Since the start of the decade, baseball fans have been treated with a lot of great postseason games: Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS. Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. The madness that was Game 5 of the 2017 World Series.
There are a bunch of amazing regular season games (not including Game 162s) that we have been treated to this decade; we just do not talk about them. The game where Derek Jeter performed the dive was a wild game long before and after the historic play. Remember in 2015 when the Cardinals and Pirates went back and forth before Andrew McCutchen finally ended it in the 14th inning? Those are the games that I’m talking about.
And there is one game in particular that should come to mind when we are talking about amazing regular season games. Get your time machines ready, because we’re going to take a trip back to a late season matchup between the Oakland A’s and the New York Yankees in 2012. When the game finally ended after 5 hours and 43 minutes, it was clearly one of the greatest regular season game of the decade.
Each game in this weekend series was an important one for both teams. The Yankees were suddenly in a tight division race with the Orioles after being as much as ten games ahead. They were either tied with or one game ahead of the Orioles all of September, despite a six-game winning streak heading into this game. Meanwhile, the A’s were as much as 13 games back in the AL West heading into July, but had made an improbable run to suddenly stand four games behind the Texas Rangers, a perfect position as the final series against the Rangers at the O.co Coliseum loomed large.
The first game of the series was a pitcher’s duel between Jarrod Parker and CC Sabathia, both going eight strong innings, and Parker the only one allowing a run heading into the 9th. But Yankee closer Rafael Soriano allowed a game-tying home run to Brandon Moss in the top half of the ninth. Relievers Sean Doolittle and David Robertson traded scoreless innings before Russell Martin hit Doolittle’s second pitch of the 10th inning into the left-field seats to end it.
For the second game, a Saturday daytime matchup, the Yankees would send out struggling righty Ivan Nova, who had only made one other start since August 21st and had put up a 12-7 record, with an awful 4.85 ERA to that point. The A’s started lefty Travis Blackley, who was out of the majors for four years before the Giants called him up in early May. The A’s claimed him off waivers 13 days later and was mostly a starter for the remainder of the year. His season with the A’s was decent, but he had proven to be ineffective as a starter.
The bad side of each starter would show up in the game, but that is the main reason why we were treated to such an amazing game.
Things did not start off well for the Yankees, as Ivan Nova‘s night started with three straight doubles from Stephen Drew, Seth Smith, and rookie phenom Yoenis Cespedes, scoring two runs right off the bat. But in the bottom of the first inning, a red-hot Ichiro Suzuki hit an absolute bullet into the right-field seats, getting the Yankees on the board.
Alex Rodriguez then walked but was presumably picked off by Blackley three pitches later, only to have first base umpire Mike Estabrook call a balk. After a brief argument from Bob Melvin, Robinson Cano proceeded to hit a single to left center field that scored A-Rod and tied the ballgame. Another run would score on a bases-loaded walk to Andruw Jones, before the number nine hitter Chris Stewart grounded out to end a 40-pitch first inning. They would add one more run to the lead on a wild pitch in the second inning. Blackley did not come out for a third inning after throwing 59 pitches in two innings of work.
But Nova’s night would not last very long either, as Stephen Drew would lead off the top of the third with a home run. After striking out Seth Smith, a Cespedes walk, a single by Moss, and another walk from Chris Carter, the bases were loaded for Josh Reddick. Nova’s night was done as Joe Girardi brought in their usual LOOGY Clay Rapada to face Reddick, who hit one right back to Rapada, who in turn, turned it into a 1-2-3 double play to end the inning.
With righty Jim Miller taking the hill for a while, Girardi decided to remove Andrew Jones from the game and send up Curtis Granderson as a pinch hitter, who walked but nothing else came out of it. A hit by pitch and two singles off of Rapada would re-tie the game at four, and after two strikeouts, long reliever Derek Lowe would take over for the long haul.
In the top of the fifth, Girardi made another early move, sending up Raul Ibanez to the plate for Casey McGehee. Ibanez had recorded two hits in his last 45 at-bats, but put that slump to rest with a homer into the right-field seats to give the Yankees the lead.
Derek Lowe was cruising up until the seventh inning, where he issued a one out walk to Cespedes, and was replaced by Boone Logan. A Moss single moved Cespedes to third, and a Carter sac fly allowed him to tie the score. After this, no one scored for a while, though there were numerous chances for both teams to score.
The Yankees had runners at second and third with one out in the bottom of the seventh, but could not score. The next inning saw the A’s leave the bases loaded. Meanwhile, Joe Girardi continued to use up his bench; eventually, only Jeter, Ichiro, A-Rod, and Cano remained from the starting lineup.
In the top of the eleventh, Freddy Garcia walked two straight hitters with two outs to load the bases for Josh Reddick. He would proceed to line a 2-2 breaking ball right into the glove of a diving Steve Pearce at first. Yes, that same Red Sox 2018 World Series MVP Steve Pearce.
In the 12th, Girardi made a questionable move to use Eduardo Nunez as a pinch hitter for Pearce. Nunez struck out, but Raul Ibanez lined a hustle double into right center field, and a struggling Derek Norris allowed a pitch to get past him, allowing Ibanez to go to third. But Cliff Pennington took Russell Martin‘s ground ball three pitches later and immediately fired to the plate, where Ibanez tried to collide with Norris to pry the ball loose with no avail. But a two out walk to Granderson, followed by a passed ball and another walk loaded the bases for Jeter, who could only muster a shallow fly to take the game into the 13th.
