Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Baseball Season Ends with Wild Finish

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Last night’s major league season ended with a bang, not a whimper, as four teams still had an opportunity to make the playoffs as a wild card (the fourth and final seed), two in the American League (the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays) and two in the National League (the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves).  Both sets of teams were tied going into the final game of the season, and there was a lot riding on the end of the year.

First, St. Louis played their game, beating the hapless Houston Astros 8-0 behind a 2-hit Chris Carpenter shutout.  Which meant that Atlanta had to win to stay even with them, which would force a one game playoff to determine which of the two teams would continue on in post-season play. 

As for Atlanta, their team was in extra innings; the tenth inning went by, tied 3-3 with the Philadelphia Phillies.  The eleventh inning, still tied.  The twelfth, with no change.  And finally, in the thirteenth inning, the Phillies scored a run off a Hunter Pence RBI single (Pence was a member of the Astros until two and a half months ago, being a late-season acquisition by the Phillies) to go up 4-3, while Atlanta had nothing in the bottom of the 13th.

This meant that the Cardinals won the National League Wild Card; they will now face the Philadelphia Phillies in the first round of the National League Division Series.

As for the American League, there was a great deal of drama there also.  First, Boston was playing Baltimore and they were in a very long rain delay, up 3-2 in the 7th.  When Tampa Bay fell behind 7-0 to the New York Yankees, it looked all but assured that Boston would go to the playoffs.

But there was more baseball to play, as Tampa Bay showed by scoring six unanswered runs in the bottom of the 8th; the Yankees still led, 7-6.  As the Red Sox continued in their rain delay, Tampa Bay was down to their last strike in the bottom of the ninth, when pinch hitter Dan Johnson, who’d hit only 1 HR all year and had a batting average of only .108, hit a game-tying HR to force the game into extra innings.

So the tenth inning goes by, with the Yankees and Rays being tied, 7-7.  The eleventh inning, still tied; by this point the tarp is being taken off the field in Baltimore and the game between the Red Sox and Orioles was about to resume.

As for the Orioles, former Brewers shortstop JJ Hardy shut down two Yankee offensive threats all by himself, as in the top of the eighth Carl Crawford hit a double to the deepest part of left-center; the Red Sox runner on second base was sent home, but Hardy’s strong arm in relaying the pitch from the OF (from five or six steps deep into center) was sure and the Orioles catcher hung on to get the third out called there without a fourth run being scored.  While in the the top of the ninth, JJ Hardy started a nifty double play that took the Red Sox out of a promising situation and they again failed to score; between Hardy’s game-saving defense and the 2-run HR he’d hit earlier in the game, it’s obvious that Hardy was the MVP of that game.

At any rate, Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox’s closer, was brought in against the Orioles.  He struck out the first two guys, then gave up back to back doubles and was wild in the strike zone with the fourth and fifth batters.  The Orioles were down to their last strike when Chris Davis hit the first double, Nolan Reimold hit the second, and Robert Andino, who’d been 0-for-the-game before this, hit the game-winning single to end the game and the Red Sox’s post-season hopes. 

Note that Boston OF Carl Crawford attempted a sliding catch in the ninth on Andino’s single which, if successful, would’ve sent the game into extra innings; instead, Crawford trapped the ball and wasn’t able to get up and get his throw in from shallow left field.  Had Crawford, who is a former Tampa Bay Rays standout, played that ball on a bounce instead, the Orioles runner would’ve been held at third and the game may well have ended up in extra innings if Papelbon had somehow mustered up enough energy to get the third out.  Crawford is now being called a “goat” in Boston for what amounted to him trying too hard to send that game into extra innings, when the real “goat” for the Red Sox should be Papelbon — who had the Orioles right where he wanted them until Papelbon ran out of gas.  Papelbon blew the save, lost the game, and ended the Red Sox’s season.

So, we go back to the Rays, who are now batting in the bottom of the twelfth.  Evan Longoria was up; he hit a pitch well, but it looked like a double to me off his bat.  Longoria was fortunate, though; he hit it to the shallowest part of left field by the foul pole, at the 315 foot sign, and just barely got it out of the park.  So within three minutes’ time, the Red Sox had lost to the Orioles, while the Rays had beaten the Yankees in 12 innings to advance to the post-season as the American League wild card seed.  The Rays will play Texas in the first round of the playoffs.

I have never seen a baseball season finish like this before, where teams had to step up and play well at the end with two teams forcing extra-innings games, with one team winning (Tampa Bay) and the other team losing (the Atlanta Braves).  So there are two really good teams — the Red Sox and the Braves — who will be joining me and many other spectators by watching the post-season at home, while two other really good teams who played exceptionally well in September (Tampa Bay and St. Louis, respectively) will continue their excellent seasons.

Compared to that, the Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers needing to win their final game in order to clinch the second-best record in their respective league to get home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs doesn’t seem as dramatic.  But the Brewers and Rangers, too, showed the value in refusing to concede anything in September, and played well in pressure-filled situations in the final week of the season . . . any other year, these teams would’ve been the stories, not the Rays and Cardinals.

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