This is an Indians blog, and so you're going to get a recap of the Tribe's final game of the season, a 5-4 loss in Detroit. But we're all baseball fans too, so I'd be amiss if I didn't talk about what was the most incredible finish to a season in baseball history. Four games, four teams fighting for two playoff positions, two extra-inning games, two bottom-of-the-ninth two-out game-tying hits, one incredible comeback, two devastating losses, and two walk-off victories. Even if the Indians ended their season by getting swept in Detroit, it was a great night to be a baseball fan and a great night for baseball.
The Indians and Tigers faced off at the same time three other much more important games started. The Red Sox, who had collapse in the month of September, were trying to salvage their season by winning in Baltimore, while the Rays were trying to keep their incredible comeback alive by beating the Yankees at home. Meanwhile, Atlanta was facing the Phillies at home. The four clubs needed a win to guarantee that at least they'd play another day.
The Tigers also had something to play for, though the stakes were not nearly as high as with the four Wild Card teams. If Detroit won and the Texas Rangers lost in Anaheim, the Tigers would have home-field advantage for the Division Series. So the Detroit regulars were in the lineup, and Zach McAllister had his work cut out for him. The 23-year-old had made 25 starts in Columbus and pitched well, but he hadn't had any success in his short time with the Indians. But against perhaps the best lineup in baseball, he held his own for five innings, not allowing an earned run and striking out four.
The Indians scored the first three runs of the game. Ezequiel Carrera tripled home a run in the third, and the Indians tacked on two more in the fourth. But the Indians could have scored several more runs; after those two runs were in, they still had the bases loaded with one out, but failed to score any more runs. And that came back to bite them.
Manny Acta didn't stick around long, as he was ejected in the first inning after arguing balls and strikes. That meant bench coach Tim Tolman, who was in his last game as Indians bench coach (he is moving into another role with the club due to health reasons), was acting manager for most of the game. Acta denied that he tried to get tossed in order to have Tolman manage:
"I would never make a mockery out of a baseball game," Acta said. "If I wanted Tolman to manage a game, I didn't have to get thrown out of the game. I would've just handed the lineup card to him and let him manage the game. He didn't manage the game. I managed the game from the tunnel.
Tolman (through Acta) would go to the bullpen in the sixth inning, utilizing the relievers that had been successful all season long, but in this game, they let the game slip away. Joe Smith, who had almost always been in the strike zone this season, couldn't get ahead of hitters, and allowed two runs to score in the sixth inning. And Vinnie Pestano, who has been perhaps the best setup man in the majors, allowed the the go-ahead run in the form of LGFT Jhonny Peralta's home run.
It turned out that the Tigers wouldn't get home-field advantage in the ALDS, as the Rangers beat the Angels 3-1 later that evening, so they'll be travelling to New York instead of staying home to face a team that by all probability shouldn't still be playing. Not only were the Rays not even supposed to be in a position to make the playoffs tonight or even this week, but they were down 7-0 to the Yankees in the eighth inning. Coming back from that deficit at any time in a baseball game is considered a huge comeback no matter when that game is played, but to do it in the eighth inning of the 162nd game of the season while at the same time needing to win to force perhaps a play-in game defies the bounds of even fiction. But it happened. The Rays scored six in the eighth inning, three on an Evan Longoria home run, and with two outs in the ninth inning, journeyman Dan Johnson hooked a game-tying home run around the foul pole in right field to square the contest at 7.
Meanwhile it looked like the Red Sox would squeeze out a victory to at worst force a play-in game. Up 3-2 in the seventh, a rain delay forced them to wait around 45 minutes. Their bullpen, already heavily taxed, would need to be perfect, as some golden opportunities to add insurance runs fell by the board, including a first-and-third, nobody out scenario in the top of the ninth. But it looked like they would get away with it, as Jonathan Papelbon would retire the first two batters of the inning. But the Orioles wouldn't die; Chris Davis doubled, and Nolan Reimold lined another double into the gap to tie the contest. Then Robert Andino hit a line drive that Carl Crawford - who had, appropriately enough, jumped from the Rays via free agency last winter - trapped against the ground. He threw home, but it wasn't close. The Red Sox, who had collapsed to even get to this point, collapsed within the final game to set up the Rays to make the playoffs outright.
Just minutes after the final score was posted on the Tampa Bay scoreboard, Evan Longoria ended the game in dramatic fashion, lining a walk-off home run just over the left field wall. The ball flew over a section that's lower than the rest of the wall, called the - wait for it - Crawford corner. In the span of minutes, Boston's hopes went from almost realized to dashed.
The Braves would lose in extra innings after blowing a ninth inning lead, and with the Cardinals' blowout of Houston, that meant there would be no 163rd game. But the excitement and drama that those four games had was enough for the whole month of October.
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