It was a long season for the Boston Red Sox. After a dismal 2 and 10 start, they led the American League East for the majority of the 2011 season. Then September came and the winds were beginning to change. The Sox pitching was nowhere to be found and the faint smell of Boston blood was starting to reach the Tampa Bay area as the New York Yankees were sealing first place.
There was no pressure on the Tampa Bay Rays, they played their game and were winning more than they were losing, chipping away at the Boston lead. At the start of the last game of the season, game 162, the Rays were in a tie for the wildcard berth with the Sox. The Rays at home playing the first-place Yanks and the Sox in Baltimore playing the last-place Orioles.
Now the Rays have just won 4 in a row to get to the wildcard tie, while the Red Sox were looking for ways to win against the hapless Orioles. For a while it looked as though Boston may squeak by as they were sitting on a 3-2 lead in long rain delay. At the same time, Tampa was trailing 7-0 and the outlook was not good for them. But the Baseball Gods must have seen something in Tampa because the rain stopped in Baltimore and at the same time the Rays had scored 6 in the eighth and 1 in the ninth on a solo home run off Yankee reliever Cory Wade by pinch-hitter Dan Johnson (not Don) with 2 outs and 2 strikes on him.
So now the Sox resume play while the Rays are heading to the 10th inning all tied up. You could not write a better ending. Sox reliever Jonathan Papelbon strikes out the first 2 in the bottom of the ninth, but then gives up consecutive doubles and a game winning single and the Sox go down 4-3. Minutes later, Tampa’s Evan Longoria puts the final nail in the coffin with a 12th inning walk-off home run for the Rays. So it goes!
In the National League, it also came down to game number 162 as the Atlanta Braves could not close out the wildcard spot against the Philadelphia Phillies who came back to tie in the 9th and win it in the 13th. The Braves were up 10.5 games on August 25 against the next wildcard contender, St. Louis Cardinals, but lost the lead and the season in the finale. The Cardinals took care of business that last game by routing the Houston Astros 8-0.
So what does this all mean? It means that every and any game of the 162-game MLB season is an important game and could be the decisive one which propels your team to the playoffs while the team that is 1 back goes home. It also means that a team like Tampa Bay or St. Louis can win it all riding the wave that got them into the playoffs when they hardly enjoyed a first place position the entire year!
But this is Baseball…it may be different in Beantown right now had Boston started the season 3 and 9 and where was Mariano Rivera?