Cubs Lose Finale, But Baseball Wins On Amazing Night Of Glory

Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays rounds the bases after his game-winning walk off home run in the twelfth inning against the New York Yankees during the game at Tropicana Field on September 28, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

The Cubs lost to the Padres 9-2 Wednesday night, ending their season at 71-91.

Truth be told, I didn't watch much of that game after Will Venable's grand slam (and you probably don't want or need to hear much more than that), because four other baseball games were far more compelling.

I have seen a lot of baseball; much of it bad, some of it good, a little of it great. Wednesday night was the most incredible night of baseball I have ever seen -- and I don't think any other single day is even close. Seriously. It's one of those scenarios where you say, "If you submitted this as a Hollywood script, they'd laugh you out of their office." And even that doesn't come close to the improbability of so many of the events of Wednesday night:

  • The Rays being within one strike of losing, then tying the game on a home run by a man who came into the game hitting .108/.178/.157, with no home runs since April -- and that after they were down by seven runs going into the bottom of the eighth.
  • The Red Sox being within one strike of winning -- after a rain delay of almost an hour and a half, fitting in this season of storms and rainouts -- then losing when their closer, who has closed so many wins for them, gave up three straight hits and two runs.
  • The Rays pushing the Yankees to use 11 pitchers in a marathon that lasted 12 innings and almost five hours (at last, a long game that was more than compelling to watch), before Evan Longoria ended it and sent the Rays to the playoffs with a home run that just barely made it over the left field wall, curling just next to the foul pole -- and within minutes of the Red Sox' implosion.
  • The Braves' Craig Kimbrel blowing a save when Atlanta was two outs away from a date with the Cardinals Thursday evening (after St. Louis crushed the Astros in a game that was over in the first inning), and then Atlanta having the winning run on second base with one out in the 12th inning and failing to score, finally losing on a double play in the 13th.

I could go on and on and on; there's far, far more that happened last night than I can possibly put in a single post. There were multiple heroes for the winners Wednesday night and enough excitement for us to talk about for years to come. I've had people ask me, both here and elsewhere, what I do when there's no baseball. You all know the old Rogers Hornsby quote:

People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.

It's not quite that simple, of course. Sure, there are other sports to watch while I wait for spring training to begin with the promise of better times ahead. But to me, absolutely nothing is as compelling as the drama that baseball can give. Wednesday night, the sport was in its glory. The Cubs stuck around the visiting clubhouse in San Diego to watch. It nearly brought down SB Nation servers, as you might have noticed at times Wednesday night; it kept me up far later than I thought I'd stay up, watching the aftermath of the Rays' incredible win. Listening to Evan Longoria describe how he was feeling after he hit the walkoff homer, you could hear the disbelief in his voice. Even the man who did it couldn't quite process what had happened.

I love this game. Wednesday night was a reminder of why. The game in Tampa didn't win the pennant or World Series, but I couldn't help thinking as I watched the Rays' celebration: "Someday, I want that to be us."

We came to within a pitch, an out, a hit of having two tiebreaker games today; instead, it's a day to catch our breath before the postseason begins on Friday. In a way, that's fitting; I don't believe that any tiebreaker games could have given us any better, more exciting, or more dramatic baseball than we saw Wednesday night. So take that deep breath, and await what we hope is a postseason half as compelling.

In the meantime, BCB will be here all winter; I'll open threads each day to discuss the postseason games, so you can always come here to share thoughts about the playoffs all through October. And soon, very soon, we all hope, there will be a new Cubs general manager (and, presumably, manager) in place and then the new administration can get to the business of building the World Series winner we all dream of.

I'll also have other features here through the winter. Stick around; it'll be fun. In connection with that, if anyone has access to computer software that can run game simulations, please email me. I've got an offseason idea I want to talk to you about.

As I always do, I'll conclude this final recap of the 2011 season with this quote from the late commissioner Bart Giamatti. For me, it reflects the sadness of the ending of one baseball season, with hope filling us up for the next.

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.

This year, I have one thing to add to Giamatti's beautiful words. Before regular season baseball stopped Wednesday night, it showed us the beauty of the sport with memories that, even for those of us who aren't fans of the teams involved, will last forever.

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