Prior to Tuesday evening, there had been 2,339 Major League Baseball games in 2009. The excitement of the 2,340th surpassed them all when the Minnesota Twins finished off the Detroit Tigers' late season collapse with a 6-5 win in 12 innings.
There was something poetic in the way this game played out. It was, in some ways, a perfect synopsis of the 2009 Tigers.
The early three run lead took a bit of the pressure off, and quieted the 54,000 fans that filled the football stadium. The Tigers put a man on base in the fourth and fifth innings, but could not add to their lead.
In typical Minnesota Twins fashion, they chipped away until it was the Tigers on the wrong end of the score: Porcello's error in the third scored Tolbert, Kubel's solo home run in the sixth, Orlando Cabrera's two run home run in the seventh.
Methodical, meticulous, unrelenting.
The Twins bullpen has been lights-out all year. With Baker out of the game, the Twins brought in reliever after reliever sporting ERA's in the low twos.
Magglio Ordonez stepped up and quickly turned on a Matt Guerrier pitch at the belt and put it in the left field seats to tie the game. The man who had lost his power had found it at the best time possible.
After Brandon Lyon pitched a perfect eighth, the Tigers seemed to have the Twins on the ropes—first and third, nobody out. Placido Polanco proceeded to strike out on a questionable inside call from umpire Randy Marsh. Magglio, the eighth inning hero, then lined out to shortstop, and Curtis Granderson was caught off first base and was doubled up.
The extra game would have to go into extra innings.
The Tigers put themselves into another golden scoring opportunity in the top of the 12th after Cabrera walked and Don Kelly singled and advanced to second on the throw. Raburn was walked to load the bases with one out.
Again, the Tigers failed to get the simple fly ball they needed as Cabrera was gunned down at the plate on Brandon Inge's ground ball. Gerald Laird struck out to end the inning in what could have been a good opportunity to bring in a pinch hitter.
The inability to drive in runners in scoring position was a problem all year, and game 163 was no different.
That inability leads to the feeling of inevitability. The inevitable became reality in the bottom of the 12th when Alexi Casilla singled home Carlos Gomez for the division clinching win.
Hearts that had been pounding all around the state of Michigan suddenly stopped. Game over, collapse complete.
Perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that the Detroit Tigers were a terribly flawed team. They were propelled to the top of their division by a result of their counterparts' futility as well as their own mediocre achievement.
This collapse can not be compared to the fall of the 2007 New York Mets. Outside of Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers lineup has no comparisons to the likes of David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, and Carlos Beltran.
The future looks bright for the men in the Olde English D. By and large, this is not an aging team grasping for its last chance at glory. Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez may be aging but they are not core players anymore.
Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, and Rick Porcello can anchor the pitching staff for years to come. Curtis Granderson is entering his prime and Alex Avila appears to be the catching prospect the organization has long sought.
Detroit is used to disappointment and finding ways to bounce back. The offseason should be interesting to see how the next year's team takes shape. The disappointment of 2009 will undoubtedly fuel anticipation for 2010.