Wednesday night somewhere, possibly in a corn field in Iowa, the gods of baseball decided they’d had enough. Their sport had been called “boring” and slow too many times. They’d heard about how the players are paid way too much, and how their game is behind the times in technology usage. They’d been pushed around, pantsed, and bullied by big money football for years. They’d had enough of waiting for ‘professional’ basketball to fix itself.
They were still trying to figure out the icing rule in hockey, and why the players can’t understand what a “head-shot” means.
So if you closed your eyes that night, blocked out the seemingly unending clatter of worldwide issues, and listened very closely around 1:05am, September 29th, 2011, through that momentary dead silence that exists after witnessing something incredible, you could very possibly still hear them replaying Jack Buck’s famous call of Kirk Gibson’s home run call from Game 1 of the 1988 World Series for all to hear: “I can’t believe what I just saw!”
Fittingly, in a week that had the last episode of the long-running daytime soap opera “All My Children”, sports fans everywhere were treated to that special, unreal kind of melodrama. We witnessed the most amazing intrigue, mind-bending twists and turns in the story, incredible highs, life-changing lows, elation, and despair in 129 minutes than possibly at any point in this sports’ grand history.
These four games were intertwined in a way that was unthinkable merely one month ago. It was the final day of the baseball season, Game #162, and two playoff positions that looked locked up in late August were still to be decided. Two teams had blown leads in their respective wild card races only achieved by one other team, the 2007 New York Mets.
I’m a Mets fan. I know the gut wrenching feeling, the growing knot in your stomach, and the horrible sensation that the perfect storm is brewing for an epic collapse. Yet, no scale ever created to measure a “force of nature” could bear the weight provided by the events of Wednesday night’s Game 162’s.
I was very thankful that all four games were shown here. My remote control, not so much. I really to need to figure out picture–in-picture this weekend. However, once the St. Louis Cardinals had booked their ticket for a possible one game playoff with the Atlanta Braves, with an 8-0 beatdown over the hapless Houston Astros, the drama was left to the three other games. The Cardinals had already done the seemingly impossible: come back from a 8 ½ game deficit, to force the playoff with the Braves, who were winning 3-2 in the top of the 9th inning against the Philadelphia Phillies. The team crowded into their clubhouse and collectively watched the events unfold on TV with the rest of us.
After Philly tied the game in the 9th, their game went into extra innings. Finally, a bloop single from the Phillies cashed in a run off of Atlanta’s top reliever in the top of the 14th inning. After getting a man on base in the bottom of the 14th, the Braves grounded into a game-ending double play, losing 4-3, quashing their playoff dream, and putting the Cards in. It was a historic blown-save, combined with an unthinkable breakdown in the last month of the season by the Braves. Little did we know, the night had only just begun.
There were now two games to play; two fates to be decided: the Boston Red Sox versus the Baltimore Orioles, and the New York Yankees playing the Tampa Bay Rays. These matchups followed along the same pre-game story line: the Red Sox had blown a 9 game lead in the standings to Tampa in September. NINE GAMES? It would be unthinkable that they could blow this and now be eliminated. Not even the Mets, I said to myself. Never.
I wrote of the “forces of nature”, and the “baseball gods” earlier. Fantasy as it may seem, it would help to explain why the Sox game had such an extensive rain delay, the game was not called, and resumed at the same point in the Rays’ game, creating an unfathomable tension among TV viewers, and the scoreboard-watching fans at the games. The games seemed to blend together, pitch-by-pitch.
The Sox had a 3-2 lead, just like the Braves did heading into the bottom of the 9th. With a man on 2nd and down to their last strike, Jonathan Papelbon, one of the premier closers in baseball, gave up a ground rule double to the O’s to tie the game at 3. The following batter hit a single, to score the game winning run for Baltimore. I could hear Red Sox nation screaming in horror from here, as they knew they would have to cheer for the hated Yankees.
In the meantime, the Yankees, who were up 7-0, now had a mere one run lead following Evan Longoria’s 8th inning 3-run homer. Now, I had said to my friends and family just the other day, “If I’m Joe Girardi, I don’t care what we do, or how it affects the outcome of our games. We’re in the playoffs, and if it screws the Sox, so be it.” So when I saw that the Yankees had “players” on the field that may have in fact, won a 6th inning raffle contest, and Scott Proctor as their only remaining pitcher, I figured this was not looking good for Boston.
Sure enough, exactly 3 minutes after Baltimore beat Boston, and with Scott Proctor on the mound, Longoria hits a solo home run for the Rays, giving them a 4-3 win and sending them to the playoffs, their fans into pandemonium, and Red Sox players, coaches, and ownership wondering what happened. It was at that moment, the baseball gods flipped the “big moneyball” Sox the bird, and starting playing Jack Buck recordings.
Two 4-3 wins. Two epic collapses by two very good teams. I’ve seen Twitter light up like a Christmas tree before. Last night was unlike anything I’ve seen. Blame was thrown all over the place, hatred filled up the spots that were missed. The repercussions from last night will echo throughout the post-season and off-season.
The crying will be short-lived in Atlanta as they don’t have hockey anymore, have lots of NASCAR to watch, the remainder of college football, and still have Matt Ryan of the NFL Falcons to choke at playoff time. Good times in Georgia.
However, in Red Sox Nation so many questions have to be asked.
What happened to the vaunted Red Sox bats? What happened to the solid fielding? Carl Crawford was paid somewhere around the GDP of a third world nation to play, and play well. He did neither; at bat, on the bases, or in the field.Was the pitching rotation of Josh Beckett, John Lester, over-rated and ridiculously high paid John Lackey, Eric Bedard,who has never been good, and 94 year old Tim Wakefield really a good idea? Will Manager Terry Francona return? I know this year he had to deal with several injuries to key players. I understand he won the World Series, twice. I get the fact they came back from a three game deficit to defeat the Yankees. But he just did not seem to be able to handle this year’s pressure.
Yes, the baseball soap opera starring Tito Francona, “14 year old” Boston General Manager Theo Epstein, and the rest of their management and playing squad has only just begun in Beantown.
However, I’m fairly sure no one will end up in a coma, will get pushed over a cliff, will ever suffer amnesia from this, or for damn sure, return from the dead. No, I think Boston needs to change the channel everyone was watching last night. Tito, it was
a good run, but it’s over.