Pulse-check: Thrills of Division Series unrivaled
Historic first round of playoffs sets stage for entertaining LCS
After his Division Series-winning hit sparked a champagne celebration in Milwaukee on Friday night, Nyjer Morgan was asked if his 10th-inning walk-off single in Game 5 against the D-backs made up for the struggles he'd gone through in the series.
The Brewers outfielder answered quickly and with authority, knowing that the amazing ride he and his team -- plus the rest of us who have been glued to this compelling theater every day since the historically enthralling final day of the regular season -- have been on is about one word: fun.
"What struggles?" Morgan said. "It's baseball, man."
Indeed, and what we witnessed on the otherworldly final day of the season carried right over into all four Division Series that followed. Entering the upcoming American and National League Championship Series, we are satiated from a heaping helping of first-round goodness while primed and pumped for the second serving in America's favorite three-course meal.
In other words, this was an historically good Division Series round. Scratch that. An historically incredible Division Series round. To wit:
Three of the four matchups went the full five games.
There were eight one-run games, a Division Series-round record that beat the previous high of six (1996, 1998, 2009).
The four teams that were knocked out (the Yankees, Phillies, D-backs and Rays) scored 92 total Division Series runs, while the winners (Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Texas) scored 75.
"Baseball is ... don't ever try to figure it," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Friday night. "Just enjoy it."
La Russa's St. Louis club certainly did after its scintillating series victory over Philadelphia, which was the biggest upset of October ... so far.
The Cardinals capped their stunner on Friday night, getting a 1-0 complete-game three-hitter from Chris Carpenter to eliminate Roy Halladay and the Phillies in Game 5 at Citizens Bank Park. The Redbirds continued to sizzle, winning their 26th game in their last 37 since late August, when they began their run from 10 1/2 games back in the NL Wild Card to overtake the Braves in dramatic fashion on that Day 162 we'll never forget.
And as if there needed to be more history cited during these Division Series, Carpenter's gem was only the third 1-0 victory in a winner-take-all series finale in Major League history, the others being Twins right-hander Jack Morris' 10-inning victory over Atlanta in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series and Ralph Terry's masterpiece in the Yankees' 1-0 triumph over the Giants in Game 7 of the 1962 Fall Classic.
"I've said it all along," Carpenter said. "The magnitude of this game has been the same as it's been for the last month and a half with our ballclub and for me. ... We've been dealing with that the whole time. I think that the looseness of our ballclub helps us go out and compete the way we're competing."
The competition on display in the two series clinchers on Friday night was witnessed by millions of fans worldwide who have been soaking in nail-biting baseball for weeks, and it wasn't lost on luminaries of the game who were inspired to share their feelings.
Heck, even Tommy Lasorda was moved enough to tweet about it, declaring, "What an outstanding night for @MLB!" in response to the remarkable wins by Milwaukee and St. Louis.
And what about the Tigers?
Detroit withstood rainy nights and a powerful Yankees offense to outlast the Bombers, even in the Bronx. The Tigers took Game 5 on the road on Thursday night and even saved ace Justin Verlander so that the likely 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner will get the ball for Game 1 of the ALCS in Texas.
"The Yankees are so good that I would be lying if I said it didn't give me a little extra satisfaction to be able to do it here in the fifth game," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and the dependable Detroit bullpen locked down the decisive victory.
"I don't mean that disrespectfully, I mean that respectfully. ... I was just talking to [general manager] Dave Dombrowski -- other than the American League pennant and the World Series, this will be a game I'll remember for the rest of my life."
It seems like every game was such a game in this remarkable first round.
Even the one series that didn't go the full five provided a stage for histrionics. The reigning AL champion Rangers held serve for yet another postseason round, besting the Tampa Bay Rays in four games and getting a rare three-homer game from third baseman Adrian Beltre in the clincher.
"It's unbelievable," Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "We've fought all year. To get back to the ALCS, get a chance to defend our title and go back to the World Series, that's what we wanted all year."
Meanwhile, the Brewers will try to go back to the World Series for the first time since 1982, when their "Harvey's Wallbangers" club lost to the Cardinals. In fact, the ALCS that the Milwaukee team won over the Angels 29 years ago, with a team that featured future Hall of Famers Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Don Sutton and Rollie Fingers, was the last postseason series win for the franchise until Friday night.
Now the Brewers will host the Cardinals to begin the NLCS after a tight head-to-head season between the two NL Central rivals that bodes well for a back-and-forth pennant battle.
The clubs went 9-9 vs. each other this season, with Milwaukee scoring 71 runs to St Louis' 64, and eight of the games between the clubs were decided by two runs or fewer.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke might be in his first year at the helm of a big league team, but he recognizes how special this year, this postseason run, and this team has been to Milwaukee.
"I take a lot of pride in that," Roenicke said. "That's the part where you look at the city, you look at how they've been behind us. ... Coming in and seeing the high-rises with 'Go Brewers' on it, or initials there. The way they come out and support these guys. The chatter that I hear all through the city. It's huge."
It'll be huge starting in Milwaukee and starting in Arlington. It'll be huge when the Cardinals try to pull off another startling upset and when the Tigers attempt to keep their storybook run going.
After all, as the philosopher also known as Nyjer Morgan also known as Tony Plush said Friday, it's all about playing a game, watching a game, getting caught up in the moments and having fun doing it.
It's baseball, man.