On the penultimate eve of the Major League Baseball season, and with no finish possibly comparing to last year’s Game 162, the sport decided to get a little loose, a little weird, to let its hair down and get funky. It’s a fitting end to a season that has already seen additional playoff spots, seven no-hitters, a probable Triple Crown Winner, two rookies who could very well be the Mays and Mantle of this generation, Orioles and Athletics seasons no one could see coming, and the hundreds of other stories that couldn’t fit in this run-on sentence.
With the Yankees and Orioles still fighting for the AL East title, Chris Davis, the poor man’s Adam Dunn, crushed a home run in the top of the fourth off of James Shields for the game’s only run. Shields, who pitched a complete game two-hitter, finished with the highest game score (94) in a loss since 1918. Meanwhile, Miguel Gonzalez, a 28 year old rookie, earned his 9th victory while former top prospect Brian Matusz pitched in relief.
At the same time, the Yankees held on to their lead in the East thanks to the possibly extra terrestrial Raul Ibanez, who hit a two-run home run in the ninth to tie the game and later singled in the winning run in the 12th inning for the victory. Former Red Sox Derek Lowe got what will probably be his final Major League victory after a season that saw him post a 55/51 K/BB ratio while Jon Lester took the no decision in a start that saw him strike out only one batter, his fewest since April 1, 2011.
At the same time, in the Pacific time zone, the Athletics defeated the Rangers once again to tie the AL West going into the final game. It’s an unthinkable position for the Rangers who lead by 6.5 games as recently as August 12th and have not been out of first place since April 7th. The A’s managed to win thanks to another solid start from Travis Blackley who, if everything was aligned the way the Athletics wanted, wouldn’t be in the starting rotation, and a home run from Jonny Gomes who has 18 on the year after signing for a cool million bucks in the offseason.
Over in the National League, the Cubs and Astros faced off as the first 100 game losers to play each other in fifty years. The Cubs lost 3-0, their ninth defeat in their last ten games, at the hands of Bud Norris and four Astros relievers. Chris Volstad pitched well in the loss, lowering his ERA from a Majors worst (among pitchers with more than 100 innings) 6.64 to a third-worst 6.31, so that’s comforting.
But finally, and oddest of all, Adam Greenberg rode social media buzz to his first official at-bat. After being hit in the head on the first pitch of his Major League debut in 2005, Greenberg was left to toil in the minor leagues, not even playing in independent ball this year. After the One At-Bat movement took off, the Marlins, reeling from a terrible season on and off the field, picked him up and slotted him in against RA Dickey. Because it’s only natural to put the kid in against a pitcher without an elbow ligament; whose career didn’t take off until he was 35; and who is having the best season ever for a knuckleballer. While the setting was magical, though Aerosmith’s “Dream On” was needless overkill (as most Aerosmith songs are), we were reminded that life is nothing but cruel. Like the nature documentary where the adorable rabbit is devoured by the fox, Greenberg saw only three pitches, all knucklers, before he went down swinging on a hell of a nasty pitch. Here’s the footage below:
When the at-bat was over, Greenberg collected his hugs, his things, and was removed from the game. But really, what chance did Greenberg have when this was the vertical movement on the three pitches that he saw (which, again, were all the same type of pitch):
It would be hard to imagine there being anything strange and unexpected left in the tanks after last night, but baseball is nothing if not surprising. Perhaps the Athletics will finish their amazing second half ride and steal the division, maybe Homer Bailey will throw another no-hitter, Adam Dunn could easily reclaim the single-season strikeout crown (he’s one away), and it’s even conceivable that the Red Sox and Yankees could play a game in less than three hours with Daisuke Matsuzaka on the mound.
While playoff baseball is fun, there is always something missing from the game when it “matters.” Baseball is at its most perfect when there is an endless stream of games on the schedule with hundreds of outcomes in play and death seems impossible. When there’s not only two aces squaring off against each other, but also two minor league lifers, each scratching out a living at the fringes of the game. When there’s another game to switch to during commercial breaks and so you need not fathom turning to The Voice. There’s only one more day of that kind of baseball left, so enjoy it.