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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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3000 Plus 3: Jeter Goes 5 for 5 to Join Elite Club

3000  Photo credit: Barton Silverman/The New York Times 

http://sports.yahoo.com/video/player/mlb;_ylt=Aqi43ZhEeJLoj3clzah_58ypu7YF

Derek Jeter joined the elite 3000 hit club going 5 for 5 against the Tampa Bay Rays.  It was a remarkable performance. Jeter has struggled at the plate this year and spent a number of weeks on the disabled list.  It was the last chance before the All Star break and the beginning of a long road trip for the Yankees that he had to get 3000 hits. Had he not done so today it a place where he is loved and a part of an enduring legacy of great Yankees, none who ever had 3000 hits he would have done so on the road. It would have been like Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s record in San Diego, Cal Ripkin Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game record in Oakland, or Pete Rose breaking Ty Cobb’s hit record in Montreal, which according to some he did in Chicago the game before he broke the record in Cincinnati, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But such records are meant to occur at home. Somehow they just seem more magical when done at home.

Today Jeter not only reached 3000 hits mark he did it with aplomb going 5 for 5 with a Home Run and a double and two RBIs.  His 3000th hit was a Home Run on a 3-2 count to deep left field with one out in the bottom of the 3rd inning against Ray’s ace David Price. Price in his career has held Jeter to 6 hits in 25 at bats with only 2 extra base hits and 3 RBIs, not a bad record against Jeter who has a career .312 batting average. Only one other play hit a home run for his 3000th hit, Wade Boggs who did it in 1999.

There are only 28 players in this club and they include 24 Hall of Famers.  The only ones of the club not yet in the Hall of Fame include Jeter who is still active, Craig Biggio who will soon be eligible to be voted in to the Hall of Fame, Rafael Palmeiro who is tainted by the steroids controversy and the all time hit leader Pete Rose who is banned from baseball for life for betting on games.  The 3000 club is truly remarkable. It includes Rose with 4256 hits, Ty Cobb-4191, Hank Aaron-3771, and Stan Musial with 3630 hits.  Also on the list are greats like Cal Ripkin Jr., Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente.

The rest of the men on this list are also remarkable. All had amazing careers that spanned many years frequently with the same team. Their longevity, consistency and ability to get hits were simply remarkable but even more remarkable for Jeter was that he was the first Yankee to reach the 3000 hit mark.  The next nearest is the legendary Lou Gehrig with 2721 and Babe Ruth with 2518.  It is conceivable that had Ruth not pitched his first four years in the Majors or had Lou Gehrig not been forced to retire due to ALS or as some now posit numerous significant concussive injuries that either of them might have been the first Yankee to reach this lofty plateau.

However that feat belongs to Derek Jeter, the Captain of the Yankees and a man who will by his on-field performance, consistency, work ethic and leadership on and off the field will be in that elite group of Yankee legends.  He will also be remembered as a baseball great something that even Yankee haters have to admit.  Someday, hopefully after he has added much more to his legacy and retires he will be become part of the panoply of immortals in the Hall of Fame and have his monument added to those that grace Monument Park at Yankee Stadium along with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Miller Huggins, Casey Stengel, Reggie Jackson,  Lefty Gomez and so many more.

It was a good day for Derek Jeter and his family, the Yankees, baseball and all that love this most magical game.

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No Joy in Tampa: Rangers Win 5-1 advance to ALCS

David Price looks on as the Rangers celebrate

The Tampa Bay Rays made an early exit from the playoffs in a year that many expected them to challenge for the World Series. Instead Joe Maddon’s team played their swan song on Tuesday night knowing that it is unlikely that this team will be the same next season.  It was a series where the home team never won a game, so much for home-field advantage which was bad news for the Rays who had the “advantage” of playing in a stadium that the fans only show up to during the playoffs. According to the Elias Sports Bureau it is the first time that the road team has one every game of a post season series.

