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UNBELIEVABLE! Braves and Red Sox Collapse Complete! Rays and Cardinals win Wild Cards, Orioles sink Red Sox with 2 Outs in Bottom of the 9th as Longoria hits walk off against Yankees

Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon reacts to the Orioles scoring the winning run (Getty Images)

What an amazing and unlikely end to the regular season. The Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox who appeared to have their respective Wild Card berths cinched on September 1st had their seasons end tonight in the most unexpected and unlikely ways.  Both the Braves and the Sox had what seemed to be insurmountable leads as August drew to a close.

“It’s like living out a bad dream. You never expect this to happen to you.” Chipper Jones

Matt Holiday and Chris Carpenter celebrate the Cardinal’s Wild Card win

The Braves were up by 10 ½ games over the Cardinals on August 26th and had an 8 ½ game lead on September 6th and slipped into a tie on Tuesday against a resurgent Cardinals team.  The Cardinals defeated the Houston Astros 7-0 behind a two hit performance by Chris Carpenter earlier in the evening putting all the pressure on the Braves to try to force a one game playoff to decide the Wild Card.  The Braves looked like they would force the playoff and had a 3-2 lead with one out in the top of the 9th against the Phillies.   With one out and their ace closer Craig Kimbrel saw it slip away as Chase Utley hit a sacrifice fly to score pinch runner Pete Orr to tie the game.  The Braves could not score a go ahead run and in the top of the 13th the Phillies put the final nail in the Braves coffin as with 2 outs in the top of the 13th when Hunter Pence singled to score Brian Schneider to give the Phillies a 4-3 lead.  The Braves could not score in the bottom of the 13th completing a most amazing collapse.  Kimbrel said after the game “It was tough to be so close and then have the feeling like it was falling out of your hands, and that’s the feeling I have now.”   One has to feel for Kimbrel and other Braves relievers who have endured a punishing season and faltered down the stretch due to a starting rotation which struggled in their performance and due to injuries to young pitchers Jair Jurgens and Tommy Hansen.

A stunned Braves bench after their loss to the Phillies

For the Braves it was an epic collapse but the Tony LaRussa’s Cardinals after having been written off by every expert managed to catch the Braves and steal the Wild Card berth.

While the National League decision was exciting it paled in comparison to what happened in the American League East on Wednesday night. The Rays appeared to be done early as starter avid Price was hit hard by the Yankees especially by Mark Teixeira who hammed a grand slam home run in the top of the 2nd off Price inning to give the Yankees a 5-0 lead and a solo shot against Price in the top of the 4th. When the Yankees finished their at bat in the top of the 8th they had a 7-0 lead.  It looked like the Rays were done unless the Orioles could come from behind to defeat the Red Sox and force a playoff.  As their fans began to leave Tropicana Field the Rays scored 6 runs in the bottom of the 8th and then tied the game with a two out home run by Dan Johnson in the bottom of the 9th.  The game went into extra innings and as the Rays battled the Yankees an even more remarkable story was developing in Baltimore.

Evan Longoria raises his arms in triumph after his walk off home run against the Yankees (Getty Images)

The Red Sox had led the Orioles for most of the game and had not lost a game all season when leading in the 9th inning.  They were 76-0 in this situation.  A rain delay pushed the game toward themidnight hour and when it resumed the Red Sox seemed to be ready to put the Orioles away.

Robert Andino hits a walk off single to score Nolan Reimold against Jonathan Papelbon

With a 3-2 lead the Sox sent their vaunted closer Jonathan Papelbon into the game. After retiring Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds on strikes Chris Davis doubled and the O’s sent in Kyle Hudson to run for Davis.  Papelbon worked a 2-2 count against Nolan Reimold who hit a ground rule double to scoreHudson.  This brought up Red Sox nemesis Robert Andino who hit a walk off single to score Reimold stunning the Red Sox Nation in an unbelievable finish, but the Red Sox had life if the Yankees could put away the Rays in Tampa, but that hope would be dashed three minutes later.

As the Orioles drove the stake into the heart of the Red Sox Nation Yankees reliever Scott Proctor retired B. J. Upton on strikes.  This brought Evan Longoria to the plate. Longoria had hit a 3 run homer in the Rays 6 run 8th inning and took Proctor’s pitch and hammered it down the left field line where it ended up in the stands.  It was only the second time that a walk off home run put a team into the playoffs, the last was Bobby Thompson’s “shot heard around the world” in 1951.

Orioles celebrate. After a rough season they turned into winners in September and ended the Red Sox playoff hopes

It was an amazing finish that was unimaginable and thrilling to behold.  For the Orioles it was their World Series. They have been dominated by the Red Sox for years and going into September had won just 3 games against the Sox all season.  Then in September the Orioles began to win.  They split 4 games with the Yankees, took 2 of 3 from the Rays, 3 of 4 from the Red Sox at Fenway, 2 of 3 from the Angles and split a four game series against the Tigers.  After the 4 games in Boston the Orioles hosted 3 games against the Red Sox at Camden Yards.  They won the first, lost the second and stunned the Red Sox on Wednesday night.

