Final Day brings answers to final postseason spots

There wasn’t a need for Game 163 for the first time in three years to reveal the completed MLB playoff picture. Instead it game down to the final game of the season to crown the final two playoff teams in the National League.

The Atlanta Braves were playing their final regular season home game needing a win just to guarantee them a spot in a tiebreaker. In the must-win game, manager Bobby Cox went with ace Tim Hudson. The visiting Philadelphia Phillies were just looking to get their pitchers some work. The Phillies started Cole Hamels, but like an early spring training game, he was done after two innings. In came divisional series Game 2 starter Roy Oswalt, who allowed a run in his inning of work. The wheels fell off for the Phillies once the bullpen entered the game. The Braves scored four runs in the 4th inning on five hits off Danys Baez (which may have hurt his chances on being included on the playoff roster). Starter Joe Blanton, who most likely will be a reliever during the divisional series, allowed four hits and two runs in the 5th inning (including a Derek Lee solo homerun).

Hudson meanwhile was cruising. He did not allow a hit until pinch-hitter John Mayberry connected for a two-run homerun in the 3rd inning. That was the only hit he allowed until Jayson Werth connected for a two-run homerun in the 7th inning to cut the Braves lead to 8-4.

Things got interesting in the top of the 8th inning. Braves reliever Jonny Venters got two quick outs before Jimmy Rollins singled. Pinch-hitter Mike Sweeney followed with a rocket to third base that went through the legs of Omar Infante for an error. In came closer Billy Wagner. Wilson Valdez worked a ten-pitch at-bat until he provided an RBI single. Pinch-hitter Ben Francisco ripped a two-run double to cut the lead to 8-7. Wagner would intentionally walk Werth, but came back to strike out Raul Ibanez to end the inning. In the 9th inning, Wagner was his normal dominant self. He blew away the Phillies hitters by striking out the side as the Braves entered the clubhouse to await the outcome of the SF Giants-San Diego Padres matchup.
With a packed ballpark in San Francisco waving orange rally towels, the Giants players were just as fired up as their fans. With the NL West title on the line, the Giants sent Jonathon Sanchez to the mound, who had been their best pitcher down the stretch. The Padres turned to young ace Mat Latos, who had struggled late in the season. The Giants scored first with two runs in the 3rd inning. Sanchez ripped a triple leading off the inning. Latos got Andres Torres to strike out, but Freddy Sanchez followed with an RBI single. Aubrey Huff followed that up with an RBI double giving the Giants the early 2-0 lead. That would be all Latos would allow through six innings. He gave up eight hits while striking out four.

Sanchez meanwhile did not allow a run over five innings (plus two batters into the 5th inning) though he did walk five which led to his early exit. With two men on and nobody out, reliever Santiago Casilla induced a ground ball from Yorvit Torrealba to third base. Pablo Sandoval quickly tug third and fired to second base (a risky move), just getting Ryan Ludwick for the force out (maybe Sandoval was trying for the triple play). He got the two lead runners out, which fired up the entire Giants team. Casilla would then get Scott Hairston to ground out to end the inning.

In the bottom of the 8th inning, Giants rookie catcher Buster Posey provided some insurance as he blasted a solo homerun to give the Giants a 3-0 lead with closer Brian Wilson set to take the mound. Wilson quickly induced two ground outs and in fitting fashion, struck out Will Venable for the final out. Posey threw his catching helmet into the air and ran for Wilson as they jumped into each other’s arms, setting off the wild celebration in San Francisco. The Giants overtook the Padres late in the season and finally clinched the NL West title on the final game of the season. With the Padres loss, the Braves clinched the wild card, setting off a celebration in Atlanta.

There was still the issue of naming the American League East champion and the wild card participant in the AL, though it was known which two teams. The Tampa Bay Rays and NY Yankees were tied for the top spot of each. The Yankees were in Boston finishing up their series with the Red Sox. Spot-starter Dustin Moseley took the mound for the Yankees and allowed a two-run homerun to JD Drew in the 1st inning. The Yankees battled back to tie the game at 2-2 after three innings.

However in the 5th inning, the Red Sox went ahead for good as Jed Lowrie hit a two-run homerun off Moseley (he added a solo homerun in the 7th inning), giving the Red Sox a 4-2 lead. The Red Sox would score three more in the bottom of the 6th inning off the Yankee bullpen. Despite putting runners on base and scoring an unearned run off Red Sox closer Jonathon Papelbon, the Yankees could not pull out the win, as they lost 8-4. The loss meant they were the wild card entry into the postseason.

That meant that the Rays, who were in Kansas City still playing, were the AL East champions. The Rays were down 2-0 in the top of the 9th inning (the Royals scored their runs on an Alex Gordon two-run homerun in the 4th inning) facing one of the best closers in the game, Joakim Soria. Soria had converted 36 straight saves (he last blew a save on May 6th). However Soria struggled in his final game of the season. Carl Crawford led of the inning with a single. Soria struck out Dan Johnson, but Matt Joyce followed with a single. Carlos Pena followed with a two-run double, tying the game at 2-2 and giving Soria just his third blown save of the season. Soria did battle back to get the final two outs of the inning with the game still tied. It was in that 9th inning that the Rays received the news that they were AL East champs.

The game would stay tied until the 12th inning. With one out, pinch-hitter Rocco Baldelli singled. He then stole second base as Reid Brignac struck out. Kelly Shoppach hit a ground ball to third base that went threw Wilson Betemit for an error, allowing Baldelli to score the go-ahead run. Rays closer Rafael Soriano got into trouble in the bottom of the 12th inning as there were runners at second and third base with two outs, but he got Mike Aviles to strike out to end the game and set off the Rays celebration.