Berth of the Wild Cards

2011 Post Season at Tropicana Field. The Tampa Bay Rays hosted the Texas Rangers for Game 3 of the American League Division Series (ALDS). During the last game of the 2011 regular season schedule, the Tampa Bay Rays were hosting the New York Yankees, they would also come back from a 5-0 deficit in the second inning. Throughout all of baseball, that day was for the ages. It’s been dubbed as “Game 162.” On that day, eight teams and four games still had a role to shape the wild card teams and the match-ups to determine what the post season would look like. The situation left four teams still trying to clinch two play-off spots. With four other games to determine home field advantage, no play-off games were set yet. The Rays would come back from nine games down for a playoff berth. It would all be decided in a compacted 129 minutes. The Boston Red Sox had a historic collapse to lose a big lead in their division and ultimately lose any chance to play in the post season, among other climatic finishes throughout baseball that day.

Only 85 miles in Central Florida, going to a post season game in Tampa was a challenge I could not refuse. This was game 3 of the ALDS against the Texas Rangers. There is a different feel to a play-off game. When you’re a baseball fan, the electricity in the park runs through your veins, whether it’s your team or not. There’s normally lots of signage and festive decoration; red, white, and blue banners pleated in shape of a fans called bunting, oddly enough. They’re as old as the American Flag. I’ve been to Tropicana Field countless times since I moved to Florida. Never was the atmosphere like this. The park was sold out, the first time that I saw that at Tropicana Field. In Florida, there are too many outdoor activities for most Floridians to opt into attending a game. I find that sports teams in Florida mostly get a life-line from people who have relocated here from up-north, where loyalty runs deep.

David Price was the starting pitcher for the Tampa Rays. They seem to have always done well against him. Manager Joe Maddon was at work in trying to pull a win out of his toolbox and Bench Coach Dave Martinez was still a big part of Joe Maddon’s supporting cast. They would both go on to a historic run with the Chicago Cubs and Dave Martinez was the winning Manager with the Washington Nationals in 2019. Andrew Friedman was still Director of Player Development for the Tampa Bay Rays. He would go to the Los Angeles Dodgers to help steer their post season run to present day. Tampa Bay Rays have played .500 ball six of the last ten years. Since 2008, they’ve been to the post season six times. It proves that player development program is dynamic, still run by knowledgeable folks who bought into the system.

Tampa Bay Rays were eliminated three games to one. Josh Hamilton and the Texas Rangers were too strong a team and were looking to repeat an appearance to the World Series after losing to the San Francisco Giants in 2010. Meanwhile, Andrian Beltre was busy putting up the numbers for the Texas Rangers that will one day land him in the Hall of Fame. His estimated time of arrival is 2023. Texas Rangers went on to face the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2011 World Series and lost a hard-fought battle that appeared to never end because both sides kept scoring. Ironically, the Texas Rangers would once again lose World Series, this time to a wild card team. During the 1981 strike season, the wild card was briefly used but was not officially part of the game until 1994 (during another strike). In 2012, MLB installed a second wild card. Both wild card teams in each league would play in a single elimination game in an effort to repeat the same excitement as “Game 162.”