Wipe the tears away, everybody. Wednesday night featured the last scheduled games of the MLB regular season. Of course, there will be plenty of exciting games in store.
Whether it marked the beginning of a downfall or beginning of an uprising, or possibly even averting a collapse, there were plenty of big-time games that changed the landscape of this season.
So, in honor of the end of the season, let's look back at each team's season-defining game heading into play on Wednesday.
Phillies 4, Braves 2
In what has been a September full of missed opportunities, the Braves shot themselves in the foot on Monday night in a big way. With a 2-0 lead against Cliff Lee and the Phillies, the Braves offense laid an egg for the final seven innings. This allowed the Phils to come back and score four unanswered runs.
Atlanta left 10 men on base and were 1-10 with men in scoring position. A win would have put them two games up in the NL Wild Card race and likely booked them a spot in the playoffs.
Now, well...you know the story.
D'Backs 7, Giants 2
Why does this game define the Diamondbacks' incredible ascension to the top of the NL West? Well, to be the best you have to beat the best. And this convincing 7-2 win over Tim Lincecum and the Giants was a clear message that Arizona would not be giving up their lead. Up five games, but coming off a series-opening loss to the Giants, the Diamondbacks took back the momentum with a solo home run in the fourth inning by Paul Goldschmidt. From there, the Diamondbacks never looked back.
Rangers 13, Orioles 1
With a record of 6-1, the Baltimore Orioles were starting to turn some heads. With division rivals Tampa Bay and Boston stumbling out of the gate, the O's had a chance to put some games between themselves and their foes. But after an impressive shutout of the AL Champion Rangers, the Orioles were brought down to Earth—and maybe further—by a 13-1 drubbing at the hand of Texas. Mike Napoli, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz all homered in the rout.
After the 6-1 start, the O's have gone 62-92.
Blue Jays 5, Red Sox 4
The Red Sox season could probably defined by any loss in the month of September, but this one seems to be one of the more horrible losses. Leading 4-2 in the top of the 8th against the Blue Jays, the Sox had stellar setup man Daniel Bard in the game. But after a throwing error by Bard loaded the bases, an RBI groundout by Edwin Encarnacion cut the lead to 4-3. Then, outfielder Adam Loewen hit a two-run single, giving the Blue Jays a 5-4 lead that they would hold onto.
Now, the Red Sox are tied for the Wild Card lead, on the verge of one of the most embarrassing collapses in MLB history. Would things be different if the Sox had won that game?
Reds 5, Cubs 4
It's harder to find a season-defining game for a crappy (sorry, Cubs fans) team because, in many cases, the season was over before May was. On May 6th, the Cubs sat two games under .500 and just three games back in the NL Central. In the first game of a three-game set with the Reds, Chicago, in typical fashion, wasted many opportunities en route to a 5-4 loss. The Cubbies went 2-12 with men in scoring position, and could not fight back.
If they win this game, the season might be a slightly different story.
Twins 7, White Sox 6
This isn't so much about what happened during the game as it is the significance it had on the team's season. The White Sox had a really putrid start to 2011, and started to work their way back up through the AL Central standings. Coming into this game, they were in second place, just five games back in the division. But after the Twins shelled Jake Peavy for six first-inning runs, the Palehose couldn't quite come back. Down 7-3 in the eighth inning, the White Sox closed the gap to within one in the ninth inning, when Joe Nathan shut the door.
The loss put the White Sox six games back and into third place. The next time they reclaimed second place, they were almost 10 games behind the Tigers.
Phillies 5, Reds 4 (19 innings)
Exactly one week before this game, the Reds were, as many expected, in first place in the NL Central. But coming into this Wednesday battle with the Phillies, the Reds had gone 1-6 in the last week and were now 3.5 games out of first place. The game seemed to drag on forever—Philadelphia infielder Wilson Valdez got the win (see video)— until Raul Ibañez hit a game-winning sac fly in the bottom of the 19th inning. It was the type of game that, had the Reds won, they could have gained some serious momentum.
But with the loss, the Reds continued to stagnate. They would not see any place higher than third the rest of the season.
Twins 7, Indians 5
Anyone know the significance of this game? This was the last time in 2011 that the Cleveland Indians were in first place. Even after this loss, they were in the first. But after an eighth-inning collapse against the lowly Twins, many fans knew that the end was near for the surprising Indians. It was almost a scene out of Major Leaugue, although instead of Rick Vaughn blowing the game, it was Tony Sipp who loaded the bases and Vinnie Pestano who gave up two singles resulting in three runs.
The Indians never recovered, and they haven't smelled first place since.
