This just gets better and better.
Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. What a night for baseball fans last evening. You’ve probably by now heard that the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves both completed their own individual submissions for worst September chokes in baseball history. They gave the Tampa Bay Rays and the St Louis Cardinals shocking Wild Card berths in the MLB playoffs. And it incredibly exceeded any and all expectations in how it played out. As Scott Van Pelt said on the SportsCenter that immediately followed the Rays game, “I’ll say it until I’m dead: sports are better than anything else. Always.”
In the immortal words of Hulk Hogan: Amen, brother.
Where to start? I guess the only way to do it is to share how I experienced it. For the better part of eight innings, I was stuck in night class yesterday sneaking views on my iPhone (God bless the Watch ESPN app) and checking updates on the gamecast. I became a bit depressed when, a little before 9:30 central, I got out of class to see the Rays down 7-0 going into the bottom of the eighth, the Braves looking like they were going to force a one game playoff, and the Red Sox still in the middle of a rain delay leading 3-2. I drove home, took my dog out, and immediately turned on ESPN and ESPN2.
In the short amount of time it took me to do that, the Rays had somehow miraculously forced extra innings on a Dan Johnson two-out home run in the bottom of the ninth, the Braves sensational rookie closer Craig Kimbrel had blown a save, and the Red Sox game was just starting the bottom half of the ninth inning, an inning that will live in infamy for the region of New England (at least until next year when they spend another $50 million).
I first watched the sad, depressing ending to the Phillies, Braves game on ESPN2. I’m not a St Louis Cardinals fan so this one was really hard to stomach as I didn’t have a dog in the fight. It was awful to watch. The Braves knew they were going to lose and watching the dugout after it became complete was one of the less enjoyable things I’ve ever witnessed as a sports fan. I hope I never have to visit the places that team and that fan base went last night in their sports psychology. It looked devastating. This was the first of the three games that mattered to end. I immediately switched over to the Red Sox game on ESPN to see what was going on, hoping that ESPN2 would change over to the Rays game (programming note: in an ultimate #fail for the ages, the deuce instead chose to show the CrossFit World Championships, or something).
Jonathon Papelbon got two quick outs, looking like the force of nature who’s closed down a World Series in the past. There was no way he was blowing it. And then up came Chris Davis, the same Chris Davis who I’ve mocked for years on this site for his unrivaled ability to strike out at the major league level. He’s a former Texas Ranger who became notorious for perfectly suiting the definition of a AAAA player (a guy who destroys Triple A, but sucks once he gets to the show). I’m thinking game over, time to go to bed when, all of a sudden he roped one down the right field line for an easy double.
Okay. I’m listening.
Next up was some guy named Nolan Reimold who is best known for the fact that is sounds like the announcer is mispronouncing Nolan Ryan when they say his name. The scouting report clearly indicated that Reimold could not hit the outside pitch. Papelbon pounded it to the outer half the entire at bat and Reimold never came close to touching any of the fast balls before going down two strikes. And then, well, then Papelbon had one of those brain farts that can haunt a player the rest of his career.
I don’t know if it was meant to be a slider, it was even quite possibly a two-seam fastball. Regardless, Papelbon absolutely hung a pitch over middle of the plate and Reimold smashed a ground rule double to right-center. Tie ball game. There was no chance after that. The Sox were clearly shaken and it took only the next batter to line a ball just out of the reach of the disappointing Carl Crawford to win the ball game and put Boston out of its misery.
It may have been only a coincidence. In fact, that is all it was: a coincidence. But you couldn’t help but see Crawford coming up short as a metaphor for what the night had in store.
And then, as luck would have it, ESPN switched immediately over to the Rays game. It took only thee minutes for Evan Longoria to put the ultimate exclamation point on one of the single greatest baseball nights ever and one of the single greatest September comebacks ever. I don’t know who decided that left field at Tropicana Field should be a paltry 315 feet, but God bless that man/woman because that ball would fall for a double in any other ballpark. It went 316 feet, tops, but just enough to give Longoria a walk off homerun for the ages.
Just enough. That’s what the Rays did all year.
The next few minutes were some of the most enjoyable moments as a sports fan I’ve had in some time. I only remember feeling something like that twice before, once when the Rockies beat the Padres in a one game playoff to make it to the postseason, and during the Nuggets run to the Western Conference finals a couple years ago. I’m not saying it came anywhere near approaching the levels of those other two times, but I did feel something. It was made all the better by the fact that ESPN, because it was breaking into the coverage, didn’t have an announcer and we were simply allowed to silently watch the Rays celebrate knowing full well what they had just done. I’ve long heard of Dodgers legendary broadcaster Vin Scully say he likes to let the stadium and the game do the talking for him, rather than tarnish it with his voice. I finally know what that’s like now. I sat up in bed with a huge smile and just got to appreciate the background noise of those Rays fans lucky enough to have stayed and witnessed the comeback.
And oh my god was it better than anything I’ve ever pictured in my head.
Think about what was at stake here. The payrolls, first of all. The clear favoritism showed to the Red Sox by ESPN over the past decade. The fact that ESPN the Mag just ran an issue last week that literally tried to explain why Boston was a better sports city than your hometown. Think of all that arrogance and how this same network then had to sit in silence as the Rays knocked their beloved franchise out of the postseason. It was incredible. It made all those insufferable four and a half hour games worth it somehow.
There is no game like baseball. Football clearly dethroned it as the most popular sport, but there is something about baseball that no sport will ever touch. I’ve long argued that a World Series is the most difficult championship to win and that it would mean more to me than any other sport. Last night reinforced that belief times a billion.
What a night. What a sport. Wow.
Generation Y, where Theo Epstein to the Cubs sounds like an excellent idea.
This might have been the most important triple play in baseball history, no exaggeration.
So who else is suddenly a St Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays fan? Tonight is going to be one of the most entertaining nights of baseball action in a long long time and I highly suggest you make the time to sit in front of your television to watch how it all plays out.
Generation Y, where we’d like to boldly claim we could end the lockout in one negotiating session. How ’bout it David Stern?
It was later revealed he filed for divorce from his wife recently. She’s been battling breast cancer all year, oh by the way.