My roommates and I decided to go see Moneyball Wednesday night. We had yet to see the box office smash and as baseball die hards were craving two hours about the sabermetric revolution. However, we called an audible realizing that the night would be better spent watching the four games that would determine who were the last two teams in the playoffs or if there would be one or two single game playoffs to determine the remaining spots. Best decision ever. Using MLB.TV we watched in its entirety, the greatest night of baseball I have ever seen.
When I began falling in love with baseball one of the aspects of the sport that stood out was the absence of a time limit. There is never a point in a baseball game when the team feels rushed to score as the clock winds down. All focus can be put into the task at hand instead of the fact only 15 minutes remain. In this way, hope is more powerful in baseball than any other sport. It does not matter if youâ€™re down by seven runs in the fifth inning or down to your final strike in the ninth, the opportunity still remains. On September 28, 2011 time seemed to stand still as magic flowed through the baseball world and the impossible unfolded before our eyes.
Going into game 162 of the major league baseball season four contests truly mattered. The Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox were hanging on for dear life as their two wild card leads had evaporated in September. Over less than a months time the St. Louis Cardinals crawled back into contention erasing an 8 1/2 game deficit while the Tampa Bay Rays did the same after being 9 games back of Boston. The Rays started David Price against the Yankees minus any real pitchers, who were resting for the playoffs, while the Cardinals squared off against the last place Houston Astros. The Red Sox had Jon Lester going against the Orioles, who he had never lost to, and the Braves had Tim Hudson facing off against the first place Phillies, who started their regular players.
Letâ€™s get the Cardinals game out of the way. St. Louis did their job continuing an incredible run by defeating Houston 8-0. It seemed that there would be two blowouts as Mark Texeira helped give the Yankees a 7-0 lead behind a grand slam and solo homer.
Meanwhile, Atlanta had a 3-1 lead going into the 7th with one of the best back ends of a bullpen in baseball. An error put Philadelphia within one run, but there were no worries with Johnny Venters and Craig Kimbrell coming in, although the two had struggled during the Braves slide. Over in Baltimore, the Red Sox held a 3-2 lead when a rain delay stalled the game. Red Sox fans felt good with a one run lead and probably enough time to see the Yankees close out a win over Tampa Bay before their game started again.
You donâ€™t come back from seven runs down in the eight inning, it is just too rare. Whatâ€™s the point in telling the Rays that. They have fought and believed the entire season through Mannyâ€™s steroids, injuries, slumps, and going up against two goliath teams with a payroll that is considered a joke in the AL East. That will, desire, and true belief that anything can happen is what makes baseball great. The Rays scratched together three runs and found themselves with two men on and the slugger, Evan Longoria, at the plate. Of course, the burley third basemen hit a ball into the mesosphere cutting the lead to a single run.
Back to Atlanta where the ever reliable Braves closer, Craig Kimbrell, allowed the Phillies to get a runner on third when Chase Utley did his job with a sac fly. Free baseball in Atlanta; remember the Braves knew a loss eliminated them from the playoffs. In Baltimore, the Red Sox were having a blast watching an astonishing comeback by the Rays which was about to fall short in the bottom of the ninth. Joe Maddon decided to go for it all and pinch hit Dan Johnson in hopes of a game tying home run. Down to his last strike, Johnson took a mistake and blasted a liner that just cleared the wall in right field and barely made it fair. Bedlam.
The Braves and Phillies battled to the 13th inning when the spark plug that is Hunter Pence singled in the go ahead run. Atlanta goes quietly into the night completing the biggest collapse in MLB history. The sadness and angst on the Bravesâ€™ faces was enough to make you shed a tear. In Houston, champagne was sprayed and smiles were cracked as Tony LaRussa and Albert Pujols return to October.
Over in Baltimore, the game started up again and the Red Sox went into the bottom of the 9th with a one run lead and the stellar Jonathan Papelbon trying to close it out. The Boston closer looked sharp striking out the first two batters. One of my roommates uttered, â€œPlease just score, stop being the Orioles.â€ Baltimore got the message and proceeded with back to back doubles to tie the game. At 12:02 AM Robert Andino singled in the winning run and the Red Sox lost, putting their season in peril. My house sounded like a scene from a horror movie while we screamed like little girls.
It all came down to what happened in Tampa Bay. If the Rays win they would complete one of the most improbable stories in baseball history. If they lose there would be a one game playoff to decide if Boston or Tampa Bay gets in. The scoreboard was updated and the crowd at Tropicana Field realized the Sox blew it. At 12:05 AM, just three minutes after the Boston collapse, the stage was set. With one out in the bottom of the 12th, Roy Hobbs (played by Evan Longoria) stepped to the plate and delivered a home run that barely got over the wall sending Rays fans into â€œI need to cry right nowâ€ mode. My roommates and I jumped up and down like deranged lunatics and the neighbors started to think there might be an issue.
What. Just. Happened! I could add another 1,000 words about the endless statistical improbabilities which emphasize the grandeur of the moment. As much as I love stats, that would not do it justice. The only way to describe witnessing all these events in real time is beyond belief. It was baseball at itâ€™s finest. Hope remained eternal to the last strike, to the last breath. The Rays and Cardinals who had trudged forward when many had given up, deserve to be in the playoffs. If this script was submitted to a Hollywood producer it would be laughed at. It was real though and you could feel it flowing through your veins. It was the greatest night of baseball anyone has ever seen.