It seemed most appropriate that final-at-bat drama played such a large role in determining the last entrants for the playoffs, for the 2011 season witnessed a total of 207 game-ending hits resulting in a victory for the home club -- no season since Major League Baseball began expanding in 1961 has ever seen more walk-off hits.
That number does not include walk-off victories that were the result of non-hits. There were 243 total walk-off wins this season.
The Rays' 8-7 victory over the Yankees on Wednesday, on a 12th-inning home run by Evan Longoria, was the team's first since May 19, 2006 in which they tied a game in the bottom of the ninth with a home run and then won the contest in extra innings on another round-tripper.
Dan Johnson's two-out, two-strike, pinch-hit game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth was the first of its kind for the Rays. No pinch-hitter in Tampa Bay history had ever tied a game with a home run in the bottom of the ninth, down to his last strike with two outs.
In their loss, the Red Sox entered the final inning with a 3-2 lead. They had been 77-0 when leading after eight innings.
Boston went 7-20 in September, while Tampa Bay went 17-10. Boston's .259 winning percentage in September was the second-worst in the Majors.
The Wild Card berth is the first for Tampa Bay, having won American League East titles in 2008 and 2010 for their first two playoff appearances.
On the strength of Chris Carpenter's two-hit shutout, and coupled with the Braves 13-inning loss to the Phillies, the Cardinals captured the National League Wild Card.
Carpenter's gem produced a Game Score of 93. That score is equal to the second highest of his career, and was the best for the Cardinals all season. It tied Carpenter with James Shields (May 22), Clayton Kershaw (June 20) and Anibal Sanchez (Sept. 10) for the fifth-highest of the season.
The Phillies-Braves contest was Atlanta's 26th extra-inning game this season, the most in the Majors. The Braves were 14-12 in those games.
The Cardinals went 23-9 in their last 32 games, while the Braves were 11-21 in their final 32. In September, the Cardinals had an 18-8 record (the best in the NL by winning percentage) while the Braves had a 9-18 record (the worst in the NL by winning percentage).
For St. Louis, this appearance in the postseason marks the ninth time since 1995 they have reached the playoffs. It is the second time they have claimed the Wild Card slot, with the other occurrence taking place in 2001.
Miguel Batista tossed a two-hit shutout as the Mets beat the Reds, 3-0. It was the first shutout for Batista since he threw a six-hitter for the D-backs on July 19, 2006. Batista fanned five and walked two, which produced a game score of 86 -- the highest for Batista since May 28, 2002, when he threw nine scoreless innings on one hit and one walk and struck out three.
Jose Reyes went 1-for-1 and finished the season with an NL-leading .337 batting average. Reyes is the first Mets player to win a batting title, and the second shortstop in the past three seasons to win the crown. Florida's Hanley Ramirez led the NL with a .342 mark in 2009. Before then, no NL shortstop had won a batting title since the Pirates' Dick Groat led the league with a .325 mark in 1960.
Stephen Strasburg allowed one hit and struck out 10 in six scoreless innings, and picked up his first win of the season as the Nationals beat the Marlins, 3-1. Strasburg's 10 strikeouts marked the third time in his 17-game career he has reached double digits in whiffs. He is the 21st pitcher since 1920 to have as many as three double-digit strikeout games this quickly in his career. Hideo Nomo had seven, the most.
Jose Valverde allowed a hit and struck out two in a scoreless ninth inning and completed the season a perfect 49-for-49 in save opportunities.
His streak of 49 straight successful conversions from the start of the season is the second longest in history only to Eric Gagne's 55 straight in 2003. In his 49 save situations, Valverde threw 49 innings and allowed three runs, for a 0.55 ERA (overall, he finished with a 2.24 ERA in 72 1/3 innings).
He allowed one run on nine hits and struck out 19 in his last 19 save situations. Dating back to last year, Valverde has converted 51 consecutive save opportunities. The streak is the third longest in history, trailing Gagne's 84 in a row from 2002-04 and Tom Gordon's 54 straight from 1998-99.
The Rangers, Phillies and Brewers all won their final games and set franchise records for victories.
The Rangers defeated the Angels, 3-1, for their 96th win, passing the 95 wins of the 1999 team. The Phillies beat the Braves, 4-3, for their 102nd victory, surpassing the 101 wins of the 1976 and 1977 clubs. And the Brewers defeated the Pirates, 7-3, for win No. 96. The 1979 and 1982 Brewers teams had shared the club record with 95 victories.
Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro went 1-for-3 to finish the season with an NL-leading 207 hits. He is the fourth since 1893 to be in his age-21 season or younger and lead his league in hits -- the others were Al Kaline (1955) and Ty Cobb (1907-08). Castro is the first NL batting champion to be so young.
The 207 hits are the sixth most in history for a player in his age-21 or younger season. Those with more: Lloyd Waner (223 in 1927), Alex Rodriguez (215 in 1996), Cobb (212 in 1907), Buddy Lewis (210 in 1937) and Denny Lyons (209 in 1887).
With the hit, Castro extended his streak of reaching base safely to 40 games. Since 1919, Castro's 40-game streak is tied for the fifth-longest by a Cubs player in a season. The other Cubs with single-season streaks of at least 40 games in the live-ball era: Riggs Stephenson (44 in 1928), Jerome Walton (43 in 1989). Gabby Hartnett (42 in 1937), Stan Hack (41 in 1945), Hack Wilson (40 in 1929) and Jim Hickman (40 in 1970).
Matt Kemp Kemp finished first in the NL in home runs and RBIs (126) and third in batting at .324. He is the first Dodgers player since Dolph Camilli in 1941 (34 homers, 120 RBIs) to lead the league in homers and RBIs. He also is the first NL outfielder since George Foster in 1977 to lead the league in runs, RBIs and home runs.
Kemp's 353 total bases are the 12th-most by any NL center fielder since 1901. Wilson had the most: 423 in 1930. The list descends as follows: Willie Mays (382 in 1955), Mays (382 in 1962), Duke Snider (378 in 1954), Mays (377 in 1954), Snider (370 in 1953), Mays (366 in 1957), Mays (360 in 1965), Hack Wilson (355 in 1929), Richard Hidalgo (355 in 2000) and Andruw Jones (355 in 2000).
Roger Schlueter is senior researcher for MLB Productions. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.