Baseball’s night of miracles

As you might have heard, the national pastime’s regular season ended Wednesday night in a ho-hum sort of way.

Ho-hum, as in the most unbelievable and remarkable few hours imaginable (and I’m not even talking about my beloved Texas Rangers’ dramatic ninth-inning home run to gain home-field advantage in the American League Division Series).

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci captured the scene:

They will go down as the most thrilling 129 minutes in baseball history. Never before and likely never again — if we even dare to assume anything else can be likely ever again — will baseball captivate and exhilarate on so many fronts in so small a window the way it did September 28, 2011.

Starting at 9:56 PM Eastern, the grand old game, said to suffer by comparison from football’s siren sisters of gambling and violence, and said to suffer from America’s shrinking attention span and capacity to contemplate, rose up and fairly screamed, “Watch this!”

At that minute, the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves clung to twin 3-2 leads and the belief that they would avoid the completion of the greatest September collapses in the history of the sport, even if, in Atlanta’s case — the Braves appeared headed for a tiebreaker game with St. Louis — it meant a 24-hour stay of execution. Boston seemed home free to October, seeing that Tampa Bay, its competitor for the wild card spot, was getting blown out by the Yankees, 7-0.

But what happened at that moment was the beginning of the end: With the Braves two outs from victory, Chase Utley of Philadelphia tied the game in Atlanta with a sacrifice fly against Craig Kimbrel, the baby-faced rookie closer for the Braves who was pitching with the earnestness of youth, but more obviously with the toll of overuse and stress from a grueling stretch run. Red-cheeked and flustered, he invited pity more than scorn.

Nothing would be the same in the next 129 minutes. Fortunes were reversed. Reputations were made and destroyed. Careers were altered.

It was 129 minutes played on the edge of a sharp knife. It wasn’t just win or go home. It was fame or infamy. Anonymity or celebrity. Cursed or blessed. Collapse or comeback. The Last Night of the Year did not bother with the in between. The scale and speed of it was mind-boggling.

Of course, the baseball gods — and even God — figured prominently in the media coverage of baseball’s night of miracles.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch focused on the “miracle” of the St. Louis Cardinals (enthusiastically endorsed by megafan M.Z. Hemingway of fame) overcoming a double-digit deficit to win the National League wildcard over the Atlanta Braves:

So now the miracle continues. On to another city, another series, and perhaps another long and crazy Red October that could outdo the remarkable September magic they’ve already produced.

And at this point, would you dare to think anything else?

“This is a great situation for us,” said Carpenter. “How can you not be excited about what’s going on? This ball club has been unbelievable.”

In Baltimore, perhaps Orioles aficionado Terry Mattingly had something to do with the “Curse of the Andino” inflicted on the Boston Red Sox.

Or maybe the defeat was God’s will, as Red Sox slugger Adrian Gonzalez seemingly suggested after the game? From The Atlantic:

And, speaking of God, the aforementioned Gonzales (sic) said in the locker room after Wednesday’s game that “God has a plan. And it wasn’t God’s plan for us to be in the playoffs.” That happened. He actually said that. I guess it’s better than saying, “God didn’t want me to hit that curve ball.” But it helps explain why so few members of the Red Sox Nation, spread out all over the world, can’t stand this team of underachieving apologists.

Gonzalez’s explanation also caught the attention of Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy:

Adrian Gonzalez chose to take the easy route of predestination.

“God has a plan,’’ he said. “And it wasn’t God’s plan for us to be in the playoffs.’’

Wow. That’ll play well in the Nation. And the owner’s box.

Wow indeed. I realize it’s a sports column, but really? “God has a plan” equals predestination? According to the Religion Newswriters Association stylebook, this is the meaning of predestination:

The belief that God predetermines whether people’s afterlife is to be spent in heaven or hell. It is most often associated with Swiss theologian John Calvin.

Does that mean the Rays are going to heaven and the Red Sox are going to … well, you get the idea?

Speaking of the Rays, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon provided a little Godbeat fodder of his own. From baseball columnist Hal Bodley:

It was motivational speaker Dr. Wayne Dyer who once wrote, “You’ll see it when you believe it.”

Seeing firsthand what the Rays have done is hard to believe.

They followed a script that ended early Thursday morning with a stunning 12-inning, 8-7 victory over the Yankees that had to be written by a force far greater than mere humans.

There is no other way to explain how the Rays’ unbelievable march to the postseason evolved — and ended.

“It goes beyond earthly measures,” said Rays skipper Joe Maddon, who has to be 2011 American League manager of the year. “I mean this sincerely. You can’t write this script. No one would believe how this happened tonight. We were in such a bad place, and [the Red Sox] were in such a good place.”

Does that make God a Rays fan? This devoted Rangers fan sure hopes not, since the Tampa Bay Miracles play Texas next.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Ray Ingles

    Wow indeed. I realize it’s a sports column, but really? “God has a plan” equals predestination?

    “Predestination”, in common usage, does not only refer to election to salvation, but also to “The act of God foreordaining all things gone before and to come.”

  • Bobby

    thanks, Ray.

  • Matt

    As a Calvinist myself, I affirm that Gonzalez’ statement is true as far as it goes (and, yes, is a reasonable expression of standard belief in predestination), but I also affirm that God’s will is accomplished through human agency and does not negate human responsibility. If the quote about God’s plan is the only thing that Gonzalez said, then it is indeed a cop-out. But perhaps it was one of many things he said, most of which affirmed the responsibility of him and his team for their performance, in which case we would have a case of an out-of-context quote cherry-picked by a journalist in order to provoke offense in the reader.

