- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Welcome back to the (almost) perfect postseason. We hope you haven't missed anything.
Now obviously, watching Derek Jeter writhe in pain wasn't real uplifting. We'll acknowledge that what's gone down so far might not fit Alex Rodriguez's definition of Nirvana. Or helped us believe that all fairy tales have happily-ever-after endings.
So we'll apologize in advance to all the heartbroken fans in Baltimore and Oakland, Washington and Cincinnati, not to mention Arlington, Texas, or the backyard of Larry Wayne (Chipper) Jones. "Perfect" might not be the exact word you'd all use to describe this October so far. We get that. We sympathize.
But now take a step back. Please. Just for a second. Take a long, deep breath and consider what's just happened here in a postseason that has reminded us of everything that makes baseball the most amazing sport, and greatest reality show, ever invented.
We just got to bask in the pulse-racing drama of six winner-take-all October baseball games in a week. Six. There has never been anything like it. That's one more than were played in the 2005-06-07-08-09-10 postseasons put together.
We've already seen 12 potential elimination games, ladies and gentlemen. Twelve. And every one of them -- yes, we said every single one of them -- was won by a team that would have been calling 1-800-UHAUL if it had lost. You can look it up.
On three different days in this young Octoberfest, you could tune your cable box to two win-or-else postseason games. Before this month, there had been only three days in the history of baseball with more than one game like that on the same day.
It's incredible anyone who loves baseball has gotten any work done this month. Uh, what's that, you say? You haven't worked or slept for a week? Oops. Sorry about that. But it's been worth it. Hasn't it?
Even the men playing in these games have gotten caught up in the magic. Not just in their own series and their own challenges, but in the magnetic forces that have drawn them into every other matchup, every other game, on every other October stage.
"Every series went to a Game 5," the Cardinals' Matt Holliday was saying Friday night, after his own team's historic contribution to Game 5 Theater. "How unbelievable is that? For MLB, this has got to be their dream come true, right? Every series has had a Game 5. There have been all kinds of great comebacks and great performances."
And then he paused for only a moment, as if he just had to savor it from the inside -- with exactly the same reverence with which we've all savored it from the outside. And only after that little intermission did Matt Holliday utter these words:
"It's a great sport," he said, simply. "It really is."
Yessir. It really is. We've heard similar words from other players over the past week. And it was uplifting to hear them, to hear how much the men playing in these games love and appreciate a sport that can produce such a spectacular array of emotion, athleticism and sheer improbability -- sometimes all at once.
"I love October baseball," Washington's Jayson Werth said after his already-indelible walk-off-bomb-on-the-lucky-13th-pitch special feature Thursday. "I watched all the games [Wednesday] night and the walk-offs. And baseball this time of year is the best time for sports."
It's a beautiful time of year, all right. And not just because the trees around us are beginning to resemble a rainbow. There's so much sporting drama to consume us and amuse us and uplift us.
All right, so it's true that one big reason this is possible is simply that there are more postseason games, period, these days than ever before -- two wild-card knockout games that provide instant, you'd-better-win suspense on Postseason Day 1. Ten teams in the tournament, for the first time. And, this year anyway, a calendar that didn't seem to have enough days in the week to hold all these games.
We get that. We admit that. But you know what? This was always the idea. This was always the beautiful landscape the architects of this expanded postseason had in mind, but never quite lucked into, until now.
It feels like March Madness. Only it's October. And no one from Valparaiso or Virginia Commonwealth has been spotted pulling off a double steal all month.
Well, luckily for sleep-deprived baseball addicts everywhere, things will get calmer now. No more baseball at 1 p.m., 4 p.m., 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. No more quadrupleheaders to pre-empt your regularly scheduled life.
We're down to baseball's final four now, down to the National League Championship Series and American League Championship Series, featuring the past three World Series winners (Cardinals, Giants, Yankees), and a Tigers team that brings Justin Verlander and the Triple Crown winner, Mr. Miguel Cabrera, back to this arena for the third time in four years.
We can't predict what they might have in store for us over the next three weeks. We're not that omniscient. But we can flip on the replay machines in our memory banks any time we want. So let's ponder what we've seen over the past nine days and ask: What will be your defining vision of the perfect postseason of 2012?
Will it be the Cardinals' epic, unprecedented Game 5 comeback Friday night -- from six runs down in the fourth inning, from two runs down with one strike to go?
Or will it be the Giants, doing something no team has done before -- getting pummeled in Games 1 and 2 on their home field, then winning three astonishing games away from home to crush the dreams of every Skyline Chili fan in Cincinnati?
Will it be 40-year-old Raul Ibanez, one of the most admired and respected pro's pros in the entire sport, wriggling into the box to pinch hit for the highest-paid player in baseball (You Know Who-Rod) -- and then somehow, improbably, turning himself into the first man in history to fire off ninth-inning and extra-inning homers in the same postseason game?
Or will it be Justin Verlander, rising to meet another season-saving moment, reminding us precisely what that word "ace" really means, throwing just the second double-digit whiff-filled shutout ever authored in a win-or-go-home postseason baseball game?
Or maybe it will be one of the special slices of October life that didn't wind up leading the teams responsible for them as far as they'd hoped they'd travel. Will it be that ninth-inning wave of Coco Crisp's magic wand? Or Werth's I-want-to-play-tomorrow homer, after the at-bat of a lifetime?
Will it be J.J. Hardy's shot up the gap in the top of the 13th? Or Homer Bailey reaching for no-hit October glory -- in a game his team wouldn't even wind up winning?
Or will it be something even crazier, funkier?
For MLB, this has got to be their dream come true, right? Every series has had a Game 5. There have been all kinds of great comebacks and great performances. It's a great sport. It really is.
”-- Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday
Maybe you'll never forget, or never get over, the first 19-minute delay, we're pretty sure, of any game because of (huh?) an unpopular interpretation of (wait for it) the infield-fly rule. Wow.
Or maybe it was Ichiro Suzuki's Spider-Man gyrations to sneak across home plate.
Or maybe it was the surreal confusion and paralysis that unfolded late Friday night on an airport runway near Cincinnati -- where the San Francisco Giants sat on a plane, waiting to find out whether the Nationals and Cardinals wanted them to fly through the October sky to the West Coast or the East Coast. Take that, air-traffic control.
But you know what? It's been that kind of October, in which drama and mystery were apparently destined to collide, in the least imaginable way possible. Consider this:
Less than 24 hours before the start of the first league championship series, we still had no idea where Game 1 of either league championship series was going to be played. How nuts is that?
Was that unparalleled suspense at work? Or unparalleled chaos? Or a little of both? Well, whatever it was, we'll take as much of it as October feels like delivering.
It's been madness. It's been endless. It's inspired happiness. It's inspired emptiness. It's been the craziest, most riveting week and a half of postseason baseball ever staged. And after taking it all in and swirling it all around our brains, we only have one request:
We'll take three more weeks just like it. Please.
The MLB postseason so far has never been more dramatic, thrilling and crazy than it has been this year.