If you would have told me a month ago that my St. Louis Cardinals would be in the playoffs, I would have laughed. And yet here we are a month later, the day after they clinched a Wild Card berth. For this to happen, the Atlanta Braves had to completely implode. Up by 8.5 games on Sept. 5, the Braves lost their final five, 13 of the final 18 and 20 of their last 30 to finish 89-73, a game behind St. Louis for the wild card. All they needed to do was win one game of their series with Phillies to at least tie for the Wild Card. They were one out away from doing just this and they couldn't. They lost 4-3 in 13 innings.
The Cards, on the other hand, went from one of the more embarrassing teams to having a fantastic September, perhaps best illustrated by Chris Carpenter's 8-0 shutout of the (truly embarrassing) Astros, complete with 11 strikeouts. Because the team had figured they were out of it for months, they just enjoyed September and had fun winning every game they could, including 23 out of the last 31.
But last night, that was only half of the drama. The Red Sox and Tampa Bay Devil Rays were in the same situation -- tied for a Wild Card spot. All they had to do was win (or both lose). In a rain delayed game, the Red Sox were up over the Baltimore Orioles. It was the last out of the last inning. The O's had a man on second and all of a sudden it was tied. Then it was over. The Red Sox needed Tampa Bay to lose. And considering that they were playing against the mighty Yankees, this was a real possibility. They were tied at 7 in extra innings. Did I mention that Tampa had erased a seven run deficit to get to this point?
I'm leaving out all of the crazy plays at the base, the loopy homeruns, the brilliant pitching of the night.
But as the word came to the Devil Rays (I still call them the Devil Rays) that Boston had lost, the players got the boost they needed.
Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria had previously hit a three-run home run in the eighth inning. Pinch-hitter Dan Johnson got a solo home run with two outs -- and two strikes! -- in the bottom of the ninth.
Minutes after Boston's loss, it was back to Longoria in the 12th with a one-out homer that barely cleared the left-field foul pole.
This was the kind of night in baseball that you'll tell your kids about. The Devil Rays were one strike away from losing. The Sox were one out away from winning. And their fortunes changed just like that.
With nights like that, I don't even care how playoffs go. But because it's baseball, the playoffs might even be better than what we saw last night! Unlikely, but that's the beauty of the game.