It’s a common thing for folks to ask me what my favorite sport is, since I’m a pretty big fan of all sports. It’s also common for me to get an odd look when I reply, “Baseball” without even a hint of hesitation. It’s true, baseball has always been my first sports love and nothing makes me happier than getting to see others catch the fever. When it comes to the kind of games that make the fever go viral, this year’s Division Series’ had more than I could believe. It’s kind of fitting that Turner Sports had the Division Series’ this year since it makes it easy for us to reuse their TNT slogan “We Know Drama” as the theme for the second* round of the playoffs this season. Never before in the 18 years since the Wild Card was added to Major League Baseball have all four Division Series’ gone 5 games. Until this year. And they didn’t just go the distance… we had extra innings, walk-off hits, spectacular defensive plays, huge defensive gaffes, new heroes and old ones. It has been so good, I feel compelled to give you a recap of the 7 days that were… the most exciting Division Series’ ever.
*It’s weird to call 2 winner-take-all games a ’round’ of the playoffs, but I’m trying to be good and adhere to the party line here.
Saturday, October 6th, 2012: Only two games on the docket to get us warmed up.
- The most consistently dominant pitcher in baseball (Justin Verlander – DET) took care of business and gave the Tigers a 1 game lead over the Cinderella Oakland A’s.
- In the National League Cincinnati grabbed the first game on the road in San Francisco.
Sunday, October 7th, 2012: The first of 3 quadruple-header days of baseball did not disappoint.
- Only one game was drama-free and that was the Reds jumping out to a 2 games to 0 lead on the road and seemingly putting this series away in quick fashion. (Seemingly is the key word here…)
- The Tigers and A’s went back and forth throughout the game and the tide turned on what should have been a pop-out to Center Field but Coco Crisp apparently wanted to remind the world that Willie Mays’ basket catches were harder than they looked. After his boneheaded error gave the Tigers the lead, the A’s were able to claw back and tie it up. Then in the bottom of the 9th Don Kelly, who had a whopping .186 batting average in the 2012 season, produced the first walk-off ending of the playoffs with a sacrifice fly (after previously scoring the tying run as a pinch runner). The Tigers were now also up 2-0 and seemed in control.
- The Cardinals led the majority of their game 2-1 behind a strong pitching performance by Adam Wainwright, but the Nationals staged an 8th inning come-from-behind rally to overtake the Cards and take game 1 of the series 3-2.
- Finally (and I say finally because the game was delayed by over 2 hours due to rain) the Yankees and Orioles locked horns in a game that went into the 9th inning tied 2-2. The Orioles then sent their closer Jim Johnson to the hill. Johnson led the major leagues with 51 saves this season and had only 3 blown saves. The Yankees then lit him up for 5 runs and walked away with game 1 of the series.
Monday, October 8th, 2012: 2 games on the slate today as 2 teams attempt to tie their series’ up at 1 game apiece.
- The Orioles and Yankees locked horns in a low scoring affair. As they reached the 9th inning, game 1’s goat Jim Johnson was handed his chance at redemption. He set down Derek Jeter, Ichiro, and Alex Rodriguez 1-2-3 for the save and Baltimore evened up the series.
- The Cardinals jumped out to a 4-1 lead but then had to adjust on the fly as starting pitcher Jaime Garcia left after only 2 innings due to a shoulder issue. They did so fairly flawlessly as they ran away with the game 12-4 and knotted up the series.
Tuesday, October 9th, 2012: The first two potential elimination games amped up the tension to another level
- The A’s sent Brett Anderson, who only started 6 games this season due to injury, to the mound in their most important game of the season against a potent offense including the Triple Crown winner and all Anderson did was pitch a 2-0 shutout to keep the A’s hopes and season alive.
- The Giants and Reds locked horns in another pitching duel that became the first extra inning affair of the postseason. In the 10th inning the Giants were able to come through with one run, aided by an error by multi-time gold glover Scott Rolen, and hold that lead through the bottom of the inning to stay alive on the road.
Wednesday, October 10th, 2012: Our second quadruple-header of this round of the playoffs had 2 elimination games and 2 critical games to give teams a leg up on the competition. The NL games were good, but then the drama was off the charts in the AL nightcaps.
- The Cardinals sent Chris Carpenter, who started only 3 games all season due to injury, to the mound and he delivered a dominating performance that led the Cardinals to an 8-0 victory and a 2-1 series lead.
- The Reds took a 3-2 lead early in the game and the Giants had to pull an ineffective Barry Zito before the end of the 3rd inning. They ended up bringing in former Cy Young Award winning starting pitcher Tim Lincecum out of the bullpen and Lincecum brought stability and a victory to the Giants and staved off elimination for the second game in a row forcing a deciding Game 5.
