Shortly after noon in Atlanta, Nick Senzel of the Cincinnati Reds slapped the first pitch from Max Fried to right field for a single, starting a day of baseball unlike any that had come before.
Eight post-season games, all set to start in a span of around 10 hours.
“This is like September Madness,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said. “It’s going to be mad.”
Wednesday indeed had a bit of an NCAA Tournament feel, with a smorgasbord of playoff games starting early in the afternoon and scheduled to last long into the night. For much of the 20th century, baseball had a maximum of seven games in any single post-season. Wednesday’s schedule alone included more than that, the result of an expanded post-season for 2020 that includes 16 teams after a regular season shortened to 60 games by the coronavirus pandemic.
There’s no telling when or if the sport will have a day like this again. It won’t happen this year. When the Astros beat Minnesota 3-1, they eliminated the Twins and ensured that Thursday’s post-season slate wouldn’t be completely full. Baseball’s Sweet 16 lost another team later Wednesday when the Tampa Bay Rays knocked out Toronto, and a third when the New York Yankees eliminated Cleveland in a wild Game 2.
The Reds were ready when they came to the plate against Atlanta. They swung at the game’s first three pitches, hitting two singles to put men on first and third with nobody out.
Then Atlanta escaped the jam with no scoring, setting the tone for the day.
It took a while for anyone anywhere to score. When the first run came, it was in Houston’s game at Minnesota, which started about an hour after Atlanta and the Reds. Kyle Tucker drove in a run for the Astros with a fourth-inning single.
That was around the time the Miami Marlins and Chicago Cubs were getting started. In a season when ballparks have been off limits to fans, this at least was a feast of baseball on television.
“It’s cool. I’ve been in my office a lot, kind of getting ready, with the games on, flipping back and forth and seeing what’s going on in the league,” New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone said prior to his team’s night game at Cleveland. “One of the things of this expanded playoffs this year, I’m sure the real baseball fans are in a little bit of heaven today, getting to see all these games.”
Atlanta and Cincinnati remained scoreless into extra innings, which meant at one point, five games were in progress simultaneously. In addition to Atlanta-Reds, Astros-Twins and Cubs-Marlins, the Chicago White Sox were playing at Oakland, and Tampa Bay was hosting Toronto.
The first game to end was Houston’s victory over the Twins — Minnesota’s 18th consecutive post-season loss. The Braves finally beat the Reds a little while later, when Freddie Freeman singled in the 13th inning to bring home the game’s only run.
That was the first post-season game to be scoreless after 11 innings, and Cincinnati’s Trevor Bauer became the first pitcher in post-season history to strike out 12 batters while allowing no runs, no walks and two or fewer hits.
The next game to end was Miami’s 5-1 victory. The Marlins have never lost a post-season series. They memorably won the final two games of the 2003 NL Championship Series at Wrigley Field, and they began this best-of-three series with the Cubs in similar fashion.
The White Sox are also facing elimination after Oakland’s 5-3 victory forced Game 3 of that series. It will be another winner-take-all game for the Athletics, who since 2000 have gone 0-6 in Game 5 of the Division Series and 0-3 in wild-card games.
The Blue Jays would have liked to play a winner-take-all game, but the Rays denied them the chance. Hunter Renfroe hit a grand slam, powering Tampa Bay to an 8-2 victory that ended that series.
San Diego’s first post-season appearance since 2006 is off to a rough start. The Padres left injured pitching standouts Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet off the roster. Then they gave up four runs in the first inning of a 7-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
The night games brought their own type of drama. The Yankees and Indians played the longest nine-inning game in baseball history — 4 hours, 50 minutes, not counting another 76 minutes in rain delays. New York scored twice in the top of the ninth to win 10-9.
Not long after that, Kenley Jansen struck out Christian Yelich to close out a 4-2 win for the Dodgers — and bring this historic day of baseball to a close.