When Chris Carpenter got Ryan Howard to roll over a curveball on Friday night in Philadelphia, it capped off what was an absolutely fantastic 10-day stretch of baseball. Say what you want about baseball's rank in the hierarchy of pro sports today, but for a week and a half, we were reminded that baseball at its best is utterly captivating. It was a stretch of games that was like the first couple of rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament, only if it were on steroids, and if only steroid references were OK in baseball.
It all started last Wednesday, of course, on the final day of the season. For better or worse, the two wild card races came down to the last day of the season. Baseball fans everywhere were in the market for new remote batteries after a night of channel surfing.
In Baltimore, the Red Sox sealed their fates with a collapse within a collapse to open the door for the Rays. Literally minutes later, Evan Longoria hit a home run that cleared the fence by no more than six inches. This all happened not long after the Braves fell to the Phillies in extra innings. That loss allowed the Cardinals to sneak into the playoffs. (Ironically enough, that Phillies win that knocked out the Braves set the stage for the upset of the first round as the Cardinals thanked the Phils by knocking them out of the playoffs.)
Mind you, this was all to just get into the playoffs.
What followed in the next week must have been the most exhilarating League Division Series ever.
Think about some of these tidbits.
- Of the four best-of-five series, three of them went five games, with the Rays-Rangers series going four games.
- There were 19 games played in the first round. Twelve of those 19 games were settled by two runs or fewer.
- We head to the LCS with just one team — the Tigers — representing the top 10 highest payrolls in baseball.
Of course, it didn't end there. You had so many rich moments over the course of those four series. Here's a closer look at each series.
Tampa Bay versus Texas:
- Fittingly, this series, which kicked off the playoffs, was opened with a touching moment when Cooper Stone, the 6-year-old son of the man who fell to his death at Rangers game earlier this season, delivered the first pitch to Josh Hamilton. Their embrace in the moments after will be a lasting moment of the postseason.
- Matt Moore then silenced the Rangers bats in Game 1, turning in an incredible performance for arguably the game's brightest new pitching star.
- To cap it all off, Adrian Beltre hit three home runs in the deciding game.
New York versus Detroit:
- All three Tigers wins were decided by two runs or fewer.
- All of those wins saw Jose Valverde on the mound to end them. The animated closer, who incorrectly proclaimed after Game 2 that the series would not return to the Bronx, was on the mound throwing a shut-down ninth inning in the deciding Game 5.
- This series provided the only "letdown" of the entire first round when the Justin Verlander–CC Sabathia matchup was rained out for Game 1. Ya can't win 'em all.
- Nyjer Morgan's walk-off single in the 10th inning of Game 5 provided the most dramatic win of the entire round.
- The series win, which came in front of an incredible crowd at Miller Park, provided the Brew Crew with their first series win since 1982. To put that in perspective, the Brewers didn't move to the National League for another 15 years after that '82 team went to the World Series.
- Paul Goldschmidt and Ryan Roberts hit grand slams for the Diamondbacks in Games 3 and 4. In doing so, it marked a stretch of four straight home games in which the D-Backs hit grand slams.
- Game 5 was quite simply one of the best baseball games you will ever see. Both teams had their aces going with Carpenter and Roy Halladay going for the Cardinals and Phillies, respectively. Making that even better is the fact that Carpenter and Halladay aren't just former teammates, they're also good friends.
- Carpenter was absolutely fantastic in Game 5. He pitched the game of his life when it mattered most, and in the process, became as good example as any as to why the best team doesn't always win in the playoffs. (As good as Carpenter was, Rafael Furcal's diving stop in the eighth inning was a "Holy [expletive] moment).
- Mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating. One of the main reasons the Cardinals are in the playoffs is because the Phillies beat the Braves on the season's final night, in extra innings no less. A little more than a week later, the Cardinals sent the Phillies home.
- One word: Squirrel.
So where do we go from here? Who knows? The only thing we do know is that the ALCS begins on Saturday night in Texas. If the next week is anything like the week-plus that preceded it, baseball fans everywhere are in for one helluva treat.
And even if it's not, at least Dane Cook has been nowhere to be seen.