|A Night of Twists and Collapses|
|Sábado 01 de Octubre de 2011 21:35|
"One of the greatest days in the history of baseball," Detroit Tigers Manager Jim Leyland said on Thursday at Yankee Stadium.
It was March Madness on the diamond, four elimination games taking place simultaneously. In Major League Baseball on Wednesday, a six-month schedule came down to one frantic, interwoven scramble.
In a spellbinding frenzy of baseball at its unpredictable, unforgiving best, a labyrinth of twists took place across 4 hours 55 minutes at ballparks in Atlanta, Baltimore, St. Petersburg, Fla., and Houston. Only one game was tidy — the St. Louis Cardinals’ 8-0 victory over the Houston Astros. In each of the other games, a team lost the lead with two outs in the ninth inning, and never got it back.
"One of the greatest days in the history of baseball," Detroit Tigers Manager Jim Leyland said on Thursday at Yankee Stadium. "It had to be."
The postseason opens on Friday with games in the Bronx and in Arlington, Tex., but those contests have a tough act to follow. The sport, it seemed, needed its collective off-day Thursday simply to process the slightly riotous events that concluded at 12:05 a.m. Thursday.
"We have been playing with this kind of emotion, that’s almost like three weeks, I guess," Rays Manager Joe Maddon said at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. "But last night, really, that rips everything else apart. That is so unthinkable to do what we did."
The Rays’ Dan Johnson, whose batting average was .108, hit a game-tying homer with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Yankees. Down to his last strike in Baltimore, Nolan Reimold — the last hitter in the order for the last-place Orioles — tied the game off Jonathan Papelbon, the intense, hard-throwing closer for the Boston Red Sox.
In Atlanta, the Braves’ Craig Kimbrel, a strikeout artist who set the rookie record for saves this season, blew his most important chance of the year. The Phillies, who already owned the best record in the majors, got their winning hit from Hunter Pence, a player the Braves had tried to trade for in July.
So the Red Sox and the Braves, who held comfortable leads for playoff spots almost all summer, are out. The Rays and the Cardinals chased them off the cliff, completing their dogged pursuits just in time.
The Rays had trailed the Yankees by seven runs in the middle innings Wednesday. But Evan Longoria, the team’s marquee star, completed a comeback within a comeback by lining a pitch just over the short fence down the left-field corner in the 12th inning. The 8-7 victory clinched a wild-card berth for the Rays, the team with the second-lowest payroll in the American League, and eliminated the Red Sox, the team with the second highest.
The Rays became the first team to overcome a nine-game September deficit and reach the postseason. Just 25 minutes earlier, at 11:40 p.m. Eastern, the Cardinals had matched the previous record of eight and a half games when the Phillies ousted the Braves.
The most harrowing collapse, arguably, belonged to the Red Sox. Two championships in the last decade had seemed, at last, to wring the fatalism out of Boston’s fans. Instead of expecting epic failure, they had come to demand championships. The events of Wednesday may have restored the natural order.
The Red Sox, ahead, 3-2, in the ninth inning, had been 77-0 this season when leading through eight innings, and Papelbon struck out the first two Orioles hitters.
Two outs and the bases empty, bottom of the 10th. That was the enviable position the Red Sox had against the Mets in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. One more out would have clinched the title, but three hits immediately followed.
So it was against Papelbon, the third straight hit coming when Robert Andino, who had punctured Papelbon last week with a go-ahead three-run double at Fenway Park, lashed a hit to left, just under the glove of left fielder Carl Crawford, Boston’s $142 million free-agent flop. The Orioles had won a 4-3 thriller, and, perhaps, became the first 93-loss team to end its season with a dog pile in the infield.
"I don’t think I’ve ever been part of something like this," Crawford said. "It will go down as one of the worst collapses in history."
There will be playoff baseball for the Rays, who ranked 13th of 14 A.L. teams in attendance and play beneath the slanted roof of a park named for orange juice. In Boston, the Red Sox’ 99-year-old red-brick shrine on Yawkey Way will go dark, thanks largely to catastrophic pitching.
The earned run average of Boston starters in September was a ghastly 7.08. The team went 7-20, unable to win consecutive games all month. They gave nine starts to the unlikely trio of Andrew Miller, a failed top prospect; Tim Wakefield, a 45-year-old knuckleballer; and Kyle Weiland, a rookie wearing No. 70. Not once did those pitchers meet the fairly forgiving minimum standards for a quality start: pitch at least six innings and allow no more than three earned runs.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, trailed Atlanta by 10 ½ games on Aug. 25, when their thoughts could have drifted to the future of Albert Pujols, the premier slugger, who is facing free agency. Instead, they won 23 of their final 31 games as the Braves faded, undone by injuries to veteran starters and an overworked bullpen.
Still, the Braves could have forced a playoff by holding off the Phillies, who have sharpened their focus after an eight-game losing streak that followed their clinching of home-field advantage throughout October.
The Phillies had a chance to set a single-season franchise record for victories with 102, and Charlie Manuel needed one more win to establish the career record for a Phillies manager. Yet Manuel, like the Yankees’ Joe Girardi, was more concerned with preparing for the playoffs. He used his starter, Joe Blanton, for only two innings, and one of his aces, Cole Hamels, for a three-inning tuneup in the middle.
The Braves had the game where they wanted it, with a lead in the hands of their rookie star. But Kimbrel, perhaps, got caught up in the moment. He walked three, and told reporters after the 13-inning, 4-3 loss that his head "started moving too fast."
After a mind-bending night, all of the baseball world could relate. Even those in uniform turned into fans again.
"You can’t explain this to people, the emotions in baseball," Leyland said, adding later: "I don’t know how it all happened. I still don’t. But it was amazing."