I’m not really a big baseball fan but …
On Wednesday, I witnessed the latter stages of “the greatest regular-season night in baseball history,” as ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian called it. Wednesday might have re-ignited my interest in the sport enough that I will be watching some playoff baseball.
Aside from college football Saturdays, I haven’t witnessed many other nights in sports with more captivating drama.
It was a rare day in baseball from the outset. With one game left in the season, there were two teams tied for the Wild Card playoff berth in both the American League and National League. In the AL, the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays were vying for the final spot, while the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves were vying for the NL berth.
For each team, a win on Wednesday guaranteed that they would see another day, whether it be as a Wild Card winner, or in a single-game playoff Thursday. But a loss meant that the other team could end their season with a victory.
The Cardinals beat the Houston Astros, 8-0, but they had to wait for the outcome of the Braves’ game against the Philadelphia Phillies before celebrating. The Cards needed a Phillies win.
The Braves were in good shape for most of the game, but in the top of the ninth, the Phillies forced the game into extra innings. In the top of the 13th inning, the Phillies broke through with a run, and the Braves were unable to answer.
The Braves’ collapsed, going from an 8.5-game Wild Card lead on Sept. 5 to being booted from the playoffs just 23 days later. The Cardinals earned a spot among MLB’s eight playoff teams.
That 13-inning game was just the beginning. The Red Sox were playing the Baltimore Orioles, while Tampa Bay were still in action against the New York Yankees. The Yankees held a 7-0 lead going into the eighth, but the Rays were back in the game after a six-run rally in the eighth, led by an Evan Longoria three-run homer. Then, with two outs in the ninth, pinch hitter Dan Johnson hit the game-tying home run that sent the Rays into extra innings.
Meanwhile, in Baltimore, the Red Sox were clinging to a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth, when closer Jonathan Papelbon came in.
Papelbon took care of the first two outs easily, leaving Boston just one out away from the postseason. But Papelbon then gave up consecutive doubles, to Chris Davis and Nolan Reimold, who scored Kyle Hudson, a pinch runner for Davis. The next batter, Robert Andino, hit the ball into shallow left, and with Boston left fielder Carl Crawford unable to make the catch, Reimold scored the game-winning run.
With the Red Sox’s loss, the Rays were guaranteed a postseason berth with a win. Just three minutes later, Longoria hit his second home run of the night and the Rays walked away as winners of the AL Wild Card playoff berth.
In an instant, Rays history was made, as one of the most amazing rallies in baseball history capped off one of the game’s most amazing nights.
Many baseball fans were hoping these four teams would all win Wednesday, setting up a Thursday evening with two single-game playoff games to break the two Wild Card ties.
However, while there were no tiebreaker games, sports fans should not be disappointed. Unless, of course, one is a Red Sox or Braves fan.
For a league whose postseason television ratings have fizzled in recent seasons, they could not have concocted any better advertisement for the playoffs. For one night, as a die-hard sports fan, I understood why so many American sports fans love baseball above all other sports, even if football is king for me.