The 2021 MLB Wild Card Games Lived Up to Their Name
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The 2021 MLB season has been filled with new rules, fun moments, and exciting players. But as this year’s baseball winds down, the fans’ attention is turning to the Wild Card Games ahead of the World Series.
The American League (AL) Wildcard Game on October 6, 2021 featured the rival Yankees and Red Sox, both fighting for a spot in the AL Division Series. The game went quickly in the Red Sox’s favor with a huge two-run home run by Xander Bogaerts, stripping the Yankees of any dreams of a comeback, which was also partly because of pitcher Gerrit Cole, who allowed three runs on four hits and did not record an out in the third inning. The relievers settled the game down a little, but the Yankees’ only real chance to pull off a win came in the top of the sixth down 3-0.
Early in the inning, the Yankees’ Anthony Rizzo cracked a home run to bring the Yankees within two points of the opposition. After an Aaron Judge single, Giancarlo Stanton came up to the plate for the tying run, and he very nearly delivered. Back in the first inning, Stanton hit a long shot that appeared to be a home run. However, it was soon revealed that the ball bounced off the top of the “Green Monster” at Fenway Park and back into play, leaving Stanton with just a long single to show for his efforts.
Afterward, the Yankees didn’t present another challenge. The Red Sox quickly matched the Yankees’ run with another one of their own in the bottom of the sixth, and they added two more in the bottom of the seventh, propelling them to a 6-1 lead, which the Yankees, who went 3-28 outside of Stanton, would not threaten again. By the game’s end, the Red Sox were up 6-2.
The NL Wild Card, on the other hand, was a much tighter contest. The game featured a pitching matchup between two aces, Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals and Max Scherzer of the LA Dodgers. Both pitchers started their careers in 2005,and have turned in some pretty impressive numbers since. Wainwright boasts a strikeout count of over 2,000 and two Gold Glove Awards, and Scherzer won the Cy Young award twice in a row in 2016 and 2017. Given these statistics, it is not surprising that the game was a low-scoring affair. In fact, each team only plated a single run during the first eight innings of the game.
Cardinals second baseman Tommy Edman led off the game with a line drive to right field. Edman then stole second, and Paul Goldschmidt followed with a walk. The next batter flew out with a little help from Mookie Betts’s incredible defense, but Edman still tagged up and advanced a base. Nolan Arenado came up to the plate with an opportunity to bat a player to home plate, but he quickly fell behind with two strikes and no balls. Instead of ending the at-bat, however, Scherzer’s next pitch bounced outside and away from the catcher, allowing Edman to score. A couple batters and another error later, the Cardinals had players on first and third base with two outs and Yadier Molina up at the plate. In an anticlimactic end to the intense inning, Molina struck out, and the team wasn’t able to rack up another run.
Scherzer and Wainwright reluctantly came out of the game in the fifth and sixth innings, respectively, and the teams traded zeros until the ninth. At his next at-bat, Edman once again singled to right and stole second, but this time, it came with one out, and the following two batters struck out to strand him on second, a base that neither team had gotten a runner past since the fourth inning. With that, the Cardinals and reliever T.J. McFarland’s goal was to shut down the Dodgers’ offense in the bottom of the ninth and send the game into extra innings, when they had their heavy hitters in Arenado and Molina due up.
The plan started off well. Both the Dodgers pinch hitters lined out to center, and the Cardinals were an out away. McFarland walked Cody Bellinger, so Cardinals manager Mike Shildt brought in Alex Reyes to face Chris Taylor, who has destroyed lefties like McFarland this year. Reyes started off the at-bat with a changeup that Taylor swung at and missed. Reyes then threw the next two pitches in the dirt to dig himself into a 2-1 hole. Pitch number four was a slider but spun right over the middle of the plate. Taylor was right on it, and his 420-foot bomb propelled the Dodgers to a 3-1 victory and to an NLDS contest against the San Francisco Giants later this week.
While the two Wild Card Games were nearly opposites in their makeups, both were exciting contests, and the rest of the postseason is shaping up to be just as exciting.