If every wild-card playoff spot, every year, were decided by a game like the Battle of Denver Monday night, even the last of us holdouts would have to admit that the wild card's pretty all right.
The Colorado Rockies made it 14 wins in 15 games and qualified for the playoffs proper by staging a rally in the bottom of the 13th inning against one of the greatest relief pitchers of all time to overcome a two-run deficit and beat the San Diego Padres 9-8. If that sounds good, it doesn't even hint at how good it was.
It was a classic October baseball game, with comebacks, a grand slam, clutch relief pitching, missed opportunities, surprising heroes -- except for those of you in the Seth Smith and Jamey Carroll Marching and Chowder societies -- and controversy. Matt Holliday, Denver's choice for National League MVP, scored the winning run on a sacrifice fly by Carroll.
Or did he? Replays were inconclusive about whether Holliday managed to touch the plate with his left hand as Padres catcher Michael Barrett blocked him with his left foot.
Replays were also inconclusive about a seventh-inning double off the top of the fence by Garrett Atkins of Colorado that the Rockies and the home fans thought should have been ruled a home run. The Rockies have now lost what they thought were four home runs this year on calls like that.
But none of it matters now. After that wildly entertaining game, after the near silence that greeted Scott Hairston's two-run homer in the top of the 13th and the pandemonium that erupted as the Rockies rallied to win against Trevor Hoffman in the bottom half on doubles by Kaz Matsui and Troy Tulowitzki, a triple by Holliday and Carroll's fly, all that matters is that this most improbable Rockies team, a complete afterthought two weeks ago, has survived to play the Philadelphia Phillies in the divisional round.
The Phillies had a pretty good comeback story themselves. They can just hush about it now. If the Phillies came from nowhere to overtake the New York Mets in the National League East, the Rockies came from a spider hole next to that little shack that's out behind nowhere. Not that one. The other one.
They roar into the playoffs, a pair of unbeatable momentum juggernauts on a collision course. While the Rockies were going 14-1 down the stretch, the Phillies went 13-4. Of course, momentum is that thing you have until you don't have it anymore. The 1951 New York Giants, those comeback kings who ended the season by going 49-9, including 14-2 at the wire, lost in the World Series.
For either the Rockies or the Phillies, the magic and sorcery and incantation and spells are about to stop working. Then the winner of their series will play the winner of the Chicago Cubs vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks. The American League contestants are the Los Angeles Angels vs. the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees vs. the Cleveland Indians.
Starting Wednesday and ending somewhere around Halloween, between 24 and 41 games of baseball will be played. If a half-dozen of them are half as good as Monday's, we'll be talking about this postseason for a long time.
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TBS makes its playoff debut [PERMALINK]
Monday's game was also notable as the beginning of the TBS era for baseball. The network, the longtime home of nationwide Atlanta Braves broadcasts, is carrying the divisional round and the N.L. Championship Series starting this year.
My first impression of TBS was bad. I went to TBS.com looking for information about the very first game to be carried under the network's new agreement with Major League Baseball, which was about three hours away, and I found ... nary a mention of baseball. A prime-time schedule that should have read, in its entirety, "Baseball, 7:30 p.m." instead advertised reruns of "Friends," among other wonders.
I intrepidly found the baseball page, which, hours before the network's MLB relaunch, was filled with boilerplate features. What's on Trevor Hoffman's iPod.
The Schedule looked like this:
Major League Baseball Postseason on TBS
NLDS A Game 1 - Wednesday, Oct. 3
NLDS B Game 1 - Wednesday, Oct. 3
ALDS B Game 1 - Wednesday, Oct. 3
NLDS A Game 2 - Thursday, Oct. 4
NLDS B Game 2 - Thursday, Oct. 4
ALDS A Game 1 - Thursday, Oct. 4
And so on. I called a friend. "Hey, Charlie, want to come over Wednesday and watch ALDS B Game 1 with me and a few other guys? No, I have no idea what time it's on. I don't even know what teams are playing. But it should be fun!"
Can't fault TBS here. It had only been known for at least a full day that ALDS B was Angels-Red Sox. The page still looked like that early Tuesday morning.
I now know, thanks to on-air promos Monday night, that TBS wants you to visit its page on MLB.com, which is pretty lame but does seem to have heaping helpings of Alyssa Milano if you're into that sort of thing.
