For some people, October is the month associated with cider mills and Halloween. To others, this writer included, it is associated with the Major League Baseball playoffs. Many baseball fans look forward to the fall as the renewal of some of the most storied rivalries in the sport.
2012 saw the addition of another Wild Card team in both the American and National leagues. Both Wild Card winners would play a one-game playoff to decide which team would advance on to the Division Series.
The Baltimore Orioles and the Texas Rangers earned the two AL Wild Card spots and faced off against each other Oct. 5. The Orioles are making their first postseason appearance since 1997. They defeated the back-to-back AL champion Rangers 5-1, denying them the opportunity to make their third consecutive World Series appearance.
The New York Yankees won the AL East title this year. This marks their third division championship in the last four years. They are currently taking on the Orioles in the ALDS. As of press date, they are tied with one win a piece.
Game one went to the Yankees by a score of 7-2 after they exploded for five runs off of Orioles closer Jim Johnson in the ninth inning. The Orioles regrouped for game two, earning a 3-2 victory and rallying behind rookie starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen. Game three is scheduled for Oct. 10 at 7:30 on TBS.
The biggest stories of the 2012 playoffs are the road to the postseason for the AL West champion Oakland A’s and Central Division champion Detroit Tigers. With a record of 17-12 in the month of September, the A’s shocked many by stealing the AL West title away from the Rangers on the last day of the regular season.
The Tigers entered the last month of the season a game behind the Chicago White Sox. To many, it appeared as if the White Sox were going to run away with the division title and leave the Tigers on the outside looking in. However, behind a record of 15-12 in September, they not only overtook the White Sox, but they ran away with the division, taking the Central by three games.
The Tigers got out to a quick 2-0 series lead against the A’s. Behind ace starting pitcher Justin Verlander, the Tigers won game one by a score of 3-1.
Game two featured some late inning heroics. After Tigers relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit gave up two runs in the eighth inning, it was up to the bats to get the win.
Manager Jim Leyland all but emptied the bench in the home half of the ninth. With the bases loaded, utility man Don Kelly hit a sacrifice fly, scoring the game winning run. The Tigers won the game 3-2.
The A’s were able to turn things around for game three. Powered by starting pitcher Brett Anderson, they were able to shut down the Tigers bats and take a 2-0 win into game four.
The NL Wild Card matchup between the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves will be remembered for two things. First it marked the final Major League game for Braves outfielder Chipper Jones. Earlier in the season, Jones announced that he would be retiring at the end of the 2012 season after 16 years in the majors.
The second, and likely more memorable event was a blown call by left field umpire Sam Holbrook, who called into effect the infield fly rule with one out in the bottom of the eighth, effectively nullifying a late rally by the Braves. The game eventually went to the Cardinals by a score of 6-3, but the game called into question more errors by a seemingly error prone officiating staff.
The Cardinals moved on to play the NL East champion Washington Nationals. The Nationals earned their first division title and playoff appearance after young star pitcher Stephen Strasburg carried the load for them for the majority of the regular season. Strasburg was shut down with one start remaining due to concerns regarding his surgically repaired shoulder.
Game one went to the Nationals by a score of 3-2. They scored two runs in the eighth inning off a single from pinch hitter Tyler Moore, off relief pitcher Mitchell Boggs, to earn the team’s first playoff victory.
Game two was all Cardinals. Outfielder Carlos Beltran led the way with two home runs in the team’s 12-4 rout of the Nationals. Game three is scheduled for Oct. 10 at 1 p.m. on the MLB Network.
The NL West champion San Francisco Giants, two years removed from their own World Series title, faced off against the NL Central champion Cincinnati Reds. The Reds last made the playoffs in 2010, when the Philadelphia Phillies swept them in the Division Series.
Things did not look good for the Reds in game one when starting pitcher Johnny Cueto exited with an injury to his back after throwing only eight pitches. The team was able to cobble together a win, however, by a score of 5-2. Second baseman Brandon Phillips and outfielder Jay Bruce were able to both hit key home runs off starting pitcher Matt Cain in the victory.
The story of the Reds’ game two victory was the stellar pitching performance of starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo. Taking a perfect game into the fifth inning, Arroyo was able to scatter two hits over seven innings. The bats were able to get the job done behind him, as the team won 9-0.
Game three was a “win or go home” game for the Giants. The game was tied at one going into the tenth inning, but a passed ball and subsequent error cost the Reds the game. The final score was 2-1. Reds starting pitcher Homer Bailey struck out 10 batters in seven innings, but did not factor in the decision.