- University of Missouri product and Heterochromia example Max Scherzer took the hill for the Detroit Tigers only a couple of weeks after dealing with a tired arm that limited his effectiveness in the final weeks of the season. Scherzer pitched brilliantly and the Tigers handed a 3-1 lead in the 9th inning to their closer Jose Valverde. Oakland’s Josh1 and Josh2 began the inning with a single and a double bringing up Eli Manning’s backup quarterback from college Seth Smith. Smith doubled both Josh’s in and tied up the game keeping hope alive in Oakland. After the next two batters made outs, Game 2 goat Coco Crisp got a chance at redemption and delivered a walk-off single to force a deciding Game 5!
- In the nightcap, the Orioles led another low scoring affair 2-1 going into the 9th inning where thy handed the game off to their closer Jim Johnson once again to finish it up. After getting one out Yankee manager Joe Girardi made a decision that could have set him up for all sorts of criticism and blame from the New York media if it failed. He pinch hit for $27 million dollar a year Third Baseman Alex Rodriguez (who, like many other Yankees, was struggling at the plate) for journeyman left hander Raul Ibanez. And before most critics could even finish their initial criticism of the decision, Ibañez crushed a game-tying home run to right field and propelled the game into extra innings. And in a never-before-seen feat Ibañez came back up to the plate in the 12th inning and in his second at-bat of the game hit another home run, this one of the walk-off variety and moved the Yankees 1 game from the ALCS.
Thursday, October 11th, 2012: The third quadruple header of this round of the playoffs was do or die time as six of the eight teams were facing win-or-go-home stakes as they took the field.
- The Giants and Reds faced off with the Reds winning the first two games and the Giants winning the next two leading to this decisive Game 5. And big games are where stars can be propelled into super-stardom. Buster Posey was a highly drafted elite catching prospect who has matured into likely the best catcher in baseball and won this year’s NL Batting Title and is the heart of the San Francisco Giants. So what does he do in the biggest game of the season? Posey hit the go-ahead grand slam that completed the Giants’ comeback from 2-0 to win the series 3-2.
- The Tigers and Giants faced off in their deciding Game 5 and Jim Leyland did the best thing he could for the Tigers. He sent Justin Verlander out to start the game. And that pretty much ended the series. Verlander pitched a complete game shutout and carried the Tigers into the ALCS.
- The Nationals and Cardinals locked horns in another fantastic pitchers duel. The ninth inning was packed with drama as former high school teammates Lance Lynn and Drew Storen toed the rubber for their respective teams as they tried to push a run across in the 9th. After Storen successfully held the Cardinals down in the top of the 9th, Lynn dug in to get his inning started. However, Jayson Werth had other plans as he led off the 9th with a walk-off home run that gave the Nats the victory and sent the series to a deciding Game 5.
- The Yankees and Orioles kept up the trend of lots of pitching and very little hitting as their 1-1 tie carried into the 13th inning. Shortstop J.J. Hardy for the Orioles drove in rookie Manny Machado (who as of the All-Star break was still in the minors and played in the Futures Game in Kansas City) who had led off the inning with a double. This gave another make-or-break situation to Orioles closer Jim Johnson. As he had done in Game 2, Johnson closed out the game strong and sent this series to Game 5, for even more excitement.
Friday, October 12th, 2012: The final two games of the amazing 2012 League Division Series’ were eagerly anticipated and did not disappoint… unless you are a baseball fan from the Washington D.C. area.
- After 4 shutout innings by both sides, the Yankees broke through with runs in the 5th, 6th, and 7th and that was more than enough for CC Sabathia who pitched a complete game, 3-1 victory that locked the Bronx Bombers (who haven’ t done much bombing in the postseason) in the American League Championship Series.
- In the nightcap the Washington Nationals jumped out to a huge 6-0 lead behind home runs from franchise cornerstone Ryan Zimmerman, rookie bomber Michael Morse, and 19 year old phenom Bryce Harper. But the Cardinals have never been a team to panic and they began scratching and clawing their way back into it and after the top of the 8th they had cut the lead to 1 run. But the Nationals weren’t done fighting either and they tacked on another run in the bottom of the 8th to give a 2 run lead to their closer Drew Storen. After a lead-off double, Storen got the next two Cardinals to make outs and bring the Nationals 1 out from the LCS. But at that point his control betrayed him and two walks and two singles later, Storen had allowed the Cardinals to take a 2 run lead, and the Nationals were unable to recover. The defending World Series champions survived and advanced to the NLCS.
So in summary:
- 8 teams played all 20 games possible to play in the Division Series round.
- 2 complete games were pitched; both closed out their respective series’
- 4 shutouts were pitched
- 7 games were decided by only 1 run
- 3 games were decided in extra innings
- 8 games were won by the winning team scoring in their last at bat
THAT is drama, and THAT is what makes postseason baseball so great. Hopefully you got to enjoy the greatest Divisional Series round in baseball history, and here’s hoping that there is more of the same coming as the playoffs continue!