Jerry Green: Postseason magic has no room for wild card
It is near midnight and since it is October, we all dread that we'd soon be turning into pumpkins. I remember, it is an eerie night. And down below the ballgame goes on and on, inning after inning. Two ballclubs, the Red Sox and the Reds, glued together in a climactic battle.
And then, even the end seems to happen in slow motion.
Carlton Fisk does not run. He stands at home plate in Fenway Park, takes a couple of tentative steps toward first, gawking at the baseball he has just hit. It is headed high toward the wall in left field, the notorious Green Monster. Fisk thrusts both arms forward, three times, as if he could implore the ball to travel a tiny bit to the right, urging it onward toward the foul pole.
Whatever influence Fisk has that night in Fenway, it works. He charms the ball and it hits the foul pole, above the wall. Fair ball.
Then he runs – hopping around the bases, a winning home run in the bottom of the 12th. All of Boston cheers mightily – I suppose even Ted Williams cheers, wherever he is that night.
Red Sox 7, Reds 6. It is October 21, 1975. Another game tomorrow night.
Flash back further, seven years. It is a gray, dismal October Monday afternoon in Detroit, Tiger Stadium — and the Cardinals are about to finish off their whipping of the Tigers. The Cardinals are ahead 3-0 after four batters.
Then in the fifth, Lou Brock doubles for his third hit. St. Louis still leads, 3-2. Julian Javier singles to left. Brock takes off from second, a flyer. He dashes around third toward home plate. Another run and Cardinals would just about have the job finished.
Out in left field, Willie Horton, grabs Javier's drive buckle high. In one fluid motion, Willie puts the ball into his right hand, throws it toward home plate. Brock, it seems, has the ball beaten. Bill Freehan, the catcher, with his Michigan tight-end frame, blocks the plate, and catches Horton's throw as Brock crashes into him.
Doug Harvey, the umpire, signals out.
The Tigers go on. Mayo Smith, the Detroit manager, creates more controversy. He allows Mickey Lolich, the pitcher, to bat for himself in the bottom of the seventh although his team is behind, 3-2. Lolich hits a single to right field. Dick McAuliffe grounds a single to right. Mickey Stanley walks, bases loaded.
Now Al Kaline is at bat. After 15 years Kaline is in a World Series for the first time. Kaline singles to right center. Two runs score.
The Tigers survive from the very edge of defeat.
Tigers 5, Cardinals 3. October 7, 1968.
Two more games in St. Louis. Denny McLain wins and then Lolich wins again on two-day's rest, beating Bob Gibson.
Flash back another eight years, another scenario.
It is October in Pittsburgh and the Pirates are in hard battle with the Yankees. The Yankees have won 14 World Series in the past 25 years.
They are an historic team of baseball immortals — Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio, all champions. And now the team of Mickey Mantle.
The Pirates stand up to the Yankees' muscle. The Yankees rally to win Game 6 in Pittsburgh.
And on to Game 7.
It is game the Pirates control, 4-0. Then the Yankees lead, 5-4 in the sixth, then 7-4 in the eighth. But then the Pirates score five in the bottom of the eighth.
Bill Mazeroski runs to play second base in the top of the ninth, the Pirates ahead, 9-7.
"I was thinking three more outs and we win it," Mazeroski tells reporters later.
But the Yankees are the Yankees and they tie the score with two runs in the top of the ninth — 9-9.
And now it is the bottom of the ninth in Forbes Field. It has been a game of relief pitchers and multiple lead changes.
Mazeroski comes up for the Pirates. And he hits a pitch from Ralph Terry into the gloaming and through the smoke, toward the left-field wall. Maz does not stand near home plate and gawk. The ball leaves Forbes Field at the 406 mark in left center. Maz runs and trots around the bases, waving his arms in joyous circles.
Pirates 10, Yankees 9. October 13, 1960.
And now, Flash back once more, 36 years into baseball antiquity.
It is October in Washington, and even President Calvin Coolidge is at Griffith Stadium for the World Series Game 7 between the Senators and Giants — Washington vs. New York.
It is a game the Senators tie 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth on player-manager Bucky Harris' single that bounces off a pebble at third base.
Walter Johnson comes in from the bullpen to pitch for the Senators. Johnson — The Big Train — keeps the Giants off the scoreboard. Through the ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th innings. In the bottom of the 12th, Muddy Ruel reaches second base. Earl McNeely is the batter.
McNeely hits another grounder toward third base. The ball takes another funny hop, over the head of Giants third baseman Freddie Lindstrom.
Ruel races home with the winning run. .
The Washington fans pour onto the field.
Senators 4, Giants 3. October 10, 1924.
It is only World Series championship for a Washington franchise in baseball history. Still 90 years later.
These four games — featuring Fisk; Horton and Lolich; Mazeroski; and Johnson — have one thread in common.
They were World Series games. They were World Series games that remain historic and storybook in American sports.
Fisk: In Game 6 of the '75 World Series, creating a sort-of anti-climactic Game 7, won by Sparky Anderson's Reds.
Horton and Lolich: In Game 5 of the '68 World Series, leading to Games 6 and 7 — and a championship still relished by Detroit's baseball lovers who are now senior citizens.
Mazeroski: In Game 7 of the '60 World Series, the Pirates ending the Yankees' myth of superiority.
Johnson and McNeely: In Game 7 of the '24 World Series, the Senators winning Washington's only baseball world championship — 90 years ago.
They were World Series games from other eras, games now ancient, three etched in my memory. And the fourth, Washington's World Series championship, discovered via the very modern Internet from vintage motion picture footage in the archives of the Library of Congress.
Baseball is a sport that lasts and consumes while it plays on.
These were four dramatic games played between pennant winners.
They were not a wild-card game — yes, a compelling, tingling ballgame such as played a few nights ago between two second-place teams. The Royals and Athletics, through 12 dramatic innings.
Royals 9, Athletics 8. September 30, 2014.
It matches the longest decisive, elimination game in what MLB now terms the postseason. The great Walter Johnson — contemporary of Ty Cobb and Ruth — in his only World Series victory, 90 years ago.
I have heard mentioned frequently these past few days that this recent bit of baseball melodrama, the Royals beating the A's, was the greatest baseball game of all-time.
Perhaps it is 2014's Game of the Century. But still it is a wild-card game, between two teams that were not good enough to finish first in 162-game schedules.
I believe it was race driver Michael Andretti, who best described second place: "First losers."
It is now my hope that this postseason of Major League Baseball concludes with a World Series with matching the Royals vs. the Giants. Kansas City vs. San Francisco.
Two second-place teams, another all wild-card World Series.
It would be the perfect farewell gift for Bud Selig, the departing commissioner, who destroyed baseball tradition in America. And dishonored baseball purity with the wild card.
Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sports columnist. Read his web-exclusive columns Saturdays at detroitnews.com.