Michael Wacha, clutch home runs by Jose Lobaton and Juan Uribe and a bench-clearing incident in Detroit.
There is so much to talk about I could never mention it all in one blog post, but I'll try to touch on a talking point or two from each game.
Oakland 6, Detroit 3
The A's are a team that believes in statistical analysis, so I'm sure manager Bob Melvin was aware of the lefty/righty splits on Detroit pitcher Anibal Sanchez.
For the season, lefties hit .247 against Sanchez, while righties hit at a miserable .207 clip. Accordingly, Melvin loaded his lineup with seven left-handed bats Monday against Sanchez. Three left-handed hitters -- Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss and Seth Smith -- took the Detroit right-hander deep over the first five innings of Oakland's victory, which gave the A's a 2-1 series lead.
The game will be best remembered for a bench-clearing incident in the bottom of the ninth inning. Oakland closer Grant Balfour and Victor Martinez exchanged insults after a foul ball. Amusingly, the crowd mic on MLB Network picked up all the expletives. After order was restored, Balfour nailed down the save. The A's will look to close out the series Tuesday.
St. Louis 2, Pittsburgh 1
Wacha nearly no-hit the Washington Nationals in his last regular season start. In that game, he lost his bid on an infield single by Ryan Zimmerman with two outs in the ninth inning. This time, with the Cardinals season hanging in the balance, Wacha took a no-hitter into the eighth inning before losing it in a slightly less cheap manner -- he gave up a 430-foot bomb to Pittsburgh third baseman Pedro Alvarez.
But the St. Louis bullpen came on to close this one out for Wacha, and the Cardinals tied the series at 2-2 and forced a decisive Game 5 on Wednesday.
You have to wonder why it took the Cardinals four games to send Wacha to the mound. Adam Wainwright is their ace, but after him, Wacha has been St. Louis' next best pitcher. If the Cardinals are fortunate enough to advance to the NLCS, they need to make sure Wacha is in line to make two starts in that series. He really impressed me with his fastball-changeup combination. I think he's a better pitcher than both Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly, at least at this moment.
There will be no debate over who gets the ball in Game 5 for St. Louis. It will be Wainwright. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle has chosen to start rookie Gerrit Cole instead of veteran A.J. Burnett. I like the move by Hurdle. Burnett was shelled in Game 1 of this series, while Cole was masterful in a Game 2 victory. In a winner-take-all situation, I believe you go with the guy who is pitching best, regardless of experience level.
Tampa Bay 5, Boston 4
The Rays have always been a resilient bunch, and they got off the deck in this game a couple times. The Red Sox jumped out to a 3-0 lead halfway through, but Tampa Bay tied it on a three-run homer by Evan Longoria in the bottom of the fifth inning.
When Longoria stepped to the plate, the Rays had runners on second and third with two outs. I'm sure some Boston fans are wondering why the Red Sox didn't just put Longoria on with first base open. Conventional wisdom says you don't give teams baserunners with a three-run lead. In this case, I agree with conventional wisdom. But, Longoria is far and away the most dangerous hitter in the Tampa Bay lineup. There's a case to be made that you don't let him beat you and take your chances with the rookie on deck, Wil Myers. The Red Sox pitched to Longoria, and his blast changed the complexion of the game.
Tampa Bay scratched across a run in the bottom of the eighth inning to go ahead 4-3. Boston answered with a run of its own in the top of the ninth off Rays' closer Fernando Rodney. No matter. The Rays got it right back when Lobaton hit a walk-off shot off Boston closer Koji Uehara, who gave up only five home runs all season. Go figure.
The Rays still trail the series, 2-1, but they have life. Game 4 is Tuesday.
Los Angeles 4, Atlanta 3
The day started with a curious decision by Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. He scratched scheduled starter Ricky Nolasco and brought back ace Clayton Kershaw on three days' rest. Mind you, Kershaw threw 124 pitches in his Game 1 victory, and Los Angeles entered Monday's play with a 2-1 series lead. I can understand wanting to throw your ace one more time if you're facing elimination, but the Dodgers were not in that situation. I was really surprised they brought Kershaw back on short rest. It was a move that reeked of needless desperation.
But give Kershaw credit. He threw the ball well once again, allowing just two unearned runs over six innings. However, Braves veteran Freddy Garcia matched Kershaw pitch for pitch, and Atlanta took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning. Facing elimination, if there was ever a time for the Braves to ask closer Craig Kimbrel for a six-out save, this was it. Instead, David Carpenter pitched the eighth inning for Atlanta. It took him two batters to blow the lead. Yasiel Puig doubled and scored moments late on the game-winning home run by Uribe.
Mattingly wanted Uribe to bunt on the pitches prior to the home run. That didn't work out so well, but the home run erased the stink. Suffice to say, I think the Los Angeles manager made a couple of questionable choices on Monday. He got away with them, and now his team is in the NLCS, awaiting the St. Louis-Pittsburgh winner.