By Kenneth Cline
Sports and drama seem to collide no matter the cost, and Wednesday night’s games were no exception.
There have been several teams to have a lead so insurmountable when all of the sudden, come September, they start to play bad baseball.
In 1951, the Brooklyn Dodgers had a 13-game lead over the New York Giants (before they moved to San Francisco). Just when you thought the Dodgers would be World Series bound, New York went 37-7 to tie the Brooklyn and force a then best-of-three playoffs, which ended in Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round The World” to give New York the pennant.
In 1964, the Philadelphia Phillies (who played spoiler for the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday) were ahead by 6.5 games with 12 left to play. But they lost 10 straight games, which allowed the St. Louis Cardinals to win the National League title.
Other teams have recently experienced embarrassing chokes. The 2007 New York Mets lost a seven-game lead with 17 remaining in the season. It took the 2007 Colorado Rockies 19 wins in the final 21 games to tie and later beat the San Diego Padres in a one-game playoff. Three years later, it was déjà-vu all over again as San Diego blew a lead and gave San Francisco the NL West title.
But never in the history of baseball had there been two teams that had leads of nine games or higher and yet did not make the playoffs. Maybe it was fate that forced Atlanta and the Boston Red Sox to choke. Or maybe it got to the point where they simply said, “We have this under control.” Whatever the reason, we do not see Atlanta or Boston in the playoffs.
For those wondering how the scenario was entering the final day of the season, here it is: Boston and the Tampa Bay Rays were tied for the American League Wild Card going into the final day of the season. Boston played the Baltimore Orioles while Tampa Bay faced the New York Yankees. The same scenario applied to the NL Wild Card as St. Louis and Atlanta were also tied going into the last day.
St. Louis won its game easily and waited for the end of the Atlanta-Philadelphia game. Atlanta had a 3-2 lead going into the 9th. But the Phillies tied the score at three, and the game went into extra innings. In the top of the 13th, the Phillies scored, and with the Atlanta loss, the St. Louis started celebrating in the locker room.
In the AL, Boston was leading 3-2 in the seventh when rain delayed the game for an hour. Meanwhile, New York was enjoying a comfortable 7-0 lead on Tampa Bay heading into the eighth. By the end of the eighth, though, Tampa Bay cut the lead to 7-6. One inning later, with two outs and a 2-2 count, Tampa Bay pinch hitter Dan Johnson hit a home run to tie the game at 7. The game was now in extras innings.
Back in Baltimore, the game resumed and Boston maintained its 3-2 lead going into the ninth. In that inning, though, a Baltimore double tied the game at three.
In Tampa Bay, the game was headed into the bottom of the 12th.
In Baltimore, the Orioles had the winning run on second with two outs; they singled to left, scoring for the win. Boston was now down by half a game. Boston’s reaction was sad and hurtful, but maybe somewhere they still had hope of making the playoffs. All they needed was for New York to beat Tampa Bay.
It only took 180 seconds – 180 seconds it took from shock to reality.
Just three minutes after the Red Sox lost, all hopes of a one-game playoff were shattered when Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria sent a line drive over the fences for a walk-off home run. The Rays were the AL Wild Card Champs.
In the span of 89 minutes, two teams that had struggled through the month of September, yet still had hope of playoff contention, were sent home packing in disgrace. It may take awhile for the Atlanta and the Red Sox to move on. While they watch the eight teams in the playoffs, they’ll wonder just what would have happened if they had won the game.
Sept. 28, 2011, was another day for baseball. But it was also a day that taught us that in baseball, no lead is safe. All in all, it may have been the best day for baseball. The dramatic come-from-behind wins, the support of other teams, and the magic of the sport shows us why baseball is America’s national pastime.
Kenneth Cline is a sophomore journalism-public relations major from Houston.