Friday, September 30, 2011

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Taking a break from the local UAAP basketball wars, as “Pedring” washed out Game 2 of the Finals between Ateneo and FEU, I managed to catch up on the baseball news.

While the division titles in both the American and National Leagues had been wrapped up weeks ago, the wild card race in both leagues went down to the wire, and both ended in dramatic fashion.

Going into the final month of the season, the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves had seemingly insurmountable leads in the wild card race, with Boston leading by nine games, and Atlanta leading by 8 and a half. Even sportswriters had more or less conceded the race as early as the first week of September. However, the sportswriters couldn’t have predicted the race that was to come.

Boston went on a downward spiral throughout the month of September, winning only seven games and unable to win consecutive games throughout the month. In the meantime, both the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels continued to play solid baseball down the stretch. While the Angels faltered, the Rays kept up their torrid streak, winning games against the division leader New York Yankees, and finally catching up to the Red Sox on the day before the final games of the season.

Atlanta didn’t fare much better, losing key games, and allowing the St. Louis Cardinals to also catch up to them the same day as Tampa Bay did. The last games for the four teams were as follows: Boston would be up against cellar-dweller Baltimore, Tampa Bay would face the New York Yankees, Atlanta was hosting division winner Philadelphia, and St. Louis would face cellar-dweller Houston.

Boston looked as if they could stave off disaster, and held a thin 3-2 lead going into the bottom of the ninth, and their closer Jonathan Papelbon failed to hold the lead, and gave up two runs to allow the Baltimore Orioles to end their dismal season on a winning note.

Tampa Bay, on the other hand, looked like they were going south when the Yankees built up a huge 7-0 lead. However, since the Yankees weren’t playing for anything in this game, New York manager Joe Girardi pulled his star players, and let his bench play. The Rays managed to win in extra innings, 8-7, and, with the win, edge the Red Sox for the wild card slot.

Atlanta, like Boston, almost won their match with Philadelphia, only to lose it when their rookie closer gave up the tying run, and Philly outfielder Hunter Pence, acquired this season from Houston, drove in the winning run, as the Phillies won, 4-3 in the 13th inning.

St. Louis apparently had the easiest assignment, and left nothing to chance, as the Cardinals blasted the Astros 8-0, to clinch the wild card slot. Two teams that seemed to have their respective playoff spots locked up simply collapsed. For Boston, it was too many injuries to too many players. For Atlanta, it was the fact that their pitching couldn’t continue hiding the flaws in their offensive lineup.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a season go this way, and I’m sure executives and coaches from both teams will be spending their off-season asking what happened and figuring out what needs to be done in order to improve for next season. As for the players, it’s likely that a number of them won’t be back to play for either Boston or Atlanta, since it’s certain that some of the figuring out will involve making decisions on which players can still help deliver a postseason for their respective teams. It’s not going to be easy, since a number of these players have had long ties with their teams, but then, taking the easy way out is not how one wins championships.

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