Monday was an exciting day for baseball fans, as all four divisional playoff games proved to be close affairs.
Heading into Monday, the ALDS and NLDS were reaching critical points, with the Cardinals, Braves and Rays all entering the day facing elimination games.
In the first game of the busy day, the Oakland A's crushed three home runs to power their way to a 6-3 victory and 2-1 series lead over the Tigers in Detroit.
The Cardinals then beat the Pirates 2-1 to force a decisive Game 5. The Cards only had three hits, but rookie starter Michael Wacha took a no-hitter into the eighth, and the Bucs were held to one hit (a home run by Pedro Alvarez).
The Rays had an exciting win to stave off elimination, as Jose Lobaton's walk-off home run with two outs in the ninth gave Tampa Bay a 5-4 win over Boston. The Red Sox still lead the series 2-1, but will now being facing a Rays team riding high after an improbable comeback.
The Dodgers made sure the Braves would not be hosting a Game 5, as Juan Uribe's two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning was the difference in a 4-3 win to wrap up the day.
Final Score: Oakland Athletics 6, Detroit Tigers 3
These Two Teams Really Hate Each Other
Oakland and Detroit's tempers boiled over in today's game, resulting in the benches clearing in the bottom of the ninth inning when Detroit's Victor Martinez got into a shouting match with Oakland closer Grant Balfour.
This series might only last one more game, but we could easily see more heated moments.
We'll have to keep an eye on the benches in Game 4, and potentially in Game 5 as well.
The Athletics Have Some Power
Oakland's lone home run in the first two games of this series belonged to Home Run Derby champ Yoenis Cespedes.
However, the slow start meant nothing for the bunch that led all playoff teams in home runs during the regular season.
Brandon Moss, Seth Smith and Josh Reddick all went yard on Monday, with all three dingers coming off Anibal Sanchez, who gave up just nine home runs in his 29 regular-season starts.
Oakland's offense broke out on Monday, and the long ball played a key role.
Defense Really Does Win Championships
Fielding might be the most underrated aspect of a baseball game, but it was the deciding factor in Monday's contest.
Miguel Cabrera made a costly error in the first inning that helped the Athletics take an early 1-0 lead on an unearned run.
The Tigers had the second-fewest amount of errors in the AL among playoff teams during the regular season, and the team ranked sixth overall in MLB with just 76 miscues. However, Miggy's mistake led to an early run, which appeared to shake the confidence of Anibal Sanchez.
Sanchez would go on to surrender five more runs, but he may have been more composed on the mound if he wasn't working from behind all game.
Oakland's Bullpen Is Legit
The Athletics had the lowest bullpen ERA among AL playoff teams, and they showed why on Monday.
Dan Otero, Sean Doolittle and Grant Balfour completely shut down a dangerous Tigers offense, allowing just two hits in four innings and striking out three batters.
Despite Jarrod Parker's mediocre start, Oakland's bullpen closed out the game strong, and the Tigers had almost no chance of coming back once Otero toed the rubber.
Oakland's bullpen is arguably the best in the game right now, and it looked the part on Monday.
What This Means
The Athletics took back home-field advantage on Monday, as they now lead the series 2-1. The team is one win away from a trip to the ALCS, and will play one game at each venue if necessary.
The Athletics have at the very least forced a Game 5, which will take place in Oakland. The team went 52-29 at home during the regular season, which bodes well as the team attempts to make it to its second ALCS since 1993.
Final Score: St. Louis Cardinals 2, Pittsburgh Pirates 1
Michael Wacha Might Be the Best Rookie Pitcher in St. Louis
While fellow phenom Shelby Miller had the better regular season, Michael Wacha may have shown just why he's the best rookie pitcher the Cardinals have.
Wacha had a no-hitter going through 7.1 innings on Monday, marking the second time he's come within five outs of a no-no in two weeks. He lost a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth on an infield single by Ryan Zimmerman on Sept. 24 against the Washington Nationals, and he came close again today.
While Miller was the one getting all the press this season, Wacha actually posted a better ERA and was much better against decent competition.
Against teams with a record of .500 or better this year, Miller's ERA ballooned to a hair under 5.00. Wacha, on the other hand, was asked to start in the postseason, while Miller was not.
Miller is still a great pitcher, but Wacha may have shown why he's the young arm to watch for the Cardinals.
Runs Will Be at a Premium in Game 5
This one ranked neck-and-neck with Game 2 of the Tigers-A's series as the worst offensive showing of any MLB postseason game this year.
The Cards and Pirates combined for just four hits all game, and all three runs came on home runs. The two teams were shut down by the opposing pitching staffs, and it's going to be interesting to see how the offenses respond in the decisive Game 5.
If Game 5 goes anything like Game 4, every run will count.
Matt Holliday Is Back
Entering the game in the midst of an 0-for-8 slump, Matt Holliday broke out in a big way on Monday.
The Cardinals struggled to get anything going offensively, totaling just three hits. However, two of them were Holliday's, including a monster two-run homer in the sixth inning.
Holliday is one of the team's best hitters, and if he gets hot behind Carlos Beltran, St. Louis is going to be very dangerous this postseason.
