Sunday, September 29, 2013

Game 163

It's not quite the postseason, the one game playoff to see who gets the chance to play a one game playoff to advance to the next round of the American League playoffs. The National League side has been reasonably set for a while now; only an impossible run from the Nationals combined with a complete collapse from one of the NL Central front-runners would have shaken things up. It was only a question of seeding, with the Reds and Pirates duking it out to see who got to host the Wild Card game, and the Dodgers and Braves cruising home with 10+ game leads.

But the American League, it was interesting. A week ago, there were a half-dozen teams bunched up within 3 or so games of a wild card spot, with head-to-head match ups looming for the Rays and Yanks, Rays and Orioles and more. The road to the playoffs was clear: win. Not "hope for someone else to fall apart", not "rely on someone else", just win. Destinies, as they say, were in hand.

And some of those teams won. The Indians closed out the year 10-0, leapfrogging the Rays and Rangers into the top Wild Card seed. Tampa and Texas, for their part, each went 8-2. The Yankees? 5-5. The Royals? 6-4. The Orioles? 4-6, and swept by the Rays. The right teams, as they say, got there.

And yes, there's yammering over how the Indians had the easiest schedule down the stretch, but like the man says, you can only win the games that are in front of you. And besides, they went 25-8 against the AL West. The Rays? 17-16. Not all of that was a handful against the Astros at the end of the year.

And so, here we are, on the day after the last day. The Rays went from a game up to nearly out entirely, fumbling away a couple in Toronto and nearly blowing a third. The Rangers hung on with unlikely heroes - a walk-off from Jurickson Profar saving them in a must-have game they clawed back to win, retread pitcher Neal Cotts stepping in when ace Yu Darvish ran into trouble and manager Ron Washington didn't trust him to get out. 

They play Monday in Texas, two wounded but dangerous teams, balancing the need to win with the necessity for saving some bullets for the next must-win which would immediately follow. Tampa throws Cy Young winner David Price, who started slow, came on, and then stumbled at the end of the year. Price is the subject of some rumors; he's about to get expensive, and the Rays didn't draw this year. They might not be able to afford to keep him. Up against him is 22-year old Martin Perez, a rookie with a 10-5 record. A late addition to Texas' rotation, he's got a 3.55 ERA but worrisome peripherals. 

So the drama abounds. This is the game nobody wanted to be in but nobody wanted to miss. It's a chance to play one more day, for the chance to play one more day.

And any way you slice it, it beats the hell out of determining playoff spots by point differential. 

Play ball.
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