Vin Scully ended his broadcasting career in the home ballpark of the Dodgers’ age-old rivals, receiving an affectionate pre-game visit from Willie Mays, awash in a sea of placards (THANK YOU VIN) and maybe the only known standing ovation ever afforded a Dodger in San Francisco. His final words were as gracious as you might have expected from this excessively modest man who always seemed to believe his gift from God was merely something on loan.
First, his final call on the game itself, in which the Giants waxed the Dodgers, 7-1, to take the second National League wild card:
Slider, hit in the air to left center, coming over is Pagan. He puts it away! And the Giants are the wild card team. The city is going wild, appropriately enough, and they are heading for New York. No runs, one hit for the Dodgers, who managed to leave four men on base, because they were the only four they got on base. The Giants, in the Western Division, are 45-31, the Dodgers are 43-33. So, inside the division, they certainly were the better team. That was awfully nice, the umpires just stood up and said goodbye, as I am saying goodbye.Seven runs, 16 hits for the winning Giants. One-four-one for the Dodgers. The winner, Matt Moore. The loser, Kenta Maeda. I have said enough for a lifetime, and for the last time, I wish you all a very pleasant good afternoon.
Except that he hadn’t. Lucky us, as you’ll see below.
It was a sweet, lyrical way to end a broadcast and a career, right after the Giants waxed the Dodgers, 7-1, in a game that meant exercise for the National League West-winning Dodgers and one more postseason chance for the second wild card-winning Giants. Who almost didn’t deserve it. Entering the All-Star break, the Giants had baseball’s best record. Better, even, than the Cubs. After the break: baseball’s worst record. If the Dodgers had beaten them Sunday while the Cardinals were overcoming the Pirates, 10-4, in St. Louis, the Giants’ collapse would have stung even as the survival of the Mets to win the first National League wild card ennobles.
But a no-name named Ty Blach in his second Show start outgunned Clayton Kershaw Saturday, Matt Moore possessed the Dodgers Sunday, and now Scully goes to retirement at long, sad last. The Giants get to help the Mets hog the week’s headlines when they send Madison Bumgarner to face Noah Syndergaard in the wild card game. And the Dodgers get to spend the next few days preparing for a division series showdown with the NL East-winning Nationals, while the NL Central-winning Cubs—winners of 103 regular season games, their fourth-best finish ever—get to spend the week preparing for the winner of the Mets-Giants showdown. Advisory, Nats and Cubs: the Dodgers still can’t hit all that well against lefthanders.
En route the NL wild card game, it’s advantage, Mets. The banged-up, broken-down, battered Mets. Who opened the season with what looked like baseball’s best starting rotation only to see every member of it save Syndergaard and Anciano Bartolo Colon get swallowed by the disabled list and, once swallowed, lost for the season. Who watched regular after regular spend time on the DL and unknown soldier after barely-known rookie step up when the stepping was good and needed.
Come to think of it, it was an August set against the Giants that started the Mets on their unlikely revival. Left for dead, they took the second two of a four-game set and went from there to nail baseball’s best record from that set forward. If the Giants expect the Mets to roll over and play dead, even with Bumgarner on the bump, they may have their expectations obliterated—especially if the Mets can find a way to dispose of Bumgarner early enough to get into a bullpen that blew thirty saves on the season while the Giants had no (none, nada, zero, zilch) comebacks when behind after eight innings.
There’s an ache across baseball nation for the Cardinals, too. Missing their first postseason since 2010, the Cardinals put up a gallant fight to stay in wild card contention once the Cubs ran away with their NL Central. They spent this weekend sweeping the Pirates, who miss their first postseason in four years. They even wheeled out Matt Holliday as a pinch hitter in the first game, aiming to give him one last hurrah before severing ties with him (they’ve already said they’ll decline his 2017 option), and Holliday said thanks by blasting one the other way, into the right field bullpen, en route a 7-0 Cardinal win.
And it wasn’t enough to get past the Giants for the second NL card. Maybe manager Mike Matheny was right in saying a lot of the postseason teams are glad the Cardinals won’t be there since they were really heating up—they won seven of their last ten games—but over their final 25 they got waxed twice by the Giants and lost two of three to the Cubs, not great showings against postseason-bound or postseason-hopeful teams. The Cardinals took care of business this weekend but it wasn’t enough. Not even Matt Carpenter’s three-run homer Sunday in the sixth off Pirate reliever Antonio Bastardo could change it, nor Adam Wainwright’s gallant pitching and fourteenth win.
Things were no less crazily heartbreaking on the American League’s final day, either. Not with Aaron Sanchez threatening to no-hit the AL East-winning Red Sox until Hanley Ramirez sent one over the Green Monster’s foul pole with two out in the seventh. The Blue Jays argued foul; replay upheld the original home run call. It tied the game at one all, until the Jays—whose early 1-0 lead was courtesy of Devon Travis’s solo bomb in the fifth—took the lead on Troy Tulowitzki’s RBI single in the eighth. David Ortiz went hitless on the day but you haven’t seen the last of him just yet. Don’t think he won’t do his best to factor in the Red Sox’s coming postseason, however long it lasts.
The Jays host the Orioles in the American League wild card game. The Orioles may be lucky to be there. They blew a three-run lead Saturday to the surprising Yankees—surprising because they went from old, rickety men at the All-Star break to suddenly young, suddenly swift, suddenly slashing young Turks down the stretch and yanked themselves into the wild card conversation long enough to give them and their fans outside hope for 2017. And there was the real chance that the AL wild card could have been decided by tiebreaker.
Because the Tigers entered Sunday’s proceedings needing to win to get a) a makeup game with the AL Central Indians, if the Blue Jays and the Orioles both lost; or, b) a tiebreaker for the second wild card with either the Jays or the Orioles if either of them lost. They sent resurgent, remade/remodeled Justin Verlander—who accepted Father Time’s verdict, stopped trying to throw fastballs he could no longer throw through a catcher, an ump, a wall, and a parking lot, accepted a mere lower 90s velocity, adjusted his slider and arm slots, and jerked himself into the Cy Young conversation despite his shaky first third of the season—to face the rebuilding Braves.
Verlander pitched a masterpiece Sunday. It wasn’t enough. The Braves got one measly run—on a first-inning sacrifice fly by Freddie Freeman—on a day Julio Teheran struck out 12 Tigers, and the 1-0 loss un-complicated the AL’s wild card swiftly enough. “I was just a little out of sync there to start the game,” Verlander told reporters after the game. “I settled down from there but too little, too late at that point. Who would have known that?”
So let’s shake off the insanity of seeing two weeks’ worth of hard excitement of the races to see who’d finish . . . in second place or further. Let’s look forward to a pleasantly unpredictable postseason. But first, Vin Scully’s last words as the voice of the Dodgers:
May God give you for every storm a rainbow, for every tear a smile, for every care a promise, and a blessing from each trial. For every problem life seems, a faithful friend to share. For every sigh a sweet song, and an answer for each prayer. You and I have been friends for a long time. But I know in my heart that I’ve always needed you more than you’ve ever needed me, and I’ll miss our time together more than I can say. But you know what? There will be a new day, and eventually a new year. And when the upcoming winter gives way to spring, ohh-ho, rest assured, once again, it will be time for Dodger baseball. So this is Vin Scully, wishing you a very pleasant good afternoon, wherever you may be.
And this is baseball, Vin Scully, or at least one baseball writer, who’s loved and respected your lyrical work for all these decades, wishing you nothing but the sweetest for the rest of your life. Wherever you may be.