I love baseball. I love do-or-die elimination games, extra innings, and pitcher’s duels. I love clutch hits, great plays, and winning runs.
From the last day of the season on, baseball has been absolutely fantastic. The greatest single regular season day in baseball history has been followed up with division series’ in both leagues for the ages. There were no sweeps, no easy advancements. The Rays and the Rangers were the only series not to go the full five games. But each game was intense and exciting. Two games in that series came down to some bottom of the ninth drama, and three out of the four games were decided by 2 runs or less. And that was just the series that DIDN’T end in a game five matchup.
The Yankees got the matchup they wanted in the Division Series when they hosted the Tigers, but quickly found themselves down two games to one. The juggernaut Yankees threw CC Sabathia in Game One and the Tigers threw the soon-to-be unanimous Cy Young pick Justin Verlander. They both got through one inning, then the rain came and erased a matchup most of the baseball world had been anticipating from the second the matchups were announced.
With the series knotted up at one game a piece, we finally got that matchup we had been looking forward to so much. But the offense stole the show. The game ended with a Tigers 5-4 win and pushed the Yankees to the brink of elimination with perhaps their worst pitcher slated to start Game Four.
AJ Burnett did start Game Four despite the collective groans from all of New York City. And he out-pitched even what he could have expected. A solo blast was all he gave up, and he powered the Yankees to a Game Five at home. And what a Game Five it was. Every pitch was important. Every pitch had fans on the edges of their seats. Just as the Tigers looked like they were going to pull away, the Yankees pulled to within one and were still threatening.
Joaquin Benoit threw some of the most exciting pitches anyone will ever get in a ball game. One missed spot could have spelled the end to the Tigers season, but he located them all, and calmly got the Tigers out of the inning, bridging the gap to Jose Valverde who hadn’t blown a save all season long. And that trend continued as he closed out the series with a strikeout of Alex Rodriguez.
If that excitement was too much for you, grab yourself a pace-maker because there were two more Game Fives left to play.
The Brewers and the Diamondbacks met in the division series like twins separated at birth. These teams both have new managers, both had turned their seasons around, and both got surprisingly dominant pitching all season long. For every Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder there was a Justin Upton and Paul Goldschmidt. For every Zach Greinke and Yovani Gallardo, there was an Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson.
And when these twins, separated at birth, met this postseason, they showed fans the love and passion only baseball can bring. Nyjer Morgan was the fuel that powered a Brewers team full of young, dedicated players. Kirk Gibson’s attitude shoved dysfunctional teammates together and turned the Diamondbacks into one of the closest clubhouses in baseball. All this translated to greatness on the field. Both the Brewers fans and the Diamondbacks fans matched each other’s intensity. And like any great teams, the home games were won by the home teams.
When Game Five arrived, the fans outside of Arizona and Wisconsin didn’t want the series to end. And it seemed the teams didn’t either. The Diamondbacks jumped out to an early lead, then the Brewers leap-frogged in front. After squandering a bases-loaded situation in the eighth, it looked like the Diamondbacks season would be coming to an end, but they roared back to tie it in the ninth. But the never-say-die attitude and the power drawn from the passionate Brewers fans would not allow them to lose. In the bottom of the tenth the Brewers scored and propelled themselves to their first play-off series win since 1982.
Finally, the Cardinals and Phillies capped off the slew of Game Fives.
After the Cardinals were out-scored 14-3 in the last four innings of Game One and first three innings of Game Two combined, it would have been easy for the Cardinals to lay down and act as the welcome mat to the League Championship Series for the Phillies. But they didn’t. The Cardinals stormed back and won Game Two.
Back in St. Louis, the Phillies took Game Three and pushed the Cardinals to the brink of elimination. But with the help of a newly dubbed “rally squirrel” who raced across home plate just as Roy Oswalt was delivering his pitch, the Cardinals forced Game Five.
Game Five was a matchup of old friends and Cy Young winners. Both Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter were pitching on full rest and had been at the tops of their games down the final stretch of the season. The pitting of Halladay against Carpenter was like something from a movie script. These two were good friends coming up through the Blue Jays organization and both always wanted to get better. Well, they did and they faced each other in this incredible elimination game.
Halladay made two mistakes in the first inning but was dominant throughout the rest of his eight innings. On any other night an eight inning, one run performance would likely have given the Phillies the win, but Chris Carpenter was better. Carpenter tossed a three-hit, complete game shut-out. His performance can be classified as one of the best in postseason history. Now, the Cardinals move on to face the Brewers.
This postseason has lived up to everything play-off baseball should be. Friends facing each other for the right to keep playing, clutch home runs when a team seems down and out, and payrolls that don’t rank in the top-five in all of baseball.
Bring on the League Championship Series.