If you saw any baseball on this same day in 2011, you undoubtedly remember at least some sense of euphoria or bitter disappointment, or maybe even both simultaneously. Game 162 for a good portion of the teams in MLB usually amounts to either one last opportunity to see prospects in game action or a chance for a few players to reach personal milestones. On relatively rare occasions, a playoff berth may be at stake. In 2011, the playoff fates of more than just a few times hung in the balance much to the delight of fans everywhere.
Let’s set the stage. On September 27th, 2011, the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays were tied for the AL Wild Card lead at 90-71. The Red Sox were on the road against the 68-win Orioles, and the Rays hosted the team with the best record in the AL – the Yankees (97-64). In the NL the Cardinals and Braves were tied for the Wild Card lead at 89-72. The Cardinals were in Houston to face the 56-win Astros, and the Braves had drawn a home game against the team with the best record in all of baseball – the Phillies (101-60).
While it would be great to recount every single moment from that day, that’s already been done elsewhere. This is about the plays that potentially changed the direction of entire franchises. These plays beautifully illustrate the way every play that is made (or not made) has the ability to change everything….forever.
- 7:10 pm – Red Sox vs Orioles first pitch
- 7:10 pm – Phillies vs Braves first pitch
- 7:11 pm – Yankees vs Rays first pitch
- 7:48 pm – Dustin Pedroia singles through the infield to score Mike Aviles, Boston’s win expectancy goes to 70%
- 7:53 pm – Mark Teixeira hits a grand slam on a 3-2 pitch with 2 outs to put the Yankees ahead 5-0, New York’s win expectancy hits 89%
- 8:02 pm – With 2 outs on an 0-2 count Dan Uggla hits a home run to left-center that scores Prado and puts the Braves up 3-1 on the Phillies. Win expectancy for the Braves jumps from 54% to 75%.
- 8:05 pm – J.J. Hardy hits a home run off of Jon Lester on the first pitch he sees. Nolan Reimold scores from 2B to put the Orioles on top 2-1 with a 64% win expectancy.
- 8:06 pm – Cardinals vs Astros first pitch
- 8:12 pm – Albert Pujols steps in to face Myers with runners on first and second. He takes a 1-2 offering and bounces it off of the left field wall to score Jon Jay. Win expectancy for the Cardinals moves from 59% to 72%.
- 8:14 pm – Lance Berkman plates Allen Craig with a single to push the win expectancy to an even 80% for the Cardinals in the top of the first inning.
- 8:23 pm – On a 3-2 pitch Nick Punto singles to left field, scoring David Freese to push the win expectancy still higher for the Cardinals (91%).
- 8:35 pm – Dustin Pedroia takes a 2-2 pitch from Alfredo Simon and sends it into the night to give the Red Sox a 3-2 advantage. Win expectancy for the Red Sox jumps to 62% from 47%.
- 8:56 pm – Jack Wilson singles cleanly to right field, and Hunter Pence comes up throwing to gun down Dan Uggla at home plate to end the 6th inning. Phillies stay within 2 runs of the Braves.
- 8:57 pm – With Mark Reynolds on 3rd base and 1 out, Reimold grounds the ball to Marco Scutaro who throws out Reynolds at home trying to score. Orioles fail to score, and the win expectancy for the Sox gets a bump from 52% to 63% as the Red Sox hold the 3-2 lead.
- 9:06 pm – Carlos Ruiz hits a ball right at SS Jack Wilson who boots the ball into the outfield. Raul Ibanez scores from 3rd base to raise win expectancy for the Phillies to 37% with a 3-2 deficit in the 7th inning.
- 9:33 pm – The tarp goes on the field at Camden Yards as a rain delay takes hold.
- 9:56 pm – With 1 out and the bases loaded in the top of the 9th, Chase Utley follows a Placido Polanco single, a Carlos Ruiz strikeout, and consecutive walks to Ben Francisco and Jimmy Rollins. Utley send an 0-1 Craig Kimbrel pitch deep enough to left field to score pinch runner Pete Orr. This moves the win expectancy needle for the Phillies from 3% to 48%.
- 9:59 pm – Fredi Gonzalez replaces Craig Kimbrel with Kris Medlen who finishes the inning with the score still tied at 3 apiece.
- 9:59 pm – Chris Carpenter strikes out consecutive hitters to finish the 7th inning with the Cardinals firmly in control with a 7-0 lead (100% we)
- 10:23 pm – With the Rays trailing the Yankees 7-3 in the bottom of the 8th inning and 2 runners on base, Evan Longoria steps in with 2 outs and hits the first pitch he gets from Luis Ayala into the sections 145-147 tunnel. Rays now trail the Yankees 7-6 and win expectancy improves from 3% to 18%.
- 10:25 pm – Chris Carpenter finishes the complete game shutout 8-0 win, and the Cardinals head to the visitor’s locker room at Minute Maid Park to watch the conclusion of the Braves/Phillies game.
