The final day of the MLB season covered an amazing array of joy, sorrow, historic moments, and amazing good-byes that just compelled me to single some of them out.
The Agony – Pat Neshek is a relief pitcher for the Oakland A’s. After 4 years with the Twins and 1 with the Padres Neshek spent most of the season injured in the Orioles organization before joining the A’s this August. He pitched very well for Oakland during the stretch run of the pennant race. Tuesday Pat Neshek left the A’s as they continued to march to an improbable division title so that he could return to Florida for the birth of his son. He was born Tuesday night and then the A’s amazingly completed the sweep of the Rangers on Wednesday to win their division (after being down 13 games at the end of June). Pat reached the highest point of his personal and professional career in under 24 hours. Then at the end of the 24 hours the unthinkable happened. This tweet sent shockwaves across the country: @PatNeshek Please pray for my family. Tonight my wife & I lost our first & only son 23 hours after he was born with no explanation. I saw it this morning and felt sick. I cannot imagine the agony that he and his wife are going through. And to have been at such an emotional high leading up to it makes this even harder. Truly I’m praying for him and his family.
The Rest of the Stories
A Fitting Farewell – Ben Sheets was born three days after me and when people younger than me retire, it makes me feel old. That being said, his farewell was quite something yesterday. Sheets’ career has been one of great ability and potential, but fraught with injuries. He is a 4-time All-Star who also missed 3 full seasons with injuries. He made his latest comeback, following 2 years of retirement, with the Atlanta Braves this year in the 2nd half of the season. At a point where the Braves desperately needed a pitching boost, Sheets came in and began by going 4-1 and gave up more than 1 run only once in those 5 starts. But then his body started revolting again and breaking down. Sheets determined toward the end of the year that this would be the end of his career. So on the last day of the season, fresh off the Disabled List, Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez gave him the ball to start the game. No one knew, but that inning would be the final inning of his career, because he would give everything he had to pitch that one last time. In that inning Sheets faced three batters. He struck out one, got the second to ground out and then faced All-Star and MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen. In storybook fashion, Ben Sheets struck out Andrew McCutchen on a 95 mph fastball and walked off the mound for the final time. He received greetings and hugs from everyone in the Braves dugout in a moving scene. I’m sure he wouldn’t have scripted the inning any differently.
History Made – The Triple Crown. To lead your league in Home Runs, Runs Batted In, and Batting Average in the same season. It has happened 16 times ever, 14 since 1900, and 0 times since 1967. The men that have done it before are named Yastrzemski, Robinson, Mantle, Williams, Gehrig, Foxx, Hornsby, Cobb, and others. They are all Hall of Famers. Miguel Cabrera has been a baby-faced slugger since he joined the big leagues with the Marlins back in 2003 and helped lead them to a World Championship that season. This year he accomplished the amazing feat of winning the Triple Crown, and Wednesday he ignored some folks’ suggestion to sit and ensure he got the accomplishment and played the final game of the regular season in Kansas City. He was rewarded with a classy display of respect by the Royals fans that made me very proud. When Cabrera came to the plate in the first inning he received a standing ovation. When Jim Leyland decided to pull him during the game the crowd gave him an ovation and would not stop until he came out for a curtain call. It was a great moment for baseball and for Cabrera.
Putting the A in Amazing – As mentioned earlier, the Oakland A’s had quite an improbable end to the season. But I want to make sure it’s clear just how improbable this really was. The Oakland A’s have the lowest payroll in the sport with the greatest chasm between the haves and the have nots. They have a starting pitching rotation made up entirely of rookies. This offseason they traded two pitchers 26 years old or under who went on to be the 2nd best pitcher on a .500 Arizona Diamondbacks team (Trevor Cahill) and one of the front-runners for the Cy Young award in the National League for the NL East Champion Washington Nationals (Gio Gonzalez). Not a baseball expert I’ve found gave the A’s a chance to make the playoffs, much less win the division. The Angels and Rangers had the money, the names, and everything that you would expect from division champions. But a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation. The Oakland Athletics became that team that becomes more than just the sum of its parts. And when they trailed the Rangers by 2 games with 3 games to play they didn’t blink. They played those Rangers and swept them, clinching the title after the final out of the regular season. You just might be able to make Moneyball 2 about this season. It was Amazing!
The End is the Beginning – Chipper Jones hasn’t hidden the fact that this would be his final season. And on many occasions he brought a dramatic flair to his farewells. With his knee acting up he was relegated to the roll of pinch hitter in the final game of his regular season career. In the 6th inning Chipper strode to the plate for his final at-bat in Pittsburgh’s PNC Park. In yet another show of how well umpires really understand the game, the home plate umpire chose that moment to take the most time humanly possible to position himself and clean off an already clean home plate. The time that exercise took allowed the Pittsburgh crowd time to shower Jones with a standing ovation and allowed Chipper a chance to tip his hat to them. It was another great scene in a road ballpark where the fans appreciated the significance of a moment. Then 19 years and 19 days after his first career at-bat, a single, Chipper concluded his career the exact same way, with a single. He later scored one of the game’s 4 runs. Thankfully this wasn’t the final act as the Braves still have at least one more game (and hopefully more than that), but it was a beautiful regular season farewell to cap off a fantastic farewell season for one of the greats of the game. Congrats Chipper, and thanks for the memories!
(Here’s the video of his final at-bat)
Here’s hoping the Postseason (beginning this afternoon!) is full of more amazing moments for us to remember for decades to come!