Around the 12th inning of last night’s (and morning’s) NL Wild Card game between the Chicago Cubs and the Colorado Rockies, I came upon the realization that for one team, the result of this marathon of a baseball game was going to absolutely stink. Of course, it didn’t cross my mind that the loser would be my favorite team, the Cubs, who not only had the best record in the National League just days earlier and had recently won a World Series, but also held home-field advantage and trotted out a star-studded lineup in the bottom of each inning. But in a game filled with unbelievable plays, contentious controversies, continuous substitutions, unhittable pitching and All Stars on each side, it was the Rockies who came out on top of one of the greatest, longest, and most agonizing games I have ever watched, a 2-1 Colorado victory. The winner-take-all battle was also one of the most interesting sports games I have seen, so as I sit here typing on my laptop running on four and a half hours of sleep, here are my takeaways after witnessing history.
- Baseball is fun to watch. While football and basketball may have passed baseball on the totem pole of popular American sports, there’s still magic in the baseball diamond. Yes, the NL Wild Card game was a low-scoring affair and lasted five hours (ending approximately 1:10 ET), but those late and extra innings were captivating and dramatic. After the Cubs tied the game on a Javier Baez double in the eighth inning, every batter came to the plate with the potential to be a playoff hero. And ultimately, the hero turned out to be Rockies third-string catcher Tony Walters, who hit a definitive single with runners on the corners that gave Colorado the edge they needed. The strategic element of baseball was on full display as well, with each team cycling through their entire benches to gain positional advantages. Each team gave it all they had, and the urgency made for special baseball.
- The Colorado Rockies are no longer a gimmick team. Given the Rockies’ putrid franchise history and well-chronicled struggles with Denver’s high altitude, Colorado’s playoff appearances the past two seasons were nothing short of surprises. But the Rockies have put together a winner in the Mile High City, and this team was the exact antithesis of your father’s Rockies team- a team that won a playoff game thanks to stellar pitching and depth on an away field. Reading that even two years ago would induce a fit of laughter, but these Rockies are proving the sports world wrong and are perhaps the next great American sports story. Even with last game’s light hitting, the Rockies are loaded in the lineup with stars Nolan Arenado (1 for 5, 1 RBI) and Trevor Story (3 for 6, 1 run) in the infield and Charlie Blackmon (1 for 3, 1 run) out deep. This is a dangerous team in a wide-open National League playoff bracket.
- Time is running out on the Cubs’ dynasty. Only a couple days ago, the Cubs were in first place in the National League. After losses in the NL Central winner-take-all match and NL Wild Card in consecutive days, Chicago is now on the outside looking in. Core players such as Kris Bryant (1 for 6), Anthony Rizzo (1 for 4) and Javier Baez (1 for 5, 1 RBI) are locked in for the long term, but manager Joe Maddon only has a year on his contract, the payroll is astronomical, and the Cubs’ offense and bullpen has dropped off from its World Series-caliber perch. Seriously- according to ESPN, the team was second to only the Orioles, one of the worst teams in baseball history, in games with either one or no runs scored. The inability to score runs doomed the Cubs last night and wasted strong pitching performances, and will need to be fixed if Chicago is to end its two-year championship drought.
- Baseball’s unwritten rules are behind in the count. This week, the higher ups at Major League Baseball released an advertisement featuring the very thing that has angered baseball traditionalists for years- bat flips, celebrations and, to put it simply, baseball players having fun. The unwritten rules that supposedly govern baseball are holding the game back, and MLB is making a great move by embracing the exciting. One such example of personality impacting the game was Chicago’s Javier Baez’ 11th inning hug (yes, hug) of third baseman Nolan Arenado. Now, it wasn’t the most intelligent or legal of plays, but it showed the brotherhood between players and emphasized the love of the game, not the so-called “respect” that is supposed to protect it.
- ESPN’s coverage crew has reaped high rewards on its risks. This being the first full baseball game that I have watched this season, I was pleasantly surprised at how insightful and interesting the network’s telecast of the game felt. I was most shocked at analyst and former megastar Alex Rodriguez, the focus of two steroid scandals during his playing career. His intelligence of the game was clear, but his skills at communicating these insights and explaining decisions added a new dimension to my experience. Same for Jessica Mendoza, who ESPN took on board as the first-ever female broadcaster. Both analysts were on their A game for a full five hours and proved to be home run hirings for ESPN.
- A one-game playoff is the best idea that Major League Baseball has had this millenium. Teams hate to have their postseason fates determined in a winner-take-all playoff game, but it’s a definite plus for the fans. Each pitch matters, and teams are leaving it all on the field. It makes for more intrigue, more meaning and more fun- exactly what baseball needs.
Don’t worry too much about me. I’m already looking forward to next spring.