Former Cubs Factor Heavily in Crazy AL Wild Card Game

Last night’s AL playoff game was aptly named, as the two Wild-Card winners went toe-to-toe in a slugfest that went on for 12 innings as neither team seemed to want to win. Then again, calling it a slugfest isn’t really fair, given the number of bunts we saw.

In fact, Royals manager Ned Yost’s proclivity for small-ball spawned a riptide of Twitter puns that threatened to carry viewers, present company included, into social media abyss. As the game continued into the night, so did the wordplay; just in case you weren’t privy, here are a few examples*:

There were many, many more, though in the end they all fell well short of the oft-repeated title: “The Bunt for Ned October.” And sitting next to Yost, helping to plot a course with the help of his cybermetrc radar, was none other than Dale Sveum, the erstwhile skipper of the Chicago Cubs.

Kansas City’s moves were under heavy scrutiny all night, starting with the decision to lift starter James Shields after only 5 innings and 88 pitches, his shortest outing in a Royals uniform. Shields finished with 4 earned runs, though two of them came when Yordano Ventura came on in relief and gave up Brandon Moss’s second home run of the night (Shields opened the sixth by allowing a Same Fuld single and a Josh Donaldson walk). 

But as the game wore on and it came time for the Royals to sink or Sveum, they called upon 21-year-old Brandon Finnegan, their 2014 1st-round draft pick, to hold the A’s at bay. With a confidence and guile belying his age and experience (7 innings pitched for KC), the rookie allowed only 1 run, striking out three, and Oakland was left in Finnegan’s wake.

And how fitting, given that I saw someone remark that TBS mainstay Ernie Johnson called the game with all the excitement of a staged reading of Ulysses. Johnson might be a decent studio guy, but it took some doing to make a game like this seem boring. 

After trailing 7-3 in the 6th, the Royals scored 3 runs in the bottom of the 8th to make things interesting, then tallied another score in the bottom of the 9th to give all the viewers some free baseball. Oakland took the lead again in the top of the 12th before KC tied it once again and then walked off on a Salvador Pérez single.

The Oakland pitcher who gave up the game-winning hit? Why, it was none other than Jason Hammel. And how about the third baseman under whose glove the winning hit scooted? That would be former Cubs farmhand Josh Donaldson, who was traded to Oakland along with Matt Murton and and more for Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin.

Geovany Soto started at catcher and struck out in his only at bat before leaving the game with a thumb injury and Sam Fuld had two hits and a run scored on the night. Jeff Samardzija, the obvious centerpiece of the big July 4th trade between the Cubs and Athletics, could only look on as his new team completed their fall from best record in baseball to spectators.

Baseball is a fickle mistress, to be sure, and it’s that capricious nature against which Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have try to insulate their team. Interesting then that it’s Billy Bean and the A’s that were stung by going all-in to win a title this year, moving valuable young commodities for arms like Shark, Hammel, and last night’s starter, Jon Lester.

How great would it be though if, among all this talk of former Cubs, that same stud starter comes to call Wrigley home in the near future? Epstein addressed that, along with the idea of a strategic shift, in his Tuesday press conference to address the state of the team.

The pain of losing over these past few years has been somewhat mitigated by the knowledge that the Cubs brass had a plan. An understanding of the big picture acted as an emotional epidural of sorts. But watching that game last night and hearing Epstein talk about the direction and goals of his team brought the excitement back in a big way.

Maybe this time next year, other teams’ bloggers can write about the Cubs are in the playoffs on the strength of their former players. 

*Obviously, I’m fond of myself. There were much better examples from wittier folks than I, but searching the landslide of tweets was a bit much. Feel free to post your own in the comments though.

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