The difference maker: Cliff Lee mows down the Rays (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Ron Washington’s Rangers ended a playoff drought that stretched back to 1961 when the Senators came to Washington as an expansion team and until Tuesday was the only MLB franchise that had never won a playoff series.  The legendary pitcher Nolan Ryan the new owner of the Rangers sat in the stands savoring the moment as Washington and his team celebrated on the field while the Tampa fans filed out of the stadium. The mood in Tampa was totally different than in Atlanta on Monday when the Braves lost their series to the Giants and both teams and grateful Braves fans saluted retiring manager Bobby Cox. If there was no joy in Mudville when the Mighty Casey struck out there was less in the Trop as B.J. Upton popped out to left center to end the game and season for the Rays.

Rangers celebrate their first playoff series win (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

The Key was pitching, in particular Cliff Lee who as he was in the playoffs last year with the Phillies absolutely dominated the Rays for the second time in 5 games. Lee fanned 11 Rays in a six hit and one run complete game victory and lowered his post season ERA to 1.12.  The win continued a post season where pitching has been the dominant force in every series.

Aggressive base running: Elvis Andrus scores in the 1st inning

The Rangers used some aggressive base running to set the Rays on their heels early in the game and continued that aggressiveness the entire game. Elvis Andrus got a leadoff single and stole second base. He then scored on a ground ball out by Josh Hamilton alertly coming all the way around from second as the pitcher David Price taking the throw at first failed to check the runner.  The Rays got that run back in the bottom of the 3rd inning combining consecutive singles by Sean Rodriguez, Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist to get on the board.

The Rangers took the lead in the top of the 4th inning when Nelson Cruz alertly scored on Ray’s catcher Kelly Shoppach’s throwing error to third which sailed high and right over the outstretched arm of Evan Longoria. The scored again in the 6th inning to make the score 3-1 using aggressive heads up base running this time by Vladimir Guerrero to get the run. With Guerrero at second base and Nelson Cruz on first Ian Kinsler hit a ground ball to first base. First baseman Carlos Pena threw to second to get the force but the throw back from second was late getting to Price who was covering. Guerrero’s dash to the plate surprised Price who threw just late to Kelly Shoppach at the plate as Guerrero slid around the tag for the run. The Rangers added two insurance runs off or Rays Closer Rafael Soriano when Ian Kinsler hit his third home run of the series a two run shot to make the score 5-1.

The win was a triumph for the scrappy Rangers and a bitter disappointment for the Rays and the 12 disciples in Tampa that are their die-hard fans. The team will be certainly broken up was the payroll is slashed by a huge amount leaving free agents like Carl Crawford up for grabs. The Rangers move on the face the Yankees in the ALCS and this could be a much more interesting series than that played by the Yankees against their perpetual piñata the Minnesota Twins.

Tomorrow or Thursday I should have my LCS picks out, I went four for four in the Divisional series so I hope to repeat my success with the same degree as I did last year.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Rays Bounce Back Even Series in 5-2 Win

Derek Holland watches Even Longoria after Longoria hit a two run homer in the top of the 5th inning Sunday

The Tampa Bay Rays after losing the first two games of their series against the Texas Rangers at the Trop have come back to even the series at two as they won game four of the series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The Rays had excellent pitching from Wade Davis and the bullpen quartet of Randy Choate, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit and Rafael Soriano which limited the usually hot hitting Rangers to just 2 runs on 8 hits. The Rays were lifted by the clutch hitting of Evan Longoria who broke out of his slump with a 2 run homer in the 5th inning off of Rangers’ starter Eric Holland.  Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton add RBI doubles and the Rays were aided by an error by Ian Kinsler which allowed Carlos Pena to score in the 2nd inning. The Rangers offense was hamstrung by their inability to drive in runs when they needed them the biggest chance having the bases loaded in the bottom of the 5th with two outs but not scoring when Vladimir Guerrero struck out swinging to end the inning.

The teams will now go back to Tampa and Tropicana Field for the finale of their series on Tuesday evening. The Rays have the momentum; the Texas bench looked defeated on Sunday afternoon. However, the Rangers will start Cliff Lee who held the Rays to one hit and a run in 7 innings work against the Rays in Game one.  Lee will face David Price who gave up 4 earned runs including two home runs against the Rangers in game one.  Momentum goes to the Rays, but the pitching edge goes to the Rangers. This one is anybody’s series to lose. I picked the Rangers to win the series and still stand by that because of Cliff Lee.  We’ll see if I am right on Tuesday night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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