Thursday, September 29, 2011

Simply the best night of baseball in recent memory

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For baseball purist the final night of the 2011 regular season was a nightmare. It embodied everything the old timers can’t stand about The Great American Pastime in the 21st century. Three teams battling for two final spots in the post-season but not for their division title. No last night’s drama had nothing to do with which team could finish better than their division rivals, because those battles had long been settled. Last night’s late-night, extra inning theatre, came courtesy of baseball’s wild-card system.

There are some who believe the wild-card cheapens the accomplishments of a team’s consistent play over a full 162 games season. They believe it gives squads a second chance to recover from their lack of success and rewards mediocrity. Those who enjoy having one extra spot in both the National and American Leagues would say, last night might be the single best night of baseball on television in the history of the game! Three of the four teams involved for a wild-card birth played deep into the evening with two of those games going extra innings and the other won in the bottom of the ninth. Three extra fan bases that would have not cared about Wednesday night baseball in late September were on the edge of their seat and two of those faithful support groups, now get to enjoy the playoffs as a treat for their devotion!

We have never seen a spectacle in prime-time television sports, like what took place in two of those ballparks last night. Both the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox needed to win, to at least ensure themselves of a wild-card playoff game against each other for the final spot in the American League post-season. While the Rays got off to a horrible 7-0 deficit to the Yankees at Tropicana Field, Boston was handling its business at Camden Yards over the Orioles 3-2. Then things wildly changed, forever building up the argument for the wild-card system baseball has in place. While the Red Sox and Orioles hit the clubhouse to wait out a rain-delay in Baltimore, the Sox players had the pleasure of watching the Rays comeback on the New York. Evan Longoria’s grand slam cut the Yankees lead to just 7-6 in the 8th inning. By the time Boston and Baltimore got back on the field to restart their game, they were fully aware Dan Johnson’s solo homer with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the 9th inning had tied the game for the Rays as it read loud and clear on the Camden Yards scoreboard. So while baseball fans across the country amazed at the Tampa comeback, the Red Sox now were set with even a greater sense of urgency. But urgency wasn’t their problem, pitching was. All season long, despite their fall in September, when the Sox had a lead heading into the 9th inning they’d won the game, not losing one. But America watched closer Jonathan Papelbon give up a two out, two strike game tying double to Nolan Reimold. Then they watched Robert Andino hit the game winning base hit to left, beating Boston 4-3. When the network showing the Boston loss switched back over to the Tampa- New York game, now in the 12th inning, not sooner than three minutes later did everyone see Longoria stroke his second home run of the game for a dramatic 8-7 Tampa Bay walk-off victory giving the Rays the wild-card spot in the American League as the Red Sox loss was posted on the scoreboard. We might not ever see that time of spontaneous baseball drama over three minutes again in our lifetime! It was all courtesy of the wild-card system.

In the National League with the St. Louis Cardinals having wrapped up an 8-0 win over Houston earlier, securing at least a wild-card playoff game against the Braves, baseball fans also got to watch Atlanta meltdown one more time in the 9th inning, blowing a 3-2 lead against Philadelphia before finally falling in 13 innings, 4-3. More wild-card drama, making game day 162, memorable for baseball. Even the teams and their fans with division titles all wrapped up, had to be all wrapped up in the night’s twist and turns. After-all they were affected by the outcomes for their own division series match-ups. Last night proved beyond a doubt, the wild-card system not only works, but adds a bit of October, to baseball’s regular season in the month of September.

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