Wow. Remember how the playoffs were boring on the first day?
Diamondbacks and Brewers were locked in a 1-1 game when Arizona starter Ian Kennedy put two on with nobody out in the sixth. After a truly, truly awful bunt by Rickie Weeks that popped straight up and didn’t advance the runners, Jerry Hairston Jr. hit a loooong fly ball to center – only Chris Young made an amazing catch to save the game. And then, of course, it was promptly followed by a Yuniesky Betancourt bloop to put the Brewers ahead 2-1.
They kept that lead even through K-Rod loading the bases in the eighth. In the top of the ninth, in came John Axford, who hadn’t blown a save since mid-April. He allowed a leadoff double to Gerardo Parra – who was 0-for-the-series, and then a bloop to Sean Borroughs put runners on first and third with nobody out. Willie Bloomquist promptly squeeze bunted them home.
Gerardo Parra. Sean Borroughs. Willie Bloomquist. John Axford had been all but untouchable for months, and they were the ones who touched him up in a huge spot.
Still, Axford was able to get the Brewers through that inning (by getting Aaron Hill and Justin Upton out), and the next. Still, in the bottom of the tenth, the Brewers had Craig Counsell, Carlos Gomez, and Nyjer Morgan due up. If they could get those guys on base, the scary part of the Brewers’ order would be coming up, but that’s a pretty easy part of the Brewers lineup.
But they didn’t need the scary guys. Counsell lined out, but Gomez singled and stole second, and then Nyjer Morgan, crazy Nyjer Morgan, drove him in with a single to send Milwaukee to the NLCS.
Before this game could even end, the Cardinals had opened their game against the Phillies with a triple and a double, and a 1-0 lead against Roy Halladay with the meat of their order coming up, the legitimately scary Pujols/Berkman/Holliday. Still, this being Roy Halladay, he was able to retire them without another run scoring. Not great, but hey, 1-0. And the team that had scored in the first inning of every game had gone on to in fact lose that game.
Only, the Phillies weren’t getting much off of Chris Carpenter either. He only struck out three batters, but he completely kept the Phillies off balance. He threw a complete game shutout – yep that’s right, Tony LaRussa didn’t change pitchers. And yeah, you read that correctly, a complete game shutout, when the Cardinals never scored again. It was the first 1-0 victory of Carpenter’s career.
It eliminated the Phillies. 102 wins, and they were on pace for many more before an eight-game losing streak happened right after they clinched the NL East and home field advantage and weren’t playing at full strength. The best rotation in baseball, easily. Almost without question the best team in baseball, too. And they’re gone in five games, to a team that was behind the Pirates in the standings in late July, and was ten and a half games out of a playoff spot in early September. Funnily enough, the Cardinals probably owe a lot to the Phillies for their playoff lives; yes, they played their butts off late in the season and deserve just about all the credit, but it took Philly sweeping Atlanta in the last series of the year for the Cards to get in.
(The game ended on one of the weirdest notes I’ve ever seen, though – a Ryan Howard groundout, during which he might’ve torn his Achilles. As he writhed in pain and the crowd, understandably, went dead silent, the Cardinals celebrated a few feet away. A-Rod, Ryan Howard… why do these things keep happening to them? Geez. Oh, and Ryan Howard had six RBIs by the end of the first inning of Game 2 – and didn’t get a hit after. As long as I’m talking injuries, Skip Schumaker, who had the only run-scoring hit in this game, had to leave in the third inning.)
Axford got the win for throwing two innings, where he blew a save. Roy Halladay got a loss for eight innings of one-run ball with six hits, seven strikeouts, and a walk (intentional). Baseball is pretty cruel sometimes. Thankfully, it’s still awesome.
There are no AL East teams in the ALCS. There are two NL Central teams in the NLCS. None of the Red Sox, Yankees, and Phillies made it past the first round. All of the eliminated LDS teams outscored their opponents in the series. Between the last day of the regular season and these LDS Game 5s, there’s truly been some incredible baseball so far this year. Here’s hoping to much more of it through the ALCS, NLCS, and World Series.