* 1B Dan Johnson hit a game-tying homer for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011 and hit three homers the final day of the 2012 season for the Chicago White Sox and this year he watched. Like the rest of baseball he watched to see if three, two or one tie-breakers would be played the next day.
By Bob Elliott
Purists said the integrity of the pennant race would die when wild card berths were introduced in 1994.
More said it again in 2012 when a second wild-card was added.
Yet, if on Saturday you watched the Arizona Diamondbacks battle the first-place St. Louis Cardinals or saw the Texas Rangers draw down on the Oakland A’s, thanks to the magic of MLB Network you wouldn’t know that the Diamondbacks and the Rangers had the worst two records in the game. Or that their fans were even aware how bad the home side was.
If you saw the last-place Minnesota Twins play the mighty Detroit Tigers, or the Chicago White Sox battle the Kansas City Royals or the Cincinnati Reds take on the Pittsburgh Pirates, you would think that the integrity of the game was fine.
On Sunday, the day of Game 162 began with all the drama of the final day of the 2011, except rather than eliminating teams the right combination could have forced three Monday tie breakers.
“The Seattle Mariners lost the final two games to Houston and the first three here earlier this week,” said Jays broadcaster Jerry Howarth. “The second wild card gave them a second chance.”
Would Sunday lead to a Monday? And top the final 129 minutes of the 2011 season with the Blue Jays back-up first baseman in a starring role as the gripping theatre played out on stages in St. Petersburg, Baltimore, Houston and Atlanta?
Evan Longoria hit a three-run homer to bring Tampa Bay to within 7-6 of the Yankees
“Someone in the dugout said ‘if he hits a …’ and he hit a three-run homer to put us within one,” said Johnson, whose Rays had trailed 7-0.
St. Louis beat the Houston Astros on a complete game by Chris Carpenter who would joke later “I pitched the most boring game of the night.”
Johnson, hitting .108 homered when the Rays were down to their last strike while their wild-card rivals, the Red Sox, were in a rain delay.
Philadelphia Phillies’ Hunter Pence had a broken-bat single giving the Phillies a 4-3 lead in the 13th inning and soon the Braves were eliminated.
Baltimore’s Nolan Reimold, with the O’s down to their last strike, forced extras with a double and then Robert Andino won it for Baltimore with a single.
It was after midnight when Longoria walked off the Yanks with a home run.
“Boston saw us tie it, the rains stopped, they went out and lost only to come off the field and see us win less than five minutes later,” said Johnson, who hit three homers on the final day of 2012 for the Chicago White Sox in a 9-0 win over the Cleveland Indians.
“Game 162 is special … hey am I in there today?” Johnson asked Sunday morn.
Alas he was not in the Jays lineup.
In the scout’s corner four evaluators of teams with post-season berths were trying to figure out all the different scenarios … without success.
“The unwritten rule in September is when you play a contender you put your best team on the field,” said scout Mike Pazik of the Royals. “The thought is ‘maybe you’re better than us, but we’re going to make you earn it.’”
Reds manager Bryan Price called Cards manager Mike Matheny to explain why Todd Fraizer, Devin Mesoraco and Billy Hamilton were not in Friday’s lineup against the Pirates. The Bucs won 3-1, but on Saturday with only Mesoraco added, the Reds won 10-6 on a 10th inning walk off grand slam.
“You have a lot of kids playing: trying to show management what they’ve got and the opposition might not know their tendencies,” said Pazik, who travels a lot to Europe and England. “Over there they can’t believe we play 162 game BEFORE the playoffs.
“I don’t know of any other sport that has teams knocking off playoff teams with such regularity, well except for hockey. Doesn’t everyone get into the playoffs in hockey?”
Almost, but not quite.
“This could be a crazy day,” said closer Casey Janssen Sunday morn before the curtain went up.
Wins by Pittsburgh, Seattle and K.C. meant that there would be three tie breakers on Monday: Pirates-Cardinals, Mariners-A’s and Royals-Tigers.
Janssen’s pre-first pitch prediction on how many tie breakers?
“None,” he said.
David Price proved the stud the Tigers thought he would be pitching 7 1/3 scoreless as the Tigers blanked the Twins 3-0.
The Reds’ Johnny Cueto won his 20th beating the Pirates 4-1.
And Sonny Gray pitched a six-hit shutout in a 4-0 win over the Rangers.
The thrill is gone.
Oh yeah there was that magic which unfolded in Washington, D.C. with a team that was home and cooled. RHP Jordan Zimmermann pitched a no hitter in a 1-0 win over the Miami Marlins as Steven Souza saved with a diving catch for the 27th and final out in left centre. Zimmermann isn’t the first to throw a no-no on the final day of the season joining ex-Jay Henderson Alvarez of the Marlins last year, Mike Witt for the Anaheim Angels in 1984, a combined no-no by the Oakland A’s (Vida Blue, Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad and Rollie Fingers) in 1975 and Bumpus Jones of the 1892 Cincinnati Reds.
The field of contenders is cut to 10.
Post-season memories are about to begin.