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Greatest One-Game Playoff Ever

A fun, eventful night can save a miserable day - but a great day cannot make good a terrible night that follows it...

I have often utilized that self-guiding principle (which is basically a deeper, more personal restating of the "all's well that ends well" axiom) when analyzing a day's or week's activities, and I also apply the same when discussing sports. For instance, at September's US Open in New York, Juan Martin Del Potro and Roger Federer participated in a thrilling final that helped save a subpar tournament on the men's side. If the Open had been chock full of exciting matches up to the final but the championship match turned out to be a flat, dull affair, then the tournament would have lost a significant storyline.

This obviously holds true for all sports. And the just concluded regular season of baseball is a clear -- illuminating, in fact -- case in point. Yesterday's epic victory by the Minnesota Twins over the heartbroken Detroit Tigers, who represent that heartbroken section of our hurting nation, finally brought thrills to a season in which nary a pennant race existed until the last week of the season. Just days ago, the Twins were three games out with four to play. They would have to sweep their remaining games and hope the Tigers stumbled, which did indeed occur. And for the first time in the history of the sport, a team was able to overcome such a deficit.

And with their tiebreaking game to decide the rightful owner of the Central Division crown, these two Midwestern teams provided such a fantastic and superlative defying gift to fans of our national pastime that the 2009 season now, finally, has its signature moment. Of course, we'd all love it to be surpassed with an exciting and fitting conclusion in the postseason, but for now baseball fans are content with the brilliant contest in that profoundly ugly venue in its final year of hosting baseball.

So where does yesterday's game rank with the other 13 one-off games (or series) of seasons past to decide a playoff spot? Well, there are clearly four that stand out far above the rest, listed here in chronological order:

• October 3rd, 1951: Giants over Dodgers, 5-4. This was actually the third of a best-of-three format that was used before the current one game system was put into place. This game need no further explanation as it's regarded as one of the finest ever played as unlikely hero Bobby Thomson catapulted himself into history -- baseball and otherwise -- with his dramatic homerun to defeat the hated Dodgers and vault the Giants into the World Series against the Yankees. Few even remember the fact that the Yankees demolished the Giants to win the Series, but many remember "The Shot Heard 'Round the World."

• October 2nd, 1978: Yankees over Red Sox 5-4. Bucky ------- Dent, as he's lovingly referred to in New England, a mediocre hitter at best, launched a shot that barely cleared the Green Monster that gave the Yankees a lead which they were able to cling to. And when Goose Gossage retired Red Sox great Carl Ystremski on a fly ball to third baseman Craig Nettles, the Yankees had accomplished the impossible, coming back from 14 ½ games back to claim the AL East. Though Dent's homerun is justifiably remembered as the highlight of the game, it was Reggie Jackson's mammoth homerun to the deep centerfield bleachers of Fenway in the eighth inning that provided the margin of victory. The Yankees went on to overcome a two-games-to-none deficit against the Dodgers in the World Series before winning four in a row to claim yet another championship.

• October 1st 2008: Rockies over Padres, 9-8 (13). Was Matt Holliday really safe at home? It doesn't matter because when the Rockies' star player made his controversial slide and touched -- or didn't touch, depending on one's rooting interest -- home plate to give the Rockies their incredible, come from behind win after being down two going into the bottom of the 13th, was the end ever in doubt anyway? After all, this was a team that had to win 11 in a row and 14 of their final 15 games down the stretch just to force the playoff. The Rockies' joy ride continued through the National League, but their progress was decidedly arrested by the Red Sox, who swept Colorado in the World Series. But that great run may have served as inspiration to this year's Rockies squad who reached the playoffs after an utterly miserable opening to the season.

• October 6th, 2009: Twins over Tigers 6-5 (12). I'll forgo the narrative of last night's contest as it will be covered in great detail in the ensuing days, but what elevated this contest into the upper levels of greatness was that game-saving double play when Tigers leftfielder Ryan Rayburn, making up for a botched play that almost handed the game to the Twins moments before, threw out Alexi Casilla at home plate to temporarily extend the game. Ironically, it was Casilla who stroked the game-winning hit in the 12th. There was also that missed call on the ball that grazed Brandon Inge ... so many related themes crammed into compressed moments in this already legendary match-up. Too many moments to enumerate.

Now, each game had its own overarching context that one could factor in. The Dodgers and Giants were hated rivals, making the Giants comeback in both their season and that final game that much more rewarding and dramatic. The same holds true for the Yankees and Red Sox. And the Rockies had that September to remember to even get them that close.

But for me, if one analyzes just the playoff game itself, stripping away the drama and back stories that preceded each, last night's Duel in the Dome rightfully deserves the title of Greatest.

NOTES:
The number of television ads for "erectile dysfunction" and other medical conditions is out of hand. One can debate whether they should be allowed to be aired in the first place, as it allows pharmaceutical companies to shape health debate, not doctors. But what I was also thinking about was kids. Should children be fed this bizarre, hyper-anxiety fueled parade of ads regarding men's "problems" in addition to other commercials showing a young daughter talking to her dad about how he may have a heart condition and then speaking to him of the virtues of Plavix? For me, I'd rather have my kid watch the alcohol industry push the joys of beer than having a child become immune to the overmedication of our country.

Chip Caray must go! His call in the bottom of the 10th declaring that the ball hit to Tigers left fielder Ryan Rayburn was a "hit!" ("Line drive BASE HIT, caught out there!") was perhaps the most egregious case of an announcer speaking to soon in a big moment that I have witnessed. Not only was that "hit" clearly a routine line-drive out, but the ensuing throw to nab Casilla at home extended the game. And how many times can Caray use "fisted" when referring to a weak fly ball? Perhaps a thesaurus should be present in the broadcast booth to help out with the adjectives.

Award-winning columnist Tim Joyce provides regular commentary for RealClearSports. His work has also appeared in Yahoo.com, MSNBC.com, and Tennis Week. Email: joyce.timothy@gmail.com

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