After 160-odd games, you’d think Major League Baseball would be all out of regular season excitement. But you’d be wrong. The final weekend of games before the start of the playoffs was marked by big celebrations, big performances, and big goodbyes. Here are some of the highlights, beginning with… the Kansas City Royals?
Royals Clinch First Postseason Berth in 29 Years
The last time the Royals made the playoffs was 1985. Ronald Reagan was president. The number one song in America was “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits. The top movie was Back to the Future. And this is what cell phones looked like! But after nearly 30 years of waiting, Kansas City is playing postseason baseball. The Royals clinched one of the two American League Wild Card spots on Friday night with a win against the Chicago White Sox. They got close last season, but got over the hump in 2014. They were so good, in fact, they made a run at the AL Central crown but came up short behind Detroit. Still, KC is playing fall ball and totally earned their on-field celebration:
White Sox Great Paul Konerko Retires
And speaking of Chicago, baseball said “thank you” to White Sox great Paul Konerko, who retired Sunday after finishing out the season against the Royals. The first baseman entered the league in 1997 with the LA Dodgers. He split 1998 between the Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds, then signed with the Sox for the 1999 season. He played the rest of his career in Chicago, leading the team to a World Series win in 2005 and providing general stability at first. Konerko hasn’t been as good the past few seasons — “I haven’t swung the bat well for me since probably 2011,’’ Konerko said. “Even 2012, when I got off well in the beginning, that wasn’t the way I swing the bat.’’— and didn’t register a hit in his final two games. Still, his career stat line is solid: 2,349 games, 2,340 hits, 439 home runs, 1,412 RBIs, and a .279 batting average. More importantly, he’s a hero to White Sox fans everywhere. He was celebrated in Chicago during his last game yesterday, and earlier in the weekend released a video thanking his fans in Chicago:
Derek Jeter Plays the Last Game of His Career
And speaking of retiring stars, Derek Jeter also played his last MLB game on Sunday, DH’ing in the Yankees’ final series of the season, against the Red Sox in Boston. The two rivals — and their fans — put aside their differences this weekend to give the Captain a hero’s sendoff. And Jeter did his part to give baseball a nice final moment: In the third inning of Sunday’s game, he chopped a high shot toward third base for an RBI single. Yankees manager Joe Girardi immediately pulled him for a pinch runner, allowing Jeter’s career to end on a hit. (Here’s his career stat line: 2,747 games, 3,465 hits, 260 home runs, a .310 batting average, and five World Series championships.) It wasn’t quite the walk-off goodbye he gave to Yankees fans last week, but it was good enough for the crowd at Fenway:
Nationals Pitcher Jordan Zimmerman No-Hits Marlins in Final Game of Regular Season
Since relocating from Montreal, the Washington Nationals have never had a no-hitter. But that changed on Sunday, in the team’s final game of the regular season. Pitcher Jordan Zimmerman tossed a no-no against the Miami Marlins for the team’s first no-hitter and the fifth of the 2014 season. (The others: Josh Beckett and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, Tim Lincecum of the Giants, and the combined work of Hamel, Diekman, Giles, and Papelbon of the Phillies.) Zimmerman struck out 10 and walked one on his way to history. But he needed a big-time play from a rookie outfielder to seal his place in the Nats’ record books:
Phew. That’s a lot of excitement for one weekend. We catch our breathes and then the playoffs begins Tuesday in Kansas City when the Royals host the Oakland A’s in the American League Wild Card game. And that means the best of the season is yet to come.
Photos: Brian Kersey/Getty Images (Royals), Paul Beaty/AP Photo (Konerko), Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images (Jeter), Alex Brandon/AP Photo (Zimmerman)