Disclaimer: This was written Sunday afternoon, before Sunday night's opener of the National League Championship Series between the Giants and Cardinals. So an apology if we neglect to mention Pablo Sandoval's walk-off grand slam to cap a nine-run comeback, or Carlos Beltran's game-ending unassisted triple play ... because we hadn't seen it happen yet.
But if either of those things did occur, it frankly wouldn't be all that surprising. The 2012 major league baseball postseason has featured one tense outcome after another, a week and a half's worth of memorable plays, clutch homers and late collapses. It has seen the first game delayed by Atlanta fans throwing trash onto the field in protest of an infield fly call. It has seen Texas, the AL champion the past two years, exit just as the playoffs begin. And it has seen Derek Jeter, one of the greatest October performers of all time, forced out by a broken ankle.
If recent ratings trends are a proper indicator, many of you might not have been paying attention to what's gone on so far. That's a shame for anyone who loves the drama of postseason competition. So what have you missed?
Watch to the end: Of the 20 division series games -- all four series went five games, a first -- 13 were decided by one or two runs; eight saw the outcome decided in the ninth inning or later; and five were won by a team that trailed in the eighth or ninth innings. The Yankees and A's both had ninth-inning comebacks Wednesday -- two Raul Ibanez homers for New York, a three-run rally off Jose Valverde for Oakland. The king of the comebacks, though, came from the king team of comebacks. The Cardinals -- one strike away from elimination, just like in last year's World Series -- scored four runs with two outs in the ninth inning to beat Washington, capping a rally from six runs down.
Always be closing? Um, nope: You typically can't have a ninth-inning comeback without a faltering closer, but those haven't exactly been in short supply. Baltimore's Jim Johnson, who had 51 saves this season, posted a 10.38 ERA against the Yankees. That's nothing compared to Detroit's Valverde, who saw his 2012 playoff ERA balloon to 27.00 with his awful ninth inning Saturday. The Nationals' Drew Storen, an excellent young closer, had a save in Game 1 and a victory in Game 4, but with it all on the line in Game 5, he choked under pressure.
It pays to have an ace: Three teams rode starts from their bona fide ace to win their Game 5. Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia both pitched four-hit complete games in their clinchers. Matt Cain wasn't nearly as good for San Francisco, but he pitched well enough for the Giants to advance. The Cardinals not only have Kyle Lohse at 16-3 this season and Lance Lynn at 18-7, but they have Chris Carpenter, who was injured most of this season but went 4-0 last postseason and won his lone start against Washington.