Monday, August 8, 2011

2007 NL Wild Card: Safe or Out?

On September 28, 2007, in a battle of the two teams' aces, Brandon Webb led the Arizona Diamondbacks to a 4-2 victory over Jeff Francis and the Colorado Rockies. It was a vitally important win for the Diamondbacks - they virtually clinched the NL West championship with the victory. The game was especially noteworthy, though, because up until then it seemed like the Rockies were incapable of losing.

The Rockies' loss to Arizona was their only loss in their final 15 games of the season. A streak that started when they were 6.5 games behind, the Rockies ended up coming almost all the way back. In the end, that one game the Rockies lost to the Diamondbacks ended up being costly, as they finished one game behind Arizona in the standings.

Meanwhile, the Rockies were also chasing San Diego, whose big moment came the next night. Leading by a run in the ninth, they called for closer Trevor Hoffman, who would eventually become baseball's all-time saves leader. He was as automatic as it came. And he was one strike away from nailing down the save that would clinch the NL Wild Card. Then Tony Gwynn, Jr., the son of jewel of the Padres franchise, ripped a triple down the right field line to tie the game. The Padres lost that game, then lost the season finale, falling into a tie with the Rockies and necessitating a one-game playoff.

The Game
The fly ball seemed deep enough that there wouldn't be a play at the plate, but Brian Giles surprised everybody by unleashing a picture-perfect throw from near the warning track. Perhaps Matt Holliday was caught off-guard, or perhaps he was exhausted from playing 13 of the most intense innings you could ever imagine playing. Whatever the reason, the play at the plate was close. Holliday half slid, half crashed into catcher Michael Barrett, who caught the throw from Giles at the same time Holliday was coming home. Holliday slammed his face on the dirt, Barrett showed the umpire the ball, and for a fleeting moment, nobody knew who had won.

That seemed to be a common theme throughout that Monday night. The deeper into the game the two teams went, the harder the game became to predict.

The unpredictability began right from the start. The Padres were able to start Jake Peavy, their unquestioned ace, for the winner-take-all game, while the Rockies countered with Josh Fogg, who got the ball mostly because he was the only starter they had who wasn't exhausted after the tense pennant race.

So naturally, it was the Rockies, who jumped ahead, taking an early 3-0 lead off Peavy. That lead was quickly erased, though, when Fogg tired in the third, a meltdowd that culminated in Adrian Gonzalez's grand slam. The Padres were up 5-3 by the end of that inning.

But the Rockies had tied the game by the fifth and taken the lead by the sixth. When Giles tied the game with a deep double in the 8th, people watching might have already suspected that they were going to be in for a long night.

And so the innings kept piling up, with no end in site. Most of the time, the game continued through the Padres blowing scoring chances, like when Giles grounded out with two on and two out in the 10th, or when Khalil Greene grounded into an inning-ending double play with two on in the 11th. The Rockies got into the act, with Brian Hawpe striking out with two on in the bottom of the 11th.

Then in the 13th, Scott Hairston decided the Padres should stop waiting around for a clutch single, instead crushing a two-run home run to give the Padres the 8-6 lead. And they had Hoffman ready to come in for the save.

But Colorado wasn't impressed with Hoffman's pedigree. They greeted Hoffman rudely - Kazuo Matsui doubled, Troy Tulowitzki doubled, and Matt Holliday tripled, and the Rockies had tied the game after only three hitters, with the game-winning run on third with nobody out.

The Padres did the logical thing by intentionally walking cleanup hitter Todd Helton. But they did the illogical thing by pitching to Carroll. It's true that Carroll was a bench player, rather than one of Colorado's high-powered regulars, so he didn't seem dangerous. But even if Carroll hit into a double play, Holliday would still come home with the winning run.

That became moot when Carroll lofted the deep fly ball to Giles. Or at least what he thought was a deep fly ball. Giles' throw was strong, and it was on the mark. Holliday ran into Barrett and crashed his chin into the dirt. It didn't look like Barrett ever tagged Holliday, but it didn't look like Holliday ever touched home, either. Home plate umpire Tim McClelland hesitated, then called Holliday safe. While the Rockies celebrated, the Padres walked off the field stunned. In the opinion of most Padres fans - and of many watching who didn't care who won - Holliday still hasn't touched home plate.

Is Matt Holliday's left hand touching home plate?

The Rockies continue their hot streak, winning their first seven postseason games in a row to extend their streak to 22 wins in 23 games. And then they had to wait ... and wait ... and wait, as the Red Sox and Indians played a seven-game bloodbath in the ALCS. By the time the World Series had started, the Rockies hadn't played a game in nine games. Their momentum was completely gone, and they needed all the help they could get against the powerful Red Sox. Boston won the World Series in four straight games, taking some of the luster off their magical win over the Padres in Game 163.

The Rundown

4. Colorado 9, San Diego 8 (2007 NL Wild Card tiebreaker)
5. N.Y. Yankees 5, Boston 4 (1978 AL East tiebreaker)
6. San Francisco 6, Los Angeles 4 (1962 National League playoff)
7. Chicago 1, Minnesota 0 (2008 AL Central tiebreaker)
8. N.Y. Yankees 5, Boston 3 (1949 American League)
9. Arizona 2, St. Louis 1 (2001 NLDS)
10. Chicago 4, New York 2 (1908 National League makeup game)
11. Boston 12, Cleveland 8 (1999 ALDS)
12. Boston 5, Minnesota 3 (1967 American League)
13. Minnesota 5, Oakland 4 (2002 ALDS)
14. Boston 4, Oakland 3 (2003 ALDS)
15. Cleveland 4, N.Y. Yankees 3 (1997 ALDS)
16. L.A. Angels 5, N.Y. Yankees 3 (2005 ALDS)
17. Texas 5, Tampa Bay 1 (2010 ALDS)
18. San Francisco 3, Atlanta 1 (2002 NLDS)
19. N.Y. Yankees 5, Oakland 3 (2001 ALDS)
20. Seattle 3, Cleveland 1 (2001 ALDS)
21. Chicago 5, San Francisco 3 (1998 NL Wild Card tiebreaker)
22. N.Y. Yankees 7, Oakland 5 (2000 ALDS)
23. Los Angeles 4, Houston 0 (1981 NL West Division Series)
24. Montreal 3, Philadelphia 0 (1981 NL East Division Series)
25. N.Y. Yankees 7, Milwaukee 3 (1981 AL East Division Series)
26. Seattle 9, California 1 (1995 AL West tiebreaker)
27. Chicago 5, Atlanta 1 (2003 NLDS)
28. Houston 12, Atlanta 3 (2004 NLDS)
29. N.Y. Mets 5, Cincinnati 0 (1999 NL Wild Card tiebreaker)
30. Cleveland 8, Boston 3 (1948 AL tiebreaker)
31. Houston 7, Los Angeles 1 (1980 NL West tiebreaker)

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