So absolutely incredible that not even Vin Scully could believe it, the Dodgers came back from a 3-0 ninth-inning deficit against the Giants to win the NL West last night. The Dodger announcer was almost nonplussed as Giant reliever Dustin Hermanson simply could not find the plate, walking in a run before being relieved. The inning was capped by a grand slam home run by Steve Finley, and the Dodgers won this crazy game 7-3.
Some perspective: Between 1979 and 1990 there were almost 3,000 games in which the home team trailed by exactly three runs in the bottom of the ninth, and they managed to come back and win only 99 of them. That’s less than a 4% Win Expectancy. Dodger fans seemed virtually assured of a loss and one more meaningful game on Sunday, but Finley and the Dodgers turned those probabilities into improbabilities.
Actually, Finley’s grand slam was not the key play of the inning. Here’s a chart of how the Dodgers’ play-by-play Win Expectancy rose from 4% to 100% in the fateful ninth:
WE Diff Beginning of Inning 0.038 Green singled 0.096 0.058 Ventura walked 0.193 0.097 Cora struck out 0.110 -0.083 Hernandez walked 0.214 0.104 Choi walked, run scores 0.343 0.129 Error by Ransom, run scores 0.544 0.201 Second most important play Werth singled, run scores 0.835 0.291 THE key play Finley home run 1.000 0.165
It was Jayson Werth’s single to right that really made the difference. Cody Ransom had just been inserted at shortstop in the ninth as a defensive substitute, but his error was the second-most crippling play of the inning for the Giants. This was a case of the Giants beating themselves. Marguis Grissom had two big hits and Brett Tomko pitched an excellent game. But Dustin Hermanson’s wildness, coupled with the Ransom error, did them in.
Take nothing away from the Dodgers, however. Congratulations to LA.
Actually, two western division titles were decided last night. The other LA-area team, Anaheim, also came from behind to beat Oakland 5-4 and head into the postseason. This was another wild game, with lots of ups and downs. As evidence, I submit the following Win Expectancy graph of the game:
The Vlad-for-MVP campaign has already started, but Darin Erstad’s game-tying double in the eighth (WE=.335) made him the Most Valuable Player in this game. Here’s a list of each player’s total Win Expectancy score:
Erstad 0.304 Anderson 0.272 Vlad 0.240 Miller 0.187 Chavez 0.177 Percival 0.175 Dye 0.159 Rodriquez 0.154 Zito 0.084 Scutaro 0.072 Figgins 0.042 Molina 0.039 Paul 0.017 Byrnes 0.004 Halter -0.026 Donnelly -0.037 Amezaga -0.044 Eckstein -0.051 DaVanon -0.054 Pride -0.062 McLemore -0.073 Kotsay -0.085 McMillion -0.085 Durazo -0.088 Mecir -0.090 Dotel -0.090 Riggs -0.131 Glaus -0.153 Hatteberg -0.174 Crosby -0.185 Escobar -0.240 Rincon -0.335
This race will probably be better remembered for Oakland’s downward September spiral than anything else. But, like the Dodgers, take nothing away from the Angels. This win was a microcosm of the team’s strengths: good all-around hitting from a stable of fine batters, good starting pitching and excellent relief. Congratulations to the Angels.
Back in the National League, the Astros took a big step toward winning the NL Wildcard by beating the Rockies 9-3 behind an onslaught of six home runs, including two each by Craig Biggio and Jeff Kent. Notably, Kent moved into first place for most all-time home runs by a second baseman. There really wasn’t much drama to this game as Roy Oswalt dispatched the Rockies with relative ease. The Astros have a chance to cap their remarkable comeback with a victory against the Rockies today.
The Braves put the Cubs out of their misery with an 8-6 win in a cold Wrigley day game. It was an intense, closely managed game, as both Dusty Baker and Bobby Cox pulled their pitchers frequently in search of the best matchup. J.D. Drew spoiled Baker’s managerial conniving with a two-run triple off lefty Mike Remlinger in the 8th, the key hit of the game (WE of .463).
The Cubs found their home run strokes again with Sosa, Alou and Ramirez all lofting balls into the bleachers. But several key plays turned the game around: first, Carlos Zambrano hit Chipper Jones on the hand with a pitch in the fifth inning. This may not have materially affected the game, but, unfortunately for the Braves, it could be a factor in the playoffs. Let’s hope it was just a bruise and Chipper recovers quickly.
In the next inning Jose Macias totally lost a flyball in centerfield, contributing to a three-run outburst by the Braves. As expected, Zambrano handled his fielder’s miscue with equanimity… not. Later in the inning, the emotional righthander was taken out of the game and the Cubs’ bullpen proceeded to give the game away. And so went the Cubs’ disappointing season.
We’re down to one race and a maximum of two meaningful games today. The Astros can simply take the NL wildcard by beating the Rockies. If they lose and the Giants beat the Dodgers, playoff on Monday.