We are only a few days into the 2014 postseason, but it’s safe to say that when we look back over the offseason Friday’s bonanza of baseball will turn out to be one of the most memorable days from it.
It was the only day on the Division Series schedule in which we were guaranteed games from all four series – Monday could provide that too if the two American League series both go to a fourth game – and all four served up the sort of drama and excitement that playoff baseball is all about.
The MLB.com Game Recap videos combined provide a great way to spend 15 minutes re-living the action from the four Friday contests.
Detroit and Baltimore got the day underway with Game 2 of their series starting at 17.07 BST. The Orioles staged an incredible comeback to turn around a 5-1 deficit and to put themselves in the best possible position of a 2-0 series lead heading to Detroit.
The loss for Detroit highlighted the flaws of a team containing several outstanding players, yet having weak links in other parts of their roster despite it being put together at considerable expense. Although a home win for the Tigers in Game Three will put a completely different spin on the series, you would expect the Orioles to complete the job based on their regular season performance and the first two games of the series.
San Francisco and Washington went next and the Giants showed the World Series-winning magic of 2010 and 2012 may still be with them by grabbing the advantage by winning Game One.
One big change from those two title triumphs and this year is the introduction of the Video review challenge system. We saw the huge benefits of that in the third inning when the Giants’ Travis Ishikawa was called out on a close force-out play at second base only for the review process to prove that he was safe.
Ishikawa came around to score the opening run of the game two batters later and that’s exactly why replay is so important; getting potentially crucial calls right rather than relying on the hoary old tosh of ‘luck evening itself out’. Just as importantly, the umpire was able to come out of the game knowing that even though his professional pride may have taken a very slight dent by getting a tricky call wrong, the mistake didn’t cost the Giants and he didn’t have to deal with a bunch of reporters and irate fans.
Two other things stood out from the game for me. Firstly, there was the monumentally important bases-loaded strikeout by Hunter Strickland to end a Nationals threat in the sixth inning. Save-compiling closers apart, relief pitchers tend to fly under the radar until the playoffs come along. Strickland’s 100MPH punch-out pitch will certainly have gained him some attention last night. Secondly, the Bryce Harper hype is something I’ve written about before, but even the naysayers have to admit that he has enormous talent. Mark down his gargantuan moonshot in the seventh inning – off Strickland, such is the hero/zero highwire act that relievers walk – as his first real playoff highlight.
Then came the ding-dong drama of the series opener between the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Cards beat Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs yet again and whilst their fans will be desperate to take the next two games in as trouble-free a manner as possible, the rest of us can only look at all that happened in Game One and ask for four more of those, please.
It was a game that had everything, not least the sort of amped-up aggro that looks certain to turn the rest of the series into a passion-filled tussle that may well spill over from a figurative fight to a literal one.
In every best-of-five-game series, the home team that has lost Game One is desperate to win the next game rather than head to their opponent’s backyard in an 0-2 hole, yet it must carry even more weight here. The facts are simple: the Dodgers somehow lost after knocking out the Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainwright and handing a 6-1 lead to Kershaw to protect. If ever a team needed a win to wipe away the memories of yesterday with a win today, it’s these Dodgers.
A small crumb of comfort for the Dodgers is that they’re not yet in as big a hole as their cross-town rivals, the Los Angeles Angels.
After two games at home, they’ve now suffered two extra inning defeats to Kansas City as the completely spurious but always-attractive feeling of a ‘team of destiny’ really starts to take hold around the Royals.
Kauffman Stadium is going to be absolutely electric on Sunday night as Kansas City hosts their first postseason game since 1985. The Angels didn’t win 98 regular season games by chance and so a comeback cannot be counted out, yet they are going to need C.J. Wilson to find a quality start from somewhere after an inconsistent patch of form. Despite his nickname, ‘Big Game’ James Shields hasn’t been particularly impressive so far in his playoff appearances. Sunday night would be the perfect time for the Royals’ starting pitcher to live up to his billing.