Tonight started as a baseball junkie’s dream. It was the first round of the NCAA tournament, except it was rarer, impromptu, a month’s coincidences in the making.
And then it got better, making the NCAA buzzer beaters look pedestrian. I got to watch it start to unfold from a distance – from the ballpark – which could not have been a better place.
First, the Twins finished up their year from hell with a slice of heaven. The final homestand included some of the best weather of the year, and the final game may have been the nicest night in Target Field this season. The Twins responded with one of the most entertaining games of the year.
Carl Pavano pitched a complete game shutout, except that he couldn’t know it was a win until after he had departed from the mound. Last year's bulldog mentality, which dissolved in frustration so many times this year, was on full display in the eighth inning. A leadoff triple put the shutout and game in doubt, but Pavano got the next two batters to ground out weakly to him before a nice fielding play by Valencia shut down that opportunity.
It took 162 games, but the Twins fielders finally looked like they knew what they were doing. There was a spinning play by Trevor Plouffe, two great throws to second base for outs by Drew Butera and a full speed dive by Ben Revere. It was marvelous.
Finally, there was Denard Span, who sounds like he’s having a crisis of confidence in his club and possibly his own brain. He gets to pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth, gets a double and then is driven in by Plouffe who certainly had his own confidence crises this year. The final scene is a bunch of grown men act like boys, celebrating way too much for a 63rd win. And we loved it.
Meanwhile I was trying to keep up with the scoreboard in right center. The Tigers had come back against the Indians, stranding the Tribe under .500 and giving me a win in a friendly season-long wager. But most eyes were on the four games with wild card implications.
One was a blowout – the Cardinals would surive to play at least a game 163. The Rays game looked similarly over, as they were down 7-0 to the Yankees. The other two games had just a one-run spread. Boston was winning – but was in a rain delay that could go late into the night. And the Braves were hanging on against the Phillies.
Then the baseball gods started playing some crazy dice. First, they made the Rays game infinitely more interesting with some wildness and a bit of thunder from the bat of the Greek hero Longoria. In addition, before I left my seat I was seeing tweets about a meltdown for the Braves which was sending that game into extra innings.
Finally, on the walk back to the car, my phone was notifying me that the Rays had ALSO pushed their game into extra innings with a home run with two outs (and two strikes) in the bottom of the ninth. It turns out it was even better than that. Dan Johnson (from Blaine) yanked his home run barely over the fence just inside the right foul pole in a part of Tropicana field that juts inward like a design flaw.
And STILL, it got better.
As I walk into my bedroom, The Voice of Reason™ is celebrating her Phils win over the Braves in 13 innings. Philadelphia was once voted the most hostile city in the US – and responded with pride. I guaranteed you they took great pleasure in knocking an arch-nemesis out of the playoffs, especially when the Braves had a three game lead with five games to play.
Our attention turned to the Yankees and Rays, who battlee with both teams struggling to make the big play. The Red Sox looked like they were going to live to play at least one more day when they had Papelbon on the mound with two outs and the bases empty in the bottom of the ninth.
And then within about four minutes, all hell broke loose. The Rays made a couple of slick defensive plays to get out of a jam, while Papelbon gave up a two doubles to blow the save. (If you’re keeping count, that was the third blown save in the four crucial games.) Then the Red Sox lost on a line drive that Carl Crawford missed catching by – an inch? A fraction of an inch? By so little you can’t believe he couldn’t catch it.
Which sets off a celebration in Tampa Bay (Crawford’s team last year, by the way) – despite them being in the bottom of the 13th of their own game. And I don’t mean just the fans – I mean the players and the coaches, all of whom know that at the very least they’ll be playing Game 163.
And within about 30 seconds, Longoria hits his second home run – a line drive that sneaks just over the wall and just inside the LEFT field foul pole in the other part of Tropicana field that juts inward like a design flaw.
My Twitter feed has an orgasm. So, nearly, did Harold Reynolds and Dan Plesac on the MLB Network. If you haven’t seen the video of those two analysts freaking out – silently, because they were off camera and didn’t want to interrupt the breaking news – go ye and seek it out.
Yes, I went with “ye.” That’s what this night has reduced me to – Olde English. And now we get into four more weeks of baseball where the stakes are raised even higher? Yes. Yes we do. But it can’t get any better.