The final night of Major League Baseball’s regular season was ridiculous, absurd, impossible, unbelievable, indescribable.
Thanks to a win earlier in the evening by the St. Louis Cardinals, the Atlanta Braves needed a win to force a one-game playoff for the NL wild card that they once seemed certain to win (having led by 10 1/2 games in late August). The Braves came within one out of the needed victory — only to lose in 13 innings, ending their season. And that was the undercard.
Over in the American League, the Boston Red Sox, trying to prevent the ignominy of possibly the worst September collapse in baseball history, led the lowly Orioles 3-2 heading into a 90-minute seventh-inning rain delay in Baltimore, while the Sox’s wild-card competition, the Tampa Bay Rays, trailed the mighty Yankees 7-0 in the eighth at home. Tampa and Boston had been tied for the AL wild card heading into the day, so with a Rays loss appearing all but certain, it looked like the Sox could clinch the wild card by holding on for the win, or at worst, lose and face a one-game playoff.
Then, well, several things happened.
Tampa rallied in the bottom of the eighth, scoring six runs to pull within 7-6. Then, down to their last strike in the bottom of the ninth, the Rays tied the game on a pinch-hit home run by Dan Johnson, sending the game to extra innings.
Around the same time, the Boston game resumed, with the Red Sox suddenly in a much more precarious position thanks to Tampa’s comeback. But they clung to their 3-2 lead, and got closer Jonathan Papelbon in, hoping to close it out in the bottom of the ninth. Boston, mind you, was 77-0 this season when leading after eight innings. And at first, it looked like this would be no exception. Papelbon struck out the first two batters, then allowed a double. But then he had the Orioles — stop me if this sounds familiar — down to their last strike before giving up a game-tying ground-rule double by Nolan Reimold to tie the game… followed promptly by Robert Andino’s game-winning single. 4-3, Baltimore, final.
And then, literally 3 or 4 minutes later, in Tampa… BOOM.
The Rays go to the playoffs. The Red Sox go home. As it should be, frankly. Boston didn’t deserve a playoff spot after its September choke job. And fate was clearly on Tampa’s side tonight. But man, what an unbelievably epic, horrible, wonderful, incredible, ridiculous way for it all to go down.