  • Bobby

    Matt, a little more detail from a different Boston Globe report:

    Gonzalez sat in a chair in front of his locker and insisted that it was all part of God’s plan that the Red Sox failed to make the playoffs.

    “It’s definitely something that didn’t plan for. We were wholly confident that we would make the playoffs but it didn’t happen,” he said. “We didn’t do a better job with the lead. I’m a firm believer that God has a plan and it wasn’t in his plan for us to move forward.”

    Asked what he saw from the team this month, Gonzalez stayed on his theme.

    “God didn’t have it in the cards for us,” he said.

    On Tuesday, when I asked him about the collapse of the team, Gonzalez blamed the schedule, not the Almighty.

    “We play too many night games on getaway days and get into places at 4 in the morning,” Gonzalez said. “This has been my toughest season physically because of that. We play a lot of night games on Sunday for television and that those things take a lot out of you.”

  • Roberto

    Last night was spiritually exhausting for me. As someone who, alomst since birth, has loathed any team with the word “Boston” in its name (this includes the Patriots despite the “New England”), my first instinct was waves of schadenfreude, especially after the lastest ESPN magazine issue celebrating the glory of Boston sports. (“Who is the loozahnow?”)

    But I realize that I must rise above petty regional chauvinism. I feel bad for good Christian guys like Gonzalez and Matt Diaz of the Braves. I feel great for guys like Pujols and Matt Holliday, not to mention the sidelined Adam Wainwright. (Take heart, Mollie, from Strasburg’s performance yesterday.) I marvel at the rightness of the Yankees crushing the Sawx hopes even when they weren’t playing them. (I’m trying to rise, really.)

    Ah, baseball.

  • bob smietana

    Shaughnessy also alluded to sin in his piece on the Red Sox’s fall:
    “This feels like revenge for 2004 and 2007. It is as if the baseball gods are punishing Red Sox Nation for hubris and arrogance and good times that seemed so good, so good, so good.”

  • Bennett

    Yowch, tough time to be a Sox fan–which I am. I was almost tempted to pray for them last night, but I tend to find it uncomfortably close to disrespect to plead with God for favoritism (favor, sure, but why not favor for the other team? If I’m gonna pray, I pray for a good, clean game with no injuries or fights or hard feelings).

    I will note, however, with some interest (perhaps even suspicion) that Tampa Bay’s worst-to-first season came immediately after changing the name from ‘Devil Rays’ to just ‘Rays’. An exorcism, or perhaps the enigmatic terms of a darker sort of pact? (kidding, kidding!)

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Does that make God a Rays fan?

    Would that be the team formerly known as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays? :-) :-)

    I wish you could have seen the front page (above the fold) of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram today: pictures from the four teams lined up with a big headline above it. I can’t find an online representation, unfortunately.

  • Bob Smietana

    Interesting that the Globe columnist invokes the baseball Gods but then gets mad at Gonzalez for talking about God’s plan

  • tmatt

    Another act of God question:

    Source of that Baltimore thunderstorm that caused the rain delay — which put the game into that perfect, mind-bending time sync with the events in Tampa.

    I know ESPN now runs American culture.

    But is God on ESPN’s side these days?

  • Bobby

    I wish you could have seen the front page (above the fold) of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram today: pictures from the four teams lined up with a big headline above it. I can’t find an online representation, unfortunately.

    I saw that. Newseum is a great place to see images of the nation’s front pages each day, and I like to browse the major Page 1′s on big news — or sports — days.

    When I saw the Star-Telegram front page, with images of the Rangers, Rays, Red Sox and Cardinals, I had to chuckle because the Braves weren’t included. I mean, can things get any worse when your team stages one of the epic collapses of all time and can’t even get any good negative press because of a more high-profile choke (in the form of the Red Sox)? What kind of karma is that?

  • Mike O.

    Adrian Gonzalez’s quote above reminds me of that time the Indians were in a one-game playoff against the Yankees. The big bat for the Indians, Pedro Cerano, was having a tough time of it. All year he had prayed to his deity, Jobu, but still couldn’t hit the curve. It was only in that playoff game when he stopped blaming a higher power and put the burden on his shoulders by saying, “[expletive], Jobu. I do it myself,” was he able to get that amazing hit.

  • Wry Mouth

    The man summed it up best when he said “it ain’t over til it’s over.” There is no Victory Formation in baseball!

    Love live The Game…

    (H.S. Coach/Manager) Wry Mouth

  • Roberto

    Upon further review, I have finally identified the deity at work on Wednesday: Nemesis.

    Quotes like this one from NESN (the Red Sox’s cable network)

    The 2011 Red Sox could accomplish a feat that has never been done. They could unseat the 1927 Yankees as the greatest major league team of all time. That would be something to celebrate.

    are practically an invitation for Nemesis to rent a brownstone in Back Bay and bide her time. She waited until people’s hubris was at its peak and the Sox were 82-51 and then she unleashed an epic downfall.

    The question is: is Nemesis done with Boston? (I am trying to rise. Really.)

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Maybe God really is on the side of the Devil Rays.

  • Bobby

    “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” :-)

  • hannie

    That’s what your called a “TRUE MIRACULOUS” event! in GOD’s way there’s NO IMPOSSIBLE at all….