On Wednesday night The Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals helped conclude the wildest, wackiest, and, ultimately, greatest month of the regular season in baseball history.
The Rays and Cardinals both came back from seemingly insurmountable deficits to make the playoffs, while the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox head home with blown expectations.
The Rays, down 9 games to start September, and the Cardinals, down 8.5 games, slowly chipped away at the deficits leading up to last night's penultimate moment.
The two teams miraculously pulled even with the Red Sox and Braves heading into the season's last game -- setting the stage for what could be a great moment in baseball history.
The end result was what Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira called one of the greatest days in baseball history and one that no baseball fan will forget anytime soon.
The Rays quickly fell behind seven runs to the Yankees, but after already rallying from such a large Wild Card standings deficit it would have been foolish to count them out. In the eighth inning -- their season hanging in the balance -- the Rays finally made their move.
The Rays tallied on six runs in the eight, powered by a three-run homer by Evan Longoria, to put the team within reach of a victory. But it still took a two-strike, two-out home run by Dan Johnson in the ninth inning that saved the team's season.
Eleven minutes later the Red Sox-Orioles game, which had been delayed by rain, resumed with the Sox nursing a 3-2 lead. The Sox cruised through the seventh and eight innings and turned to star closer Jonathan Papelbon to finish off the O's in the ninth.
As Papelbon began his work in Baltimore, the Phillies and Braves battled in extra innings, as two NL teams' playoff hopes hung in the balance. The Cardinals took care of business early in the night with a 8-0 shutout of the Houston Astros and now waited eagerly in their clubhouse to what the Braves would do.
A Braves loss meant the Cardinals were heading to the playoffs; a win meant a one-game playoff. The Cardinals' prayers were answered in the top of the 13th inning when former Astro Huner Pence blooped a single into shallow right field for the Phillies giving the team a 4-3 lead.
The Phillies would get a double play groundout to win the game and send the Cardinals to Philadelphia for the NLDS.
The way these guys have played the past month and a half has been amazing, Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter said. Every single night grinding, playing their butts off, not giving up.
In Baltimore, Papelbon quickly got two Orioles out and appeared poised to guarantee the Sox at least one more day to play. But in typical September fashion for the Red Sox, Papelbon couldn't close the deal and gave up a game-tying double to Nolan Reimold after needing only one more strike to win.
Robert Andino, who has tortured the Sox all month, finished the team off with a game-winning single that caused massive heartbreak in Red Sox Nation.
End of season like this, to make Boston go home sad, crying, I'll take it all day, Andino told reporters after the game.
But it wasn't quite over yet -- Boston still had a chance at a one-game playoff against the Rays if the Yankees were to win. But only three minutes after the Red Sox's collapse against the O's, Rays slugger Longoria hit a shallow home run to left-field to send the Rays to the playoffs and the Red Sox home.
We were dead, Rays manager Joe Maddon told reporters. You couldn't write this. You couldn't say it because no one would believe you. I know I try to attempt to sum things up, but I can't.
In a span of less than an hour, baseball fans witnessed three of the most amazing finishes the game has ever seen. Baseball haters love to point out how long and boring the games were, but few sports could match the combined excitement of Wednesday night.
Four teams entered the night with playoff hopes, but only two continue on to baseball in October. It was one of the greatest nights of baseball history, but also sadly marked the end to one of the greatest playoff races in history.
The building sense of dread in Boston and Atlanta combined with the growing hope in Tampa and St. Louis made this one for the ages.
It's easy to speak in hyperbole after a great night happens, like this one, but this night will most assuredly stay in the minds of many for a long, long time to come.
Not only did you have the historic element of the massive collapses, but the pure excitement and late-game heroics made this such a fascinating conclusion to the regular season.
Perhaps instead of referencing the classic Earth, Wind, and Fire song September, we'll be singing about the 28th night of September.