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September 29, 2011

On the Beat

A Date Which Will Live in Infamy

by John Perrotto

You can search every page on baseball-reference.com. You can go back through every issue of the Sporting News, from the days when it was "the bible of baseball." Yet it would be impossible to ever find a night in baseball history—or day, before artificial light made night baseball possible—that was better than Wednesday evening. No way. No how. Just couldn't have happened, even keeping in mind that the 200,000th regular-season game in major-league history was played last Saturday.

Those who sat in front of their televisions or laptops or iPads—or however you watch baseball in these days of constantly evolving technology—saw drama at the highest level. It was reality TV at its best, even without people living on islands and subsisting on goat intestines or shooting ping-pong balls out of their nostrils.

It was a truly amazing night, one so magic that it's hard to know where to start other than to set the stage for the evening. The Rays and Red Sox came in tied for the wild card in the American League, and the Braves and Cardinals were knotted for the wild card in the National League.

The ties were untied by the end of the evening, with the Rays and Cardinals rising from the baseball dead to qualify for the playoffs. How it happened stretches the bounds of imagination beyond the Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter's two-hit, 11-strikeout shutout victory over the Astros at Houston, a brilliant performance that turned out to be mundane in light of what happened afterward.

The Braves were three outs away from forcing a tiebreaker game against the Cardinals on Thursday night as they sent Craig Kimbrel, holder of the record for most saves by a rookie, to the mound to close out what they hoped would be a 3-2 victory over the Phillies. Instead, Kimbrel blew the save by giving up a sacrifice fly to Chase Utley.

The Braves' fate was sealed. The game was tied, but Atlanta had the look of a beaten team. It took a while, but Hunter Pence ended the Braves' season with a flare RBI single in the top of the 13th inning off Scott Linebrink to give the NL East champions a 4-3 win.

Thus ended a collapse for the ages. The Braves held a 10 ½-game lead in the wild-card race on August 26. The Cardinals were still 8 ½ games behind on September 6. Yet that was just part of the drama. Another collapse was about to occur in Baltimore where the Red Sox, after sitting out a long rain delay, took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning against the cellar-dwelling Orioles. Closer Jonathan Papelbon struck out the first two batters and the Red Sox seemed, at worst, in line to play the Rays in a tiebreaker game in St. Petersburg on Thursday afternoon.

But like Kimbrel, Papelbon couldn't get the last out in what could be his last Red Sox appearance; he is eligible for free agency after the World Series. Chris Davis and Nolan Reimold hit back-to-back doubles to tie the game, and Robert Andino followed with a game-winning single.

The Red Sox hadn't been eliminated when Andino sealed the Orioles’ victory, but their situation was perilous, as the Rays were tied with the Yankees in extra innings. They didn’t have to wait long for fate, though. Three minutes later, the Rays broke through against the Yankees, and the Red Sox were eliminated. Tampa Bay joined St. Louis as two of the great comeback stories in baseball history.

Evan Longoria led off the bottom of the 12th by lining a Scott Proctor pitch over the left-field fence—just inside the foul pole—to give the Rays an 8-7 victory. That capped the biggest September comeback in major-league history; the Rays had trailed the Red Sox by nine games three days into the season's final month.

So while Red Sox Nation headed to the winter to bemoan their team's fate, call for the head of manager Terry Francona, and put Robert "Bleeping" Andino just a notch below Bucky "Bleeping" Dent on their list of angst-causing light-hitting infielders, Rays Township was jubilant about one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history—and we're just talking about Wednesday's game.

The Rays were down 7-0 going into the eighth inning, but they scored six runs in the frame, making it a one-run game. Down to their last strike in the ninth, Dan Johnson saved the Rays' season with a pinch-hit home run to make it 7-7. Once the Yankees failed to cash in on a first-and-third, no-out situation in the top of the 12th, it seemed inevitable that the Rays would win. Longoria delivered.

 With that, the Division Series matchups were set. It will be Yankees-Tigers and Rangers-Rays in the AL, and Phillies-Cardinals and Brewers-Diamondbacks in the NL. As we head into the postseason, we can be assured of one thing: October will have the impossible task of attempting to trump the magic of September 28, 2011, a night that reaffirmed that no sport offers nearly as much drama as baseball.  

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

54 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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FrankL

Sox fans had to suffer through Scott Proctor pitching for the Yanks. The outcome was inevitable after Torre Proctored Proctor a few years ago. Still, Scott P did make it through 2.2 innings to extend the hope and agony.