Phillies 4, Rockies 3 (10 innings)
Life after Ubaldo began in a heartbreaking fashion in Colorado. With the Rockies' playoff hopes rapidly fading, the best team in baseball, the Phillies, came to Coors Field to start a three-game set. With a 3-1 lead in the top of the ninth inning, Huston Street allowed a game-tying two-run home run to John Mayberry. The next inning, Rex Brothers gave up a solo bomb to Shane Victorino. It was a rough loss, and pretty much put a dagger in the Rockies' season.
Tigers 9, Blue Jays 0
In a season that has belonged to Justin Verlander, it is only appropriate that his crown jewel, a no-hitter on May 7th against the Blue Jays, is the defining moment of Detroit's season. Verlander walked one batter and struck out four, and despite not being his usual strikeout-machine self, threw one of the best games of the year. His dominance this season has allowed the Tigers to ascend to the top of the AL Central, and he will likely win AL Cy Young and possibly MVP.
Brewers 6, Marlins 5 (11 innings)
The Marlins were in striking distance of the NL East-leading Phillies in early June as the Milwaukee Brewers came to town. But after losses in the first two games of the four-game series, the Marlins found themselves down 5-0 to the Brew Crew. But after Brett Hayes tied the game at five with a grand slam, the Marlins had all the momentum. Unfortunately, with the game in extra innings, light-hitting Josh Wilson hit a go-ahead home run for the Brewers.
The Marlins went on to lose 15 of their next 16 games, effectively ending their season.
Phillies 5, Astros 4
Honestly, this was the closest the Astros came to contention. For nine innings, they hung with the mighty Philadelphia Phillies. Though they lost, 5-4, it was a valiant effort for a team that has spent all but three games of the season in last place. Mazel Tov.
Indians 19, Royals 1
Remember this one? This was the game where Royals reliever Vin Mazzaro allowed 14 runs in just over two innings of work and also, consequently, when we found out that the Royals just weren't built to contend. It was the game where we learned how poor Kansas City's pitching staff really was, and how they would inevitably fade to the cellar of the AL Central.
Rangers 9, Angels 5
For the Angels, this year was all about coming up short. The Halos had a legitimate chance of making the playoffs pretty much all year. This was especially evident going into this game, when the Angels trailed the Rangers by just 1.5 games. With Jered Weaver on the mound, things were looking up. But with the Angels leading 5-4, the Rangers used four singles to drive in five runs between the seventh and eighth innings and held on to win.
It was the closest the Angels would get to first place, and they eventually fell under the bus.
Diamondbacks 1, Dodgers 0
Things were looking up for the Dodgers. They were just 2.5 games back in the division and riding a three-game winning streak heading into a game against the Diamondbacks. Chad Billingsley pitched a tremendous game, allowing only one hit over eight innings. He only allowed one run on a sacrifice fly by Melvin Mora. Unfortunately, the Dodgers went 0-5 in scoring situations and managed only four hits of their own.
This was the closest the Dodgers came to contention, and their season drifted south after this.
Brewers 10, Cardinals 5
In what has been a terrific season for Ron Roenicke and the Brewers, this statement game may be the defining contest of the year. Leading the NL Central by 2.5 games following a loss the previous night to the Cardinals, the Brewers needed a strong showing to prove that they were going to protect their division lead. Behind three home runs from Casey McGehee, the Brew Crew did just that. After this series, they never looked back.
Athletics 1, Twins 0
The Twins' season never really had any hope, and this relatively meaningless early-season game is a pretty good indicator of how the year went. Facing an insolvent offense in Oakland, the Twins proved to be equally, if not more futile at the plate. They were shut out by the trio of Gio Gonzalez, Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes, reaching base only eight times.
Braves 9, Mets 8 (10 innings)
The Mets, going for a sweep of the Braves in Atlanta, had a real chance to make some noise in the NL East. Winning this game could have been a catalyst for a run towards contention. Instead, the heartbreak that was this game led to a downward spiral that culminated in a miserable finish to the year. After Brooks Conrad hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to tie it, a balk by D.J. Carrasco in the bottom of the 10th lost the game. Ouch.
Yankees 3, Blue Jays 2
Honestly, where would the Yankees be without Ivan Nova? This game, the game where the Yankees overtook Boston for the AL East lead, was a great example of the poise and talent of the rookie starter. Nova spotted the Jays a 2-0 lead in the first inning, but shut them down the rest of the way while his offense took care of the rest. An RBI single by Robinson Cano and two-run home run by Brett Gardner were all the Yankees needed to beat the Blue Jays and move into the division lead.
They clinched the East later in September.
