On Friday, September 23rd, the Rangers defeated the Mariners in Arlington, 5-3. After that the fans enjoyed pre-determined postgame fireworks, then nearly two hours after the final pitch the Athletics closed out a 3-1 victory over the Angels. Then the real party started and the fans that stuck around were treated to more fireworks and Ginger Ale celebrations from the Rangers. Back-to-back AL West Divisional Champs, it does have a nice ring to it.
The Rangers clinching the AL West was one of three exciting moments going on in baseball that evening. The Brewers, led by a Ryan Braun three-run home run won in Milwaukee and accompanied with a Cardinals loss clinched the NL Central, thus beginning another party for the home crowd. The Arizona Diamondbacks were hosting the Giants, needing only one more victory to eliminate their divisional rivals. The D'Backs got the 8th inning boost from Paul Goldschmidt, winning the game and clinching the NL West. Once again allowing the hometown crowd watch their team celebrate, and eventually run out to centerfield and jump in the pool (loved seeing that).
Three divisions clinched on the same night, all in front of their home crowds. Staying up late and watching baseball that night was so much fun! However, what happened that evening doesn't hold a candle to what happened around baseball last night (September 28th).
Let's set the table first: Last night, the final day of the regular season had all 6 divisions wrapped up, but none of the wild cards. The top two spots also were clinched, but dog fights for the #2 seeds and home-field remained. The "meaningful" games didn't start till 6:05 CT last night and didn't end till nearly 11:05 CT. Boston at Baltimore, New York at Tampa Bay, St. Louis at Houston, Philadelphia at Atlanta, Detroit at Cleveland, Texas at Anaheim, Pittsburgh at Milwaukee, and Los Angeles at Arizona.
What we were all playing for: American League - The Yankees already had home-field advantage through the ALCS, so they rested their stars to get them ready. The Rangers held a one game lead on the Tigers for the two-seed, and Detroit held the tie-breaker. The Red Sox and Rays were tied going into the day, so if their fates were the same, the two would play a one-game play-in game the next day in Tampa Bay. National League - The Phillies already had home-field advantage throughout the entire postseason, but if the Braves were eliminated they would play the wild card instead of a divisional winner. The Brewers held a one-game lead on the Diamondbacks for the #2 seed, and Arizona held the tie-breaker. The Braves and Cardinals were tied going into the day, so if their fates were the same, the two would play a one-game play-in game the next day in St. Louis.
How it all played out: The Wild Card games were the first to get underway and in a couple it took but moments to get the excitement flowing. The Cardinals, starting an hour after the other three, jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead before their starter Chris Carpenter even took the ball. Needless to say that is all the support that he needed. About the same time the Yanks jumped on David Price and the Rays immediately as well, scoring one in the first and then a Mark Teixeira grand slam in the second. The Braves didn't start off on the right foot, but quickly erased a Ryan Howard RBI double by scoring three times in the first three innings and holding their 3-1 lead through six innings. The Red Sox struck first in the third with a run and after immediately giving two back, they scored single runs in the next two innings for a 3-2 lead.
The Yanks continued their dominance, scoring on solo HRs in the 4th and 5th innings for a 7-0 lead on the Rays, and it happened within minutes of the Red Sox taking the lead. Then the rain, with a 3-2 lead the Red Sox-Orioles went into a 1:34 rain delay, that some were wondering if the game would be called before completing. But while the Red Sox sat ideal, and I can't confirm if they were watching the game or not, but the Rays caught fire. In the Bottom of the 8th the Rays, highlighted by a Evan Longoria three-run home run, got six of the seven runs back. And 11 minutes before the Red Sox got back to action, Rays pinch-hitter Dan Johnson took to the plate in the ninth. Johnson hit a PH HR to tie the game, and seemingly save the Rays season, Johnson's last home run, came in April.
Meanwhile on the NL side, Carpenter completed a complete game, shutout of the Astros, allowing two hits and striking out 11. The win guaranteed the Cardinals of at least a play-in game back home in St. Louis. Meanwhile the Braves gave up single runs to the Phillies in the 7th and 9th inning, tying the game and taking the two into extras.
As this all happened, the Tigers completed a 5-4 comeback win over the Indians, forcing a Texas victory. Former Angel Mike Napoli delivered two home runs in the Rangers 3-1 victory and sweep of the Angels, clinching the #2 seed and home-field advantage in the ALDS. The Brewers finished a victory over the Pirates and Zack Greinke improved to 11-0 at home this season, this also clinched the #2 seed and home-field advantage in the NLDS. The Diamondbacks would rally late, but eventually lose to the Dodgers 7-5. Thus two series were set, the Tigers would travel to the Yankees and the Diamondbacks were headed to the Brewers, only the WILD cards remained.
The next 47 minutes of baseball would be what most who experienced it, in person or through the television, will always remember. Again, these times are central time zone, not eastern, because I am. At 10:18, Red Sox infielder Marco Scutaro was thrown out at the plate and keep the Red Sox lead at 3-2, a play in which Scutaro held-up for a moment between 2nd and 3rd, and then seemed to run in slow motion.
Ten minutes later Phillies OF Hunter Pence dropped in a two-out RBI single in the 13th inning to put the Braves three outs from elimination. 12 minutes later, Braves 1B Freddie Freeman would hit into a game- and season-ending double play. Braves OUT, Cardinals IN and head for Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, in the Top of the 12th the Yankees were threatening with runners at the corners and no outs. While the Red Sox handed the ball to their closer Jonathan Papelbon 31-34 in save opportunities with a 4-0 record on the season. Things WERE looking very promising for the Red Sox that they could get this wrapped up tonight and avoid a play-in game.
But it went sour, well about this fast...the Rays got out of the inning without allowing a single run right before Oriole left-handed hitter Chris Davis got a two-out double, putting the tying-run at second and bringing the winning run to the plate. At 10:59 as the Rays took to their at-bat in the bottom half of the 12th inning, Baltimore OF Nolan Reimold doubled home the tying-run. Then three minutes later Robert Andino singled to left field and Red Sox OF Carl Crawford chose to slide, instead of dive for the ball, threw home too late, Orioles win. In Tampa, the fans and players were watching began to cheer and three minutes later their miracle comeback (wild card and game) was complete when Longoria hit a walk-off Home Run down the left-field line. Ballgame, Red Sox OUT, Rays IN and head for Texas.
In a matter of less than 10 minutes the Red Sox went from one out of winning to Wild Card to hoping for a play-in game in Tampa. And within 3 minutes of that went from hoping for a play-in game to done for the season.
One can argue all that want which demise was bigger, the Braves or the Red Sox. The Cardinals came over the second largest deficit in league history, 8.5 games back of the Braves (tied with the 1964 Cardinals). The largest...well that would be the deficit that the Rays overcame to beat the Red Sox, 9 games. I'm not hating on the Red Sox nor the Braves, just calling it like it is. And these are the two BIGGEST....WORST....MOST EPIC...TITANIC of meltdowns in the history of baseball. The two teams held their leads on the morning of August 30th with eve of the final month approaching. And then the Braves went 10-19 and the Red Sox 8-21 (with zero consecutive victories). Case Closed.
With the 3-1 victory and sweep of the Angels at home the Rangers won a franchise record 96th game and finished better than any other Rangers team has before, greatest regular season team in franchise history? Going to be hard to argue against that. The Rangers completed a 19-6 month of September, winning 16 of their final 18 games. And history will show, once we all forget how close this division was at times, that the Texas Rangers defeated the Angels by 10 games. When the month began the Rangers lead by 3.5, went 19-6, the Angels played .500 ball and finished the month 13-13...difference between division title and watching October from home.