The 13th Inning
The score would be 5-5 until the thirteenth, when Freddy Garcia, in for a fourth inning of work, finally caved. After a single from Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes and Yoenis Cespedes hit back-to-back homers. September call-up Justin Thomas got the first out of the inning before allowing a third homer in the inning, this one to Chris Carter. All three homers were hit hard, and suddenly the Yankees were down 9-5. Fans were starting to head for the exits. The Yankees win probability, which was at 42 percent at the start of the inning, had dropped to two.
Since they had used Grant Balfour and Ryan Cook, and opted not to use Doolittle again, Bob Melvin decided to call upon lefty Pedro Figueroa to close out the game. That decision immediately backfired when Ichiro, A-Rod, and Cano started the inning with three straight singles to load the bases. Figueroa was immediately relieved by Pat Neshek, who’s first pitch to Nunez shot right past Derek Norris, allowing Ichiro to score. Nunez would hit a sac fly, allowing A-Rod to score and make the score 9-7.
That brought up Raul Ibanez as the tying run, who, as previously mentioned was two for his last 45 coming into the ballgame, but already had a two-for-three night. And on a 3-1 count, Neshek delivered an 89-mph sinker right down the middle, and Ibanez immediately tied the ballgame back up with his second homer of the game.
Two groundouts ended the inning, but the damage had already been done, and the legacy of Raul Ibanez’s clutchness (at least, in a Yankee uniform) was just getting started.
A Wild Way To End It
However, the ballgame was not close to being over. With Soriano and David Robertson unavailable, Girardi was forced to use righty Cory Wade, who had struggled his way to a demotion in early July, and was a September call-up. He proceeded to influence two grounders and a fly out to head to the bottom of the 14th inning.
All out of options in the bullpen, the A’s sent out Tyson Ross, who was terrible as a starter throughout the year (2-9, 6.45 ERA, 1.75 WHIP) and was a September call-up as a bullpen member. Eric Chavez hit a leadoff single and was pinch ran for by rookie September call-up Melky Mesa, his major league debut. After a sacrifice bunt by Jeter and an intentional walk to a still red-hot Ichiro (he went three-for-five on the night), A-Rod hit the second pitch he saw up the middle for what would have been a walk-off base hit…except the overeager rookie Mesa missed third base and had to hold at third, especially with Cespedes throwing home.
While the bases were still loaded, the infield was now in, which allowed Ross (after a bit of a juggling act) to force Mesa out at home on a Cano ground ball. Now the bases were left loaded with two outs. Essentially, the game was left to Eduardo Nunez. If the Yankees did not score that inning, they very likely would have lost the game. The bullpen was depleted to a point where the only guy left that was available was rookie Adam Warren, who had pitched one game in a major league uniform, and was pretty bad. The only player left on the bench was Francisco Cervelli. Meanwhile, the A’s had conserved their bench throughout the game, only making three replacements. It was win now or (eventually) lose the game.
Eduardo Nunez hit a 1-0 pitch down the right-field line that Brandon Moss had in his glove…and then bobbled! As the ball deflected off of his left foot, Nunez reached first as Ichiro scored the winning win. After 14 innings, 5 hours and 43 minutes, and a couple of swings in momentum, in the most improbable fashion, the Yankees had finally won the ballgame.
The Yankees win ensured that they would keep a one-game lead over the Orioles in the AL East. The standings in the AL West did not change, as the Rangers also lost that day.
The A’s won the series finale 5-4, and proceeded to win six of the next eight games heading into the final series against the Rangers only one game back. They would sweep the Rangers, winning the AL West and finishing the season with the second best record in the American League. The Yankees would go 4-4 in that stretch and head into the month of October deadlocked with the Orioles. However, while the Orioles lost two against the Rays to end the regular season, the Yankees would blowout the Red Sox in a sweep and win the AL East. The A’s lost in the ALDS to the Tigers, who would then sweep the Yankees in the ALCS before being swept themselves by the Giants in the World Series.
One has to wonder, had the two teams not played this exciting game, would the results of the rest of the season play out like they did?
What Made This Game Special?
As I mentioned previously, this game had so many playoff implications for both teams. Every game mattered for both squads late in September, and this was no exception. There were constant swings in momentum early on in the game, followed by the stressful middle innings where there is a perfect opportunity to score and it just does not happen. Then there’s the 13th inning disappointment in the home crowd, with momentum gone, only to come back again. Finally, the way the game ended, an overeager rookie completely missing the bag attempting to score the winning run, and then a little bleeder that is bobbled to end it in such an improbable way with so much on the line. This was such an amazing game, and yet, in 2018, nobody talks about it much.
I am not saying this game was on the level of Game 5 of the 2017 World Series, or any postseason game for that matter. But if you are looking for a game to give the “best regular season game ever” award to, an exhilarating game that was exciting from start to finish and a game with so much on the line, this has to be a key nominee.
The Full Game
Play-by-Play And Win Probability Information: Baseball-Reference.com
Video: MLB Advanced Media
Featured Photo: Debby Wong – US PRESSWIRE
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