Last year it was Matt Holliday scoring the (controversial) winning run in arguably the most thrilling baseball game of the 2007 calendar year.
Tonight, it will be hard to anticipate the drama witnessed in Coloradoís one-game playoff over the Padres of a season ago, but at least weíll have some answers.
Itís going to take the first one-game playoff in the American League since 1995, (Angels-Mariners) and only the third since 1978 (Red Sox-Yankees) to fully set up the particulars in the AL playoffs. By virtue of its 8-2 win over Detroit last night, Chicago welcomes Minnesota in a winner-take-Tampa contest this evening.
The White Sox appear to be the favorite, although based on their offseason activity, there would be something fitting about the Twins and Rays matching up in the ALDS, considering it was Minnesota that helped the hardball fairy tale happen by dealing Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza to Tampa.
So, in all, there will be eight left standing, perhaps only four by Sunday, which, considering it took 162 games to get to this point, seems hardly fair. But unless you want to extend the series two more games, and play until November (which they might do next year anyway, thanks to the foolhardy World Baseball Classic) the LDS is going to remain a five-game set.
Of the nine remaining today, hereís who is not winning the World Series: Milwaukee and Philadelphia. As awesome as CC Sabathia has been, itís not just the amount heís thrown lately thatís to be concerning, but his postseason resume of a year ago: 0-2 with a 10.45 ERA in the ALCS vs. Boston. And while I like the Phillies to win the series in three, either team really is going to play sacrificial lamb for the Cubs, the best team in the National League, or the Dodgers, the hottest team.
Now, look, I understand the want and hope of romanticizing the Cubs and their quest for an even 100 years between titles, but is anyone paying attention? Itís not just that Manny Ramirez hit .900 with 42 home runs since arriving in Los Angeles. Itís not just that Joe Torre has arguably his best chance since the 2001 Yankees. But what about Derek Lowe, he of the 3-0, 0.66 ERA September? Anyone remember what kind of things he can do on a playoff run? Anyone?
While the Dodgers didnít exactly go on a late-season hot streak like the Rockies of a year ago, it was the kind of September that can launch a team into the postseason on a threatening note. Of course, that can also be terribly overrated, as you might remember with the White Sox of three seasons ago, who nearly blew their division lead in the final weekend of the season, then rolled to the crown during the ensuing weeks.
If Iím Torre, I feel good about taking my chances with a trio of Lowe, Chad Billingsley, and Hiroki Kuroda, who as Tim Kurkijan points out, allowed one earned run in 15 1/3 innings against the Cubs this year. Thatís not to disparage Cubs starters Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, and Rich Harden. We're just noting that this is a balanced matchup that could very well be tipped by momentum. And one very potent bat.
In the American League, while I canít exactly speak very highly of either the White Sox' or Twins' chances of winning the World Series, it would be somewhat duplicitous of me to talk of momentum and then disregard either entirely off the high of winning Game 163. Although of the six one-game playoff games since 1978, only two have gone on to the World Series, and only one has won it (New York). So, taking that into account, weíre talking one of Tampa, Boston, or Los Angeles.
At this point, itís a three-way toss-up. Boston is behind the injury eight-ball with major question marks surrounding Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, and J.D. Drew. But the Angels have never beaten them in an October playoff series, and while John Lackey and Co. roughed up the Red Sox to the tune of an 8-1 mark during the regular season, their staff ace is coming off a final tuneup for the playoffs in which he allowed 10 earned runs in 2 1/3 innings against Texas, watching his final season ERA jump a half-run from 3.25 to 3.75. Heíll go up against Jon Lester, who yesterday was named AL Pitcher of the Month for the second time this season.
If you like momentum, you have to like Bostonís Game 1 chances, no?
Also, consider this. Take away his last start of the season, and Lackey still had a subpar September, 1-1 with a 4.48 ERA. Game 2 starter Ervin Santana was equally as bad in his last start of the season, giving up eight runs to the Rangers over 5 2/3 innings Game 3 starter Joe Saunders, who has a 15-inning scoreless-inning streak going, missed his second-to-last start of the season with a kidney stone.
The Red Sox, while they have issues, have had issues since May. And all they did was win one fewer game than last season. Boston in four.
That will pit the Sox against the Rays Ė who will take the ALDS in four games themselves Ė in a baseball apocalyptical LCS. The dream ends with a shot off the catwalk. Red Sox in six.
It begins with the two cities.
It will end with the two cities.
No free furniture this time though.
Dodgers in six. Manny, Lowe, Nomar, and Torre celebrate on the Fenway lawn.