Maybe. I’d be pretty hard-pressed to remember a better one. I was absolutely riveted by six different games last night – the four that decided the two wild card spots, and the two that ultimately dictated the Yankees’ ALDS opponent. I also had some interest in the game where Ryan Braun validated José Reyes’ decision to pad his batting average with a first inning bunt-hit and call it a season.
First off, everybody needs to knock it off with the Reyes-bashing. Calling it a season upon, more or less, locking down a batting title is a baseball tradition. Bernie Williams did it in 1998. Derek Jeter has called it a season early to protect a .300 average, and he probably would have done it again last night if he had the chance. You’re kidding yourself if you think Braun wouldn’t have done the same thing. The main criticism seems to be “José is no Ted Williams!” Fine. You know who else is “no Ted Williams”? Every baseball player in history not-named Ted Williams. I have no doubt Reyes’ agent was very forceful in explaining the implications of a batting title to his upcoming free agency. Nobody keeps a list of guys who were #2 in the league in batting average, and all of the people who have never been in a race for a Major League batting title need to shut up. Note that does not include Keith Hernandez. The MVP (who also won a batting title) can criticize the move with some credibility.
Next, on to the Wild Cards. The St. Louis Cardinals did what they were supposed to do in absolutely drubbing an inferior Astros team. That added further juice to the Atlanta / Philly game, where it was quickly apparent that the Braves were in a do-or-die situation against a Phillies team that had nothing to gain.
Over in the American League, the Yankees, similarly with nothing to gain, put up a big, early lead against a Rays team fighting for its playoff life. Shortly after a Mark Teixeira grand slam, I tweeted this:
More on The Proctologist in a bit.
Is there a better motivator than Buck Showalter?
The last-place Baltimore Orioles had every reason to mail in last night’s game and head to their favorite winter homes and golf courses. No one would have been shocked if they had rolled over, fit nine innings into two hours and fifteen minutes (like the Mets and Reds did earlier in the day), and called it a season. Buck didn’t let them do it. The O’s went blow-for-blow with a Red Sox team desperately trying to avoid coughing up the biggest September lead ever coughed up. Thank God Buck Showalter wasn’t in charge of the Axis Powers.
What’s going to be remembered about the Sox’s loss last night will be Marco Scutaro failing to score on a Carl Crawford 8th inning double, Johnathan Papelbon getting smacked around Camden Yards, and Crawford letting the game-winner / season-ender drop in front of him. What’s going to be forgotten is that the Sox ran O’s starter Alfredo Simon out of the game in the 5th, and that the Baltimore bullpen managed to put together an improbable 4.2 innings of shutout ball, despite allowing eight base runners.
Just as improbable as the O’s bullpen success last night were the struggles of Braves closer Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel, by all metrics, had an excellent season. He walked three batters the entire month of July, which made it shocking that he walked two batters before serving up Chase Utley’s game-tying sacrifice fly, and one more immediately after. Kimbrel left the game having retired two hitters and walked three. Larry Jones popped out three pitches later, but, as they say, the damage was done. Philly eked out a run in the top of the 13th, and Atlanta did put the tying run on first base in the bottom half of the inning, before promptly erasing it with a 3-6-3 double play. It was an abrupt, anticlimactic finish.
The AL didn’t do anticlimactic. Rain in Baltimore allowed the Red Sox and Orioles to watch TV with the rest of us as the Rays, left for dead by most, put up a 6-spot in the 8th inning, punctuated by the Evan Longoria 3-run bomb that cut the Yankee lead all the way down to a single run. The Red Sox were no longer assured a one-game playoff to fall back on. I’m very curious exactly what, if anything, was said in the Orioles’ dugout going into the bottom of the 9th. For the second time in nine days, the O’s were getting to Jonathan Papelbon.
I was watching the Boston game at this point, for two reasons. First, my main rooting interest last night and in any potential one-game playoff was Misery in New England. Second, Joe Girardi brought the aforementioned Scott Proctor in to pitch. Proctor shares one distinction with Mariano Rivera – when he enters the game, I get the feeling that it’s going to be over quickly. At 12:02am, the Orioles plated the winning run. I flipped back to the YES Network, and at 12:05am, after Scott Proctor had put on an improbable bullpen performance of his own (2 2/3 scoreless innings), Evan Longoria remembered he was facing Scott Proctor. He sent the Rays to the postseason with another home run. Everyone I polled thought it was low and foul off the bat. Baseball sure is a funny game, isn’t it?
I laughed. I didn’t know how else to process what I had just seen. Three games with immediate playoff implications came down to the wire, two requiring extra innings. It felt like there was an exciting play somewhere every few minutes. I never really believed that the Red Sox would piss away an entire nine game lead. I don’t have the words to describe watching Papelbon fold and Scott Proctor serve up the final nail in the Red Sox coffin (less than a week after New York Magazine ran an article entitled ‘Today, Boston Gives Thanks for Scott Proctor‘), all within three minutes. Was it the best night of regular season baseball ever? Who knows? Regardless, it was the craziest five hours of regular season ball I’ve ever seen.