The Greatest Game’s Greatest Day

FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal called it the “best night of regular season baseball [he] has seen”, and I have trouble disagreeing with him.

As I mentioned yesterday, the last day of the baseball regular season was going to have some drama involved, as both Boston and Atlanta were on the brink of huge collapses and giving up playoff spots that were all but guaranteed when the month started. Both did, in varying levels of drama, as a result of four games.

Game one was the least dramatic, and probably the most predictable. St. Louis made short (and quick – two hours, twenty minutes) work of Houston, scoring five in the first and having Chris Carpenter pitch like he had to catch a plane. Carpenter pitched a complete game two hit shutout, giving up a hit only to J.B. Shuck and Jose Altuve, who were in Triple A and Single A respectively when the season started. Thanks for trying, Houston – your 106 losses were the most by a team in six years, and you let a 90-loss team come in two places ahead of you in the division.

Game two saw Atlanta go up on Philadelphia 3-1 early, then give up a run in the seventh, another run in the ninth, then finally (as is the case with these games most times), a fluke broken bat hit to drive in the eventual winning run in the 13th inning. It seemed appropriate that Dan Uggla was involved in all three of the most memorable offensive moments for the Braves in this game, since he was the “impact player” Atlanta picked up during the offseason that was going to put them over the top. Uggla would hit the home run that put the Braves on top early, get thrown out at the plate to turn the tide of the game, and be part of the double play that ended the game. There’s your impact.

Really, though – it was games three and four that put the night over the top. On one side, Tampa and the Yankees, and on the other, Boston and Baltimore. At one time during the evening, with Tampa down 7-0 and Boston up on Baltimore 3-2 in the middle of a rain delay, I joked with someone that if the Red Sox didn’t clinch tonight the Yankees and God were plotting against them.

Turns out they were – Tampa comes back to put it at 7-6 before Dan Johnson delivers a pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the 9th to tie the game at 7, Baltimore scores two runs in the bottom of the 9th – all with two outs – in their game to beat Boston, then Tampa’s Evan Longoria hits a solo home run in the bottom of the 12th to give Tampa the win, shutting the Red Sox out of the playoffs.

In a night filled with excitement and the emotional highs and lows for the various teams’ fanbases, things start to get picked apart and analyzed, if just for the varying randomness that you get from baseball and few other sports.

  • On September 3rd, the Boston Red Sox stood a half-game behind the New York Yankees for the best record in the American League and nine games ahead of Tampa Bay for the AL Wild Card lead with 24 games left to play. At that time, the Red Sox stood a 99.6% chance of making the playoffs, the highest point they would achieve during the season, while Tampa’s chances stood at 0.5%. Tampa would go 16-8 over the rest of the season, while Boston would go 6-18.
  • Boston’s collapse is all the more dramatic just because of how dominant they were early in the season. On July 9th, Boston’s playoff chances cracked the 90% barrier with a 54-35 record, best in the American League. On that same date, Detroit stood at 39.9% (a half-game behind Cleveland in the AL Central), Milwaukee stood at only 24.6% (tied for the NL Central with St. Louis and only a game above Pittsburgh), and Arizona was at 41.3%, two games behind NL West leading San Francisco. Detroit, Milwaukee, and Arizona would all make the playoffs. In contrast, Atlanta – themselves the victim of a playoff run collapse, didn’t break the 90% barrier until August 19th, and cracked 80% only one time before then – on July 9th.
  • Dan Johnson, who hit the game-tying home run for Tampa, was batting .108 at the time he came to the plate against the Yankees in the bottom of the 9th with two outs. He had not played in six games, and his last major league hit had come more than five months earlier, on April 27th.
  • Johnson had spent most of the season with the Rays Triple-A affiliate Durham Bulls, where he hit 13 home runs – down from 30 the previous season. His .459 slugging percentage was the worst of his minor league career. Johnson’s teammate for about two weeks when he was sent down to Durham? Cory Wade, who served up the solo shot to him.
  • When Boone Logan struck out Russ Canzler in the bottom of the 7th, the Rays statistically had less than a 1% chance of winning the game.
  • Jonathan Papelbon blew only three save opportunities during the 2011 season; two were against Baltimore within the span of eight days, including the final game of the season, where Papelbon received his only loss.
  • Papelbon struck out the first two batters of the inning before facing Chris Davis. Davis in September had 25 strikeouts in 84 plate appearances, including a rare 5 strikeout game three weeks earlier, and struck out 30% of time he made a plate appearance with the Orioles, second highest among team regulars. He had faced Papelbon six times before that at-bat, going 0-6 with three strikeouts. Davis doubled into right field.
  • Nolan Reimold, the Orioles #9 batter, had one hit in seven previous plate appearances against Papelbon. Reimold hit a ground-rule double, tying the score.
  • Remember how I mentioned Papelbon blew two saves against Baltimore? The player who drove in the game winning runs against Papelbon in that game was Robert Andino, who batted after Reimold and drove him in with the game-winning base hit.

I could go on and on with this type of stuff, but since this is already what – 3 days late? – we’ll end it here.

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