…the Major League Baseball postseason (complete with two new playoff wildcards this year) has been a smashing success so far, proving once again that baseball is the greatest sport in the world. (And yes, that is an objective fact.)
Last night, the St. Louis Cardinals stunned the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of their National League Division Series to move on to the Championship Series. ESPN’s Jayson Stark is wowed:
These Cardinals keep doing it, all right. Like no one else has ever done it.
Twelve months ago, they went into the ninth inning of Game 6 of the World Series, trailing 7-5, and won. Friday night, they went into the ninth inning of a win-or-go-home Game 5 of the NL Division Series, down 7-5 again, and won. Again. Seriously.
You decide which of those reincarnations was more incredible, more impossible: Down to their last strike of the World Series in back-to-back innings? Or trailing by six runs ON THE ROAD, with a guy who might win the Cy Young (Gio Gonzalez) on the mound?
Keep in mind, before you answer, that in the 109-year history of postseason play, no team had fallen more than four runs behind in a winner-take-all game and come back to win.
Also keep in mind that only one team in postseason history — the 1992 Braves, in the legendary Francisco Cabrera Game — had trailed by two runs or more in the ninth inning of a winner-take-all game and roared back to win.
And, finally, keep in mind that only four teams had ever trailed by six runs or more at any point in any postseason game and found a way to win.
Until this game. Until Friday night in our nation’s capital. So you could make an excellent case that it was this game, in Nationals Park, that topped that game 12 months ago — yep, even a World Series elimination game.
The Nation‘s Dave Zirin is livid about Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo’s decision to shut down ace Stephen Strasburg when they needed him most:
I have no problem with caring about his health. I do have a problem with the Nats tanking this season out of arrogance and the media whipping a new, unsteady, colt-like baseball fan base into going along with the ride.
The baseball post-season can be an unpredictable, mind-bending experience where, as the Nationals found out, having the opposition down to its last out or even last strike doesn’t mean a thing. It’s a time when leaving a team—especially a veteran, resourceful team like the Cardinals—even a pinhole of oxygen can lead to a cascade of horror. The only truism in post-season baseball is that an ace pitcher, like some kind of Gandalfian wizard, can conquer all the dark magic the postseason can conjure. We saw this in Detroit series where defending Tigers Cy Young winner Justin Verlander shut out the pixie-dusted Oakland Athletics in their decisive Game 5. It happened in New York, where the great C.C. Sabathia broke the will and the bats of the fairy-tale Baltimore Orioles in their Game 5. Stephen Strasburg is DC’s Verlander, DC’s Sabathia. His moment was Game 5. Mike Rizzo took that away from this fan base. He took it away from a city that had poured $1 billion in public money into Nationals Park. He took it away from a team that showed all season that this could have been their year.
Rizzo, Boswell and all those who defended this decision should have the courage and the sense of shame to say that they were dead wrong. The true legacy of the Strasburg shutdown was shutting down an unforgettably beautiful season, leaving a legacy that tastes worse than chewing on dry aspirin. The arrogance of management and an unquestioning local media: it will get you every time.
Thomas Boswell’s column here. Key quote: “So all of the pundits who say the Nats can’t go to the Series or even win it, just because they won’t have Strasburg, can kiss my press pass.”
As Rick Perry so eloquently put it, oops.