Last night was maybe the most dramatic, exciting, incredible night in the history of regular season baseball. Both the AL and NL wild card playoff spots were up for grabs. In the AL, the Tampa Bay Rays were tied with the Boston Red Sox. If both teams won or both teams lost, they would have played today in a one game playoff to see who wins the wildcard. In the NL, the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals were in the same position. To add to the drama, both the Red Sox and the Braves were in the midst of an epic collapse to finish the season. The Red Sox led the Rays by 9 games, 9 games!, earlier in September. And the Braves led the Cardinals by 8.5 games as late as September 5th. If both teams had played just .500 baseball for the month, they would have clinched the wildcard spot days ago.
St. Louis Cardinals @ Houston Astros: This was the weakest game of the night. The Astros were the worst team in Major League Baseball this year and the Cardinals had their ace, Chris Carpenter, pitching. The Cards won 8-0 and had to wait around to see what happened with the Braves. Remember, if the Braves also win, the Cardinals and Braves would play tonight in a one-game playoff. If the Braves lose, the Cardinals win the wildcard.
Philadelphia Phillies @ Atlanta Braves: Tough matchup for the Braves. The Phillies are MLB's best regular season team, and the Braves were clearly reeling down the stretch. However, the Phillies had pitcher Joe Blanton on the mound, basically their 6th best starting pitcher. The Braves held a 3-2 lead going into the top of the 9th inning. 3 outs away from a win and a one-game playoff with the Cardinals, winner take all.
Boston Red Sox @ Baltimore Orioles: On paper, the easiest matchup possible for the Red Sox. The Orioles were the worst team in the AL this season and the Red Sox have arguably the best lineup in baseball, with 3 legit MVP candidates. But they don't play the games on paper. After a long rain delay that only added to the drama by delaying the game just long enough so it coincided with the end of the Yankees/Rays game, the Red Sox led 3-2 entering the bottom of the 9th inning. Enter Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox closer who had been lights out this season, especially in September. 3 outs away from a win and control of their destiny.
New York Yankees @ Tampa Bay Rays: The Yankees had clinched home field advantage in the AL a few days ago, so this game meant nothing to them. Sure, they knew if they beat the Rays, it gave the Red Sox, their bitter rivals, a better chance to make the playoffs. But still, the Yankees rested essentially all of their starters and used 11, yes 11 pitchers! All of them almost irrelevant come playoff time. Surprisingly, the Yankees jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, beating up on the Rays ace David Price. They held that 7-0 lead heading into the bottom of the 8th inning. The Rays were 7 runs down and 6 outs away from a potentially season ending loss.
First, the Braves blew their lead to the Phillies. The Phillies tied the game up 3-3 in the top of the 9th, forced extra innings, and then scored a run in the top of the 13th to take a 4-3 lead. With a runner on first and one out in the bottom of the 13th, the Braves Freddie Freeman (their hottest hitter), grounded into a game-ending and season-ending double play. 2 outs away from forcing a one game playoff, the Braves complete their collapse and the Cardinals win the wildcard, advance to the playoffs and get to play the Phillies.
Meanwhile, the Rays get hot in the bottom of the 8th and score 6 runs to make it a 7-6 game. With 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th inning, the Rays pinch hit Dan Johnson. Dan Johnson's last hit in a MLB game was on April 27th. Yes, he hadn't had a HIT in the major leagues since April 27th! With a 2-2 count, 2 outs and 1 pitch away from possibly ending the Rays season, Dan Johnson smacked a solo homerun to tie the game 7-7. Later, the Rays got out of a jam in the top of the 12th and entered the bottom of the 12th inning, season on the line, tied 7-7.
Back to the Red Sox. Papelbon enters the game in the bottom of the 9th, up 3-2, and gets 2 quick outs. The Red Sox are 1 out away from at least forcing a one game playoff with the Rays. Orioles 3rd baseman Chris Davis hits a 2 out double. Outfielder Nolan Reimold hits a ground-rule double that scores Davis. Game is tied 3-3 and Papelbon blows the save. Next better is Robert Andino (who?). Andino hits a soft liner to left field. Red Sox million-dollar free agent Carl Crawford charges the ball, does a half slide/dive and can't come up with it. Reimold rounds 3rd as Crawford comes up throwing (if you can call it throwing) and Reimold scores easily. Game over. Orioles 4 Red Sox 3.
At the same time, the Rays start the bottom of the 12th inning. The crowd is going crazy because the scoreboard for the Orioles-Red Sox game just showed the Orioles tie the game 3-3 in the bottom of the 9th. BJ Upton leads off the inning, one of the Rays best hitters. He strikes out, but in doing so, the crowd goes crazy again as the scoreboard updates to show Orioles 4 Red Sox 3. Drama and tension building. Now the Rays know they are one run away from not only completing a 7 run comeback, but winning the wildcard outright. Next up - Evan Longoria. Longoria already hit a 3-run homerun earlier in the game, his 30th of the season. He works the count to 2 balls and 2 strikes. Next pitch: GAME OVER. He drills a low, screaming linedrive into the left field corner that clears the fence by maybe, MAYBE, 2 feet. Walk off. Rays win. Red Sox collapse. Braves collapse. Instant MLB classic night.
I honestly couldn't fall asleep for 30 minutes after all of this went down. I was tweeting like a mad man (@djameson87), watching Sportscenter and sending 500 word text messages to my brother since he likely fell asleep. Amazing night of baseball.
Tampa Bay Rays @ Texas Rangers
Detroit Tigers @ New York Yankees
Arizona Diamondbacks @ Milwaukee Brewers
St. Louis Cardinals @ Philadelphia Phillies
Let's go Tigers!