Wednesday, October 9, 2013

MLB Hopes A Pair of Game 5s Can Match Monday's Drama

With the stage to themselves after a big football weekend Major League Baseball put on a day for the ages with four games, all competitive, and all with the stakes as big as they could be with someone’s season potentially ending in three of the four games. It started with game 3 between the A’s and Tigers, a series set up as “Power Ball vs. Money Ball” as the mighty Tigers, the defending American league champs, with a 3,4,5 lineup that’s the best in the AL and includes the two-time batting champion and near triple crown winner, a protégé slugger, and .301 DH, take on the crafty scrappers from No. Cal, still associated with the based on GM Billy Beane and made famous by Brad Pitt about a club held together by microchips and duct tape. In the book David lost in the end but this script isn’t in post-production yet and the AL West champs were trying to break a 1-1 series tie on the road. They got to the defending AL champs three consecutive times from the 3rd to the 5th then shut down a series of rallies for the rest of the game to take a 2-1 series lead, despite all of the big 3 afore mentioned hitters hitting .300 with an HR. The Tigers would come back the next day and even the series after trailing Billy’s boys 3-0 and looking like the money ballers were on their way to the ALCS, but that will have to wait for another nail-biter on Wednesday as we buckle up for a Game 5. After the appetizer it was on to Heinz Field for another emotionally filled contest as the ‘good guys from the PG movie’ try to get their first series victory since 1992 and pursue their first world title since 79’ were hosting the Cardinals, winners of 11 world titles, 3 since the Pirates won their last title in ’79, the last just two years ago in 2011, and with their backs against the wall. With PNC Park, the bridge, the escalators, and bars all filled to capacity hoping to see a celebration following the game, Cardinal pitcher Mike Wacha took a no-no into the 8th inning before losing it on a solo jack by Pedro Alvarez bringing the Bucs to within a single run. In the 9th the Pirates threatened again getting the tying run in scoring position with their MVP Andrew McCutchen at the plate to bring him home in dramatic fashion. It was set up for the Hollywood ending but the Pirates play in Pittsburgh and Brad Pitt isn’t in this film as McCutchen popped out right ending the rally and sending thousands home disappointed as haunted memories of decades of disappointment begin to rear their ugly heads even though there is still one more game to play. Unfortunately the harsh reality is that the Pirates may have missed their opportunity as the Cards are 7-1 in elimination games and had the 2nd best record in baseball at home with 54 wins and will bring back 19-game winner Adam Wainwright going against 23 year-old rookie Gerrit Cole (10-7), but if Hollywood does decide to re-write the ending they won’t have to do much work as this one is writing itself. From there we move to the sunshine state where the Rays were concluding a seven day stretch that could only be described as ‘survive and advance’. Over that week Tampa Bay played four elimination games where a loss sent them home for the Winter, starting in Toronto to end the regular season where the survived 7-6, then to Texas for the tie-breaker game and a 5-2 win where they managed to avoid Darvish, then to Cleveland and the Wild Card game where they may have posted their most impressive win of the season winning easily 4-0, and lastly after dropping games 1 and 2 in Boston found themselves in another must win scenario in game 3. Finally getting some fan support behind them with 33,000 strong at Tropicana Field who wouldn’t leave disappointed although it didn’t look good when the Rays closer Fernando Rodney couldn’t shut the Sox down in the9th and gave up the tying run. However in the bottom of the ninth the Rays got a walk off big-fly from Jose Lobaton to the deepest part of the park off Boston closer Koji Uehara and you could hear the Bee Gees in the background playing the “Staying Alive” theme. Providing unbelievable theater, you had to wonder if the Rays were a team of destiny but like good teams do the Sox realized game 5s were risky business even at home, particularly when former Cy-Young award winner David Price might be on the bump, so they handled their business in game 4 the next night when the Rays literally exhausted every pitcher they had available and still couldn’t get any relief as the Sox came from behind in the final 3 innings to win 3-1. It was a great story but after 167 games the Rays maybe should have been on the road for one more. Then we resurrect the Concord and take that and fly across the country to the other coast just in time to catch the Dodgers in the same scenario as the Pirates, close shop at home or risk going on the road and playing a game 5 in the other guy’s park when you’ve been in control of the series for the most part. And, like the Pirates, the Dodgers got out to a lead, then gave up and were down to the final two innings. However unlike Pittsburgh, LA seemed to be aware that despite being in control of the series, it could turn around faster than a tennis match if they don’t hold serve so they ran their ace Clayton Kershaw out to the bump to keep the braves down. Which is what he did for 6 innings until he had to leave and then the Dodger bullpen which was normally reliable all season gave up the lead and LA was down to their last five outs. The decision that the Braves will have to justify all Winter will by they elected not bring in Craig Kimbrel, in a game they had to win. Instead they left David Carpenter out there even after surrendering a lead-off double to Yasiel Puig to start the inning, and he went one pitch too many as Juan Uribe went deep-yard into the SoCal night and with it went the Braves season. It may not have been a walk-off but with Kenley Jansen coming in to close, for all intent and purposes it was. So of the three great script-worthy stories of the MLB post-season the Dodgers amazing turn around is still alive and will be the subject of folklore if they manage to get to the next level let alone win it, and if Pittsburgh can pull off the upset on Wednesday we’ve got a box office smash regardless of how the NLCS plays out, but MLB will have a hard time writing anything better than what we saw on Oct 8, 2013.

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