Still, you'd think the network would dress up TBS.com, which seems like a logical destination, just a bit. At least link to the MLB.com page.
I was thinking that if TBS is going to put as much thought and care into its broadcasts as it's putting into its Web site about the broadcasts, let's just say it looks like Fox has a worthy companion as a carrier of postseason baseball.
But once the game started, TBS did a solid job, very similar to Turner's NBA broadcasts on TNT, though without most of the wit. That's OK, though. What's notable about the NBA on TNT is the straightforward approach to the actual game broadcast, with a minimum of gimmicks, sound effects and crazy camera angles. It gets a little goofy in the studio with Ernie and Kenny and the Chuckster, but when the game clock's running, TNT's pretty buttoned up.
TBS looks like it's going to approach baseball the same way, and I'm all for it. Monday's broadcast lacked a certain postseason majesty. It seemed a lot like a regular-season Braves broadcast on TBS, actually. And that was just fine.
Fox lards its playoff broadcasts with postseason majesty. The postseason majesty is oozing from the speakers as Billy Bob Thornton narrates this year's high-concept movie tie-in opening sequence. Postseason majesty sucks.
The contrast between Fox's overblown production, with a sound effect accompanying each of the thousands of graphics, with the sound mix cranked all out of whack, with the fan polls and in-game interviews and hundreds of crowd reaction shots and lipstick microphones lodged in the dirt near home plate, and the simplicity of TBS's show, with the focus on the action, was stunning.
That said, Don Orsillo and Joe Simpson were not a great opening-night announcing team. The other three booth teams TBS has assembled are Dick Stockton with Bob Brenly, Ted Robinson with Steve Stone and Chip Caray with Tony Gwynn. None of those teams figures to be much good, though Gwynn and especially Stone have done excellent work elsewhere. But all of them will probably be better than Orsillo and Simpson.
Orsillo's regular gig is announcing Red Sox games, and when he's sitting next to the colorful Jerry Remy, he's kind of fun to listen to. He plays straight man and keeps the broadcast on the rails. Sitting next to the bland Simpson, Orsillo's just bland on bland.
There's no halftime show in baseball, so Ernie Johnson doesn't have much to do back at the studio. There's nothing like TNT's fantastic basketball studio show, which is often better than the game. Certain inning breaks are spent at the studio, Johnson chatting with Cal "Um" Ripken Jr., who's no Charles Barkley. What he is is bland.
But bland's fine. Jeannie Zelasko is not bland. Scooter the talking baseball is not bland.
Twice in a row, TBS came back from a break late and had the misfortune of the first pitch of the inning being hit. One of those times, a double by Adrian Gonzalez of the Padres, the network was back to the game in time, but had a giant ball graphic covering Gonzalez as he swung. That's pretty bad, but we'll call it an opening night snafu.
Here's the schedule for the divisional round, in a format I like but don't see much: Chronological. All games are on TBS except for the one on TNT as noted, and all times are EDT. All Games 4 and 5 are, at the moment, "if necessary":
Colorado Rockies at Philadelphia Phillies, Game 1, 3 p.m.
Los Angeles Angels at Boston Red Sox, Game 1, 6:30 p.m.
Chicago Cubs at Arizona Diamondbacks, Game 1, 10 p.m.
Rockies at Phillies, Game 2, 3 p.m.
New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians, Game 1, 6:30 p.m.
Cubs at Diamondbacks, Game 2, 10 p.m.
Yankees at Indians, Game 2, 5 p.m.
Angels at Red Sox, Game 2, 8:30 p.m.
Diamondbacks at Cubs, Game 3, 6 p.m.
Phillies at Rockies, Game 3, 9:30 p.m.
Diamondbacks at Cubs, Game 4, 1 p.m., on TNT
Red Sox at Angels, Game 3, 3 p.m.
Indians at Yankees, Game 3, 6:30 p.m.
Phillies at Rockies, Game 4, 10 p.m.
Indians at Yankees, Game 4, 6 p.m.
Red Sox at Angels, Game 4, 9:30 p.m.
Rockies at Phillies, Game 5, 6:30 p.m.
Cubs at Diamondbacks, Game 5, 10 p.m.
Yankees at Indians, Game 5, 5 p.m.
Angels at Red Sox, Game 5, 8:30 p.m.
Coming Wednesday: The big playoff preview.
Previous column: Mets collapse
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