Major League Baseball certainly hit a game-winning grand slam with its opening-round playoff series this year.
Indeed, the four divisional matchups were so good they were almost enough to make us forget that bonehead infield fly call that helped kill an Atlanta Braves comeback bid in their wild-card game loss. But if you're a baseball fan, how could you possibly ask for more than you got in the four best-of-five division series, which all went the full five games?
Each had its own share of delightful, intense drama:
The Evil Empire, otherwise known as the New York Yankees, bested my beloved Baltimore Orioles — the team I've rooted for since the early 1960s — in a tense series filled with great pitching and dramatic home runs.
In Game 1, former Ogden Raptor Russell Martin hit a leadoff blast in the ninth inning to break a 2-2 tie, fueling the Yankees' game-winning, five-run rally. Baltimore won Game 2 and was two outs away from winning Game 3 when Raul Ibanez — pinch-hitting for Alex Rodriguez, baseball's highest-paid player ($30 million this year) and, these days, its most disappointingly over-paid one, too — smacked a ninth-inning homer to tie the game. Then in the 12th inning, Ibanez struck again with a dramatic walk-off blast that gave the Yankees the 3-2 victory.
The Orioles, making their first postseason appearance in 15 years, squeaked out a 2-1 win in Game 4, which went 13 innings before another former Raptor, J.J. Hardy, knocked in the go-ahead run. But the Yankees and their big, clutch southpaw, C.C. Sabathia, who pitched his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning, prevailed 3-1 in the decisive Game 5.
A few hours after the Yankees' victory, the Washington Nationals, who had jumped out to a 6-0 lead over defending World Series champion St. Louis, was still clinging to a 7-5 lead entering the ninth inning of their own Game 5 showdown.
But disaster struck the Nationals, who along with the Orioles were one of MLB's best feel-good stories this season. The Cardinals — down to their final time at-bat — rallied for four runs in the ninth to grab a wild, series-clinching 9-7 win.
So much for that Beltway World Series between Baltimore and Washington, darn it.
Friday night's devastating defeat was an extremely disappointing finish to a great season for the Nationals, who won their first division title and made their first postseason appearance since the franchise moved from Montreal and started playing in the nation's capitol in 2005. In the Expos' 35 seasons in Canada (1969-2004), they reached postseason play just once (1981).
The Cincinnati Reds, NL Central Division champions, won the first two games on the road in their National League Division Series against NL West champ San Francisco and certainly appeared poised for a series sweep.
Then the Reds returned home, needing just one more win in their own ballpark to advance to the NL Championship Series — and, in shocking fashion, proceeded to lose all three games.
In Game 5, the Giants broke open a scoreless game with a six-run outburst in the fifth inning, capped by a grand slam off the bat of catcher Buster Posey, to send the Reds reeling — and wondering what in the world happened to their seemingly safe 2-0 series lead.
The Detroit Tigers were on the verge of duplicating the Reds' collapse. After winning the first two games of their series with the Oakland Athletics at home, the Tigers traveled to the West Coast in need of just one more win to advance to the AL Championship Series.
But the A's wouldn't go away, winning Game 3 and then staging a dramatic, do-or-die rally in Game 4, when they scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth to grab a 4-3 victory that pushed the series to the limit.
However, Detroit ace Justin Verlander would have none of that, stepping onto the hill in Game 5 and pitching a four-hit shutout to send the Tigers into the ALCS for the second straight year.
That's why we love postseason baseball — ninth-inning rallies, clutch home runs, maddening missed opportunities, unsung heroes rising to the occasion and gutsy pitching performances by guys like Sabathia and Verlander.
The two upcoming league championship series will definitely have to go some to surpass those four division series for drama.
And while I'm disappointed that my Orioles' postseason ride is over, I know they had a great run and, with a solid young team that's only going to get better, I'm confident that they'll make good on that promise from "The Terminator."
You know the one: "I'll be b-a-a-a-ck."
Besides, it could be worse. I could be a Nationals fan, or a Reds fan.
Or, worse yet, a Cubs fan.
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