Baseball is slow. Baseball is boring. Baseball is long and drawn out. But on the final night of the 2011 regular season baseball was none of those things. Last night’s events provided us with some of the most riveting sports television in recent memory. The complaint about the 2011 baseball season was that it lacked drama. The last month and especially last night’s events certainly provided some of that, and hopefully it will continue into the postseason for a sport that is seeing its popularity steadily dwindle.
There is absolutely no way to put what we witnessed last night into any sort of context. Where do you begin? We must begin with two of the biggest collapses in baseball history. The Atlanta Braves and the Boston Red Sox both had nearly double digit leads in the wild card a few days into September. Neither will be playing this weekend. For the Braves it basically came down to the bullpen. The young pen’ that had carried them all season long had begun to tire as the dog days of August turned into the September stretch towards the playoffs. Craig Kimbrel and Johnny Venters, two guys who had been flat out dominant all season long simply ran out of gas at the worst time. But the Red Sox being who they are, are the much bigger story here. After the off-season acquisitions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, many had penciled this team into the World Series. They became riddled with injuries and any resemblance of a starting rotation or bullpen whatsoever completely vanished in the month of September. These two teams went a combined 16 and 38 in the month of September but after all of their struggles they still had a chance to right the ship on the final day of the season.
Four teams, two spots, the greatest night in regular season baseball history. We must begin with the National League. The game that started last was actually the game that ended first when the Cards whooped the Astros to guarantee themselves at least a tie for the wildcard. A tie seemed to be the likely conclusion with the Braves leading the Phillies in the 9th with the Braves stud Kimbrel on the mound to close out the game. But the Phillies rallied to tie the game and eventually won the game in the 14th inning to end the Braves hopes and their season.
But now let’s shift to the American League games and the real drama of the evening. As Scott Van Pelt put it, this is why sports are better then everything else, because sometimes you can’t script it any better.
I plopped down on my couch and clicked on the television and this is what I found. The Yankees jumped out to a seven run lead over the Rays and the Rays were coming to bat in the bottom of the 8th, while the Red Sox were leading the Orioles in the seventh when a rain delay halted play in Baltimore. As I, and Red Sox nation, sat in front of our televisions we witnessed this; the Rays loading the bases, a walk and HBP to score two runs, (me thinking if the Rays could put one in the gap it would become real interesting), a strike out and sac fly to score another run, 7-3 Longoria coming to the plate, (me thinking if I was a Rays fan he is the guy I want up with one AB that could determine the fate of my season), homerun, 7-6. As I sit between shock and disbelief one can only imagine what the Red Sox players were thinking as they now were being called back onto the field in Baltimore to finish the game. They went from thinking all we have to do is win to thinking well we better not lose and that is never a good thing. As the Red Sox/Orioles game is set to resume I can’t help but notice that these two games have blended themselves into one. (Props to ESPN for making sure we saw all the great moments from all the games last night.) We head to the bottom of the 9th in Tampa with the Rays down one and the Sox still up on the O’s. Two up two down and I’m thinking what a bummer it’s going to be for Rays fans to come all this way just to come up short. Joe Maddon calls upon pinch hitter Dan Johnson, who is hitting a stout .108 with one bomb on the year to save the day. Johnson, who in my mind is already famous for being mentioned in the classic Youtube video “Ghost Ride the Volvo” couldn’t possibly do the unthinkable could he? Yes! There I am jumping around in my living room, screaming in amazement at what I just witnessed even though I don’t have any stake in the game, my team has been eliminated from any playoff talks for months now, but the magnitude of the moment simply overwhelmed me. Johnson ties the game and saves the Rays season with a two out, two strike homerun. And I’m Ghost Ridin’ My Volvo all around the living room.
For the sake of time lets fast-forward to the bottom of the 9th in Baltimore. Two up two down for the O’s and the Sox look like they are going to gain a share of the wild card. Chris Davis, Nolan Reimold and Robert Andino. Who? Double, double, single. Ball game over. Sox lose. Once again, utter disbelief.
Barely three minutes go by. ESPN barely has time to switch broadcasts over to the Rays/Yankees game when….Longoria. Bomb. Game. Set. Season. This is where the hyperventilation starts to kick in. What just happened? Is this real life? In a span of minutes we just saw the finishing touches of the biggest collapse ever and the coronation of one of the most tremendous comebacks ever.
A couple minutes later, Scott Van Pelt and Stuart Scott are on-air doing Sportscenter, grasping for air, completely flabbergasted at what they and the rest of us just witnessed. It is so difficult to put into words what happened even if you got to watch it play out.
Baseball may be fading in popularity among the American public the way boxing and horse racing did before it but at least for one night it reminded us why it is and will always be, America’s Pastime.
The Rays are going to the playoffs because of a ball Carl Crawford couldn’t come up with, funny how life works sometimes.