Random thoughts on The Collapse

(Photo via the Yankees)

My three days in Tampa are over. I spent the majority of time here stuck in Tropicana Field, the second worst park I’ve ever been too (sorry, Oakland). Give the current ownership group credit though, they improved the place by livening up the color scheme (remember when the place was one shade of green? yuck), the in-game entertainment (Rays’ dancing grounds crew >>> YMCA), and the concessions, but it’s still a third-rate facility. A team with that much talent and success (three playoff appearances in the last four years!) deserves better.

Anyway, this trip was an absolute blast and I was lucky to be here in person to witness one of the biggest and most memorable regular season games in baseball history. I’m flying home today, so I leave you with some random thoughts and observations from St. Pete …

  • It’s a total afterthought, but the Yankees actually finished the season on a four-game losing streak. There were some tough losses in there too; the 14-inning game with the Red Sox, Matt Joyce’s go-ahead homer off Rafael Soriano (don’t forget the triple play!), and of course last night’s blown seven-run lead. At any other point in the season, those are killer, heart-breaking losses. Not after you’ve clinched though. Like I said, the four-game losing streak is an afterthought.
  • Remember when Red Sox owner John Henry joked about “The MT Curse” after Yankees lost their eighth straight game to Boston to start the 2009 season? He was referring to Mark Teixeira as you know by now, and since then, the Sox have missed the playoffs twice and been swept out of the ALDS in the other year. They haven’t won a postseason game since Game Six of the 2008 ALCS. Look at this box score. Cliff Floyd and Chad Bradford played in that game, that’s how long ago it was.
  • How about this stat: prior to last night, the Red Sox were 76-0 when leading after eight innings this season. Here’s another one: Jon Lester’s two-run, six-inning effort lowered Boston’s starting rotation’s ERA to 7.08 for September. How in the world does that happen? How does a team with a $160M-something payroll have to consider trading for Bruce Chen (!!!) on the last day of the season in case they need him to start a potential Game 163? It’s unthinkable, it really is. I’m curious to see where they go from here and who takes the fall, because you know someone will.
  • How about the Orioles? The Fightin’ Showalters finished the season by winning ten of their final 15 games, and all 15 were played against teams either in the playoffs or fighting for a playoff spot (Rays, Angels, Red Sox, Tigers). That’s some job of playing spoiler right there.
  • I was pretty surprised at how loose the Rays were yesterday afternoon. Three players set up a makeshift flag (out of a towel and a rope stanchion) in right field before batting practice and were hitting golf balls at it from home plate. A couple others were running routes and playing catch with a football. I guess that’s what happens when a team has nothing to lose, they were playing with house money. No one expected them to be in that situation yesterday.
  • Check out Steve Slowinski’s photo recap of last night over at DRays Bay. A picture is worth a thousand words, and there’s about 15,000 words of baseball goodness in there. Also want to say thanks to world famous* Rays bloggers Jason Collette, Tommy Rancel, and Erik Hahmann for being awesome fans and even better people. Always great to see them.

And finally, give it up to the beat writers. I left the Trop at 2:15am this morning, and those guys were just settling in with stories to write and 6:30am flights to catch. There’s eleven of them covering the team full-time (plus several fill-ins throughout the year), and they’re fantastic. We’re lucky to have them. Special thanks goes out to Bryan Hoch, who was stuck sitting next to me in the press box for three days and not only didn’t complain about being next to the dopey blogger, but also treated me like I was one of the guys chasing the team all summer. These fellas deserve their own appreciate thread one of these days, they really do. We’ve got it good in Yankeeland.

* May or may not be exaggerating. You decide.

Rays clinch wildcard on walk-off homer

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Baseball achieved perfection on September 28th, 2011. Just shut down MLB. We’re never going to top this.

One Strike

I mentioned this the other day, but when we sat down a few weeks ago to figure out what series would be a good one to attend, we picked this one because it had the potential to be meaningful. Then the Yankees went and clinched everything within a matter of days, and as far as they’re concerned, this series meant nothing. Just don’t get hurt, that was the goal. I flew down Monday morning expecting three Spring Training games, but holy smokes. This was the most amazing trip ever.

I can’t even put this into words. This one had total laugher written all over it (more on that in a bit), but then the comeback. Oh my goodness that comeback. Boone Logan got it started with his general awfulness, and Luis Ayala continued it by allowing a huge, enormous three-run homer to Evan Longoria to cut the deficit to one in the eighth inning. Then Dan Johnson. My word. I mean, you do realize the Rays were down to their final strike of the season, right? Down a run, two outs, 2-2 count, and Cory Wade left an 83mph changeup right over the plate to his teammate with Tampa’s Triple-A affiliate earlier this year. Solo homer, tie  game. This place was nuts. Completely deafening.

Johnson has a knack for this stuff, you know. He hit a monster pinch-hit homer off Jonathan Papelbon in September 2008, keeping the Rays in first place during their run to the World Series. He hit a walk-off homer against the Sox late last season as well, keeping them within striking distance of the division crown, the division crown they eventually won. There’s a reason Jonah Keri calls Johnson the Great Pumpkin, the guy rises up once a year to do this. Simply amazing.

