Last baseball weekend not to be missed
With much to be settled, final slate a fitting end to great season
This is way beyond anyone's wildest imagination, with the possible exception of noted Red Sox fan Stephen King, but we are trying hard to keep our composure and not call it the greatest Major League Baseball regular season ever played. That's because someone who has heard all the fables and lore of the past will say you don't compare eras, and that it's too easy to get carried away by what's happening.
Well, here's to everyone getting carried away.
Harry Kalas, carry us away: "Game over! Phillies are tied for first place in the National League East! Wow, this is truly exciting. ... The rally towels are being waved. ... It all boils down to this weekend of games!"
The Hall of Fame broadcaster said that to a Phillies TV and global MLB.TV audience at 9:50 p.m. ET on Thursday following Philly's 6-4 victory over Atlanta amid the October-like atmosphere of Citizens Bank Park. The slumping Mets had lost just moments earlier at home against St. Louis, meaning a 7 1/2-game division lead is officially blown, and there are identical 87-72 records going into the final weekend.
Jeff Kingery, carry us away: "That's back to the wall and it's not going to come back! Back-to-back by Atkins and Hawpe! Long ball City here in L.A.! Three to nothing, Rockies, here in the fourth."
The Rockies' broadcaster made that call for KOA and MLB.com Gameday Audio listeners during Colorado's 10-4 victory under a full moon at Dodger Stadium, where baseball's hottest team stretched its winning streak to 11 games and assured itself of finishing ahead of the Dodgers in the standings for the first time in their history, setting the stage for a dazzling three-game homestand finale against Arizona.
Johnny Damon, carry us away: "We're still trying to win as many games as possible, trying to stay as fresh as we can," he said after going 10-for-15 in a three-game series at Tampa Bay, offering to give much younger Melky Cabrera a night off in center and helping the Yankees take two of three to move within two games of Boston in the unsettled American League East. "We're going to control what we can, and right now that's taking care of ourselves, resting a few of our regulars, and hopefully we can win a few and go into the postseason on a positive note."
Cubs and Brewers fans, carry us away: You are chugging Pepto Bismol. You are throwing things at the television, and you snuck a glimpse of the new "Grey's Anatomy" just to clear your head. Your Cubs haven't won since 1908. Your Brewers have never won it all.
Both teams lost on Thursday, which means Chicago still has a two-game lead over Milwaukee in the NL Central and three precious games to go. And in the back of your head, you know that it doesn't matter how you go into a postseason in this decade, because it is proven every year that you only have to get there.
Joe Thatcher, carry us away: Formerly property of the Brewers, the San Diego reliever pitched out of a jam in the fifth inning at Milwaukee, getting Prince Fielder on a ground ball with the bases loaded to end the frame. He then pitched a scoreless sixth, and the Padres won a big four-game series opener to stay just one game back in the NL West while holding onto a one-game lead in the Wild Card standings.
Craig Biggio (3,000th hit on a 5-for-5 night), Tom Glavine (300th win), Barry Bonds (record 756th homer), Frank Thomas and Alex Rodriguez and Jim Thome (500th homers all), Sammy Sosa (600th homer), Roger Clemens (350th win), Trevor Hoffman (500th save), Mark Buehrle and Justin Verlander and Clay Buchholz (no-hitters all), Ichiro Suzuki (All-Star inside-the-park homer), fans everywhere (overall attendance record) ... carry us away. To baseball heaven.
How will this Magical Milestone Mystery Tour wind up? What are the four Division Series matchups? How many playoff tiebreakers do you predict?
"Now, it all comes down to this weekend," Kalas said after Brett Myers retired the last Brave, and this regular season might last longer than that. Here is what's ahead:
What a night this will be. There are seven games that start at 7:05 or 7:10 p.m. ET. All but two of them (Cardinals at Pirates, Rays at Blue Jays) could affect the postseason matchups. There are five games that start at 8:05 or 8:10 ET, and three of them could affect the postseason matchups. There are three games that start at 10:05 or 10:40 ET, and two of them could affect the postseason matchups.
So let's step back and look at this. It is the final Friday of a regular season. There are 15 games on the docket, all bunched together at night, and 10 of them have playoff implications. It is a virtual dream scenario for anyone with MLB.TV Mosaic, because those subscribers have the power to conceivably monitor all or most of them at the same time with multi-streaming live over the computer. The technology was practically invented for a night like this, far beyond TV/radio capability.
Thomas Harding, who covers the Rockies for MLB.com, was sitting in the Dodger Stadium press box Thursday night and thinking about what Coors Field might look like in the opener of this final homestand in Denver between the NL West leaders. Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks and Jeff Francis of the Rockies each will be going after their 18th win, and most everyone around baseball will be paying attention.
