It's baseball playoff time! The 2002 version of America's favorite pastime is down to the elite eight, as six division winners and two wild card teams vie for World Series glory. For the first 68 years of the 20th century the post season consisted of the World Series -- the American League vs. the National -- and nothing else. Then, in 1969, divisional playoffs began.
Many so-called "purists" have bemoaned the addition of the inter-league playoffs, but the fans, for the most part, have embraced the new format. Why? It extends the season, it extends the drama, and it extends "the hope that springs eternal," as Ernest G. Thayer wrote in his famed baseball poem Casey at the Bat.
The year 1969 brought the world the "Miracle Mets." Only a few years earlier this expansion team from New York set a record with 120 losses in its inaugural season, but the "Amazin' Mets" of 1962 became the "Miracle Mets" by the end of the decade. They finished the season with a rush, overcoming a huge lead by the Chicago Cubs to capture the NL East crown, then swept Atlanta of the NL West in three games to move to the World Series. The Mets relief pitcher in the series finale? A 22-year phenom named Nolan Ryan!
Meanwhile, the American League offered the mighty Baltimore Orioles against the Minnesota Twins. The first two games were extra-inning nail-biters, with Baltimore prevailing 4-3 in twelve innings in the opener and 1-0 in eleven in the second game. Game three was a nightmare for Minnesota, as the Orioles won easily, 11-2.
Mighty Orioles vs. the Miracle Mets.
The World Series was as bizarre as it was exciting. Baltimore won the first game, 4-1, behind Mike Cuellar and almost everyone anticipated an Orioles sweep. Game two was a pitching masterpiece for the Mets' Jerry Koosman, as he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. With the game tied at 1-1 in the ninth the Mets put together three singles for a run and a 2-1 victory.
With the Series tied at one each the Series shifted to New York. Gary Gentry and Nolan Ryan combined to shutout the Orioles in the third game. Tommy Agee made two sparkling catches in the outfield for the Mets, saving as many as five runs and quite possibly the ball game. The Orioles groused that Agee's catches weren't spectacular at all. Instead, the Baltimore players contended, Agee has "timed" his diving catches for dramatic effect. Regardless, the Mets led the Series, 2-1.
Game four saw more controversy. Tom Seaver was hurling a 1-0 shutout in the ninth when Baltimore tied the game on a sacrifice fly. In the bottom of the tenth Pete Richert replaced Dick Hall for the Orioles. With a runner on second the Mets bunted; Richert fielded the ball and threw to first. The throw hit the runner and bounded away, allowing the runner on second to score. The umpires ignored the fact that the batter was out of the base line and should have been called out. The Mets led the series, 3-1.
Game five was more craziness.
Game five was equally weird. Dave McNally pitched for Baltimore and hit a two-run homer in the third. Frank Robinson also hit a round-tripper and the Birds led 3-0. In the sixth inning a pitch hit the Mets' Cleon Jones on the foot. At first the umpire said that the ball didn't hit him, but an argument ensued and shoe polish was found on the ball. The umpire reversed his decision and Jones was awarded first. He scored on the next play when Donn Clendenon homered. Another homer tied the game 3-3. The Mets scored two more runs in the eighth when the usually-reliable defense of Baltimore faltered, and when the Orioles failed to score in the top of the ninth the 1969 World Series was history, miracles and all.
As the fans clamored over the fences and onto the field in celebration one woman was asked why she was scooping up dirt from the playing field. "It's magic, you know," she answered.