The Baseball Posts: The Most Amazing Night Of Baseball Ever by Adam Bunch

The Boston Red Sox were supposed to win the World Series this year. I mean, of course no one thought it was guaranteed — every baseball fan knows that anything can happen over the course of the season. But the Red Sox are always of the best teams in baseball and this year they looked even stronger thanks to newly acquired superstars like Carl Crawford — a centrefielder the super-rich Sox lured away from the super-poor Tampa Bay Rays by offering him $142 million. At the beginning of 2011, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who thought Boston wouldn't make the playoffs. Most thought they'd win the World Series. Some figured they were one of the best teams of all-time.

For most of the season, that's exactly the way things looked. The Red Sox got off to a rough start, but turned things around pretty quickly. For four months, they were the best team in baseball. One weekend in Toronto, they outscored the Jays 35-6. By the time the first day of September had rolled around, Boston was in first place with a nine game lead for a playoff spot. The number-crunching nerd types put their mathematical odds of making the playoffs at 99.6%. 

But then they started to suck. And suck baaaaaad. Over the final month of the season, they would win 7 times and lose 20. No team who has started September in first place has ever had such a bad month. Heck, the Boston Herald called it "arguably the worst month by any team in baseball history." By the time the last day of the regular season rolled around last Wednesday, they had blown their lead entirely. The Tampa Bay Rays had stormed back to tie them for the Wild Card, the American League's last playoff spot. No team had ever blown such a big lead so quickly so late in the season.

And they weren't the only ones. Strangely, very similar things had been happening over in the National League. On Labour Day, the Atlanta Braves had an 8 1/2 game lead in the Wild Card race. But over the course of September, the team sucked it up hardcore. By Wednesday, they too had blown their lead completely. They found themselves tied for the Wild Card with the St. Louis Cardinals.

And so the final playoff spot in both leagues came down to one night — a night pretty much everyone agrees was the greatest night of regular season baseball the game has ever seen.

Cardinals fans celebrate their win
The Cardinals were the first out of the gate. Capitalizing on a fantastic performance from their ace pitcher (and former Blue Jay) Chris Carpenter, they easily won their game against the extremely sucky Houston Astros 8-0. The Braves would now have to win their game against the Philadelphia Phillies, who just happen to be the best team in the league. If they did, they would get a one-game playoff against the Cardinals the next day. If they lost, their collapse would be complete, their season over.

But the Braves got off to a good start. One of their best pitchers, Tim Hudson, was on the mound, and he was throwing a great game. Heading into the eighth, Atlanta had a 3-2 lead. And they had two of baseball's most exciting young relief pitchers to use in those final two innings. If those guys pitched the way they had been pitching all year, it would be no problem.

But they didn't. Instead, the Braves blew their lead in the ninth, the Phillies tied it, and the teams headed to extra innings. The excitement had begun.

Meanwhile, over in the American League, things were looking pretty good for the Red Sox. They were playing the last place Baltimore Orioles — a team so bad people call them the OriLOLes. The Tampa Bay Rays, on the other hand, were stuck playing the first place Yankees. The Yankees leapt out to a huge 7-0 lead in the first couple of innings. First baseman Mark Teixeira even hit a grand slam. And while the Rays were losing that game, Boston took the lead in Baltimore. They — just like the Braves — were up 3-2 in the seventh. But that's when the rain started. The game was delayed. The teams left the field and headed inside to wait it out.

That's when shit started getting screwy.

First, it was the Rays. Still down 7-0 in the seventh, it seemed like they were toast. No team had ever come from that far behind in the last game of the season to win themselves a spot in the playoffs. And only two Yankees teams had ever blown that kind of lead that late in any game ever. But the Yankees' pitching was getting shaky. They loaded the bases. And then walked in a run. 7-1. Hit the next batter. 7-2. Gave up a sacrifice fly. 7-3. And then one out later, Evan Longoria — the Rays' young superstar third baseman — launched a three-run home run. Suddenly, it was 7-6.

Still, they were down by one run as they headed into the bottom of the ninth. With one out. And then two. And then came Dan Johnson. I can't say I'd ever heard of Dan Johnson before Wednesday night. He was hitting a pathetic .108 so far in the 2011 season. That's about one hit in every ten at bats. He hadn't had a hit since April. But he was still the Rays' best chance at tying the game, so they had him pinch hit off the bench. One strike. Two strikes. And then a lonnnnng line drive, screaming all the way down the first base line, over the fence, off the foul pole and straight into the groin of a fan in the first row. Home run. Tie game. Tampa and the Yankees were going to extra innings.

That’s when the rain stopped in Baltimore. Eighty-six minutes after their rain delay had started, Boston's one-run lead was now more important than ever. If Rays won, the Sox had to win in order to force a one game playoff against them. But that shouldn't have been a problem. They were, after all, still playing the OriLOLes. The Sox were 77-0 this season when they had a lead after the eighth inning. And their dominant closer, Jonathan Papelbon, was ready to pitch the bottom of the ninth.

The Braves lose
Now, at about the same time Papelbon was warming up in Baltimore, down in Atlanta, the Braves and Phillies were in the 13th inning. Fiiiiinally, the Phillies got a bloop single to score a run and take the lead. It would be enough. The Phillies won, the Braves lost, their season was over, and the Cardinals clinched a spot in the playoffs.

All over the continent, baseball fans switched their attention back to the Red Sox game. Papelbon was on the mound to get those last three outs in the bottom of the ninth. He got one. And then two. The OriLOLes were down to their final out.

And then they got a double. And then another. Suddenly, the game was tied. The final hitter lobbed a shallow fly ball to centrefield, where Carl Crawford — the ex-Ray signed by the Sox for $142 million, and who had had a spectacularly shitty season so far — raced in to catch it.

But he didn't.

The ball dropped just in front of his glove. The run scored. The OriLOLes won. And even though they had finished in last place, 21 games behind the Red Sox, they celebrated like they'd just won the World Series.

Three minutes later and nearly two thousand kilometers away, Evan Longoria came to the plate again in Tampa. It was the bottom of the 13th inning. He crushed a pitch. It raced down the third base line and over the fence in right-field. Home run. The Rays had won. The Red Sox had lost. Tampa Bay were going to the playoffs.

The most amazing night in the history of regular season baseball was over.


Main photo: Evan Longoria celebrates his winning home run.

The Baseball Posts are series of posts about, um, well, baseball. You'll find them all here. 

Adam Bunch is the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at


Post a Comment