Baseball fans have a million reasons why they love baseball. These reasons can be found in combinations throughout many games, over many seasons.
But on the night of September 28, 2011 all those reasons were crammed into one unbelievable night of baseball. Okay, maybe not all the reasons—but here are the top ten that made the last night of the 2011 regular season unforgettable.
Welcome to The Show.
Looking at this picture, you would have thought they won the World Series.
The Orioles finished near the bottom of the American League and in last place in the AL East Division for the fourth year in a row. They were playing the Boston Red Sox, regular contenders for the postseason and proven winners.
The Sox had everything to gain from this game and the Orioles had nothing to lose. A win would contribute little to another season far from .500, except for maybe the satisfaction of ending on a high note.
The Red Sox were playing for their postseason lives. The Red Sox looked like they had it far into the game, but as baseball has shown us many a time, the little guy can always come in and take it all. The Orioles did just that, robbing the Sox of a chance at another World Series.
Craig Kimbrel has had a phenomenal season, delivering saves whenever he is asked. Unfortunately, he couldn't deliver the most important save of his blossoming career. It seemed like the two runs were all the Phillies were going to get as soon as he began throwing in the bullpen. What was hoped to be "lights out" turned catastrophic as the Phillies tied it and won the whole thing in extras.
Jonathon Papelbon was called by the Red Sox to seal their chance of at least a tie-breaker with Tampa Bay. Experience did nothing here as Papelbon blew the save and the game. What seemed to be a routine save became a nightmare and the Red Sox went quietly into the night.
Rookie star, or veteran star—sometimes you just don't have it.
Dan Johnson has played so little, there were few pictures of him even playing.
When you see your team down by one run in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and no one on base with the playoffs on the line, the last person you want to see coming up to bat is a guy batting .108. Not to mention 84 at-bats and one home run.
That's exactly what came up to bat. And he delivered.
Dan Johnson. He may have been a nobody to the baseball community before but not anymore. He will now be referred to as Dan Johnson—the man that gave the Tampa Bay Rays a fighting chance. His second homer of the year took the Yankees into extras and set up the chance for Longoria to cap it off.
Somebody knows you now.
The extra innings take a toll on Chipper Jones.
The rest of the sports world experiences their sport with the companion of time. Baseball knows no time. Fans have seen games last hours and hours, rolling on until a tie is broken. There is no tie, there is no overtime. There is just "free baseball," as live spectators call it.
Part of the magic of these longer games is the strategy put into the hands of the manager that must scramble to make substitutes, pitching chances and select pinch hitters and runners. While it tires out the players, we love it. The absence of time allows us to hope all the way to the last out and beyond. We dream of the two out home run, and marathon watchers were rewarded last night with the accomplishment of this amazing feat.
Those on the East Coast went into the wee hours of the morning to experience the glory, but surely a strong cup of coffee the next morning erased any regrets of spending such a night with baseball.
162 games per team. 2,430 games in all. There is no way to really understand how all that takes a toll on the body unless you were once a major league player.
After training, preseason games, and the six month regular season, the players claim to have given their all through the whole thing. The long season allows room for slumps, skids, rallies, and winning streaks which paves the way for a dramatic season ending. The Rays proved that that failure of the first week had little to do with the ultimate outcome while the Braves proved their season-long dominance of the Wild Card also meant nothing. As the saying goes, "It's not over 'til it's over."
The very team that Carl Crawford left in pursuit of a championship ring and big money took the Wild Card right out of his team's hands. His search for greener pastures proved a failure as he didn't perform as well as was hoped and was ultimately part of the reason why his team squandered their claim to the Wild Card. When fans see the changes in loyalty go sour, they can't help but feel like the universe adjusted for some great travesty.
The September experience of the Red Sox and Braves can only be described as a meltdown. After the signing of Cliff Lee, the Braves had to know they were most likely playing for the Wild Card with no real shot at the NL East Division title.
The Braves have been expected to make the postseason the past few years and even gave the Phillies a run for their money last year due to all the injuries in the Phillies lineup. No one saw their downward spiral in September coming. The losses kept adding and adding until they accumulated to what is now being called the biggest collapse in postseason berth history. That's not a title any fan wants their team to hold. The frustration of the fans and players came to a cruel end Wednesday night and was best emulated by Freeman's dramatic helmet throw.
Words cannot describe the sinking feeling in your stomach when you realize "your guys" aren't going to play in October. Just like that, the season is over and in come the September call-ups to give the fans something to watch and root for. It's a subtle way of telling the fans, "We didn't come through for you this year, but next year, this is what we have working for us."
In the case of the Nationals, the last weeks of the season offered the fans a glimpse of their newly healthy superstar, Stephen Strasburg. Fans of the Braves and Red Sox did not get that at all. They were playing for the hardware all the way up to the end. Fans were left with nothing but the promise of next year.
The Cardinals and the Rays were the last to earn their champagne showers, but enjoy them they did. Evan Longoria pleaded on Twitter to let his eyes burn from champagne. Surely this was a hope among many. Just as gut wrenching as a losing season, the euphoria from watching your team have the opportunity for the title is overwhelming. World Series or bust.
Just ask the Rays.
It's not very often in football that a 30 point deficit can be overcome. After so much of a deficit in basketball the B Team comes in. Two goals in soccer? Forget it, game over.
Down seven runs in the eighth inning, the Rays could have just gone home, like some of the fans did. But this is baseball, and anything is possible.
A single. A double. Hit-by-pitch. Walk. Hit-by-pitch.Sacrifice fly. Evan Longoria slams a three-run home run. The game is now 7-6—just like that.
Bottom of the ninth. Two outs. Another home run. Game tied.
Three innings later, Longoria sends another one soaring into October. Game over. This is baseball.
It's true that a fairytale ending doesn't always happen. But when it does in a circumstance like this it can set the tone for the next series and give a team an unstoppable drive. An attitude like this may be the right formula to create more of these spectacular moments.