For anyone who missed it, the last two days of baseball have been the greatest in history. In history! More specifically, last night was the greatest single night in regular season history. These were games 162 for the teams involved, but there was no question, last night was play-off baseball.
Many will argue last night’s place in history, but until someone gives me a scenario greater than four teams battling for the final two play-off spots with two of those teams on the verge of the greatest comebacks in history, last night ranks supreme. You don’t need a recap, but here you go.
The Rays were nine games behind the Red Sox in the AL Wild Card chase when September kicked off. The Cardinals were eight and a half games behind the Braves in very early September. Both of these teams went on incredible runs to pull into a Wild Card tie heading into the last game of the season. This set up the picture-in-picture creator’s dream situation. Four games, all with play-off implications. The Rays were facing the Yankees, the Red Sox were facing the Orioles, the Cardinals were facing the Astros, and the Braves were facing the Phillies.
But even with the drama leading into last night, no one could have predicted the excitement that was yet to come. The fan bases in Boston and Atlanta will never see the beauty of last night. I understand that. As a Padres fan who watched that team lose a one-game play-off to the Rockies in thrilling fashion in 2007, I understand the pain of defeat will always block out the euphoria of baseball greatness.
The Cardinals quickly put pressure on the Braves by running away with their game. And the Braves seemed to respond. With a one-run lead going into the ninth, they had their great rookie closer, Craig Kimbrel, on the mound. But he blew it. The Red Sox were leading in the seventh when rain threatened to end the game. But after a delay of about an hour and half, the game resumed with the Red Sox maintaining their lead into the ninth. But the Red Sox dominant closer, Jonathan Papelbon, blew it. The Rays seemed dead in the water all game. They were losing 7-0 until the bottom of the eighth. Then magic happened. The Rays scored six runs, capped by an Evan Longoria three-run home run, and headed into the ninth down only one run. In the ninth, Dan Johnson happened. In the 12th, Evan Longoria happened again.
I’ve seen the footage of Bobby Thompson’s walk-off home run to clinch the pennant for the New York Giants. They were a team that came back from 13 games back late in August. Until now, they were the greatest comeback story in baseball history. I’ve seen Kirk Gibson’s famous home run with two bad knees, I’ve seen Pudge Fisk waving his home run fair, Joe Carter winning the World Series, and Albert Pujols keeping hope alive for the Cardinals in 2005.
Last night’s home runs by Dan Johnson and Evan Longoria were better than any of those. I have never been as excited in my life for a single night of baseball as I was last night. Dan Johnson kept the excitement alive. In the bottom of the ninth, with two outs, he stepped to the plate. Dan Johnson? Really? He was batting under .200 and had one tater on the year. It seemed like he was up there just praying he didn’t make the final out that ended the Rays season. With two strikes, he showed me he was up there to keep the Rays alive. With a laser-shot over the right field wall, Dan Johnson placed himself in history with one of the greatest, most dramatic home runs in history. Then, Evan Longoria topped him.
In the bottom of the 12th, Evan Longoria stepped to the plate literally seconds after the crowd made it clear that Baltimore had tied the game against Boston. As Longoria was battling Scott Proctor, the crowd once again came to life. The Orioles had just scored the winning run against Boston. The Rays were at very least guaranteed a one-game play-off and maybe a Wild Card berth that night. Longoria left little time to think about the possibilities. Four minutes after Baltimore beat Boston, Longoria connected on another laser-shot. This one, barely clearing the left field wall, placed Longoria on a very short list. He became only the second player in history to clinch a play-off berth with a walk-off home run on the final day of the season. Bobby Thompson, meet Evan Longoria.
These last two days make me wonder if the postseason can top this. Maybe we should end the season now. What a wonderful chain of events that lead us to the magic and drama of last night. Some will use last night as a call to keep the play-off format as is. Some will still claim the season is far too long. The fact is, the play-off format is what it is this year. If the season were shorter, we would have had a Braves team and a Red Sox team limping into the play-offs. This type of excitement cannot happen in football or basketball. The NFL’s season does not allow for great comebacks in the standings. The NBA allows just about every team into their postseason.
Now that it’s all over, take a breath, forget about baseball for a day, because play-offs start Friday. And I can’t wait.