September 28, 2011 will be known as the greatest single night in the history of Major League Baseball. It may even shape the future of some organizations for generations to come.
Lets start with the historic. The Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves have the dubious honor of completing two of the greatest collapses the Game has ever seen..
Boston had a nine game lead on Tampa Bay in the AL Wild Card on September 2nd. Atlanta lead St. Louis by 8 and a half games on September 5th. Even though both teams came into Game 162 tied for their league’s respective Wild Card spots….Both knowing a win would guarantee at least a one-game playoff, if not an out right post season berth…Both the Red Sox and Braves would be on the outside looking in at the end of the night.
Even more excruciating was how Red Sox and Braves met their date with infamy.
The Sox were a strike away from winning their game in Baltimore. Jonathan Papelbon retired the first two batters in the ninth inning, Then guys named Nolan Reimold and Robert Andino became heroes and ghosts that will haunt the dreams of New Englanders for generations to come.
Sure the Sox were their own worst enemies. They blew that huge lead in the Wild Card. Their base running was horrendous in Game 162. They let the Orioles hang around and Baltimore delivered the knock out blow in a flash. While Boston was trying to pick their teeth up off the floor…less than 90 seconds later, they were eliminated all together.
The night didn’t start well for the Rays. They were down 5-0 in the second inning, 7-0 in the eighth inning. But Tampa Bay came all the way back when pinch hitter, Dan Johnson hit a 2-out pinch hit home run to tie the game at seven. How improbable was that? The homer raised Johnson’s season batting average to .119. Even more shocking is that it was only the third time EVER ( first since 1953) that the Yankees had blown a 7-run lead in the 8th inning or later.
So mere moments after Baltimore had dispatched Boston, Evan Longoria hit his second homer of the night. This one in the bottom of the 12th inning to turn out the lights and send the Rays back to the post season with an 8-7 victory. Tampa Bay had erased a 9-game deficit and a 7-run hole in Game 162 to clinch the AL Wild Card.
Not quite as miserable but still as painful was the fete de compli of the Atlanta Braves. They had a 3-2 lead at home in the top of the 9th against the Phillies. Give credit to Philadelphia. They had nothing to play for. They clinched the top seed in the National League giving them home field through the postseason. They did not and would not roll over in Atlanta. They rallied to tie the game in the ninth and beat the Braves 4-3 in 13 innings. That kind of professionalism starts at the top. Good on the Phillies.
The Braves loss meant they were out and the St. Louis Cardinals in as the National League Wild card. The Cards competed their improbable comeback behind Chris Carpenter’s 2-hit, 11 strikeout shutout in Houston. Probably as clutch a performance as you will ever see.
Now comes the fallout.
There is actually rumblings that Terry Francona is going to be fired in Boston. What?!?!? Two World Series titles and a change of the culture in that organization apparently means nothing. They fire him.. it will be the Curse of the Bambino all over again. Then again, Red Sox General Manager, Theo Epstein, might be in on the north side of Chicago come April running the Cubs.
I feel bad for Braves manager, Fredi Gonzalez. Already railroaded of his job in Florida with the Marlins, Gonzalez will now clearly be on the hot seat in Hot-lanta. Here’s to a fast start in 2012 for him.
I feel even worse for Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez. He was part of the 2007 Padres that blew their Wild Card lead the final weekend and saw the Rockies come from behind in a one game playoff.
He was part of the 2010 Padres that couldn’t beat the Giants the final weekend and lost out on the NL West. Now he’s forever linked to the 2011 Red Sox. Ouch.
Tony LaRussa is back in the playoffs for the 9th time in his 15-year tenure in St. Louis. Winning the 2006 World Series with a team that didn’t limp, but fell over the finish line in the regular season is maybe his finest job as a skipper. Erasing at one point, a double-digit Wild Card deficit has got to be a close second. How far the Cards get during this post season will decide that,.
Another deep post season run may help LaRussa who seemingly is always on the verge of getting replaced in Saint Lou. Another head scratcher.
Francona, Gonzalez and LaRussa may not look for long if the ax should fall. With Ozzie Guillen leaving for the Miami Marlins managerial gig, the Chicago White Sox opening is pretty sexy.
Can you imagine Francona running the south side against his former boss on the north side?
Other goodies from Game 162…. Weak of Jose Reyes to take his bunt hit and go home. The hit raised his NL-best batting average to .337. Ryan Braun needed a three for four night to pass Reyes.. it didn’t happen. Reyes is your NL batting champion.. again weak. He earned it but it sure led to an empty feeling . Kinda like the Mets season as a whole. season.
Matt Kemp hit his 39th home run of the season. He finished just one homer from becoming the fifth player ever to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases. Did Kemp lock up the MVP? He finished third in batting average (.324), first in home runs (39), first in RBI ( 126) first in runs (115) to go with those 40 steals. Only thing that could stop the 27-year old from winning the award is the team he played on. The Dodgers only won 82 games.
Kemp’s main competitor for NL MVP is Ryan Braun. His Brewers are heading to the playoffs,. Braun finished second in the league in batting (.332). sixth in homers (33), fourth in RBI ( 111) first in slugging (.597) and stole 33 bases. Kemp is clearly the league’s BEST player but is he the most VALUABLE? It wouldn’t surprise me if Kemp and Braun are co-MVP. Those scruffy baseball writers are weird like that..
Game 162 was a great cigar, a fine wine, a tender steak, a throaty scotch mixed with the birth of your kids and your first kiss all wrapped up in an agonizingly gleeful night. And for that I say thank you to Major League Baseball.
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