If you still think baseball is boring after last night you should be deported.
A lot of people don’t like baseball. They think it is boring and rather tedious to watch. Many simply don’t understand the appeal of the game, and question the athletes on the field. In fact, plenty of people even go as far a questioning baseball’s place as our national pastime.
Hopefully these cynics saw what happened last night, because it was arguably the most exciting in its long history.
Last night, on the last night of the regular season, four games decided the final two teams to make the playoffs. Both the National and American League Wild Card were still up for grabs. Each race mirrored the other identically. At the beginning of the month the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox led the Wild Card by seemingly insurmountable margins, then someone turned off the light switch.
Over the course of the past 20 days the Braves blew an 8.5-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals and the Red Sox watched as their 9-game lead of over the Tampa Bay Rays vanished. On the very last game of the long 162-game season their records were tied. If everyone won, there would have been two playoff games today. There was no need.
St. Louis took care of business in the first game of the night, crushing the Houston Astros 8-0. The Cardinals players sat in the locker room, after fighting through an injury-plagued season, and watched as the Braves played their NL East divisional rival Philadelphia Phillies.
Over the course of the season the Atlanta Braves had the best bullpen in baseball, and statistically was amongst the best in MLB history. After leading the entire game the Braves headed into the bottom of the 9th up 3-2, with the best closer in the National League on the hill. I guess it was only fitting that the first of many unlikely endings last night came from their greatest strength. Craig Kimbrel walked the bases loaded and gave up a sacrifice fly to tie the game. The Phillies went on to beat the Braves in the 13th inning.
After being left for dead, down 8.5 games on September 6th, the St. Louis Cardinals did the unthinkable and made the playoffs. On most nights this would have been the story of the year, but last night wasn’t most nights, and the Cardinals comeback took a backseat to what was about to happen next.
For most of the season the Boston Red Sox were the best team in baseball. They were the pre-season favorite to win the World Series. At the beginning of September Baseball Prospectus gave the Sox a 100 percent chance of making the playoffs. Second place in the Wild Card were the feisty Tampa Bay Rays, known for their shoestring budget and terrible fan support. Baseball Prospectus gave the Rays a .1 percent shot at the playoffs.
Oddly enough the American League Wild Card appeared to be settled early in the night. The Rays were losing to the Yankees 7-0, and the Red Sox held a 3-2 lead on the Orioles. However everything quickly changed.
The heavens opened in Baltimore and caused an extended rain delay, forcing the teams to wait it out in the clubhouse. At that very moment down in Tampa, Yankee relief pitchers were beginning to lose control in the bottom of the 8th inning. They walked in two runs, gave up a sacrifice fly to B.J. Upton and with two outs and two men on let up a 3-run home run to Rays third baseman Even Longoria. Suddenly the score was 7-6.
Everyone watching the game thought there was no possible way this could happen. Comebacks like this simply don’t happen. Then in the bottom of the 9th with two out and two strikes, Rays pinch hitter Dan Johnson tied the game with a solo home run down the right field line.
Around this time the Red Sox resumed their game in Baltimore and continued to cruise thought till the bottom of the 9th inning—when with two outs their all-star closer, Jonathon Papelbon, gave up the game tying and game winning runs, in the process shocking every member of Red Sox nation.
The news of the Red Sox loss sent those left in the Tropicana Field crowd into a frenzy. Now, Evan Longoria stepped to the plate with the crowd already excited, and snuck a home run over the corner of the left field fence, causing euphoria in St. Petersburg.
Longoria’s home run came a mere three minutes after the Red Sox loss, and capped the most exciting night of baseball I’ve ever seen in my life. As a Mets fan I had no rooting interest in any team that took the field on Wednesday, but that didn’t stop me from running around my living room like a madman after the endless clutch hits. It was a beautiful night to watch a timeless game. My only regret is my remote didn’t have more previous buttons.
Last Friday, I went with a couple friends to see the film “Moneyball,” which is about Billy Beane’s underdog 2002 Oakland Athletics team who changed the way baseball teams and run. It was an excellent film and I highly recommend it in honor of the upcoming playoffs.
There was one scene near the end of the film that really stuck with me. When Brad Pitt is growing cynical and angry over not advancing in the playoffs in consecutive years, Jonah Hill shows him a clip of a 300-pound minor leaguer in the A’s system. He smacked a pitch and booked it around first base only to trip and awkwardly fall on his face, collecting a mouthful of dirt. Quickly, he crawled back to first base only to be told he hit the pitch 50 ft over the centerfield fence. It melted Pitt’s cynicism and he stated with tears in eyes: “It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.”
Sometimes there’s something truly magical about the game. Last night, it could have made the biggest cynic believe that’s indeed impossible to not be romantic about America’s pastime.