One correction BJ Upton was the leadoff batter for the Rays in the 12th. Death was quick or the Sox once they held up their side of the (loss) bargain. Proctor kept Sox hope alive only 3 minutes after the embedded Ray and purported defensive genius, Carl Crawford, failed to come up with a sliding catch.

It all added up to just make the Sox loss and the Yankee contribution (and that of the embedded Ray) all the more bitter.

I live in Atlanta, by route of Rhode Island, and days like today are why I love baseball. Honest. Now it's time to start thing playoffs and the WS and next Spring -- but all the newspapers and talk radio cover is football. Ugh. (Or should I say UGa?)

Sep 29, 2011 00:10 AM
rating: 0
 
randolph3030

True about Proctor, but he was also the pitcher when Jacoby hit the homer in 14th the other day.

Proctor giveth and then giveth away again.

Sep 29, 2011 05:01 AM
rating: 11
 
thegeneral13

It's like that feeling when someone surprises you with a gift and then you see them handing one out to everyone else, too.

Sep 29, 2011 06:41 AM
rating: 12
 
Ric Size

No other sport can offer the drama that was last night's games, and these races in their final weeks. What an amazing season of baseball! Well written, John!

Sep 29, 2011 05:49 AM
rating: 3
 
jhardman

What a great night of baseball. A sub chapter should be included that games were played by the Rangers and Brewers that had to be won to clinch home fields for the ALDS. Therefore, four other games (including those being played by the Diamondbacks and Tigers) were also meaningful. Eight games that meant something to the playoff alignment on the last day of the season. Wow.

Who needs a second wild card team in each league to manufacture more drama? And thank goodness this day was on a stage by itself - no football competition at any level.

Now, on to the analysis of why it wasn't Mo Rivera pitching to Dan Johnson, or why the Yankees were playing the C-Team in a meaningful game, etc. Would love to hear Mr. Goldman's Yankee-centric analysis on what appeared to be a three game Yankee effort to stick it to the Red Sox.

Sep 29, 2011 06:43 AM
rating: -3
 
SaberTJ

I'm pretty sure a 7-0 lead in the 8th inning would be safe with virtually any relievers. Especially against Tampa's offense.

Not sure pitching a bullpen game is a way to to stick it to the Red Sox. They shut them out for most of the game.

What manager in their right mind would pitch their aging closer in a meaningless game?

Sep 29, 2011 06:49 AM
rating: 13
 
Johnston

What obligation are the Yankees under here besides making a creditable effort? Which they surely did.

The blame for the Red Sox not being in the playoffs rests squarely on their own failures. Pointing fingers at others is silly; no one else lost all those games in September for them. Like the Braves, they did it to themselves.

Sep 29, 2011 07:04 AM
rating: 19
 
deep64blue

The only obligation the Yankees have is to do the best to get ready for the play-offs - they earned that right.

Sep 29, 2011 10:06 AM
rating: 5
 
eighteen

Who would you rather face in the playoffs: A resurgent, young Rays team on a hot streak; or an injury-riddled, overpaid collection of inept mercenaries who can't win 8 games in September?

Sep 29, 2011 10:57 AM
rating: 3
 
David Coonce

If your screen-name indicates your age then I understand your silly hubris, but "inept," really? "Hot streak"?Who are you, Joe Morgan?

Sep 29, 2011 16:37 PM
rating: -3
 
Johnston

Unbelievable. The Red Sox and Braves join the 1964 Phillies among the ultimate folders of all time, and, in fact, may well have surpassed them. It's a shame Gene Mauch didn't live to see this.

I wouldn't have believed that both teams would, or could, choke that terribly. One, maybe, but both? I would have lost a fortune on that bet.

On the one hand, it was really exciting baseball. On the other hand, watching two famed franchises both choke and flush their seasons down the toilet was really hard to watch.

But congratulations to the Cards and the Rays, who earned their playoff spots by bearing down and playing baseball when they needed to play baseball. Unlike their competition.

Sep 29, 2011 07:01 AM
rating: 5
 
bflaff1

Did someone say ultimate folders of all time? The 2007 Mets don't want to be left out of this conversation.

Sep 29, 2011 08:28 AM
rating: 1
 
vonschiller

And if there were a 2nd wild card team, none of it would have mattered. Can anyone explain why this change needs to happen?

