This is usually a spot where I chide you for not watching enough baseball over the weekend. But I have a feeling you did just fine. Even if the Patriots were playing the Globetrotters on the moon while your daughter was getting married, you still would have made time for the last weekend of the baseball season. It was kind of important.
(You probably should have gone to your daughter's wedding. But you spent the last 20 years telling her to get married in February, so it's probably her fault.)
To the happenings around the league:
Indians are in
I'm as guilty of Pirates-related tunnel-vision as anyone. Did anyone hear the Pirates are in the playoffs? Had a winning season, you know. First since Sid Bream Bryce Harper was born Bill Clinton no Internet Goodfellas in the theaters. Ayup. Let's all pay attention to the Pirates.
But the Indians aren't as revelatory for whatever reason. Maybe that's because even though they've been in the playoffs just once in the last decade, they made it to a Game 7 of the ALCS. Maybe it's because they dominated the decade before that. The Pirates, though, have won three World Series since the Indians won their last one.
That's long-term stuff, though. Let's look at the last two seasons for the Indians and Pirates:
Pirates, first half: 47-43
Indians, first half: 47-42
Pirates, second half: 25-47
Indians, second half: 33-40
Pirates, first half: 48-37
Indians, first half: 44-41
Pirates, second half: 31-46
Indians, second half: 24-53
The two teams followed the same miserable pattern. But for some reason, it was easier to find the Pirates more compelling. Not sure if I can explain that, other than by using the under-.500 streak like a blunt object.
Regardless, the Indians are in. They're the 19th team in major-league history to lose 90 games the season before a playoff appearance:
1967 Red Sox
2008 White Sox
2013 Red Sox
World Series winners in that group: 1987 Twins and no one else. Maybe that's a fluke, maybe that's significant. Probably a fluke. /touches side of nose
If you're a baseball purist, take a brief second to open up your cold, black heart and look at that list. Look at the recency. The Wild Card was implemented in 1995, and there were five 90-loss teams to make the playoffs before it. There have been 14 since, including 11 since the turn of the millennium.
Before the extra playoff spots, teams used to have sliding scales for their good seasons. The Giants were miserable throughout the '70s, so when they had a competitive season in '78, that was almost like winning the second Wild Card. Hey, good job and/or effort, Giants. Way to make the actual good teams sweat, gang!
Now? The yardstick for a good season is to be one of the 33 percent. If you can't do that, don't bother. A third of the teams make the playoffs now, and two of those teams don't make it out of the one-game playoff.
It's still going to take some getting used to, but the one part I like is that teams like the '13 Indians and Pirates can hold up some kind of blue ribbon for their fans. It's been a long, mostly successful season for both organizations. To come away completely empty-handed would have been … well, not unfair, exactly. But more than a little cruel.
Congratulations to the Indians, then. Turns out Ubaldo Jimenez isn't going to be out of the league in six months after all! Didn't see that coming.
Rangers and Rays to have a one-game deathmatch
The one-game deathmatch is to see who plays in the one-game deathmatch to play in the five-game deathmatch to play in the seven-game deathmatch to play in the final seven-game deathmatch. When you put it like that, it's probably not time-efficient to start planning parade routes just yet.
The Rays were riding a seven-game winning streak into Toronto, including a three-game sweep of the Yankees. They had the advantage over both the Indians and Rangers. But they got initialed right upside the head, with R.A. Dickey shutting them down in the first game and J.A. Happ shutting them down in the second. They needed to win the final game just to force a playoff, and they did. Barely. They needed this:
Next pitch? A curveball at Adam Lind's shoulders, in the other batter's box, grounded for an inning-ending double play. I'm not saying that Maddon's ejection was the only thing that would have worked, there. But he had to try something, and the Hail Mary worked. The permutation that followed was Rays-friendly, and they'll live to see a 163rd game.
Of course, let's take a trip back in time and see why the Rays are even in a 163rd game.
