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 GetReligion.org 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 MLB.com 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.