2012 MLB Playoffs: Why This Year's First Round Was Best Ever
October is always unpredictable. Several events happen every fall that completely defy what the statistics predict, proving that nothing is ever guaranteed and that the baseball playoffs can provide some heart-racing entertainment.
We've witnessed some great series and moments in the first round before: the Angels finally beating the Red Sox in 2009; road teams winning every game in the Texas-Tampa series in 2010; St. Louis shocking the Phillies in Philadelphia, and Nyjer Morgan's walk off in Game 5 for the Brewers in Milwaukee.
This year, however, has been special.
So many improbable things have happened in the past week, it is almost impossible to believe. Here's a list of these incredible moments which made this year's group of division series the best in history.
Wild Card Games
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OK, technically, this doesn't count as part of the division series, but the first-ever Wild Card Round made this year's playoffs significant.
The Baltimore Orioles continued their Cinderella season and knocked out the Rangers in Texas, ending the Rangers season much earlier than anyone anticipated.
What everyone will remember about the Wild Card Round, however, is the infamous "infield fly" play that took place in the Cardinals-Braves game. The controversial call enraged Atlanta fans, who responded by throwing trash onto the field, leading to a 20-minute stoppage in play. Braves' manager Fredi Gonzalez also put the game under protest, but it did not hold up, and the Cardinals won.
This was also Chipper Jones' last career game.
Giants Make History
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After dropping the first two games of their series with Cincinnati at home, it looked like it was all but over for the San Francisco Giants. The final three games were all in Cincinnati, the Reds needed only one win to advance, and no National League team had ever come back from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-five series.
The Giants, however, did the unthinkable.
After stunning the Reds in Games 3 and 4, the series came down to Game 5. Buster Posey smacked a grand slam, putting the Giants up 6-0. The Reds threatened in the last few innings, but couldn't come back as the Giants completed the unprecedented comeback.
Justin Verlander Breaks LDS Strikeout Record
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Reigning American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner, Justin Verlander, won Game 1 of his Tigers series with Oakland and closed it out in hostile territory in Game 5.
It's safe to say he turned the Oakland A's into the Oakland K's. Sorry, bad joke.
Verlander struck out 22 batters and gave up only one earned run in both games combined: a leadoff home run to Coco Crisp on the first pitch of the first game.
By turning in these two outstanding performances, Verlander again proved that he is one of the best pitchers in the game today.
Orioles Extra-Inning Streak Ends
The Baltimore Orioles had been unbeatable in the regular season when they had to go to extra innings. They were 74-0 in games in which they led after seven innings, and they had broken the all-time record for consecutive wins in extra innings with 16.
The Orioles were leading in the ninth inning of Game 3, but gave up a home run to tie it. After getting out of the ninth without losing, the O's were still fairly confident as they had been unstoppable in extras.
However, the streak would end, and they lost their first extra-inning playoff game. The way they lost, though, was arguably even crazier.
Raul Ibanez Becomes a Hero in the Bronx
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Alex Rodriguez is the highest-paid player in baseball. He made $30 million this season.
Raul Ibanez is 40 years old.
Alex Rodriguez has struggled in the playoffs over the years. 2012 was no different. Still, would you pinch-hit a 40-year-old for the highest-paid player in baseball?
Joe Girardi did in the ninth inning of Game 3. The Yankees were down by a run, and Ibanez hit a game-tying home run that sent Yankee Stadium into a frenzy.
However, he wasn't done. Ibanez proceeded to hit a walk-off home run in the 12th inning to win it for the Yankees.
You can't write this stuff.
Cardinals Magic Continues
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I got laughed at last night when I was watching Game 5 last night with my roommate and told him to never count out the Cardinals, as it wouldn't be surprising to see them come back from their third-inning 6-0 deficit against the Washington Nationals.
Here's a quick recap of what has happened to the St. Louis Cardinals in the past thirteen months.
In September 2011, St. Louis trailed the Atlanta Braves by eight games for the NL wild-card spot. The Cards completed a magnificent September by overcoming the Braves on what was a crazy final day of major league baseball.
St. Louis then shocked the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS and division rival Milwaukee Brewers in the NLCS to advance to the World Series.
They were down to their last strike in both the ninth and 10th innings of Game 6 of the World Series. Both times they rallied, scratching out a gut-wrenching 10-9 win in 11 innings. The Cards would then win Game 7 to take home the title.
This year, they snuck into the second wild-card spot. In fact, they would not have made the playoffs were it not for the implementation of this second wild-card slot. They won an intense Wild Card game in Atlanta to set up a date with the National League's best team in the regular season: the Washington Nationals.
Fast forward to last night. The two teams had split the first four games, and the Nationals held a commanding 6-0 at home in the third inning of a do-or-die Game 5. By the time the ninth came around, the lead had been cut to to 7-5, and the Cardinals were once again down to their last strike.
Guess what? St. Louis scored four runs in the ninth to take the lead and ultimately win the game and the series.
All Four Series Went the Distance
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Perhaps the most remarkable piece of trivia that came from this year's first round is that it was the first ever in which all four series went to five games.
This was great for baseball—both from a revenue and entertainment standpoint. It was a win-win for everyone...
...except for the four teams that came a win away from advancing.