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Just One More Strike

At some point during the bottom of the 12th inning, half the televisions in the press box tuned into the Red Sox-Orioles game. The Sox were still winning at that point, but when I turned my head to look at the screen, all I saw was outfielders running for a ball. The crowd erupted. I have no idea how they knew, but they knew. The Orioles had just tied the game. The cheers were so loud that B.J. Upton had to step out of the batter’s box. Papelbon had Nolan Reimold down to the final strike of Baltimore’s season when he gave up that game-tying  double, the same final strike of the season that Johnson was down to against Wade. Just one more strike. That’s how close each team was to the end of their season. One strike.

A few moment later, Robert Andino – surely Robert effin’ Andino by now – singled to left. Reimold chugged around third. The cheers started about halfway between third and home, and they somehow got even louder when he slide in safely with the winning run. One more strike, that was it. That close to winning the game, and Boston couldn’t get it done.

Not even a minute later (apparently it was eight minutes later according to the announcement here, but I don’t buy it), Longoria hit Scott Proctor’s 56th pitch out of the yard on a line drive to left. Game over, season over. For the Red Sox, anyway. The Rays completed the comeback from seven runs down and nine games back, and are headed to the postseason as the wildcard team. Boston goes home, home to answer questions about a historic September collapse. This place just exploded. I thought the building was loud after Johnson’s  homer, but that was nothing. The fans were just warming up their vocal cords. I can’t believe that just a few days ago, I came down here expecting boring games. This was absolutely  incredible. The very  reason I love this game. No other sport can top this.

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Save Some For The ALDS

As you already know, things started very poorly for the Rays right in the very first inning. What should have been a scoreless, 19-pitch inning for David Price turned into a one-run, 29-pitch inning when Ben Zobrist booted what should have been an inning-ending ground ball by Robinson Cano. Completely routine play, Zobrist just straight up botched it. Just like that, the pressure was on Tampa.

The game was decided (or so we thought) after Mark Teixeira hit a grand slam on a 3-2 fastball with two outs in the second, a shot that took the wind right out of the sails of pretty much everyone at Tropicana Field. Price completely missed his spot, but that wasn’t the problem. You know what the problem was? It’s that Price allowed a double to Eduardo Nunez, a single to Brandon Laird, and a walk to Derek Jeter. You’re just asking for trouble when you do that, and Tex was happy  to oblige.

It was 5-0 after the grand  slam, the Yankees tacked on two more runs when Teixeira hit a solo homer in the fourth and Andruw Jones hit a solo homer in the fifth. This was Tex’s fourth multi-homer game of the season, and the 33rd of his career. Just think, he came in with just seven hits in 31 career at-bats against Price (.226).

(J. Meric/Getty Images)


Jeter needed to go 1-for-1 or 2-for-4 to finish the season at exactly .300, but he went 0-for-3 with a walk to finish at .297. Considering where he was earlier this season, just getting up to .297 is a minor miracle.

The Yankees had runners on the corners with no outs in the top of the 12th, but got out of it when Greg Golson got caught too far off third base and Chris Dickerson struck out ahead of Brett Gardner‘s ground out. Pretty amazing how close we were to a very, very different story.

The next pitcher set to come out of the bullpen for Tampa was Jamie Shields, who threw 117 pitches on Monday. Furthermore, Joe Maddon said after the game that Upton had some cramping (I believe in his leg, but don’t hold me to that), and was going to have to come out of the game if there was a 13th inning. They were out of position players,  so they would have lost the DH.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

Oh baby. MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stats, and ESPN the updated standings.

Special Bonus WPA Graph

Up Next

Hard to believe it, but the regular season is over. The Yankees are off on Thursday in the sense that they don’t have a game to play, but they are holding a workout at Yankee Stadium in the afternoon. The ALDS kicks off on Friday night, when CC Sabathia takes on Justin Verlander and the rest of the Tigers in Game One.

Montero leaves game after taking ball to bare hand; x-rays negative

Update (12:27am): The team announced that x-rays were negative, so exhale.

Original Post  (10:14pm): Jesus Montero was removed from tonight’s game after getting hit by a ball in his bare hand. The Boone Logan pitch hit Casey Kotchman, then ricocheted into Montero’s right hand. Austin Romine took over behind the plate. I’ll update this post with more as it comes.

2012 Draft: Yankees will have 30th overall pick

Regardless of the outcome of tonight’s game, the Yankees have clinched the second best record in baseball and will pick 30th overall in next June’s amateur draft. A compensation pick for an unsigned player earlier in the round pushes the pick back one from 29th overall. The Yankees have picked 30th overall twice before, once to take some guy named Gary Timberlake in 1966, and again to take Andrew Brackman in 2007. The Astros will pick first overall, followed by the Twins and Mariners.

The Yankees also have the 89th overall pick after failing to sign 2011 second rounder Sam Stafford. That pick can not be lost as compensation for signing a Type-A free agent, but the 30th overall pick sure can.

Game 162: End of the line

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

This is always a sad day. I swear, the season goes by faster and faster every year. Here’s the lineup, for the first five or so innings anyway…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B – still going to bat third against lefties
Robinson Cano, DH
Alex Rodriguez, 3Bscratched because the knee is acting up
Nick Swisher, RF
Andruw Jones, LF
Jesus Montero, C
Eduardo Nunez, 2B
Brandon Laird, 3B

Dellin Betances, SP

The game starts at 7pm ET and can be seen on YES  locally  or ESPN nationally. Enjoy the last meaningless game of 2011.