Yesterday’s sudden death doubleheader in the baseball postseason had the feel of March Madness. While the Cardinals were rallying for what turned out to be the game’s only run in Philadelphia, the Brewers were enjoying a walk-off in Milwaukee. As remote controls worked feverishly across the country, baseball was in the midst of a 24-hour period in which three winner-take-all games would literally come down to the final at bat. Only twice before had more than one sudden death elimination game been played in one day (two on 10/15/2001 and three on 10/11/1981), but in none of those games did the tying run come to the plate in the last inning.
Nyjer Morgan’s game winning single in Milwaukee was only the 12th walk-off hit in a sudden death playoff series game (the 1972 NLCS also ended on a “walk-off” wild pitch), and the first since Aaron Boone’s 11th inning home run broke the hearts of Red Sox Nation in the 2003 ALCS. Earlier in the game, Willie Bloomquist’s RBI bunt single marked only the fourth occasion in which a road team staved off sudden death elimination with a run in the ninth inning, but that historical footnote was overshadowed by the Brewers’ eventual victory.
Sudden Death Walk-Offs in the Postseason
|10/7/11||NLDS||5||MIL||ARI||Nyjer Morgan||1B||J.J. Putz||b10|
|10/16/03||ALCS||7||NYY||BOS||Aaron Boone||HR||Tim Wakefield||b11|
|11/4/01||WS||7||ARI||NYY||Luis Gonzalez||1B||Mariano Rivera||b9|
|10/14/01||NLDS||5||ARI||STL||Tony Womack||1B||Steve Kline||b9|
|10/26/97||WS||7||FLA||CLE||Edgar Renteria||1B||Charles Nagy||b11|
|10/8/95||ALDS||5||SEA||NYY||Edgar Martinez||2B||Jack McDowell||b11|
|10/14/92||NLCS||7||ATL||PIT||F. Cabrera||1B||Stan Belinda||b9|
|10/27/91||WS||7||MIN||ATL||Gene Larkin||1B||Alejandro Pena||b10|
|10/14/76||ALCS||5||NYY||KCR||Chris Chambliss||HR||Mark Littell||b9|
|10/13/60||WS||7||PIT||NYY||Bill Mazeroski||HR||Ralph Terry||b9|
|10/10/24||WS||7||WSH||NYG||Earl McNeely||2B||Jack Bentley||b12|
|10/16/12||WS||8||BOS||NYG||Larry Gardner||SF||C. Mathewson||b10|
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, a classic series showdown between aces was underway. Unlike in Milwaukee, where the final run scored on the last play of the game, at Citizens Bank Ballpark, the only run scored before an out was recorded. Chris Carpenter’s brilliant 1-0 shutout of the heavily favored Phillies registered a WPA of 0.812, giving him the third highest total in a sudden death game, behind only Jack Morris (1991 World Series) and Ralph Terry (1962 World Series). Carpenter’s game score of 84 was also the second highest tally in a winner-take-all contest, trailing only Sandy Koufax’ brilliant performance in the final game of the 1965 World Series.
Top-10 Sudden Death Games by a Pitcher, Ranked by WPA
|Jack Morris||10/27/1991||WS||7||MIN||ATL||W 1-0||0.845||84|
|Ralph Terry||10/16/1962||WS||7||NYY||SFG||W 1-0||0.823||83|
|Chris Carpenter||10/7/2011||NLDS||5||STL||PHI||W 1-0||0.812||84|
|Steve Blass||10/17/1971||WS||7||PIT||BAL||W 2-1||0.629||78|
|Johnny Podres||10/4/1955||WS||7||BRO||NYY||W 2-0||0.623||73|
|Walter Johnson||10/10/1924||WS||7||WSH||NYG||W 4-3||0.589||NA|
|Sandy Koufax||10/14/1965||WS||7||LAD||MIN||W 2-0||0.581||88|
|Derek Lowe||10/6/2003||ALDS||5||BOS||OAK||W 4-3||0.532||NA|
|Paul Derringer||10/8/1940||WS||7||CIN||DET||W 2-1||0.528||69|
|Curt Schilling||10/14/2001||NLDS||5||ARI||STL||W 2-1||0.517||79|
The Cardinals and Brewers may have taken different, albeit equally historic and dramatic, routes to the NLCS, but in some ways, this was a matchup written in the stars. At the beginning of September, when the Brewers seemed to be coasting to a division title while the Cardinals played out the string, an altercation between Morgan and Carpenter made headlines. In a now famous tweet, Morgan responded to his critics, particularly those wearing red and white uniforms, by stating, “Where still n 1st and I hope those crying birds injoy watching tha Crew in tha Playoffs!!! Aaaaahhhhh!!”. As fate would have it, the Cardinals will be watching the Brewers in the playoffs, but it won’t be on television. The 2011 postseason really didn’t need any more drama, but the genuine dislike between the two clubs is likely to result in a very passionate series.
Where still n 1st and I hope those crying birds injoy watching tha Crew in tha Playoffs!!! Aaaaahhhhh!!” – Nyjer Morgan, via Twitter (@theRealTPlush), September 7, 2011
The history between the Cardinals and Brewers dates back much further than the war of words that took place in September. In 1982, the two clubs met in the Fall Classic, meaning this year’s NLCS will mark the first time teams that previously met in the World Series will vie for the right to return in a subsequent season.
The 1982 Milwaukee Brewers were a team of destiny right out of central casting. After stumbling out of the gate that season, the team handed the reigns over to Harvey Kuenn, who led the Brew Crew to an impressive 72-43 finish. However, Harvey’s Wallbangers still needed to beat the mighty Orioles in just one of four games in season ending showdown. Baltimore easily took the first three by a combined score of 26-7, and, with Jim Palmer waiting in the wings, looked poised to steal the division from the Brewers. Instead, Milwaukee responded with a 10-2 victory in the final game, giving the team its first A.L. East title.
In the 1982 ALCS, the Brewers continued their season long theme of coming back from the brink by winning the series after dropping the first two games to the California Angels. Never before had a team rallied to win the final three games in a best of five series, but the free-spirited, mustachioed Brewers were the perfect club to do it. With fate at their back, Milwaukee had to be supremely confident in the World Series, but as is often case when destiny plays a hand, there’s usually someone out there holding better cards. In this case, it was the Cards themselves who beat the Brewers as St. Louis gave Kuenn’s scrappy bunch a taste of their own medicine by rallying to win the series after falling behind 3-2.
With a victory in the 2011 NLCS, the Brewers will have another chance to remove themselves from the list of eight remaining franchises that have never celebrated after the last game of the season. Once again, however, the Cardinals, who have won more World Series than every other team outside the Bronx, stand in the way. It’s taken over 30 years for a rematch, but good things usually come to those who wait. Although only one fan base will be rewarded for their patience, all the stars are aligned to make baseball the big winner.