"I'll probably see a full stadium," Harding said. "It's funny, even when they left [for the road trip] and had won seven straight, they were still a little distance out of the Wild Card. It's nuts. I just want to be covering the year that baseball finishes in 16- and 14-way ties in both leagues."
That is how people talk these days around Major League Baseball. The Rockies will control their own destiny in these three games against Arizona. San Diego will be at Milwaukee. Those Brewers will have one eye on the Cubs out of human nature, because the Cubs' magic number is two and Carlos Zambrano takes the hill at Cincinnati seeking his 18th victory. The Phillies will be host to the Nationals, while the Marlins -- suddenly dangerous again -- try to play spoiler against the Mets at Shea Stadium. In the NL, there are seven teams jockeying for three division titles and a Wild Card.
It is in stark contrast to the junior circuit, where all four participants already are decided. But just being there in the postseason is one thing. Being there with a possible home-field advantage through the World Series is quite another. Being able to decide whether to play a maximum eight-day or seven-day Division Series is yet another. And if you're the Red Sox or Yankees, do you really want to finish behind your rival in the standings? A resurgent Mike Mussina and the Yankees open a three-game series at Baltimore, while Daisuke Matsuzaka goes after his 15th win as Boston continues a final four-game series at home against Minnesota.
Cleveland lost Thursday at Seattle, which means that Boston is now tied with the Tribe for the best record at 94-65, while the Angels are 92-67. Boston owns the tiebreaker advantage against both of those division champs by virtue of better head-to-head records this season, so the Red Sox are currently in position to have home-field advantage through the entire postseason. All they have to do is hold serve this weekend. If the current standings hold, they would open at home against the Angels.
If you haven't done it already, make a note on this night to check in on the Braves-Astros game at Minute Maid Park. Both clubs are eliminated from contention, but the reason to watch is a little guy with a grungy helmet and No. 7 on his back for the home team. It is the final weekend of Biggio's Hall of Fame career. Just take some time out to appreciate his last swings, and the reaction by his legions of fans there.
That gets us carried away.
Verlander will go after his 19th win when the Tigers play the White Sox, and it will be a goodbye game for him in a season that falls short of Detroit fans' autumn expectations. And around baseball, it will still be possible that the same proportion of games -- 10 of 15 -- are important in somehow determining postseason matchups.
What will this day mean in Milwaukee? Will the Brew Crew still have legs, or will they be playing out the last two days following a Cubs clincher? Fans will either be drowning their sorrows or toasting their team at the local Paulie's, which was named "Tavern of the Game" just before the start of the top of the sixth on FSN Wisconsin's Thursday telecast. It should be easy for everyone there to get carried away by this: Prince Fielder just joined Cecil as the only son-and-father team to have each hit at least 50 homers in a season.
Can Tim Wakefield get untracked for the Red Sox? He has won 16 games, but he has been hammered in four consecutive outings and last won on Aug. 25. The knuckler starts on this night against Carlos Silva and the Twins. Meanwhile, Andy Pettitte (14-9) will face Daniel Cabrera (9-17) down at Camden Yards.
Sunday and beyond
This is it for most clubs, a day to pay homage to the boys of summer. Most of them will fade away into the cold offseason, some to resurface at the FanFests and Winter Warmups and Conventions and Caravans, then to start it all over again in February. It will be one last Giants-Dodgers game, a nice Barry Zito-Brad Penny matchup. Maybe Penny will get his 17th and final win of the season, a bookend after the way he won at San Francisco on April 6 in his season debut. For many, this is it.
But fans can expect to see a traffic jam in the standings right into this final Sunday of the regular season. It has happened routinely in recent years, and the possibility for a far larger gridlock entering this last day is very high. There could be a need for a playoff tiebreaker on Monday. There could be a slew of them, perhaps lasting even through Thursday and holding up the start of the postseason. Scenario talk is expected to be all the rage this weekend.
If the Yankees are to win a 10th consecutive AL East title, it could come down to Kei Igawa (2-3), their scheduled starter on Sunday against Brian Burres (6-7). On Tuesday, Igawa made his first start since July and pitched five scoreless innings at Tampa Bay. The Red Sox will have Curt Schilling (9-8) going against Matt Garza (4-7).
Glavine's 300th win may have been his biggest this season, but what the 13-7 starter does against Dontrelle Willis (10-15) on this day could decide whether the Mets return to the postseason. Meanwhile, Jamie Moyer (13-12) will start for the Phillies against Jason Bergmann (6-5). Maybe it will be someone's finale; maybe they play again Monday.
It all comes down to this weekend, and maybe then some. Baseball, carry us away.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.