That Was Frigging Awesome

Sometimes I try to explain to non-baseball-loving people why I love baseball so much. Yes, I understand the complaints about it -- slow-moving at times, long games, interminably long season... steroid users, etc. But there is also a far longer list of things to love about baseball. Rather than go into that list now, I'll just point to last night's one-game playoff between the Padres and Rockies in Denver as just the latest exhibit for why baseball is so fricking awesome.

The two teams finished the season tied with 89-73 records and thus had to play a one-game playoff to decide who gets the Wild Card in the National League. After 162 games, six months and about 3,000 combined innings of baseball this season, these two squads now had one game to decide if they get to go to the magical land of the playoffs or if they simply go home and sit for five months. It's only the seventh one-game decider.....ever.

The Rockies were almost eliminated in mid-September, but then went on an absolute tear, winning 13 of 14 to close the season and force this playoff game. The Padres were an out away from locking up the Wild Card on Saturday night when their closer Trevor Hoffman, the only man with more than 500 saves in baseball history, blew the game against the Brewers. The Pads lost, the Rocks won and to a one-game playoff we went.

I have to admit I was completely rooting for the Rockies, a team that has been terrible for most of its existence and simply couldn't shed this label of a sham of a team that only had marginal success because its home games were played at high altitude and thus home runs flew out of the park like at softball games. Concurrent with this was that pitchers hated playing in Coors Field because, hey, who wants to try to negotiate a future contract when you have a 6.50 ERA?

Anyway, the Rockies, hot as they've been, came storming out of the gate and went up 3-0 early. I was pleased with this. But the Padres aren't a dislikable team (now that Milton Bradley's gone for the season) and so when Adrian Gonzalez came up with the bases loaded and his team down 3-0, I took notice. Gonzalez was on my fantasy baseball team and I had noticed he finished the season on Sunday with 29 homers and 96 RBIs. Since this one-game playoff actually counts towards regular season stats -- another cool quirk of baseball -- Gonzalez had a big opportunity here in several ways. And he cashed in, crushing as Josh Fogg pitch for a grand slam. Suddenly it was 4-3, San Diego and Gonzalez now had hit the 30-homer and 100-RBI plateau. Not a bad season in that at-bat.

The Rocks were not deterred though, and this is what a team looks like that has won 13 of 14, including an 11-game winning steak. They simply believe they're going to win no matter what befalls them. Giving up a grand slam to blow a 3-0 lead in a one-game playoff might completely finish a lot of teams, but to the Rockies credit it didn't even slow them down.

They fought back, taking an eventual 6-5 lead into the 8th inning, when the Padres rallied again. Matt Holliday, who has had a great year and may win the NL MVP, misplayed a ball in left field and let it go over his head... an unfathomable play in such a big game. And suddenly it's 6-6. And the game moves along and nobody scores... and we go into extra innings of the final game of the season... the only game being played on this night. All of baseball is watching this game.

In the top of the 13th, the Padres appeared to put it away when Scott Hairston (Scott Hairston?) hit a two-run bomb to put the Padres up 8-6. The Pads dugout was going bananas. They still had Trevor Hoffman, perhaps the best closer ever, waiting to close out the game. Excellent game management by manager Bud Black. Save your closer in case you get the lead since it's a road game.

Hoffman comes in and Troy Tulowitzki, who should be the Rookie of the Year, hammers a 3-2 pitch into the gap to drive in Kaz Matsui and make it 8-7. The crowd was just thunderous at this point and I cannot imagine being there for such a wild game. Matt Holliday then comes up and hits that drive to the right field wall where Brian Giles, who was just laying it on the line, goes crashing into the odd, hard-to-play right field wall at Coors Field, just missing the ball... it rattles away and Holliday gets to third with a triple. Now the Rocks have the winning run on third with no outs so it doesn't look good for San Diego. I would think the move here would have been to walk the bases loaded and then throw low pitches to try to induce a groundout where you can get the force at the plate. But Cory Sullivan, who hit .290 with 2 home runs and 14 RBIs this season, rocketed a liner to right field that Giles caught and then fired home... Holliday, despite there only now being one out, decided this was his chance and stormed for the plate. Michael Barrett, catching for the Pads, made an absolutely perfect foot block of the plate. Holliday made an awkward headfirst, chin-bloodying slide and his wrist looked like it twisted backwards as it connected with Barrett's foot. What happened next might be debated for a while.

Barrett's foot moved and so maybe -- maybe -- Holliday's hand touched the plate, but it doesn't look like it did. Barrett, though, dropped the ball... the umpire, Tim McClellan, makes no signal, which usually means nothing has happened yet -- i.e., nobody touched the plate and nobody made a tag so, you know, somebody do something. Barrett picks up the ball and then McClellan signals safe. Which is good for the Rockies because Holliday appeared too dazed to get up and try to touch home. To see it, try going here.

To their credit, I haven't seen much about the Padres bitching about that call. Fact is, the Rockies put the winning run on third with no outs so the odds were significantly stacked against the Pads already at that point.

Regardless, the Rockies are in the playoffs and continue their run on Wednesday against Philadelphia, maybe the only team playing as hot as them. Should be a good one. And that's just one reason I love baseball.

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