10/04/12 4:55 PM ET
Baseball closes the book on its best season yet
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
"Actually, it was 1908," said John Thorn, the Official Historian of Major League Baseball, delivering his response quickly over the phone on Thursday afternoon.
OK, so this was the second-best.
After explaining the far-ranging significance of Fred Merkle's infamous bonehead play from that 1908 season, Thorn added, "Back then, you just had extraordinary pennant races in both leagues. You had four teams in the hunt in the American League going into the final week of the season, and one of the culminating games was between the White Sox and the Indians. Addie Joss against Ed Walsh.
"I think Walsh struck out 15 and allowed two hits, and Addie Joss threw a perfect game to win 1-0 for Cleveland."
Then Thorn chuckled, saying, "Not that I was there."
We've all been here for this season, though, and we've all seen everything to keep folks rubbing their eyes from seven no-hitters (including two perfect games) to Teddy Roosevelt finally winning a foot race after more than 500 tries against the other mascots in the middle of a home game for the Washington Nationals.
Speaking of the Nationals, they are the first Washington baseball team to make the postseason since 1933. That was just 24 years after the real Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House.
Come to think of it, this was the best regular season ever, and even Thorn budged a little -- just a little.
"You do have all of these historical accomplishments this year that I think will take time for people to absorb," Thorn said. "[Craig] Kimbrel's season for [the Atlanta Braves] was just unbelievable. He finished with the highest strikeouts/nine-inning ratio (16.5) of any pitcher [in history] of 50 innings or more. You also have Fernando Rodney [of the Tampa Bay Rays] who was kind of written off. Anybody could have had him for $1 million, and he set a Major League record for the lowest ERA (0.60) ever for any reliever with 50 innings or more.
"So we've had some marquee accomplishments, but we've also had some under-the-radar accomplishments, which may be even harder for people to imagine in the future."
As for those marquee accomplishments, where should we start? How about at the end?
On the last day of the season, the Oakland A's took first place for their only time this season, and that's when it counted most. They became just the fifth team ever to make the playoffs after trailing by at least 13 games in the standings. In fact, they were 13 games behind the Texas Rangers on June 30, but they completed their journey to the top of the AL West by sweeping the Rangers in Oakland this week.
We won't even mention the A's are considered the San Francisco Bay Area's other team. Or that they have baseball's lowest payroll. Or that they featured a constantly changing roster. Or that they suffered a major blow during the spring with Scott Sizemore's season-ending injury. Or that they have a starting pitching rotation of mostly rookies.
Instead, let's discuss Miguel Cabrera, who accomplished something that hadn't been done since 1967. After he won the batting, RBI and home run titles in the AL, he officially replaced Carl Yastrzemski as the last person to win a Triple Crown.
"That's a terrific story, and Cabrera might not even win the American League's MVP Award," said Thorn, referring to an another terrific story involving Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout.
All Trout has done this season is everything.
Without Trout, the Angels continue to struggle after a brutal start instead of rebounding and threatening to join the A's and the Rangers at the end in a battle for the AL West title. He hit .326 with 30 home runs, a .564 slugging percentage and a Major-League high 129 runs. He also led baseball with 49 steals, and his fielding was spectacular.
Did we mention Trout is only a rookie? Which means this season also had one of the greatest rookie years ever for a player.
But back to the last day. With the expanded playoffs this season featuring two Wild Cards for each league instead of one, home-field advantage likely will be more important than ever. And guess when home-field advantage was decided for both leagues? The final day.
That's when the New York Yankees barely clinched home-field advantage in the AL over the Baltimore Orioles, and when the Nationals barely did the same in the NL over the Cincinnati Reds.
There also were other great moments on the final day. The AL East was without a champion that morning until the Yankees edged the Orioles in the standings that night by hammering the arch-rival Boston Red Sox. Even so, the Orioles still reached the postseason as a Wild Card team, and the same went for the Rangers.
Courtesy of those extra Wild Cards teams this season -- combined with parity throughout the Major Leagues -- more than half of baseball's 30 teams still were mathematically eligible for a playoff berth entering the last week of the season.
Sort of reminds you of ...
"Last season," Thorn said. "That's when you had the most spectacular final day in baseball history. There were pennant outcomes being decided in different cities, all within minutes of each other."
True, but last season was without a knuckleball pitcher doing the outrageous. Such was the case this season, when the New York Mets' R.A. Dickey finished with a 20-6 record and 2.73 ERA for a shaky team. Not only that, he led the NL with 230 strikeouts and 233 2/3 innings pitched.
If that's not enough, Dickey didn't reveal until this week that he pitched at his Cy Young Award-winning level despite tearing a stomach muscle his second start of the season in mid-April.
Nobody in 1908 did that.
I don't think.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.