What is Wrong With Pittsburgh's Offense?
One hit, two walks. That was all the Pirates could mount against rookie Michael Wacha in this game.
Pittsburgh has a fantastic pitching staff, but the team needs its offense to step up if it's going anywhere in the postseason.
The Buccos will likely need at least five runs if they are to win Game 5, and scoring against Adam Wainwright is going to be even harder than scoring against Wacha.
What This Means
The Cardinals have forced a Game 5, bringing the series back to St. Louis.
This win is huge for the Cardinals, as they now will play for a trip to the NLCS at home with Adam Wainwright on the mound. St. Louis has to be considered the favorite in Game 5.
Clint Hurdle and the Pirates will turn to rookie Gerrit Cole, per the team's official Twitter feed. Cole baffled the Cardinals hitters in a Game 2 win.
The Cardinals have to feel lucky after winning a game in which they only recorded three hits, and it's going to be interesting to see if they capitalize on it in Game 5.
Final Score: Tampa Bay Rays 5, Boston Red Sox 4
Clay Buchholz Isn't Untouchable
No pitcher was better in the AL this season than Buchholz was when healthy.
He was arguably the best pitcher in baseball, going 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA over 16 starts. However, Evan Longoria blasted a three-run home run off of him to tie the game at three in the fifth.
Buchholz has now given up three earned runs in each of his last two starts, despite the fact that he had only done so once in 2013 before that time.
The Rays somehow got past Buchholz, and they won't have to face him again in the ALDS.
The Rays Are Resilient
Tampa Bay just wouldn't quit.
Despite being down by three runs in the fifth and facing elimination, Longoria brought them back with that three-run home run.
Tampa would then take the lead with a run in the eighth, but Fernando Rodney would blow the save in the ninth.
Tied at four in the bottom of the ninth, facing elimination and one out away from extra innings, backup catcher Jose Lobaton—who had just nine career home runs to his name—blasted one to right center field to send the Tampa Bay fans home happy.
The Rays simply wouldn't give up, and they ended up outlasting the Red Sox because of it.
They're now 3-0 in elimination games so far this postseason, counting their win over the Texas Rangers in Game 163 and the Wild Card win over the Indians.
Evan Longoria is Clutch
Reminiscent of his walkoff home run on the final day of the 2011 season, Longoria's epic three-run home run couldn't have come at a better time for the Rays.
Down 3-0 and facing elimination, Longoria blasted a shot to tie the game in the fifth inning.
It was Longo's only hit of the night, but he picked the right time to step up for the Rays.
What This Means
The Rays were able to avoid elimination in this game, forcing a Game 4.
Tampa Bay fought back in the bottom of the ninth after a blown save to win 5-4, and now they've gotten past Boston's best pitcher in Buchholz.
If Tampa can win Game 4 and force a Game 5 they'll still have a tough time winning in Boston, but this game keeps their season alive.
Final Score: Los Angeles Dodgers 4, Atlanta Braves 3
Dodgers Balanced Offense a Big Key
While much of the hype before the series began surrounded the lethal pitching trio of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu, it was the Dodgers offense that provided a huge lift.
The Dodgers came into the game hitting a healthy .333, and that's exactly what they finished with, banging out 11 more hits on Monday. Contributions came from all over the lineup. Carl Crawford's two home runs off starter Freddy Garcia gave the Dodgers an early lead, and he finished with three homers and a .353 average in the series.
Yasiel Puig showed that the playoff pressure had no effect at all. He hit .471 over the four games, including a double in the bottom of the eighth inning that preceded Juan Uribe's eventual game-winning home run.
Uribe, who was much maligned his first two years in Los Angeles, contributed a .375 average. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez hit a franchise-tying six extra-base hits in a playoff series and finished with a .500 average.
Braves Vaunted Bullpen Made to Look Human
The Braves bullpen finished the regular season with a major league-leading 2.46 ERA, and was considered a weapon for Atlanta heading into their NLDS matchup.
However, they finished the NLDS with a 4.80 ERA, giving up eight earned runs in four games. It simply wasn't enough to combat a Dodgers offense that kept up the pressure in the late innings.
Starting Clayton Kershaw Was the Right Choice
When it was announced earlier on Monday that Kershaw would start on three days' rest, it seemed clear that manager Don Mattingly wasn't willing to risk a possible Game 5.
Turned out to be a pretty good decision.
Kershaw wasn't dominant, but he held the Braves to two unearned runs in his six innings of work, keeping his team in the game. It also gives Zack Greinke extra rest and sets up Kershaw for a Game 3 and possible Game 7 start in the NLCS.
What This Means
The Dodgers will have to wait until Wednesday to find out who their opponent will be in the NLCS, but considering the aches and pains felt by several of their regulars, that's not a bad thing.
Crawford, Puig and Ramirez have all been playing with some degree of pain, so the extra two days will certainly help. It also allows Mattingly to set up his rotation as well. Let's face it, at this time of the year, after playing 30 exhibition games, 162 regular season games and additional playoff games, any rest is good.