Wild-card wildness truly one for the ages

Originally this was going to be a column about the upcoming NHL season, where I would make horribly wrong predictions about which team would win the Stanley Cup and jinx players by picking them for break-out campaigns.
But all that changed thanks to what occurred in the world of baseball last Wednesday night.
For those who may have missed it (and if you did, I’m truly questioning your sports fandom), the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals both were able to overcome massive deficits in chasing down the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves, respectively, and capturing the wild-card berths in the American League and National League on the final day of the regular season.
The NL wild-card finish was dramatic enough on its own, with the Braves losing in extra innings to the Philadelphia Phillies, which saw them blow an 8.5-game lead on the Cardinals to lose the berth.
But that scenario was quickly forgotten as to how absurd the conclusion of the AL wild-card race played out.
Having entered the season as the clear-cut favourite to win the World Series, and even being compared to the legendary 1927 N.Y. Yankees as one of the best teams to ever play the game, the Red Sox held a slim lead over the Yankees in the AL East at the start of September and also were nine games up on the Rays for the wild-card berth, which, in turn, put their playoff odds at 99.6 percents.
But that was when the massive implosion and tailspin began, as the Red Sox wild-card lead slowly dwindled away—leaving them and the Rays in a tie entering the final day of the regular season.
Those final games alone ended up taking enough dramatic turns that a Hollywood studio would throw a script made up of that night away, saying it was too unrealistic.
At one point in St. Petersburg, the Rays trailed the Yankees 7-0 going into the bottom of the eighth inning while in Baltimore, the Red Sox led the lowly Orioles 3-2 as the game hit a rain delay during the seventh inning.
Needing a win, along with a Rays’ loss, to nab the playoff berth, things looked to be well in hand for the Red Sox, with Boston Globe sports writer Dan Shaughnessy saying live on TV that the Red Sox were “going to live to play another day” and that the Rays “are never going to come back from a 7-0 score with an inning-and-a-half to go.”
No sooner than those words were uttered, the Rays came roaring back to life with six-run eighth inning. Then with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth, Dan Johnson got his first hit since April 27 in dramatic fashion as he tied the game with a solo shot to right-field.
With that game now in extra innings, the Red Sox and Orioles game had resumed following the rain delay, with Boston still holding a 3-2 lead with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning with all-star closer Jonathan Papelbon on the mound.
However, things quickly unravelled for Boston as Baltimore’s Nolan Reimold hit an RBI ground-rule double to tie things up. Then the very next batter (little-known Robert Andino) hit a line drive to left that former Ray’s outfielder Carl Crawford couldn’t catch—giving the cellar-dwelling Orioles the stunning victory.
Three minutes or so later, the story was complete in St. Petersburg in the bottom of the 12th inning as Evan Longoria hit a solo homer down the line in left-field—to a corner of Tropicana Field where the wall was lowered to allow Crawford to hit homers when he played for the Rays—to finish off an 8-7 comeback and put the Rays into the playoffs for the third time in four years.
It was amazing to see the reaction from people who don’t normally watch baseball or comment on baseball on a regular basis, as all that everyone was talking about on sites such as Facebook and Twitter for the next 12 hours was just how amazing those games were—and how they wished every night in baseball post-season could be like that.
But while there have been some good games in the playoffs so far (Monday’s duel between the Yankees and the Detroit Tigers comes to mind), if every night was amazing, the special meaning that Wednesday had would be lost.
Take, for instance, the NFL, where it seems like every week there are multiple nail-biting finishes where crazy plays and wild comebacks take place, which have made the league the 900-pound gorilla in the North American sports scene.
And while that’s all well and good that the league is always exciting, at the same time, though, it sometimes can become a bit of ad nauseam if the same crazy finishes happen week after week—and those games that are truly great often don’t stand out.
The same sort of feeling about sports can be described to any art form, as well. After all, not every book can be “War & Peace,” not every movie can be “Citizen Kane,” not every album can be “Abbey Road,” and not every TV series can be “The Wire.”
Those truly great moments in sports only come around every so often, such as the game-winning goals scored by Paul Henderson and Sidney Crosby, the transcendent performers such as Tiger Woods and Ayrton Senna, and those breathtaking moments like what we saw last Wednesday night in baseball.
It’s a thrill ride that any theme park would have hard time trying to replicate, and it is why we, as sports fans, repeatedly are drawn back time and time again in the hope that we will bear witness to something magical every time we watch.

Posted in Uncategorized