One month ago, it appeared as if the most interesting thing likely to happen on the last day of the season might be Adam Dunn's pursuit of history. The pennant races were dull, with clear leaders in every race. Little did anyone know...
On September 9, the St. Louis hosted the Atlanta Braves in the first of a 3-game series. The Braves led in the wild card race by 7.5 games. Going in to the bottom of the ninth, the Braves were ahead in the game, 3-1. Their sensational rookie closer, Craig Kimbrel, took the mound. A win would improve the Braves record to 85-60 -- a .586 winning percentage -- and reduce the Braves magic number for a playoff spot to 10, with 17 games remaining. A .586 winning percentage equates to 9.97 wins per 17 games.
With two outs, the Cardinals had a runner on first base. Rafael Furcal, hitting .217, came to the plate. Kimbrel prepared to close out the game, but then something strange happened: He went wild. He walked Furcal on 4 pitches. Then he walked pinch-hitter Ryan Theriot on five pitches.
So now it was bases loaded. Season on the line for the Cardinals. Down two runs, and down to their last out. And now batting for the Cardinals: Prince Albert Pujols. It was a mismatch. Pujols laced Kimbrel's 2nd pitch in to right field to tie the game. The Cards won in the 10th, then swept the rest of the series. Race on.
That same night, the Tampa Bay Rays hosted the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox had been stumbling in September, but they held a 6.5 game lead over the Rays. A win would improve their record to 86-58 -- a .597 winning percentage -- and reduce their magic number to 12, with 18 games remaining. But the Rays won, 7-2, and went on to sweep the Red Sox, easily. Race on.
Cut forward to the greatest day of regular season baseball in major league history. Oh, there have been other great days, for sure. In 1990, there were two no-hitters on the same day. But nothing like this. Coming in to the day, both wild card races were tied, as the Cardinals had caught the Braves and the Rays caught the Red Sox.
But for a moment, I digress to Adam Dunn. Dunn didn't play yesterday. He did play on Tuesday, though, striking out in all 3 of his at bats. He finished the season with 496 plate appearances, falling 6 short of being a "qualifier." He ended up hitting .159, and even were he to have gotten hits in 6 consecutive plate appearances (thus getting to 502), he would have ended only at .171, easily worsting Rob Deer's .179 20 years ago. He also ended with another ghastly streak: In his last 8 plate appearances, he had 6 strikeouts and 2 walks; that is, not a single time during that span did Dunn put a ball in to play.
But, as they say, what's Dunn is done. As for last night, I think a book could be written.
In Atlanta, Kimbrel re-created his St. Louis meltdown. This time, with a 3-2 ninth inning lead against the Phillies, Kimbrel walked 3 batters and squandered the lead. The Braves ended up losing the game -- and their shot at the post-season -- in th 13th.
But that was the undercard.
In the American League, the Yankees led the Rays, 7-0, in the 8th inning. But the Yankees were using the game merely as a tune-up for the playoffs; they would end up using eleven pitchers. The Rays scored 6 runs in the 8th, but still were down to their last out in the 9th with the score 7-6. Manager Joe Maddon sent up Dan Johnson to pinch-hit.
Johnson was once a Moneyball player. Drafted in 2001 by the Oakland A's -- the year before the one highlighted by Michael Lewis, Johnson was once a player whose on-base percentage and slugging made up for a relatively poor batting average. In 2011, though, Johnson's stats would make Adam Dunn look good. Yes, Johnson started at first base for the Rays on opening day. He even got a hit that day. But he'd had just 8 more hits, all season. His last home run capped an improbable 5-run 9th inning rally to win a game against the White Sox... on April 8th. His last hit was on April 27th. Johnson's batting average was .108. His "OPS+," a measure of his on-base and slugging as compared to league averages -- where 100 is the average score -- was negative 3. And Joe Maddon was putting the entire season on Johnson's shoulders. Down to his last strike, and after having fouled off a pitched, Johnson hit a home run to tie the game.
And that wasn't the end of it, either. The two American League games would end within about 2 minutes of each other, first with Boston completing a spectacular implosion, and then with the Rays winning their game. For certainly the first -- and hopefully the last -- time, Yankees fans everywhere erupted in joy over their team blowing a 7-run lead. Seasoned members of the press appeared to be in shock; an hour after the game ESPN personality Tim Kurkjian still looked like he was about to cry. Still, to me, the night belonged to Dan Johnson. For all I know, he may never get another big league at bat. To me, what happened last night, this is why we watch the game. It will be very hard for the post-season to top it.
Associated Press, photo
The Other Akin Comment
4 years ago