Sep 29, 2011 07:01 AM
rating: 39
 
Johnston

My take on it is that last night shows very conclusively why that change SHOULDN'T happen.

Sep 29, 2011 07:05 AM
rating: 20
 
ddufourlogger

Thumbs up several times.

Sep 29, 2011 09:10 AM
rating: 4
 
TADontAsk

They'll spin it any way they want, but the truth is it's all about the extra money it brings. And since that's the bottom line, this change is inevitable.

And it is sad to me, because you posted exactly what I was thinking last night. If there were already 1-game wild-card playoff games scheduled for today, then the games yesterday would have been next to irrelevant. To me, last night was one of the best nights I ever spent watching baseball, and they're planning to take that away.

You can't give specific examples and say "Well this season would have been better if there was an additional wild card" because all seasons play out the same way. There are some where it might be more exciting, and some, like 2011, where the ending didn't need an excitement boost.

Sep 29, 2011 07:55 AM
rating: 3
 
TADontAsk

I meant to say that all seasons play out differently (obviously). Were they all the same, then we wouldn't need BP to forecast things :)

Sep 29, 2011 07:57 AM
rating: 0
 
ostrowj1

If there was a 2nd wild card team, maybe more teams would have made a push for it...

Sep 29, 2011 08:21 AM
rating: -2
 
jrbdmb

And what rationale is there to allow another team further down the standings a 1-game playoff into the playoffs to potentially knock out a better team as proven over 162 games?

Stupid idea, Bud. If you have to expand the playoffs then make it a real 5-game series. A 1-game baseball playoff would be like an NFL playoff game where each team only gets one possession.

Sep 29, 2011 11:26 AM
rating: 1
 
DetroitDale

Hard to believe about a month ago everyone was mourning the lack of close races in this year's season and proposing radical ideas such as expanding the playoffs (actually that wouldn't address the problem but Bud Lightweight shamelessly used it to sell the idea so the league could cash another batch of broadcast rights checks) And then we get not one, but two chokes/comebacks rivaling the '69 Mets.

As a baseball fan I enjoyed it but as a Tigers fan, I wish the Sox would have held on because I would rather have faced their weakened pitching that the Rays, perhaps the only team in the AL the Tigers' won't have a pitching edge against. Of course my real disappointment was they finished one win short of being able to face the wildcard instead of the Yankees in the first round. (another interesting race that got buried by the wild wildcard races)

Sep 29, 2011 07:32 AM
rating: 0
 
Schlom

Three times in the last five seasons Adrian Gonzalez's teams have lost the last game of the season to miss the playoffs - in two of those games his team had the lead in the final inning. They might have to start calling it the Curse of Adrian Gonzalez.

Sep 29, 2011 07:33 AM
rating: 15
 
Eddie

A great climax to a long season. Worth the wait, imo. If this doesn't get people to start going to the games in Tampa, then that city does not deserve a team.

Sep 29, 2011 08:15 AM
rating: 5
 
TGisriel

Sure, they were out of it, but I'm proud of how my O's played in September and last night.

Incredible night!

Sep 29, 2011 08:21 AM
rating: 7
 
beerchaser42

Last night was awesome to watch. That 5 minute stretch that started with epic fail from Boston and ended with Longoria's HR was great theater. 6 months and 162 games, and it all comes down to something like that. Amazing.

Sep 29, 2011 08:23 AM
rating: 3
 
Mike W
(830)

Every night I let the kids watch Disney or Nickelodeon for a while, off and on, and I follow the games intermittently on TV or the computer until they go to bed. Yesterday I took over at 6 CDT and said, "Sorry kids, big baseball night." Good decision, me. A couple hours later I found myself explaining to my seven-year old daughter - who just figured out last week which one was baseball and which one was football - how the white team in one game and the red team in another had to win or else they wouldn't get to play any more games. She was, um, fascinated.

Baseball, bringing families together.

Sep 29, 2011 08:27 AM
rating: 12
 
ScottyB

Blame the Red Sox top of the 9th- they had 2 on no outs with Ortiz and Gonzalez due up next. Zero runs. No margin for error for the seriously overworked papelbon in the bottom of the frame.


Also, if the Wild-card rules become different, we will get an entirely different set of drama. The difference between 1st and 2nd place would become huge, and the race for the 5t slot could get intense and involve more than just 2 teams. Change can be healthy, dudes.

