October 3, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Bosox spoil Yanks' big plans
The final weekend of the 2010 regular season had plenty of thrills and chills. The Yankees had picked up a one-game lead over the Rays in the American League Eastern Division, thanks to a 6-5 extra-innings win over the Red Sox on Saturday afternoon, broadcast by FOX Sports. Veteran Mike Lowell got two hits in two at bats, including a bomb that nearly cleared the Green Monster in left field. It was a fine performance it what was probably his final game in the major leagues, and he was warmly applauded. But then in the night cap (making up the Friday game which had been rained out), the Red Sox returned the favor by edging the Yanks 7-6 in extra-innings. The game lasted until well after 1:00 in the morning, by which time there were many empty seats in Fenway Park. That certainly doesn't happen very often. This afternoon the Red Sox did it again, winning 8-4. With so many injuries this year, the Red Sox lineup was very unfamiliar to me. And so, the Yanks finished in second place, qualifying as the wild card team. They will play the Minnesota Twins at Target Field in the American League Divisional Series starting Wednesday -- no easy task! See MLB.com.
Braves make the playoffs
In Atlanta, the Braves held off a late-inning rally by the Philadelphia Phillies, winning 7-6, and combined with the loss by the Padres to the Giants, the Braves have earned their first trip to the postseason since 2005. (!) Manager Bobby Cox, who is retiring after this season, actually cracked a smile while commending his players at the end of the game. [He ends his career with a cumulative regular-season record of 2,504-2,001; only Connie Mack, John McGraw, and Tony La Russa have had more wins than Cox. See ESPN; hat tip to Chris.] A certain Braves fan I know also had a big smile on her face. Giants fans are likewise elated at their first postseason berth since 2003, back when Barry Bonds was still riding high.
And so, the Postseason scores page has been updated with the 2010 series matchups. The Phillies ended up with the highest winning percentage (.599). The only other recent year in which no team ended up over .600 was 2006, when the Cardinals won the World Series in spite of having the lowest win-loss record of all postseason teams. Note that I have added the winning percentage for each team to make the postseason since 2002, when I launched this Web site.
Nats finish with a win
The Washington Nationals were in peril of being swept at Citi Field in New York this afternoon, and their hopes of reaching 70 wins for the season had already been dashed, so there wasn't much at stake -- except pride. Unfortunately, they wasted multiple run-scoring opportunities once again (such as when Adam Dunn singled with no outs in the top of the ninth), and were tied 1-1 with the Mets at the end of nine innings. It was the same situation as on Friday night, but this time the game stretched out for a few extra innings. Apparently, neither side was ready to call it quits for 2010. And so, with the bases loaded and one out in the 14th inning, Justin Maxwell came up to bat. He has had a lousy year at the plate, but he is known for a remarkably high rate of grand slam home runs in bases-loaded situations. Would the magic repeat itself? He worked the count to 3-2, and then wisely held off on a pitch to earn a walk and a run batted in. And that's how he became the "hero" in this game, as the Nats won, 2-1. See MLB.com.
Nearly one year ago, likewise in the regular season finale, the Nats beat the Braves by the very same score, in one more inning -- 15. It marked the seventh game in a row the Nats had won, the longest such season-ending streak in the majors.
It was only the third extra-innings victory for the Nats this year, out of 11 total extended games. Finishing the season with a record of 69-93 (.426), their fourth-highest record in six seasons.
Speaking of Nationals history, when I was at the game in D.C. two weeks ago, I bought a DVD of the team's 2005 inaugural year in Washington, and it really brought back memories. What a great group of guys: Brad Wilkerson, Vinny Castilla, Nick Johnson, Jose Vidro, Chad Cordero, Joey Eischen, John Patterson, Jose Guillen, and Terrmel Sledge, the first National to hit a homer. Only one player is on the roster now: Livan Hernandez, who went 6 2/3 innings today, giving up just one run, for a no-decision.
Orioles: home improvement
Kudos to the Baltimore Orioles for emerging from the and finishing the season at 66-96, just above the .400 "threshold of respectability." (And only three games behind the Nationals record of 69-93!) Two teams didn't make the cut: the Seattle Mariners and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Under new manager Buck Showalter, the Orioles won 34 games and lost only 23, a winning percentage of .596 -- not bad at all!