By Ross Newhan
It is safe to say that baseball has never experienced a more memorable series of 162nd games than those of Wednesday night, certainly not since the introduction of the wild card.
Testing my dexterity with the TV remote--or that of any viewer--the virtually simultaneous finishes in Baltimore and Tampa Bay, along with the slightly earlier finish in Atlanta, combined all the nuances, strategies, emotions and elements that still make baseball the best game--or would you still prefer watching the Browns and Bengals?
When the Red Sox and Braves were finished in more ways than one--authors of two or the greatest collapses in baseball history and probably surpassing anything the Red Sox had done before in that regard-- it was being whispered and written that Boston general manager Theo Epstein will now take on another monumental assignment by moving to a similar position with the Chicago Cubs (if Ned Colletti doesn't) and that Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez--a few minutes ago the virtually handpicked and remodeled Bobby Cox--will be fired.
Managers often get fired when a closer who is one of the best in baseball fails in a pivotal moment.
With the American League wild card--or, at least, a tie for it--on the line in Boston, Jonathan Papelbon, couldn't get the one out he needed in Baltimore. Nor could Craig Kimbrel. with a tie for the National League lead at stake in Atlanta, get the ninth inning shutout he needed. Kimbrel set an NL rookie record this year with 46 saves but was making his 79th appearance. A lot of work at 23.
Of course, it should never have come down to the ninth inning of Game 162.
The Braves led St. Louis by 8 1/2 games in the first week of September, and the Red Sox led Tampa Bay by nine on Sept. 4, becoming the first team in baseball history to lose a nine game lead in the final month.
Now, however, it will be the Cardinals, who had defeated Houston earlier Wednesday night, advancing to the NL's division series, and the Rays moving on in the AL.
Tampa Bay's September comeback was capped by the game of games Wednesday night, rebounding from a 7-0 deficit against the New York Yankees by scoring six runs in the eighth inning, trying it in the ninth and winning it on a 12th inning home run by Evan Longoria, who had hit a three run homer in the eighth.
The victory came only a few minutes after the Red Sox loss had been flashed on the Tampa scoreboard, and as Manager Joe Maddon said later, speaking of his team's improbable comeback against both the Yankees and Red Sox but capturing the events of a memorable night in Baltimore and Atlanta as well, "...it all goes beyond earthly measure."
So far beyond that the postseason will be difficult to top it.