Top that, National League!
I don't usually write recaps of playoff games not involving the Cubs (and that's been a while, as you know), but the 2014 American League Wild Card game, a wild, come-from-behind, 9-8, 12-inning Royals win over the Athletics, certainly deserves one.
Despite Royals manager Ned Yost's best efforts to lose this one, the Royals came from behind twice -- once from four runs down in the eighth inning and once in the 12th -- to win and move on to a division series matchup with the Angels.
What on Earth was Ned thinking? He's got a starting pitcher nicknamed "Big Game" and he has him pitching, and pitching well, in a ... big game. And he yanks him ... after 88 pitches. James Shields had thrown at least 88 pitches in 269 of his 285 regular-season starts prior to Tuesday and in all 68 games he had started for the Royals.
And Ned Yost, who has an outstanding bullpen, pulled him for Yordano Ventura, a hard-throwing rookie who had thrown exactly once in relief this year (just prior to the All-Star break) and who had thrown 73 pitches on Sunday.
Gotta love Ned Yost for the entertainment value, anyway. Ventura promptly served up a three-run homer to Brandon Moss, his second of the game, and the Royals eventually went down 7-3. Seemed as if the A's and their contingent of ex-Cubs, Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, Sam Fuld and Geovany Soto (who left the game with a thumb injury) were headed onward.
But Yost's insistence on small ball paid off. He bunted and bunted and bunted and bunted, four times, all successful. His team stole seven bases, a postseason record. And they tied it up in the ninth inning and sent the game to extras and that's when a pitcher who was in college four months ago stepped into the spotlight.
Brandon Finnegan, who was the Royals' first-round pick this year, had pitched in just seven regular-season games and is younger than Javier Baez (Finnegan won't turn 22 until next April). He fired fastballs past all sorts of A's batters as the Royals tried, and failed, to win the game in the 10th and 11th innings. Watch for him in the Division Series -- Finnegan is the real deal.
It's unusual enough to have extra innings in the postseason. There have been 2,736 postseason games in major-league history. About 10 percent of them -- 276 -- have gone to extra innings, but just 42 have gone 12 innings or more.
And finally... and off Hammel, the ex-Cub... the Royals won it, and this after the A's had taken an 8-7 lead in the top of the 12th. Eric Hosmer hit a ball to deep left on which Fuld and Jonny Gomes ran into each other. It bounded away from both outfielders and Hosmer wound up on third, where he scored on a single by Christian Colon. Who? Another rookie, who had just 45 big-league at-bats. Colon then pulled off the Royals' seventh steal, and then Salvador Perez, who had been 0-for-5 with a key strikeout during a previous Royals rally, slapped a single down the left-field line off Hammel, who had just entered in relief. That was the game-winner, just before the calendar turned to October in Kansas City, a few minutes before midnight Central time.
I mean, you can't write scripts like this. That's why I love baseball so much. Sure, other sports have overtimes in playoff games, but nothing beats this kind of drama.
The rest of the playoff field has the entire month of October to match or top this, and I hope they do. The 2014 postseason is off to a rousing start.
Except, that is, for the broadcast team, who were universally awful. From the pretentious pregame show to the lackadaisical attitude of the announcers (at times, you wondered if they understood how exciting this game was) to the factual errors they made (they claimed Jeff Samardzija has "no" postseason experience, which is false -- he pitched in Game 1 of the 2008 NLDS for the Cubs and made 26 pretty good relief appearances that year), TBS is off to a clunky start to the playoffs.
Congratulations to the Royals. They earned this one, big time. And for the A's, Billy Beane's "win now" trades didn't get him even one postseason win. But this one was a game worth talking about for a long, long time.
One last note, about the length of this game: first, my comments about slow-paced games go out the window for extra innings. And this one... man, this one was worth every minute. The complaint department is definitely closed.