Sep 29, 2011 08:39 AM
rating: 3
 
deep64blue

Absolutely agree, the whole point of these changes is to make a huge difference between being a division winner and being a Wild Card.

Sep 29, 2011 10:10 AM
rating: 2
 
Lou Doench

I'll just go ahead and go full throttle Sheehan here... adding the extra playoff team only makes it great to be the division winner of a BAD division. With the coin flip game in place the winner of the execrable al central gets in whilst the 2nd place team in the east, maybe the second best team in baseball many years, has to face off with a second wild card team that they probably beat by a significant margin in the regular season.

Plus, is anyone considering how we tiebreak 2 wildcard teams per league. When you start scraping up mediocrities from the 80-90 win teams to hand out a lottery ticket for a chance at calling yourself "World Champs" then you are increasing the chances a lot of a 3 or 4 way tie for one of those spots... what do we do then? Arcane NFL style tiebreakers?

Sep 29, 2011 13:11 PM
rating: 2
 
Tank

Who'd've thunk that this would be the best season for Mets fans since 06? Not one, but two historic collapses to eclipse (or rival) theirs in 07, and one of them being the hated Braves. It's a good day for schadenfreude.

Sep 29, 2011 09:03 AM
rating: -1
 
amazin_mess

I'm a Mets fan, and I would have rather been in the race than a 77-win afterthought.

Sep 29, 2011 17:07 PM
rating: 1
 
Tank

I'm a Mets fan too, and so would have I, and I'd think that goes without saying for any mets fan.

Sep 30, 2011 09:51 AM
rating: 0
 
sykojohnny
(225)

As a Braves fan I am demolished, AS a baseball fan who gets grief from his family for the time spent watching baseball, it justified my devotion to the game. In LA many people claim that baseball is too slow and not interesting, not enough action. Insanity.

Sep 29, 2011 09:23 AM
rating: 2
 
drawbb

If my family tried that with me, I'd tell them to GFY.

Sep 29, 2011 19:16 PM
rating: 0
 
Tynan

Not to be "that guy", but there's a difference between a "historical baseball collapse" (tagline for the photo) and a "historic baseball collapse"...

Sep 29, 2011 11:00 AM
rating: 4
 
eighteen

The best part of last night was the gaping looks of despair on Sox fans' faces at Camden Yards when Reimold scored. Especially that little kid about to break into tears. Awesome. Welcome to The Show, kid.

The only thing that could've been better was to be in a Boston sports bar 3 minutes later.

Sep 29, 2011 11:04 AM
rating: -2
 
Scott
(296)

Obviously, you missed the reference to the fivethirtyeight comment policy that was linked to from the code of conduct page. One of the best and, not coincidentally, most succinct:

"Our comment policy is four words long: Don't. Be. An. Asshole."

FAIL.

Sep 29, 2011 13:44 PM
rating: -1
 
David Coonce

It seems you might be more comfortable posting on comment boards on ESPN or maybe Yahoo, where the content is more along the lines of "my team good, your team suck, where did I leave my beer?" We try to be a little more thoughtful here.

Sep 29, 2011 16:35 PM
rating: 0
 
ostrowj1

says the guy who insults eighteen...

Sep 29, 2011 17:57 PM
rating: 7
 
nbmehta79

Thanks John, great article.

I'm a Red Sox fan - very brutal month, didn’t sleep last night. Totally unfathomable chain of events – I’ve never seen a team so talented play that poorly. The wheels came off completely. Even my friends that are Yankee fans aren’t bragging to me about it; they were shocked, I’ve been getting “sorry, you feeling okay?” messages from them all morning.

The media will be reminding us of this month for years to come.

It hurts now, but try to put it into context – in the last 9 years, we’ve made the playoffs 6 times, and won two World Series titles. There are franchises (like the O’s, Royals, and Pirates) whose fans have watched them lose over and over, and basically fall out of contention by late July, during that entire 9 year period. That, to me, is the definition of suffering. We’re pretty fortunate. And we’ll be back in the thick of it in 2012.

Sep 29, 2011 11:04 AM
rating: 10
 
CRP13

Pitching, pitching, pitching, pitching, pitching, pitching, pitching. The Sox just didn't have any of that this year. Turns out, it's important.

Sep 29, 2011 12:29 PM
rating: 3
 
WaldoInSC

That's some mighty 20/20 hindsight there. The Sox entered the season with Lester, Beckett and Buccholz, plus the hope that Lackey would return to form, plus Wakefield and Daisuke, not to mention a strong bullpen led by Bard and Papelbon.

