The action on Wednesday, September 28th was probably the most exciting evening of baseball in regular season history, and it surely ended well for the Yankees, even though they lost.
The first notable game was the Mets meaningless contest against the Cincinnati Reds, at Citi Field. It did not have significance for either team because the Reds finished 11 games out of the Wild Card while the Mets finished the season 25 games out of first place, but the game was crucial in determining the batting champion.
Jose Reyes was only percentage points ahead of All-Star left-fielder, Ryan Braun, of the Brewers, before both teams played on Wednesday. The batting title was very much up for grabs but Reyes did something that some people consider controversial. He led off the game with a bunt single to give him a .337 average but then asked to be taken out of the game. Braun “The Hebrew Hammer” went 0-4 in his contest against the Pirates giving him an end of season average of .332, which put him in second place.
I don’t really have a problem with this because Reyes was trying to secure basically the only highlight of the year for the Mets and this was the best way he thought he could accomplish it. The Mets ended up winning, but if the Mets needed the game to make the playoffs it definitely would have been a major issue if Reyes pulled this stunt.
After possibly his last game with the Mets before leaving for greener pastures as a result of the Wilpon’s financial problems, he ends his stellar season with his batting crown, 101 runs scored, 181 hits, 16 triples and 39 steals. However, this was only the beginning of the evening’s madness.
It seemed like there would be a one-game playoff between the Red Sox and Rays for the Wild Card, since it did appear as if Boston and Tampa would both lose, to the Orioles and the Yankees, respectively. However, the Yankees bullpen, and the Baltimore’s Robert Andino, who drove in 10 runs against the Red Sox this season, did their part in allowing the Rays to win the Wild Card without the one-game playoff.
Some Red Sox fans might accuse the Yankees of tanking the game, since they were winning 7-0 at the end of the seventh inning, but then allowed seven runs to the Rays in the eighth and ninth combined, but there is not a problem with them playing the game like it was Spring Training since they had nothing to play for. They earned this right after locking up the best record in the American League about a week ago.
Rookie Dellin Betances, who went to Grand Street Campus high school in Brooklyn, got the start, not allowing any runs in two innings. I had been pitching out of the bullpen since being called up but this was valuable experience for him. The Yankees would send out a grand total of 11 pitchers, but none of them would allow any runs until the seventh pitcher, Boone Logan (3.46 ERA), gave up three runs, which was in turn his worst outing of the season. Luis Ayala pitched until there was one out in the ninth an surrendered three runs as well, to make the score 7-6.
Corey Wade, who was a very valuable under the rader signing by Brian Cashman, would come in to try and lock down the save. Dan Johnson would be the first hero of the night for the Rays as he slammed a home run to right field, to put the game into extra innings.
The Yankees offensive star of the game, who drove in more than half of their runs, was Mark Teixiera. He hit two homers (his 39th) for a grand total of five RBI (his 111th), but was taken out as were all of the starters except for Brandon Laird and Eduardo Nunez.
This is when the night started getting really dramatic because Scott Proctor was the final pitcher for the Yankees. This gave the Rays the best chance at winning because he has struggled this go around for the team as well as when the pitched in the Bronx in 2007. Just about at this point the Red Sox game was entering the ninth inning as their closer, Jonathan Papelbon, entered the game with a 3-2 lead.
For fans of the Yankees and Rays this turn of events definitely gave off optimism.
Proctor kept everybody in suspense while not allowing any runs during his first two innings, but right on cue he allowed a homer to Rays star Evan Longoria, in the 12th inning, that just barely cleared the fence and would start a celebration at Tropicana Field. Seven of the runs that the Rays scored were off pitchers who have been productive for the Yankees most of the year so the talk of tanking the game is not really valid.
Only about three minutes later, Red Sox nation went from hoping for a one-game playoff to missing the playoffs altogether. Papelbon has recently not been very reliable in save situations and this trend would continue. Nolan Reimold (.247 average) hit a run scoring ground-rule double to tie the game, and the next batter, Andino, hit a single near Carl Crawford, scored Reimold and starting a celebration as if the Orioles made the playoffs.
It seemed like Crawford could have caught the ball, and he also did not give a very valiant throw to home in an effort to throw out Reimold, but he was just making sure that Boston ended their collapse in style. They ended September with 20 losses, which is a worse September than the worst team of all-time the 1962 Mets, and they have the Orioles to thank for not winning the Wild Card as a result of five or of their last six games to them.
This was an exhilarating night of baseball as the National League Wild Card came down to a similar situation as well. The Braves ended their collapse, which was almost as historic as the Red Sox one, and the St. Louis Cardinals seized the Wild Card spot and a first-round meeting with the Philadelphia Phillies.
After resting the starters for a portion of the game, and giving the reliable bullpen trio of Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera the day off the team should be ready for the AL Central champion Tigers and Justin Verlander on Friday. It is imposing to have to face Verlander who has a 24-5 record, a 2.40 ERA, 250 strikeouts and has not lost in more than 10 starts.
However, in 11 starts against the Yankees during his career Verlander has a 4.00 ERA. CC Sebathia will be pitching Friday night for the Yankees so this will be a classic match-up of aces. The Yankees actually have not played the Tigers since May but they split the six-game season series against them. The Yankees definitely need to take advantage of the games that Verlander is not pitching and if they can do that they should come away with a a trip to the ALCS.