Move over Bobby Thomson, you’ve got company. Meet Evan Longoria.
Go crazy folks! Go crazy!
Those were the words late announcer Jack Buck used to describe an implausible game-winning home run by shortstop Ozzie Smith in the 1985 National League playoffs.
Crazy sums up the final night of the baseball season, when the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals overcame improbably long odds and huge September deficits to waltz into the post-season as wild cards.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Colossal Collapse I
The Boston Red Sox became the first team in history to lose a nine-game September lead and fail to make the playoffs. Boston led Tampa Bay by nine games on September 3, but won just seven of 27 in September and allowed the Rays to win the wild card on the final day of the season.
Colossal Collapse II
While the Red Sox were melting down in the American League, the Braves were doing virtually the same in the National League wild-card race. The Braves were 9-18 in September. St. Louis trailed the Braves by 10 1/2 in late August, 8 1/2 on September 6, and by three with five games to play.
Until now, the Phillies were the poster boys for September ineptitude. In 1964, Philadelphia lost a 8 1/2 game lead in September. That year the foldin’ Phils led the Cards and Reds by 6 1/2 games with just 12 to go, then lost 10 in a row and ended up one game back in a tie for second with the Reds, despite winning their last two games. St. Louis went on to win the World Series.
Oh So Close
The Red Sox were one strike away from beating the Orioles and at least earning a tie and forcing a one-game playoff for the wild card before falling to the Orioles. Boston had been 77-0 this year when leading after eight innings.
The Rays, who overcame a seven-run deficit, were one strike away from falling to the Yankees before Dan Johnson’s home run tied the game in the ninth. Tampa won in the 12th inning on Evan Longoria’s second home run of the game. The Yankees had not blown a seven-run lead in the eighth inning or later since 1953.
And the Braves lost a one-run lead to the Phillies with two outs in the ninth before eventually losing in 13 innings.
The Shot Heard Round the World
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Longoria’s homer marked only the second time in history a walk-off home run in the final regular season game propelled a team into the playoffs. The other was Bobby Thomson’s famous home run that gave the New York Giants a win over the Brooklyn Dodgers in a playoff for the 1951 National League pennant.
Boston, You’re My Home
The Braves once called Boston home before moving to Milwaukee in 1953. Imagine that.
When the Red Sox gallant comeback against the Tampa Bay Rays finally fizzled in Game Seven, another potential dynasty bit the dust.
The Sox loss demonstrated once more just how difficult it is to build and maintain dynasty in baseball’s current three-series playoff format.
And it underlines the remarkable accomplishment of the Yankees, who won three World Series in a row and four out of five from 1996-2000.
If you define a dynasty as three championships in five years, only the Yankees qualify since the three-round playoff format was instituted in 1995. In fact, the Yankees are the only team to win back-to-back championships in that time frame.
And the Oakland A’s, who won three straight World Series starting in 1972, are the only team to earn the dynasty label since baseball first began a playoff format in 1969 with the league championship series.
The Yankees have the all-time record with five straight World Series championships between 1949-53. Overall, the Yanks won 14 pennants and nine World Series in a period that began in 1949 and ended in 1964.
The Bombers also won four in a row between 1936 and 1939. Both those runs occurred when the American and National League winners went directly to the World Series.
Other than the Yankees and the A’s, there have been three mini-dynasties in baseball history.
A’s 1910-11 and 1913
Red Sox 1915-16 and 1918
Cardinals 1942, 1944 and 1946
And what of this year’s World Series contestants? The Rays have never won a World Series, never even made the playoffs before this year.
And the Phillies have been around since 1883, and in all that time have just one World Championship to show for their efforts.
In 1980, the Phillies beat the Royals in six games, leading a young copy editor to come up with the headline “Phinally: It’s the Phillies” while working the slot for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.
Red Sox (1915-16)
Blue Jays (1992-93)
Entering the second half of the season, the numbers don’t add up for the New York Yankees. At the All-Star break, the Yankees were mired in third place, trailing both the Red Sox and the Devil Rays in the AL East..
And it doesn’t get any easier. Consider these numbers:
67: Games remaining for Yankees after All-Star break (considerably less than half)
43: Of the Yankees remaining 67 games are against teams currently above .500
7: Of the Yankees next 8 series are against teams currently above .500
10: Games remaining against traditional nemesis Angels
7: Yankees on opening day roster currently on the disabled list.
0: Number of wins by Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy (and Carl Pavano too 🙂
.713: Yankees OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) with RISP (runners in scoring position)
26: Yankee rank in the above category out of 30 teams
.238: Alex Rodriguez batting average with runners-in-scoring-position
32: Of the Yankees final 51 games are away from Yankee Stadium
4.59: Runs per game Yankees are averaging in 2008
5.98: Runs per game Yankees averaged in 2007
1993: Last year the Yankees failed to make the playoffs