More ridiculous every time you watch it. And even if the phantom call doesn't hose the Rays, the odds are still good that one of the greatest closers of the last decade is going to get the final out.
Still makes you wonder, though.
And the Rangers needed that game. They needed it way more than they would have expected. To get to this point, they needed to lose seven straight series, including one to the Twins, and one each to the Rays and Royals, who were direct competitors. Yu Darvish lost two 1-0 games during that stretch.
After the Justin Maxwell walk-off grand slam, though, the Rangers never lost again. They took three against the Astros and four against the Angels for a 7-0 home stand that was just good enough to make the play-in to the play-in to the playoffs. The Rangers had the best record in the American League on August 23, so it's still a disappointment that they aren't AL West champions. But at least they're playing past the 162nd game for the fourth straight season.
There was a point Sunday when Yu Darvish was losing 1-0 again. Look, I'm a widely confirmed troll. I like bad things to happen to good players because of the #narrative. But even I was going to punch something if Darvish lost the 162nd game 1-0. Did you know there's a vocal minority out there that's absolutely convinced that Darvish isn't a big-game pitcher? That he isn't a true ace?
If Darvish lost that game -- on a Mike Trout homer, too, which is something that could happen to a radioactive Sandy Koufax -- those goofballs would have been validated. At least, in their own minds. And they would have preened and strutted around like they were mating peacocks. No one wanted that. Darvish is good, the Rangers are good, and everyone gets to play a 163rd game to see who gets to the 164th game.
Alright, I'm going to find something positive to say because I'm sick of being so negative all the time.
The catcher who did that was Matt Pagnozzi. I like that feeling when you see a player at a position with a certain last name, and you have absolutely no doubt that he's related to a former player at that same position. What, you're telling me there are two catching Pagnozzis who are completely unrelated? Poppycock.
That's a good feeling, and it comes by way of this Astros-related screw-up.
This Pagnozzi hit .210/.274/.314 in Triple-A for the Braves before heading straight to the Astros' major-league roster after a September deal. When you get a chance to make that kind of move, you kind of have to act. And while you thought it was an unimportant deal, it brought us that GIF.
So, good work, Astros. Also, dammit, Astros.
Skip to about 0:45 for the real good stuff.
To be fair, that was an absolutely bizarre play. The fireworks were a nice touch, though.
Wait, why are we still talking about the Marlins?
Because Henderson Alvarez threw a no-hitter. And it was a strange, hilarious no-hitter. The Marlins won in the ninth, 1-0, on a walk-off wild pitch, and that led to a call like this from the Marlins' play-by-play announcer:
…Dobbs, check-swing, it rolls away! HERE COMES STANTON! IT'S A NO-HITTER!
Here comes Stanton. It's a no-hitter. So if Stanton didn't score, it … wait, so if Stanton didn't get a single … so if Henderson Alvarez threw nine hitless innings without the Marlins scoring, that would somehow be less impressive than if he … wait, so …
Damn. And I already used up my if-it-wasn't-for-my-horse reference for the year. Here comes Stanton, it's a no-hitter … c'mon, that's just weird.
The important thing is to recognize that Henderson Alvarez throws in the mid-90s with a wipeout slider, and he strikes hitters out like Aaron Cook. He just might be the weirdest pitcher in the majors. And for the no-hitter? Nine innings, four strikeouts. I have the feeling that he's a foshball away from a Cy Young, even if I'm not sure what a foshball is.
And while it was the B-lineup for the Tigers, that still has to be a little discouraging, right? We have a good statistical record in the multiverse for teams that lose their last game before the playoffs on a no-hitter. Here, though, we just have to guess that it doesn't mean a damned thing. Unless it does.
The Reds and Pirates played the baseball equivalent of an orchestra dicking around in the pit a half-hour before the conductor even shows up
Three meaningless games before the one-game playoff on Tuesday. Apparently, that kind of dynamic leads to things like this:
In which case ... yeah, I approve. More meaningless games, please. But only if they lead to more inside-the-park homers.