Final Day Drama Times 3
September 28, 2011, was the last day of the regular season. The drama of this day never happened before and is unlikely to ever happen again. Four important games were scheduled. Three of them were strenuous “last out” drama that affected the seasonal destiny of four teams. From the point of view of the fans, this day may have broken more hearts than the day Evangelical Churches announced that Tim Tebow was engaged.
I researched the word “fan”. We probably realize that it came from fanatics. Here is what I found in “dictionary.com“.
Fan was first recorded in American English around 1885–90. Early uses of fan refer to baseball die-hards before spreading to all sorts of other ardent followers. The word fanatic has an interesting origin of its own.
If this is to be believed, it started being used in America describing baseball die-hards. These are supporters of a baseball team who take the results so seriously that a loss is like dying hard. Imagine that. Or remember what it felt like.
Back to 2011. There was one game left in the season. Starting that day the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays were tied for the American League wild-card playoff spot. The St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves were in the same situation in the National League.
At the beginning of the month, Tampa Bay trailed Boston by 9 1/2 games. A strong month had moved them to a tie for the final American League Playoff spot. St. Louis had also overcome a deep hole. They closed an 8 1/2 game deficit to the Atlanta Braves in the last month.
On the last day, the Tampa Bay Rays had to play the first-place Yankees while the Red Sox were playing the last-place Baltimore Orioles. In the National League, the Cardinals were playing the last-place Astros while the Braves played the first-place Phillies.
The day was set up. Would there be the two wild cards or would there be a one-game playoff for the final playoff spot? What happened next was a day so dramatic it would be rejected by most major movie studios.
Adding to the drama, the final three games were being played simultaneously. While playing one game, constant scoreboard watching was going on. There would be joyous ecstatic fans and fans whose whole season would come to a sudden end.
The conclusion of the drama occurred over 6 minutes of real-time.
It started with St. Louis comfortably defeating the last-place Astros 8-0 on a two-hitter by Chris Carpenter. Now they waited. If the Phillies could beat Atlanta, they would be the National League wild-card team.
That game would not end for a very long time. Atlanta took a 3-2 lead into the 9th with Craig Kimbrel, their ace reliever on the mound.
Three more outs to have a playoff game with the Cards.
The inning started with a single. After a strikeout, Kimbrel started his own demise with two straight walks.
A sacrifice fly tied the game.
After another walk, Kimbrel was removed and the Braves got the last out leaving the game tied. The Braves were retired in the 9th and a long extra-inning game started.
For three innings the Braves retired the Phillies but were unable to score the winning run.
In the thirteenth inning, the Phillies walked which left a runner on first with two outs. The Phillies produced the fourth run with two successive singles.
The run-producing single was actually a short bloop between the fielders. It never left the infield but it brought in the leading run.
In the bottom of the inning with a man on first and one out, Freddie Freeman hit into a double play ending the season for the Braves and allowing the Cardinals to become the wild card team. The Braves would spend the winter wondering how they blew an 8 1/2 game lead in the last month of the year. Also, how did their closer allow the tying run when the playoffs were on the line? Finally, how could they lose a game on a weak hit that never left the infield?
As the Phillies/Braves game was going on for 4 hours and 30 minutes in front of 45,000 Atlanta fans, the American League wild card was also being played.
After 6 innings the Red Sox had a 3-2 lead against the last-place Orioles. It was looking great for Boston because the Yankees held a 7-0 lead over the Rays after 6 innings. The Red Sox wild card appearance looked to be a foregone conclusion. In the bottom of the 8th inning, Tampa Bay had an unpredictable rally. A three-run rally was made more interesting when Evan Longoria hit a three-run home run. The Rays put a runner on second but a pop out still left them trailing 7-6.
Back to the Red Sox who took their 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth with their closer Jonathon Paplebon on the mound. The playoffs would be theirs in a few minutes. First, there were two strikeouts followed by a double. Nolan Reimold hit a double to tie the game after being down to his last strike. The Red Sox were one strike from a ticket to a playoff game.
If that wasn’t shocking enough, Robert Andino hit a ball to left field that Carl Crawford could not catch. It appeared to land in his glove as he slid toward the ball but fell to the ground for a single and the Red Sox fell victim to the “Curse of the Andino”. The Red Sox had lost and now waited for the Yankees to finish off the Rays so they could have a one-game playoff.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Rays were down to their last out. Pinch hitter Dan Johnson with a .108 batting average was batting. He, like the Orioles, was down to his last strike. Johnson shocked everyone with a game-tying home run to bring the game to 7-7. The Red Sox had needed one strike to win their game and couldn’t. Now they needed one strike against a .108 hitter and for the second time, their destiny escaped them.
In the top of the 12th, the Yankees had runners on first and third with nobody out bringing hope to the Red Sox. A weak ground ball to the third baseman found the pinch-runner on third straying too far from the base. He was easily tagged out and no runs scored.
It was now the bottom of the 12th. After playing for 4 hours and 54 minutes, Evan Longoria hit a home run pushing the Rays into the playoffs and crushing the Red Sox who just a few hours ago were a sure bet to go to the playoffs, and in a weird twist of fate were cheering for the Yankees.
All of this drama started on the same date. At 11:59 PM, the Red Sox needed one strike to win. At 12:02 AM on September 29, they had lost. At 12:05 AM, Longoria launched his game-winning home run and the Red Sox were eliminated.
The Braves and the Red Sox, who both were set to make the playoffs easily in early September were eliminated in a sudden series of final inning rallies all occurring at about 6 minutes apart.
Let us conclude by remembering the “die-hard” fan. These people spend 6 months of the year cheering for their team. There are wonderful victories and heroic moments. There are disappointing discouraging losses, injuries, and poor performances. But on the last day, there is still as a chance to make the playoffs. In a matter of minutes, these final hopes are dashed.
Unable to sleep the die-hard fan replays the game in their minds with their team always winning. Paplebon gets the last out. Crawford catches that winning single. Dan Johnson goes out to end the game. Kimbrel does his job and closes the game against the Phillies. Then reality sets in. The season is now officially over. Now you know why you are called a “die-hard”. It hurts to lose. It hurts for a long time. Over and over and over again.
The child says through his tears “I hate them. I will never cheer for them again”. Then he falls asleep under his Jonathon Paplebon poster. This is the fate and future of the “die-hard” fan.