WASHINGTON — There will be no Game 163.
Yet, while the bonus baseball many fans craved did not come to fruition, a compelling, coast-to-coast final day of Major League Baseball’s regular season that began with five playoff spots in flux and ended in rivers of champagne left the postseason with a tough act to follow.
In a wildly compelling coda to the season, beginning nearly simultaneously Sunday afternoon across North America, the playoff picture came into focus, fogged up like a windshield on a winter morning before finally clearing as 15 ballgames rumbled madly to a conclusion.
And after it all:
The San Francisco Giants won a club record 107th game – and the National League West, to the stunned dismay of the 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers, who saw their eight-year run of division titles stopped.
The New York Yankees could not score a run all day against the robotically unflappable Tampa Bay Rays – until towering slugger Aaron Judge’s infield single drove in the only run in a 1-0, walk-off victory that secured a ticket to the American League wild card game.
And the Boston Red Sox capped a listless, mistake-marred week to right themselves just in time, methodically erasing a four-run deficit over the final four innings before Rafael Devers’ second home run – a booming two-run shot in the top of the ninth inning – defeated the Washington Nationals 7-5 and earn the other AL wild-card slot – and the right to host the hated Yankees on Tuesday night at Fenway Park.
As the Rays and Yankees traded zeroes in the Bronx, the Red Sox gradually took on water in D.C., falling behind 5-1 after five innings. Yet, manager Alex Cora says, “Every time I looked up at the scoreboard, I thought, ‘Wow, it’s only the fourth inning, it’s only the fifth inning.'”
And so they clawed back, tying it 5-5 on Alex Verdugo’s two-out, two-run double to cap a three-run fifth. Then, as the sun began slipping beyond the horizon in the Bronx, Judge’s ninth-inning liner ticked off the glove of Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge, scoring Tyler Wade for the Yankees’ 92nd victory.
“I saw the Yankees win in the bottom of the ninth,” says Verdugo, “and I was like, ‘OK. We gotta go, boys.’”
Devers’ 38th home run got them to 92 wins, a 10-9 head-to-head advantage against the Yankees ensuring they’d stay home for Tuesday’s shootout.
Soon forgotten amid the oversized goggles and the spray of bubbly were the teams that fought to the final hour, only to pivot from chaotic travel logistics to early autumn tee times.
Farewell to the Toronto Blue Jays, who flattened the Baltimore Orioles for the third consecutive game, their 12-4 victory requiring only a Yankee or Red Sox loss to force a one-game tiebreaker – or losses by both of them to create a two-day, three-game playoff. And safe travels to the Seattle Mariners, the only one of the five clubs facing playoff ramifications to lose Sunday.
Got all that?
Well, here’s what’s next.
The Yankees and Red Sox will face off Tuesday night at Fenway Park, Gerrit Cole facing Nathan Eovaldi and the winner advancing to a five-game AL Division Series beginning Thursday at the East champion Rays.
The Dodgers will send 37-year-old Max Scherzer, the Missouri native and NL Cy Young Award favorite, against the St. Louis Cardinals and 40-year-old Adam Wainwright, Wednesday at Dodger Stadium.
Awaiting the victor in Friday’s NLDS: Those record-setting Giants, who ducked every punch the mighty Dodgers threw before leaving no doubt in their final game.
In perhaps the final day of games in which NL pitchers are forced to bat, Giants starter Logan Webb walloped a home run, single and sacrifice fly as San Francisco trounced the San Diego Padres, 11-4, negating the Dodgers’ 10-3 victory against Milwaukee.
“You’d be hard-pressed,” catcher Buster Posey, the lone remaining Giant who played on their 2010, 2012 and 2014 World Series champions, “to see a better pennant race.”
Oh, there’s a few other teams in the playoffs: The Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros begin an ALDS Thursday in Texas, while the Atlanta Braves travel to battle the Milwaukee Brewers in an NLDS beginning Friday.
That quartet had a far more relaxing Sunday, playing out the string and readying for the postseason.
Kind of a mixed blessing. They missed out on a whole lot of fun.