As the bell tolled midnight on the east coast the unthinkable had happened.  Two epic collapses, two remarkable comebacks and an underdog Orioles team that rose to the occasion to beat the Red Sox 5 of 7 games in September.  No one could have scripted the end to this regular season and one can expect that the playoffs will be equally exciting.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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GIANTS WIN IT ALL! BRING TITLE TO SAN FRANCISCO END 56 YEAR SERIES DROUGHT

The Drought is Over Giants Win! (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

It was something that no one predicted at the beginning of the season, a Cinderella story of a team of journeymen unknowns, cast offs, rookies and a phenomenal staff of young pitchers overcame obstacle after obstacle to win the team’s first World Series title since 1954.  Back then it was the “Say Hey Kid” Willie Mays who electrified the nation with his back to the ball catch in deep center at the Polo Grounds while in 2010 it was a collection of misfits who bonded as no team ever has to win the World Series when no-one said they would even win their division.

Aubrey Huff in the Arms of Buster Posey (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

This team whose theme song was Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” didn’t stop believing and did what no Giants team stocked with All-Stars and Hall of Famers had not done since they were the New York Giants playing at the Polo Grounds. The franchise that had known sudden defeat in a 1-0 bottom of the 9th inning loss in the 1962 World Series to the New York Yankees finally won.  The franchise that had endured the tragic Earthquake Series of 1989 when they were swept by the A’s overcame all to win in 2010. Likewise the franchise that when just 6 outs from the victory in game six with the Champagne chilling on the clubhouse lost to the Angels had finally overcame decades of despair to win a World Series that most experts said that they would never win.

Tim “the Freak” Lincecum and his wild hair were a trademark of the Giants

Throughout the year the Giants were accorded no respect.  At the beginning of the season the Giants were picked by most to place no better than 4th in the National League West.  They won the West on the last day of the regular season and then went on to beat the Braves in 4 games in the NLDS winning game 4 in Atlanta holding the Braves to just 7 earned runs and a .175 batting average.  They played and defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS in a series that no baseball writers that I saw, heard or read predicted them to win against the highly favored Phillies…well no one but me and ESPN 94.1 Norfolk’s Tony Mercurio.  The Giants held the mighty Phillies to just 18 earned runs in 6 games and to a .224 batting average. Asked on the Giants chances in 2011 closer Brian Wilson said “I like our chances, we were picked fourth in spring training. We should at least move up to third next spring. You’d think.”

Brian Wilson looks to the Heavens after striking out Nelson Cruz to end the World Series (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The Giants pitchers allowed just 37 earned runs in 135 innings for a 2.47 post season ERA holding the Braves, Phillies and Rangers to 94 hits in 480 at bats and a playoff opposing batting average of .196.  Any way that you stack it, the Giants pitcher’s dominated two of the most prolific hitting teams in baseball as well as a good hitting Braves team allowing only 9 home runs.

“The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three run homers.” Earl Weaver

Edgar Renteria gets his game winning home run off of Cliff Lee in the top of the 7th inning (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The story of the 2010 Giants is a story for the ages, a team composed of cast offs, second chance journeymen, veterans with their best years behind them and rookies who played like seasoned veterans overcame every obstacle and proved to the multitude of naysayers that they could win in a convincing manner.  Rookies including Catcher Buster Posey and pitcher Madison Bumgarner who both played the first months of the season at Triple-A Fresno played key roles in the last half of the season and the post season with Bumgarner’s win in game 4 being something that had everybody talking. Edgar Renteria in his second year of a 2 year contract that all expected to be his last year playing ball was the MVP.  He overcame a torn bicep and a lack of playing time to hit 2 home runs including the winning hit tonight after only hitting 3 in the regular season spending 4 months on the bench.  In the World Series he hit .412 with 6 RBI. To make it even more of a story Renteria called his shot in game 5 to Andres Torres and he had the game winning hit in the 1998 World Series for the Florida Marlins against the Cleveland Indians.

Cody Ross was picked up off waivers at the last possible moment after being released from the Florida Marlins had 5 post-season home runs and many key hits and at bats.  Aubrey Huff a free agent that no one seemed to want became the team’s home run leader and hit a massive home run in game four on Sunday night and a great sacrifice bunt that led up to Renteria’s home run.  Freddy Sanchez when not hitting with the bat made defensive play after defensive play. Andres Torres hit at a torrid pace, Juan Uribe with key home runs in the NLCS and World Series while numerous other Giants had key hits, defensive plays or pitching performances.

