On Death's Doorstep: MLB Playoffs Deliver Like No Other

grant balfour victor martinez

The narrative around baseball quite often is that it is “boring” or “slow and unexciting.” Baseball is in fact a marathon, a game of pace and positioning. But with all things considered, baseball in October is a completely different beast. Say what you will about it, but yesterday in the MLB playoffs, something happened that is undeniable …

October 7, 2013, punched the narrative around baseball square in the month and stood over it, like “What now?” Yesterday may have been the single best day that any sport has had in years.

Three teams on the brink of elimination suited up, and two staved it off in some of the most remarkable fashions imaginable. The day also saw three games decided by one run, which were either tied or had the gap narrowed after the seventh inning. Meanwhile, in the only game that did not have life or death on the line, a brawl boiled over and broke out in the bottom of the ninth.

The day started with that game in Detroit, where the Tigers and Oakland A’s met up for the third time. It was on the heels of the dramatic moment of the weekend via Yoenis Cespedes that pulled the A’s even headed to the road. The A’s tacked on three home runs and then saw the emotions of the moment pour over with Victor Martinez and Grant Balfour meeting nose-to-nose in the bottom of the ninth. The A’s closed it out for the win and created another elimination day for today.

Meanwhile, business picked up another notch in Pittsburgh, where the toughest team to keep in a corner in baseball found itself in that exact location. The St. Louis Cardinals were on the edge, but rookie Michael Wacha pulled them back up with one arm. Completely ignoring the pressure of being 22 years old and playing his first playoff game in front of a crazed, 20-year postseason-deprived crowd, Wacha dialed in seven no-hit innings and used a sniper rifle to shoot the wheels off the Pirates' runaway momentum train to send the Cardinals back home — and to Adam Wainwright for Game 5.

Staying alive in Tampa called on a different type of baseball drama: the time-tested and approved walk-off homer … from a guy that has no business hitting it. After being drug through the dirt by the Red Sox for two games, the Rays played in their third elimination game in a week’s time and were down to their absolute end. A game that saw a three-run homer tie it in the fifth, then a go-ahead run for Tampa in the bottom of the eighth erased by a blown save in the top of the ninth, finally ended on a two-run walk-off home run by Jose Lobaton, a pinch hitter for a designated hitter.

The improbable has become the expected … and there was more work to be done in a day that would end even better than it started.

Yes, business has picked up this postseason, and there are still two full rounds to go, with only one ticket punched so far. That punch belongs to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who bested the Atlanta Braves on the back of a short-rested Clayton Kershaw, four lead changes, a super-charged Yasiel Puig and a clutch home run for Juan Uribe in the bottom of the eighth to pull the Dodgers ahead for good, and send the Braves home til March. All while the game’s best closer, Craig Kimbrel, was a bystander.

There will be at least three more elimination games to play over the next two days, but you'd be hard-pressed to find another day of drama to match this one, even when scripts are issued. But that’s the point of October, the unexpected owning the day … and the moment becoming forever.

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