Already we have seen a historic postseason. The first-ever Wild Card play-in games, both won by the lower seeds; and four five-game League Division Series each of which was packed with drama and fascinating back stories.
The series that ended last, early Saturday morning, was the St. Louis Cardinals’ continuing their magical post-season run that began last season in Game Four of the LDS with the Philadelphia Phillies; since then, the Cardinals had withstood five consecutive elimination games. Make it six, and in incredible fashion, as the Cardinals produced a four-run ninth inning to overcome an early 6-0 deficit to the Washington Nationals for a 9-7 win. These Cardinals, under first-year manager Mike Metheny and without their iconic superstar Albert Pujols, have seemingly lost nothing of their mental toughness and determination. Their eventual victory last night seemed not so much a reversal of fortune as inevitable. No team had ever recovered from a 6-0 deficit to win an elimination game. As for the newly-crowned National League East champion and top seed Washington Nationals, they took great strides towards building a real fan base. They were within an out of advancing to the League Championship Series. They won a total of 100 games in 2012. Now it will be time to reflect and regroup. They are young and talented, so they may be back quite soon.
The other NLDS matched the NL West champion San Francisco Giants and NL Central champion Cincinnati Reds, two teams that appeared evenly matched. After the Reds took the first two games in San Francisco, the Giants seemed ready for burial. The Reds, though, were unable to capitalize on home cooking. Mistakes on the base paths early and a critical error late cost them the chance to clinch in Game 3; the Giants, given their reprieve, pounded them in Game 4; and finally in Game 5 the Giants rode a grand slam by their great young catcher Buster Posey to a 6-0 lead and hung on to complete the first-ever come back from an 0-2 deficit by an NL team. The Giants stayed over in The Queen City until after midnight Friday night not knowing if they were going to fly east to Washington to meet the Nationals or home to the Bay Area to host the Cardinals. For the first time ever, the prior two World Series Champions will square off in a League Championship Series.
In the American League, yes the Yankees are back in the ALCS, having finally tamed the upstart and revived Baltimore Orioles, one of their historic foils. The Orioles hung tough the entire season, pressing the Yankees until the last games. They had not lost on a walk-off hit the entire season, the only team ever to do that going back to 1900. Then, in Game 4, the great veteran hitter Raul Ibanez, pinch hitting for the slumping former superstar Alex Rodriguez, hit a game-tying homer; in the 12th, he hit the game winner. In Game 5, the Yankees rode a superlative effort by their ace, CC Sabathia, with Ibanez again producing the game’s first run.
The Detroit Tigers, who have mastered the Yankees in the playoffs recently, earned their spot against the greatest surprise of 2012, the Oakland Athletics. The A’s have the smallest payroll in MLB, yet they improbably were in the playoff hunt all season, and with a chance to catch the two-time AL Champion Texas Rangers in the last three games of the season, they did it. After losing the first two games in Detroit, the second in excruciating fashion, the A’s rallied to win the next two, and Game 4 was a marvelous ninth-inning rally against one of the game’s premier closers. The A’s rewarded their small but loyal fan-base (I am one of them) and did themselves proud.