Tim Lincecum holds the World Series Trophy (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Giants featuring the arms of 4 home grown pitchers outpitched the Rangers shutting down the most potent offense in the Major Leagues like they were a luckless Triple-A team belonging to a dismal major league franchise.  Tim Lincecum defeated Cliff Lee twice and in game 5 pitched 8 innings allowing one run and on three hits while striking out ten.  Matt Cain blew through the Rangers to shut them out in game two and finished the post-season allowing no earned runs. When Jonathan Sanchez struggled the bullpen came in and shut the Rangers down as they had the Phillies and who could believe the poise of Madison Bumgarner.  The Giants’ closer Brian Wilson was locked on and the Rangers definitely had reason to “fear the beard.”

This was an everyman’s team that embodied real America, guys getting second chances, men who worked for years unnoticed before landing with the Giants and young men that played with strength and maturity throughout the season.  There was something special about this team that transcended the parts and turned them into World Series Champions, they believed in themselves and their team took care of each other and didn’t listen to the naysayers.  Bruce Bochy the Giants’ manager managed them like a great General took charge and put players on the field each night that he knew would give the team the best chance to win. He moved players around for defense in the late innings when he got a lead, trusting in the arms of his pitching staff to shut down the vaunted Rangers’ offense which many experts said would overcome the Giants pitching staff.

“The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.” Earl Weaver

Well they were wrong. Just as the Giants had throughout the playoffs the Giants’ pitching staff dominated their opponent.  The Rangers who had a .276 team batting average in the regular season and hit .304 against the Yankees in the ALCS had just 29 hits in 153 at bats for a .190 batting average against the Giants scoring just 12 runs in 5 games and were shut out twice. In the final 18 innings the Rangers managed just one run against a Giants pitching staff that finished the series with a 2.38 ERA.

By contrast the Rangers’ staff could not stem the tide in games that were blowouts and games that were close with the exception of Colby Lewis in game 3 who held the Giants to 2 runs.  The Giants scored 29 runs 28 of which were earned on 42 hits in 169 at bats for a .249 team average while the Rangers’ had a 5.86 team ERA.  Cliff Lee who had never been beaten in the playoffs and had two World Series wins against the Yankees in 2009 allowed 9 earned runs on 14 hits in 11.2 innings work for a 6.94 series ERA.  His opposite Tim Lincecum allowed 4 earned runs on 8 hits in 13.2 innings for a 2.72 series ERA.

This team was amazing and was supported by the Giants greats from the past including Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Felipe Alou, Jack Clark, John Montafusco, J. T. Snow and many more including Barry Bonds. I’m sure that the spirits of men like Bobby Bonds, Rob Beck  and Bobby Thompson were cheering them on as Judy’s cousin Bill who died during game one and my father Carl who died in June were.  The outpouring of support and emotion by these great who had never experienced a World Series victory in San Francisco was amazing.  Likewise the fans who came to endure a season of what has been named “torture ball” finally found that it paid off.

The Last Time 1954 Willie Mays makes “The Catch”

After 53 years of suffering in San Francisco the drought ended, the decades spend in the icy and unforgiving confines of Candlestick Park, the ravages of an earthquake and disappointment that left fans saying “maybe next year” was over.  The Giants led by cast offs, rookies and home grown pitchers featuring characters who sported “luck thongs” in the clubhouse, wild hair and beards that made them look like they might have a few screws loose had overcome the curse, whatever curse it might be and brought the World Series trophy home to the most beautiful city in America, San Francisco. Willie Mays commented after the game that “Oh, man, I don’t get overly excited about baseball, but looking at these kids and how excited they were, I had some tears in my eyes, because you never know, this might be the last time something like this happens to some of these kids. It’s a wonderful feeling for me, and I’m sure it’s a wonderful feeling for these kids and their families.” Mays knows that from experience, there is a sense of grateful appreciation in his manner that rings true, for none of us ever knows what tomorrow brings.

“I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.  Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.” – Walt Whitman

I think that there is a lesson for us in our country today, that if you believe and pull together you can win even when everyone predicts your demise.  Maybe Americans can look at this team and take this lesson that you don’t have to spend excessively to be successful, that success does not have to be bought and that friendship and teamwork matter more than having a bunch of elite super-stars who can’t get the job done in the clutch.  Maybe that’s the lesson that we need to learn again.  The lesson so eloquently put by James Earl Jones as Terrance Mann in Field of Dreams “The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

The Giants took home the World Series as I predicted with their pitching, defense and clutch hitting being the difference. Congratulations Giants.  I guess that I will have to hang a 2010 San Francisco Giants pennant next to my 1989 Giants NL West Pennant in my kitchen. Like many fans I have spend my entire life waiting for this to happen enduring the cold of Candlestick where I saw Ed Halicki no-hit the Mets in 1975, took in the beauty of AT&T Park, watched Barry Bonds tie and break the Home Run record while deployed to Iraq but nothing compares to this. It was worth the wait. Go Giants!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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