Posted by: Mike Cornelius | October 15, 2015

From The Totally Unexpected To The Truly Bizarre

As this is written we are still a few hours away from knowing the identity of the fourth and final participant in the two League Championship Series, but already the Great Game’s 2015 postseason has offered up a full helping of the unexpected and the downright odd. St. Louis, the team with the best regular season record, didn’t make it out of the NLDS. Pittsburgh, the team with the second best mark over the course of the longest season, is out as well. Adding insult to injury for the Pirates is the fact that the reward for their 98 wins was a postseason that lasted exactly nine innings.

The franchise with the highest Opening Day payroll is still alive at the moment; though whether the Dodgers will be by the time many readers see this post depends on the outcome of Game 5 of their Division Series with the Mets. The Yankees, with the second richest payroll, were bounced in the AL Wild Card Game by the Astros, with total salaries that topped just one other team. In fact after New York the next highest salaried team to even make the playoffs was Texas, ranked eighth at the beginning of the season. Oh yes, the Rangers are gone as well.

Whether the Dodgers or the Mets join the Cubs, Blue Jays and Royals in the penultimate round, one thing is certain. In a couple of weeks one franchise is going to end a very long championship drought. Of the teams that have won a World Series in this century, only the Yankees and Cardinals made it to the tournament.

When Toronto clinched a spot in the playoffs the Blue Jays ended the longest active postseason drought in the majors by returning to October ball for the first time since 1993. The Jays had assumed pride of place on a list no team wants to be on just last year, when the Royals made the playoffs for the first time since 1985. What the two ALCS opponents have in common is that both went all the way in that most recent postseason appearance. Sandwiched between Kansas City’s title in 1985 and Toronto’s back-to-back championships in 1992 and 1993 were the most recent World Series won by the Mets (1986) and the Dodgers (1988). Of course all four of those franchises have only had to wait since yesterday compared to the Cubs, who are at 107 years and counting.

Then there has been the play on the field. Chase Utley’s bone-breaking slide at Ruben Tejada instead of at second base set social media ablaze. The play was discussed on the Today show and Inside Edition, two programs not generally known for their extensive coverage of sports. Two nights later the crowd at Citi Field was savage in the bloodlust directed at Utley, a longtime nemesis of the Mets from his years with the Phillies.

Kansas City was generally outplayed by Houston through the first three games of their ALDS matchup and seven innings of the fourth. The Royals had led at the end of only five innings out of the thirty-four played at that point. The Astros had just plated three in the 7th of Game 4 to break open a close contest. Given a 6-2 lead and the pattern of the series to that point, along with Kansas City having just six outs remaining, fans at Minute Maid Park were understandably jubilant. So naturally the Royals scored seven times in the final two frames to win Game 4, and wound up outscoring the Astros 14-2 over the final eleven innings of the series.

But nothing in this postseason has been quite as bizarre as the 7th inning of Wednesday night’s ALDS Game 5 between Toronto and Texas. The Blue Jays had tied the score 2-2 in the bottom of the 6th on a long home run by Edwin Encarnacion. At 6:13 p.m. in Toronto the 7th began with the Blue Jays calling on Aaron Sanchez to relieve starter Marcus Stroman. Texas second baseman Rougned Odor greeted Sanchez with a single to left. Odor moved to second on a bunt and on to third on a slow roller to Josh Donaldson. Shin-Soo Choo, who had already homered for the Rangers, stepped in to the batter’s box, and ran the count to 2-2. Catcher Russell Martin took the ball out of his glove after the fourth pitch and tried to toss it back to Sanchez on the mound. But the ball hit Choo’s hand that was holding his bat and caromed down the third base line. Odor raced home, even as home plate umpire Dale Scott waved off the play.

However after a lengthy review Scott and his officiating team called Odor safe at home, giving the Rangers the lead. The play involved Rule 6.03 (a) (3), which reads in part, “If the batter is standing in the batter’s box and he or his bat is struck by the catcher’s throw back to the pitcher, and, in the umpire’s judgment, there is no intent on the part of the batter to interfere with the throw, the ball is alive and in play.” Choo was in the box, simply holding his bat, so the Rangers had the lead.

The full house at the Rogers Centre erupted in anger, tossing cans and debris on the field and halting play for 18 minutes. No doubt fans couldn’t stomach the idea that after a two decade absence their team’s return to the postseason would end in such an unlikely fashion.

But the bottom of the 7th still remained. Martin led off with a grounder to short that two-time All Star Elvis Andrus booted. Kevin Pillar followed with a grounder to first baseman Mitch Moreland, who bounced his throw to Andrus as he attempted to get the lead runner. Second baseman Ryan Goins then laid down a bunt which was fielded by Adrian Beltre. But his throw to third base was dropped by Andrus. Three plays, three balls that didn’t leave the infield, and three consecutive Texas errors. All three plays involved the normally sure-handed Andrus, though the middle error was charged to Moreland on the throw.

Ben Revere then hit another grounder, and Moreland threw home for the force out. Pinch runner Dalton Pompey slid into catcher Chris Gimenez to break up a potential double play, leading to a review and questions about whether fans had just seen Utley part two. Donaldson then lofted a weak pop fly to short right, but Odor was slow backing up for it and it fell in as the tying run scored. The play was so slow unfolding that Odor was able to throw out Goins at second.

So there were two outs and two on as Jose Bautista came to the plate. The Blue Jays’ slugger launched the third pitch he saw more than 450 feet into the left field seats. Bautista stood motionless for a moment, admiring his handiwork, before tossing his bat savagely into the air.

Rangers’ pitcher Sam Dyson took exception to Bautista’s celebratory bat flip, resulting in the benches clearing. They did so again a few minutes later when after two more base hits Dyson induced a popup from Troy Tulowitzki to end the 7th inning at 7:06, 53 minutes after it started.

After the game third baseman Beltre of the Rangers told reporters he was having trouble processing all of what happened. Fair to say that he wasn’t alone, for it might well go down as the most bizarre single inning in any postseason. And to think that we’re not even halfway through the playoffs!

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Responses

  1. And how about that Danny Murphy steal of third base on that intentional walk last night? I’ve never seen that before.
    Oh, and Utley lined out harmlessly to right in his only at bat last night. Hopefully, now he’ll retire before he can come back to haunt the Mets anymore.
    Nice overview,
    Bill

    • Thanks Bill. Yes that play by Murphy was a perfect illustration of how those two teams were moving in opposite directions. Great job by Harvey in Game 1 of the NLCS as well. Though that puts him over 200 innings on the year; it remains to be seen somewhere down the road what if any long-term downside there is to that.

      Thanks again,

      Mike

      http://www.onsportsandlife.com

      Michael Cornelius

      603.498.5527


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