boston was clinging to their own 3-2 lead when the rains came, leading to a 90-minute rain delay.

It was around this time that my wife went to bed. It was also around this time that someone spilled the crazzizlebeans. (Note: I have no idea when the following happened in relation to the other events, just that they happened.)

The Phillies load the bases in the 8th, but don’t score. The Rays score six in the 8th, capped off with an Evan Longoria (who, to Rays fans, is prettier than Eva Longoria) 3-run homer to bring back to life their playoff hopes. The Cardinals finished off the Astros, leaving them stuck in the Houston stadium not knowing if they needed to pop the champagne or pack their bags for Atlanta for a one-game playoff. Boston has a guy thrown out at the plate trying to add an insurance run and the Phillies load the bases but are unable to score in their 8th inning.

My Twitter, meanwhile, is on the verge of meltdown (I follow a lot of baseball writers) with all the excitement.

In the 9th, the Phillies are facing Kimbrel, who set the rookie record for saves in a season (and also blew more saves than all but three pitchers in baseball). Somehow, they managed to score a run with two outs, tying the game and leading every Braves fan that I’m friends with on Facebook to act as though Kimbrel just took a dump on their lawn and then set it on fire for good measure.

Down in Tampa, the Rays were still trailing 7-6 with two outs in the 9th when they sent Dan Johnson to pinch hit. From April 28 until last night, you and he had the same number of hits. So what does he do? Just one strike away from their season being over, Johnson smashes a solo homerun down the right field line to tie the game. Why wouldn’t he? After all, the only guy having a worse offensive season than Johnson was Roy Halladay, the pitcher for the Phillies.

In Atlanta, the Braves and Phillies trade scoreless innings in the 10th, 11th and 12th with the frustration growing on Facebook. Were I a different person, I’d have had some fun with them, but I figured I’d leave them alone. They were suffering enough.

In the 13th inning, the Phillies managed to finally get across a run, leaving Atlanta down to their final three outs. With a runner on first and one out, Freddie Freeman grounded into a double play and as he ran past first, slammed his helmet down. Their season was over. A season that saw many predict them to win the Wild Card, if not the division title, ended with them watching the playoffs from the outside.

Back in the American League, someone turned the excitement meter up to 11. Boston sent its All Star closer Jonathan Papelbon (side note: my wife has his autograph. Sure it’s on a pink Cubs hat, but she has it.) to protect a 3-2 lead. With two outs, the Orioles got back-to-back doubles to tie the game at three. Then, a sinking line drive to left was nearly caught by a sliding Carl Crawford, Boston’s big offseason acquisition who did not live up to expectations. But it wasn’t caught. By the time he gathered the ball and fire it home, the Orioles had scored, leaving Boston’s fate in the hands of their most hated rivals, the Yankees.

Less than three minutes later, Evan Longoria (he’s still prettier than Eva to Tampa fans) hit a walk-off homerun to propel the Rays into the playoffs and complete the comeback from 7-0 down in the game and from 8.5 games back in early September.

I had no rooting interest in any of the games (though truth be told, I’m partial to the Rays after reading Jonah Keri’s The Extra 2 Percent” about how the Rays are able to compete on a shoestring budget) and I was so excited by the night’s events that I didn’t even try to go to bed when the games ended shortly after midnight.

It was one of those nights that you remember why you’re a sports fan. Sure, 98 percent of the time, the games play out like you think they will. The great players will do great things, the average players will make you curse your fantasy lineups for not getting a great player in that position. The teams that are supposed to win usually do. But every so often, the stars align and you get a night that will be hard to forget and impossible to recreate.

Wow. Just wow.

1 comment:

Dan Underwood said...

what is it about florida teams and no fans?
I was one of those people tearing up facebook after Kimbrel blew the save. He did a great job this season, but you hit the nail on the head - the bullpen was overworked and the team couldn't score runs.