Did That Just Happen?

By John Lund

Geoff Ratliff and Jeremy Sickel, Editors

The sporting world certainly sees its fair share of head-scratching, jaw-dropping moments. Lundin’ Bridge brings you his weekly installment of ‘Tippy’s Corner: Did That Just Happen?’

Most of us have written an essay or two during our educational journeys. Our teachers set out the criteria for the assignment, usually asking us to base most of the paper’s discussion on a book’s theme. If I were writing an essay about the last several days of the baseball season, the overarching theme and title of my report would have to be: ‘The Choke Artists”. Allow me to elaborate professor.

This past week finally wrapped up the marathon that is the Major League Baseball season, where we used to think that only the first and last month mattered. Several teams were vying for their shot at making the postseason in the quest for October glory. Entering the final week of the season, every division had been won, courtesy of the Phillies, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Yankees, Tigers and Rangers. However, both the AL and NL Wild Card spots were up for grabs with the Red Sox, Rays, Braves and Cardinals in the mix. All four teams went into the final game of the regular season with a chance to either outright win the Wild Card or take their chance in a no-holds-barred, winner-take-all game #163.

On that fateful final day, the Red Sox and Jonathan Papelbon blew a 9th inning lead to the Orioles, and just three minutes later at the Trop, Evan Longoria hit a walk-off, solo home run in the 11th inning off the seemingly disinterested Yankees to clinch the AL Wild Card for the Rays. In the NL, the Cardinals manhandled the Astros, and calmly waited while the Braves blew a late inning lead to the Phillies to give the Cardinals the NL Wild Card, and end one of the most epic days in baseball history. Sounds simple right? Hold on a minute now. Let’s catch our breaths for a second and figure this out.

In the NL, The Braves, powerhouses throughout the 90s and a consistent threat in the NL East ever since, were leading the Cardinals by 8.5 games on September 6th, but went a dismal 9-18 to finish out the season. The Cardinals went on an absolute tear and won 23 of their last 31 games, but the Braves still had hope. After the Cardinals belittled the Astros 8-0 on that final day, the Braves would need a win to force the one game playoff. However, Braves’ closer Craig Kimbrel, who had been an absolute workhorse during his rookie season, surrendered the tying run in the ninth and the Phillies walked-off with the 4-3 win in the 13th. Talk about an epic collapse for the Braves, could you imagine anything worse? Hmm…

Let’s flash back to spring training for a moment, when every baseball analyst and their mother thought that they had the wisdom and knowledge to predict which team would win their respective divisions and who would make it to the World Series. We all do it right? Over forty-five analysts from ESPN and other sports news outlets picked the Boston Red Sox to win the American League and face the Phillies in the World Series. Some even said that this year’s Sox lineup would be one of the greatest of all-time, comparable to that of the 1927 Yankees. To me, anyone who would say that with a straight face should be subjected to NPR programming for exactly 25 minutes, but it was the consensus between experts, so what do I know?

Now, jump forward to the end of September, when the Sox were fighting for their postseason lives after going an absolutely horrific 7-19 up until their final game (in which they would drop to 7-20). Newly acquired Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Clay Buckholz (injured) fell into obscurity after the All-Star break, and if it wasn’t for the resurgence of Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston’s fate could have been even worse. But there was still a chance. After taking one of two from the last place Orioles (who had already swept them once in September), the Sox headed into the ninth inning with a lead and Papelbon on the mound, who was throwing absolute gas over his last two appearances. After getting two quick outs, Papelbon was a strike away from the win, but eventually would give up a game-tying double to Nolan Reimold. Then O’s heartthrob Robert Andino, yes, THE Robert Andino, ended the game with a single, to the dismay of Red Sox Nation and to the delight of the O’s, who celebrated like they had actually won a game that had vaulted them into the postseason. Just three minutes later, the nail was driven into the coffin by Evan Longoria.

And so ended one of the most exciting days in baseball history, finally putting an end to two of the biggest collapses in team sports history. As a professor might say when assigning their essay, the only way to fail would be to not try. You would think that the only way the Sox and Braves could relinquish such a late season lead would be to not show up, but to everyone’s amazement they tried and failed.

Email John at lundy2311@aim.com and follow him on Twitter @lundinbridge

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