Baseball’s Best Night Ever

Wednesday, September 28, 2011.

A day that will live in baseball history. Heck, in sports history.

Wild card races and home field advantage for the playoffs had yet to be decided.

Fate decreed that all relevant games would be scheduled to happen at the same time.

The very next day, Major League Baseball posted a highlight video. It was great, except it lacked context. So I added it.

(download link)

There was a lot of wonderful celebratory reporting in the immediate aftermath:

Thrill Ride: Timeline of Wednesday’s Drama” – Joey Nowak, MLB.com

Just before 7 p.m. ET, four teams — the Braves, Cardinals, Red Sox and Rays — stood on even ground for their respective Wild Card races, while teams in Detroit, Arizona and Milwaukee were trying to wrap up home-field advantage. What transpired between 7:10 p.m. and 12:05 a.m. was something the baseball world will never forget.

Drama of Game 162 Never Seen Before and Likely Never Will Again” – Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated

Starting at 9:56 p.m. Eastern, the grand old game, said to suffer by comparison from football’s siren sisters of gambling and violence, and said to suffer from America’s shrinking attention span and capacity to contemplate, rose up and fairly screamed, “Watch this!”

The blown save by Kimbrel spawned 129 minutes of mayhem unseen in the annals of the game, especially given the technological ease and variety in which the mayhem could be consumed.

Baseball Night in America” – Joe Posnanski, Sports Illustrated

We went into this final night of the season with four teams tied for their league’s wildcard, with baseball for one night having a March Madness feel, but baseball is not like March Madness. What makes college basketball wonderful is its wild unpredictability. And that, in many ways, is the opposite of what makes baseball wonderful.

I’ve written this before: I never argue with people who say baseball is boring, because baseball is boring. And then, suddenly, it isn’t. And that’s what makes it great.

In other words: Then, suddenly, Evan Longoria steps to the plate.

Not all of it is still out there (where I can find it). Fortunately, I saved some of the better ones:

Walk-Off Wins-Day Delivers Grandest Finales” – Anthony Castrovince, MLB.com

We knew a night in which four games with Wild Card implications were scheduled was bound to be must-see TV.

But this?

This?

Nobody imagined this.

Nobody imagined three blown saves in the ninth and two extra-inning tilts. Nobody imagined that the collapses turned in by the Red Sox and Braves would culminate in actual collapses by two of the more trusted closers in the game.

The Road to October: Sept. 29, 2011” – Jon Star, MLB.com

In a year that saw more thrilling finishes than any in recent history, it was only fitting that the last day of the regular season ended in such dramatic fashion. Baseball fans were treated to 243 walk-off victories this season, more than the total from any season from 2008-10. The next-closest tally was in 2008, when there were 228.

Little did we know that the season would be saving some of the best for last.

Alone in Spotlight, Baseball Performs Brilliantly” – Peter Gammons, MLB. Com

We should thank Charlie Manuel and the Phillies for playing their hearts out against the Braves for no reason other than pride, to force Atlanta to have to attempt to beat them to make it to a Thursday tiebreaker with the Cardinals. We should thank the Baltimore Orioles, out of contention and yet winning series against the Angels, Yankees, Rays and Red Sox. The O’s beat the warrior Papelbon with two runs in the ninth, the fifth time in seven games the last two weeks they beat the Red Sox for no reason other than they care.

And one from an end-of-year wrap up, which gives more interesting detail that wasn’t immediately available:

“Best. Night. Ever.” – Lee Jenkins, Sports Illustrated

You can’t find a consensus on the greatest team, greatest game or greatest player in baseball history. But there is no doubt about the greatest night. Its heroes included a September call-up who was batting .108, a utility infielder completing his first full season in the big leagues and a third baseman who thought he might have a hernia. Then there was Longoria, a three-time All-Star finishing his worst big league season, gazing at that leftfield foul pole and struggling to keep a straight face. Beneath the pole at Tropicana Field is a small panel of the fence that was lowered four years ago. Longoria didn’t know why the Rays had altered that section. But he’d never seen anybody hit a ball over it.

There have been retrospectives and oral histories written –

Recalling One of Most Dramatic Days in MLB History” – Sam Blum

Game 162 – September 28, 2011” – ESPN

I believe that there’s a book to be written here, in part because none of these recaps give enough attention to the collapses of the Red Sox and Braves. Or how the Orioles decided that even though they were out of contention, they were not going to roll over and play dead. Or what was happening in the other divisions, with their battles for home field advantage. We’d need the “behind the scenes” action, like the MLB Network deciding to forego commercials so they wouldn’t miss a single pitch.

One can even note the battle for the National League batting championship. Ryan Braun of the Brewers and Jose Reyes of the Mets were neck and neck going in to the last few days. Entering the last day, Reyes was in the lead by a few points…. When he led off the game for the Mets that afternoon, he bunted for an infield single – and then, with the title clinched, took himself out of the game.

Heck, I’d even go back to November, 2010. That year, the Giants beat the Rangers in five games for the World Series crown. What did the Rangers do in the off season to avenge that defeat? What about the other teams that got knocked out in the playoffs that October? Who were the favorites going in to the season? Track the entire year, so we know how it got down to that one final night.

And then do the follow-through. What happened in the playoffs? The World Series? Whatever happened with all the key people?

And what do they have to say about it one decade later?

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