- 10:33 pm – Dan Johnson (.108 avg, 1 hr, and 3 rbi in 30 games) steps in to face Cory Wade with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th and the Rays trailing 7-6. Johnson gets to a 2-2 count and then yanks a pitch down the right field line to tie the game at 7. WE for the Rays jumps 4% to 53%.
- 10:58 pm – The tarp at Camden Yards is slowly removed from the field to allow play to resume in the bottom of the 7th inning.
- 11:12 pm – Justin De Fratus comes in to pitch the bottom of the 12th for the Phillies. With runners on 1st and 2nd, De Fratus uncorks a wild pitch that allows Jason Heyward to advance to 3rd base. The Braves fail to take advantage of the moment, and the teams move to the top of the 13th with WE at 50-50.
- 11:17 pm – With Boston still holding a 3-2 lead in the top of the 8th inning, Marco Scutaro singles and is standing on first base when Carl Crawford hits a line drive into the left-center gap. J.J. Hardy makes a two-bounce relay throw from SS to get Scutaro at the plate. WE for the Orioles improves to 30%.
- 11:28 pm – Hunter Pence steps in to face Scott Linebrink with runners at the corners and 2 outs. On a 2-2 count, Pence bloops just deep enough to score Brian Schneider. Phillies’ WE jumps to 85% from 35% as they take a 4-3 lead.
- 11:40 pm – Freddie Freeman grounds into a 3-6-3 double play to end the game. Phillies win 4-3 and set a franchise record with 102 victories on the season.
- 11:40 pm – With plastic covering almost everything in the visitor’s locker room, the champagne and beer begin to flow for the Cardinals. The “Happy Flight” chant temporarily resonates above all the other sounds of celebration.
- 11:43 pm – Jim Johnson loads the bases full of Red Sox with 1 out in the top of the 9th inning. He then gets Ryan Lavarnway to ground into the inning ending 6-4-3 double play. Orioles’ deficit remains at 1 run with a 20% WE.
- 11:48 pm – Facing Brandon Gomes in the top of the 12th inning in a 7-7 game, Greg Golson taps a ball toward the hole between SS and 3B that Longoria is unable to field cleanly.
- 11:52 pm – A bloop single by Eric Chavez against Jake McGee on an 0-2 count puts runners on the corners for the Yankees with no outs.
- 11:54 pm – Jorge Posada then hits a grounder to 3rd base. Golson was caught leaning in the direction of home plate by Longoria who tags him out at 3rd base. WE for the Yankees drops precipitously from 82% to 58%. McGee goes on to strikeout Chris Dickerson and get Brett Gardner on a groundout.
- 11:54 pm – With the Yankees and O’s tied at 7 apiece, Jonathan Papelbon has entered to pitch the bottom of the 9th with a 3-2 lead and struck out the first two hitters swinging. Chris Davis then hits a line drive double to left. Kyle Hudson comes into pinch run for Davis.
- 11:59 pm – Reimold then hits a ground-rule double on a 2-2 pitch with 2 outs to bring in Hudson and tie the game at 3 all. WE jumps all the way from a low of 5% in the inning to 61%.
- 12:02 am – Robert Andino hits a ball into short left field, and Carl Crawford very nearly makes a sliding catch. The precious time it takes Crawford to corral the ball and make a throw gives Reimold just enough time to score the winning run.
- 12:05 am – With 1 out in the bottom of the 12th inning, Evan Longoria pulls a ball down the left field line and just over the short wall against Scott Proctor to give the Rays the walkoff win. Naturally, it was a 2-2 pitch that he hit.
I thoroughly enjoyed every single minute that I saw. I like to think that different game outcomes would not have diminished my enjoyment much at all. In just under 5 magnificent hours, baseball gave us pretty much everything that it could. Great defensive plays, plays at the plate, huge comebacks, dominating pitching performances, pitching meltdowns, tons of bonus baseball, and amazing situational hitting were all there. Just look at the points above and notice just how many crucial hits came with 2 outs, 2 strikes, or 2 outs and 2 strikes. I’m still not a big fan of the “clutch” concept. However, watching the top players in the game in big moments give their best against other top players giving their respective best was absolutely enthralling.
MLB had never seen a day like it before, and part of me hopes it never happens again. Then there is the other part of me that hopes to see something similar every single year.
TIDBIT: Note that Kris Medlen and Craig Kimbrel were huge factors in the Atlanta game 162 loss that handed a playoff spot to the Cardinals. Ironically, Medlen is scheduled to start the wild card play-in game that will likely be against….the Cardinals.
MORE BITS OF TID: How many of you remembered Scott Linebrink’s roll in the game 162 loss for the Braves? Had he not succumbed to health problems, he might have been able to continue his career with the Cardinals this season. Imagine the possible thoughts of redemption he might have entertained.