If you were on the fence about baseball and what sets it apart from other team sports, perhaps last night's games that determined the wild card teams in each league pushed you off on the correct side.
That both races should come down to the season's final day and end with crushing defeats by two teams that had commanding leads when the month began defied the odds. In a game that sees its best players fail seven out of every 10 trips to the plate, the late- or extra-inning endings made for some extremely compelling television.
Boston's elimination from the race may be chalked up to injuries to key personnel, but a failure to acquire reinforcements before the trade deadlines in July and August seems far more ominous in retrospect. Some Beantown columnists have suggested it may be time for skipper Terry Francona to depart, but that's ridiculous.
The pinch-hit home run by Tampa Bay's Dan Johnson should be placed in the Bobby Thomson file. Granted, Thomson's dinger put the Giants into the 1951 World Series, but there was no divisional play then. Johnson, off the bench with two down in the bottom of the 9th goes deep, capping off a comeback by Tampa Bay that saw them overcome a seven-run deficit in the final two innings. Critics - and Red Sox fans - will point to the slapdash lineup that Joe Girardi used late in the game, but the Rays' hitters still had to produce.
Here's the downside of the Rays' late season run to the playoffs: last night's game drew only 29,518. Sure, it's a crappy ballpark, but c'mon, this was a huge event in franchise history and there were about 5,000 empty seats. The Rays finished 28th out of 30 teams in overall average attendance, and team executives have told me that there's little chance of a new ballpark in that Florida county. If there's a buyout clause in the Tropicana Dome lease, I'd expect the Rays to be the next team on the move.
The loss suffered by the Braves in the NL wild card race was certainly as dramatic as Boston's was in the AL. An 8 1/2 game lead on September 1 dwindled away, and the Nationals played no small part, taking two of three this past weekend.
And, lest I forget, the Nats finished with a record of 80-81, a game under the break-even mark, but slightly beyond my projections from last March. I realize it's a half-game behind their 2005 finish, but let's be honest: it was a better year in terms of showing the fans what's coming down the road. I can't wait for spring training.
What an absolutely great sport.