Yankees 5, Athletics 0
At this point in the season, the A's actually looked like they had a chance to shock everyone and slip into the playoffs. They were in third place, yes, but they were only 1.5 games back. Facing the Yankees and coming off a four-game winning streak, the A's sent ace Trevor Cahill to the mound.
Unfortunately, the rotund Bartolo Colon shut down the Oakland lineup, and the Yankees offense was good enough to win. This game marked the beginning of a 10-game losing streak that effectively ended Oakland's season.
Phillies 8, Diamondbacks 4
A strong outing by Cole Hamels combined with home runs from Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino,and Ryan Howard amounted to Philadelphia's 16th win of 2011. Why was this win significant? It vaulted the Phillies into first place once and for all. After this late-April game, the Phillies would never relinquish their lead in the NL East.
In what has been a dominant season defined by great pitching and timely hitting, the Phillies showed both in a game that put them in first place once and for all.
Braves 4, Pirates 3 (19 innings)
Just one night before this game, the Pirates were in first place in the NL Central. Yes, you read that right. But after a loss, the Bucs found themselves one game back. Trying to regain some momentum, the Pirates did a fierce battle against the Braves in a game that went almost seven hours. In the 19th inning, Julio Lugo was clearly tagged out on a play at home. Unfortunately, home plate umpire Jerry Meals called him safe, and the Braves won.
After that devastating loss, the Pirates' deficit only got bigger.
Tonight's game against the Houston Astros will be the defining game of the Cardinals' season. Tied for the Wild Card lead, the Cardinals will send Chris Carpenter to the mound against Houston's Brett Myers with a potential spot in a one-game playoff on the line.
Giants 8, Padres 4
This is when we knew nothing good would come out of this season for the Padres. At 3-2 and just a half-game back in the division, the Padres had a chance to make a statement and beat Tim Lincecum. Instead, the Giants ripped apart Padres pitching. After that, there was no sign of life in San Diego.
Padres 7, Giants 5
The World Champion Giants spent a good deal of the season in a tussle for first place in the NL West. For a long while, they had control. It looked like San Francisco might avoid the post-World Series dropoff and get back to the playoffs.
Trailing the Diamondbacks by just 1.5 games on this night, the Giants used a huge eighth inning to tie the Padres at five. But in the top of a ninth, Ramon Ramirez allowed two runs to the Padres. The Giants then found themselves three games back, the closest they would get to first place the rest of the season.
Athletics 2, Mariners 0
Believe it or not, coming into this game, the Mariners sat just 2.5 games back in the AL West in third place. The division lead was in striking distance. But on this evening, a punchless Seattle offense combined with a two-RBI night from Scott Sizemore was enough to drop the Mariners. But what was so defining about this loss?
Well, the Mariners lost their next 16 games.
As with the Cardinals, tonight's game is the season for the Tampa Bay Rays. After an emotional win over the Yankees last night, headlined by a triple play and a game-winning three-run home run by Matt Joyce, the Rays send David Price to the mound against the Yankees. A win guarantees the Rays will play a one-game playoff. A win coupled with a Red Sox loss puts the Rays in the postseason.
Rangers 8, Indians 7 (11 innings)
Texas' lead was slipping away. After holding onto first place for most of the season, the Rangers found themselves leading the AL West by just one game going into this contest with the Cleveland Indians. Everyone was on high alert for a potential collapse. Down 7-5 in the bottom of the ninth, Michael Young drilled a game-tying two-run home run. Two innings later, Josh Hamilton's infield single scored Elvis Andrus for a walk-off win.
Two weeks later, Texas' lead was six games.
Rays 7, Blue Jays 6 (12 innings)
With Tampa Bay's hold on third place down to 1.5 games, the Blue Jays had a legitimate chance to pass the Rays and vault themselves into contention. Tied at three after nine innings, the Rays and Jays did battle for three more innings. A run in the 10th and two in the 11th by the Blue Jays were matched in the bottom of the respective innings by the Rays. Finally, in the 12th, little-known catcher Robinson Chirinos hit a game-winning single.
This was the closest the Blue Jays would get to third place the rest of the year.
Angels 4, Nationals 3 (10 innings)
The Nationals never exactly were threatening to contend in the NL East, but they made things interesting well into June. Coming into this interleague game, the Nats had won 13 of their last 15 games and were 8.5 games back. After tying the game in the top of the ninth at three a piece, the Nationals could not seal the deal, allowing a walk-off single to Maicer Izturis in the bottom of the 10th. After this game, the Nationals began to sink.
Their deficit increased to double digits two nights later, and the rest is history.