There were complaints during Spring Training that the Sox had too many starters and needed to jettison one. I think they added another data point, to their regret, to the notion that there's no such thing as too much pitching.

Sep 29, 2011 17:51 PM
rating: 3
 
Johnston

You can never be too rich, be too thin, or have too much pitching.

Sep 29, 2011 20:51 PM
rating: 2
 
bbienk01

If I recall, pitching was a concern as far back as spring training. Lester was the only sure thing (Beckett was coming off of an awful injury-plagued season). I think the idea was that the offense was dominant enough to cover the starting pitching.

Oct 03, 2011 21:27 PM
rating: 0
 
BrewersTT

I think nbmehta79 has a refreshing point of view, especially compared to the loudest Sox fans, and it's one that has to be difficult to embrace in these circumstances. Someone minused him, so I guess maturity is still a minority stance in some circles.

Sep 29, 2011 11:46 AM
rating: 2
 
yankee

I'm a Yankee fan and no fan of the Red Sox but, I would like to have seen Giradi bring in Robertson or Rivera for the ninth. I know Giradi was preparing the team for the playoffs but Charlie Manuel played his starters last night against the Braves. The appropriate ending would have been a one game playoff between Boston and Tampa Bay. I thought Boston was the team to beat this year in the American League with the Phillies were the best National league team. Sox nation is doing what it always does when their team falters-blame Francona and Epstein. Nevertheless, it was a great night of baseball.

Sep 29, 2011 13:06 PM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

As a Mets fan, the Red Sox and Braves reminded me of 2007. In the words of Bill Clinton, "I feel your pain."

Sep 29, 2011 13:59 PM
rating: 0
 
jb13

The case for the Mets is that they didn't even play the Phillies when they crashed in 2007; they lost to the Marlins and Nationals. This September, the Cardinals swept the Braves 3-0, and TB took 6 of 7 against Boston.

The Mets also blew two playoff spots. When they were up 7 with 17 left against the Phillies, they were 4.5 up over the wild card leader at the time, and they were also up 7 against the Rockies, who eventually won the wild card.

Sep 29, 2011 14:03 PM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

I'm sure that makes the Sox and Braves fans feel much better.

Sep 29, 2011 14:35 PM
rating: 0
 
silviomossa

Overshadowed by the TB homer dramatics was, to me, the contrast of the night. A third string CF making the league minimum makes a fantastic catch to prevent Chipper from knocking in Bourn to win in the 9th. An hour later, an LF making 20 million caps a terrible year by dropping a catchable ball to end Boston's season. Fascinating drama all around.

Sep 29, 2011 14:29 PM
rating: 12
 
beerchaser42

Well put. Ladies & gentlemen, welcome to Major League Baseball, 2011-style!!

Sep 29, 2011 17:55 PM
rating: 1
 
Michael Bodell
(89)

Every time one of New York Yankees and/or the Boston Red Sox don't make the playoffs with the over the top payrolls is a good day for the rest of the league, especially other AL East teams. Good job Tampa Bay!

Sep 29, 2011 15:34 PM
rating: 6
 
dodgerken222

Re Comment by "yankee" : One difference between the Yankees vs. Phillies playing their regulars is that the AL series start on Friday while the NL have an extra day till Saturday. It's totally off-the-wall to blame Girardi for not bringing in Rivera and Robertson. The Yankees took 3 0f 4 from Tampa Bay last week, and used their regular lineup to build a 7-0 lead yesterday. How much help do the "team to beat" Red Sox need? Why is an "appropriate" way to end the season a playoff between the Red Sox and Rays? The better team won. Thank the Lord we don't have to see any five-hour Yankee-Red Sox snoose-offs.

Sep 29, 2011 16:58 PM
rating: 4
 
yankee

I have to agree, those Red Sox-Yankee games are often dreadful, but when these two teams face off in playoff games it is a different story, at least for me. I don't understand why Giradi used Robertson and Rivera (1/3 of an inning) the night before with the Yankees trailing. I am still not totally convinced that Tampa Bay is better that probably has more to do with the Yankees difficulties with the Red Sox. I concede that the evidence is all on your side in comparing Tampa Bay to Boston.

Sep 29, 2011 20:26 PM
rating: 0
 
dodgerken222

I know...snooze-offs

Sep 29, 2011 16:58 PM
rating: 1
 
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