Baseball sparked and blazed into a wildfire on September 28th.
It was a night filled with agony and anticipation mixed with a pulsating sense of dread, fear, and hope. Finally, exhalation, for the Rays and Cardinals. The Red Sox and Braves fell to earth and saw all hope shattered. Rookie Freddie Freeman’s face as he grounded into a double play to end the Braves chances, put the harsh period on what looked like a sure thing. The heartache etched into his young face as he watched the opponent celebrate.
In the mix of all the action young rookies and hopeful prospects such as Freeman were trying to make an impact, rising to the occasion to show the team what they are capable of. For them it’s one part sports contest, one part audition.
For Yankees pitcher Dellin Betances it was a chance not to help the team clinch a playoffs spot, that was done, but it was to showcase a little bit more of his talent. He allowed one hit and two walks, striking out two Orioles batters. It looked good early for the Yankees and the game appeared to be in cruise-control. But Betances name will now be attached to one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history. The Rays rallied from a seven-run deficit to defeat the Yankees 8-7. Betances did what he needed to do, pitching two innings, allowing a hit and two walks. He also struck out two. Looking ahead to 2012, he can rest assured that he’s passed a very big test. The Rays were simply entering into some sort of unimaginable destiny.
On September 4th Tampa was nine games back in the Wild Card on September 3rd, trailing the confident Red Sox. On September 28th they were down seven runs going into the eighth inning and preceded to win the game 8-7 in the 12th inning. Evan Longoria was the star of the upset, but the bullpen had a one-run lead to protect. Rookie relievers Jake McGee and Brandon Gomes played a big part in the Rays holding on. Gomes pitched a scoreless 11th and McGee did the same in the 12th when the ball was handed over to closer Kyle Farnsworth. McGee had pitched 33 innings for Triple-A Durham before his call-up in May, finishing with a 2.70 ERA and 38 strikeouts. His Durham teammate Gomes had put in 25 innings for the Bulls with a 1.07 ERA. The Rays called on him in May after sending McGee back to the minors.
The Yankees pen also brought out a few young arms including George Kontos, possibly the Yankees most major league ready reliever, and Andrew Brackman pitched in the loss. Kontos pitched 2/3 an inning allowing no runs and no hits. Brackman also pitched in short-relief , also scoreless in his 1/3 of an inning of work. The Phillies were also not in a do-or-die situation, nothing more than winning a ballgame and setting a franchise record with 102 wins, they too put some of their young pitchers in the spotlight. Justin De Fratus picked up his first major league win when he pitched a scoreless 12th. Michael Schwimmer pitched two innings of one-hit baseball. De Fratus made his major league debut on the day the Phillies clinched the National League East, add the 28th, a second non-pressure situation to his major league resume. Not a bad way to begin. Career milestones and Phillies milestones seem to go hand in hand for him.
The Phillies National League rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, called Allen Craig up in June from Triple-A Memphis with 42 at-bats under his belt between there and Double-A Springfield. Playing the role of spoiler, the Houston Astros could do nothing with Chris Carpenter whose glittering start included eleven strikeouts. Craig went 2-5 with a home run in the Cardinals 8-0 victory. It was a comeback no one believed would happen. The Braves were in control with an 8 1/2 game lead for the wild card.
As the Cardinals fought their way back, Braves closer Craig Kimbrel was closing in on a most unfair destiny. Will people remember that the 23-year old rookie set a major league record with 54 saves in 79 appearances? Hopefully, but add him to the Braves disastrous ending. September was his undoing. He blew three saves in eight opportunities. Let it also be remembered that the Braves were not hitting and the Braves pen was worn out. It was a nothing game to the Phillies. Not a game they needed anyway. The Braves season ended in a 4-3 loss to their long-ago longtime rival.
Ryan Lavarnway was behind the plate for the Red Sox when Robert Andino hit the game-winning single that gave the Orioles, a team with nothing but pride to play for, the 4-3 victory. Lavarnway’s was another face in a crop of prospects that experienced that historic day in baseball. All Lavarnway can do is look forward to his bright future. One that all who watched that brilliant night of baseball got a good look at.