Twists and turns making for an amazing October
ST. LOUIS -- The tipoff came in the NL Wild Card game when that infield-fly-rule call in the eighth inning helped the underdog Cardinals stun the Braves 6-3 and send them staggering home for the winter.
The paint wasn't even dry yet on the 2012 MLB Postseason logo.
If that was a disputed and blown call that will be forever remembered from the first-ever win-or-go-home shootout, this is certainly becoming an October to remember. Could be one for the ages.
It won't surprise me one bit if some unsuspecting hacker slams a walk-off homer to win the seventh game of the World Series.
That's the way this bizarre October is going. There've been unbelievable surprises, huge disappointments, and so many story lines Bud Selig might have to call in Steven Spielberg to put it on film.
Before going any further let's get one thing straight: This hasn't been great baseball we've been watching. But it's been dramatic, entertaining and compelling -- a fan's delight.
I've seen more postseasons than I can remember and, yes, there've been amazing performances, but usually in just one or two games, or one series.
This year the twists and turns and "can you believe that?" have been all over October.
I mean, who would've thought the Texas Rangers, picked by many of us to finally win the World Series after back-to-back near misses, would blow their division lead, then lose 5-1 to the magical Baltimore Orioles in the Wild Card battle?
And the Cinderella Oakland Athletics would be in the middle of all the buzz before finally wilting. Or that Derek Jeter, the face and captain of the Yankees and Octobers past, would fracture his ankle, done for the year?
"When you think of the postseason, you think of Derek Jeter," Tigers skipper Jimmy Leyland said.
And how about Raul Ibanez? Not only did his homer tie Game 3 of the Division Series against the Orioles in the ninth inning, but he won it with a walk-off blast his next time up.
Certainly not to go unnoticed was the bold move Yankees manager Joe Girardi made when he sent Ibanez up in the ninth inning, pinch-hitting for a struggling Alex Rodriguez, highest paid player in the Major Leagues. "That was a gutsy move by Girardi," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "With all the New York media, can you imagine the heat Joe would have taken had Raul struck out?"
That was merely a preview for Ibanez's two-run, game-tying homer during a four-run ninth inning comeback in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Tigers.
"Can you believe that? It's the greatest thing I've ever seen," a shocked Ernie Johnson gushed over TBS.
The Cardinals have been written off more times than the double-martini lunch.
But they keep coming back. And even though they were thrashed by the Giants 7-1 in a retribution game of sorts Monday night, don't count them out of this NLCS.
Go back no further than Game 5 of the NLDS against the giddy Washington Nationals.
Add the fact the Cards and Giants won the last two World Series.
On a more somber note, Girardi's dad died during the ALDS, but a solemn Girardi remained in the dugout, finishing the job as his father would have demanded.
And speaking of Girardi, his strong comments about two missed calls by umpires in the first two ALCS games vs. Detroit were strong, provocative.
In what was a plea for more video replay, Girardi said: "In this day and age there is too much at stake, and the technology is available. That's what our country has done. We have evolved technology to make things better."
Washington, already smelling a champagne celebration, had a 7-5 lead heading into the ninth inning. Down to their final out, their final strike five times, the Cards scored four two-out runs to win 9-7 and seal the largest comeback in a winner-take-all game in postseason history.
That alone should be a chapter in this amazing October.
The footnote should be that this is SOP for the St. Louis Cardinals. Their amazing surge to the 2011 finish line landed the NL Wild Card berth and they didn't take a deep breath until they ousted Texas in the seventh game of the World Series.
Monday night, as St. Louis was trying to go up 2-0 against the Giants, Cards' outfielder Matt Holliday broke up a would-be double play when he barreled into second baseman Marco Scutaro in a 1-1 game. The play excited the crowd at AT&T Park and maybe also Scutaro. He slashed a two-run single in the Giants' four-run fourth inning and they went on to win 7-1.
Nobody manages a bullpen better than Leyland, but he helped the storyline of this postseason when he decided not to use Jose Valverde, who has become ineffective in the postseason.
"We have to make sure we get Valverde straightened out," said Leyland, showing loyalty for his closer by mentioning he saved 35 games during 2012's regular season.
That's another storyline to this postseason. And you can throw in the Yankees' dreadful offense in their first two games, and even two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum suddenly becoming a middle-innings reliever.
Maybe that was just a prep for his expected NLCS Game 4 start against the Cardinals, an assignment the Giants hope will put Lincecum's 15-loss season behind.
In reality, the postseason is just getting warmed up.
Regardless, whatever the final outcome it will be one not easily forgotten.
I just hope the World Series won't be anticlimactic.
That would be a shame.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.