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Sep 29, 2011, 10:28 AM EDT

Recapping the greatest 30 minutes of baseball we've ever seen.

On the final day of the 2011 season, so many events came together perfectly in perhaps the best regular season celebrations of the game in our lifetimes (unless you’re a Red Sox or Braves fan, in which case, maybe stay off the internet and TV for the next month). The Wild Card races in both leagues came down to extra innings of the 162nd games, with good teams on both sides of each bubble. All day long we heard the scenarios—what had to happen in order for each team to make the playoffs and which already-clinched club they’d face as a result.

It sounded crazy. And yet, none of that scenario generation could possibly have prepared us for the way it all actually unfolded.

Those who hate the Atlanta Braves or Boston Red Sox got the enjoyment of seeing those two teams complete monumental September chokejobs. Both had better than 8-game September leads in their respective Wild Card claims. But the flipside of that coin—the comebacks forged by the St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays—is something worthy of true appreciation. It may not feel that way if you’re a Phillies fan, given that our team will now have to face a white hot Cardinals club, but that’s a concern for another day. I’m not even that worried about the Cards, but they belong in this postseason.

The Braves are out of the playoffs in part because they absolutely fell apart over the past month, but also because the Phillies came together to sweep them when they themselves had very little to play for.

The NL East and best record in the NL had been locked up long before, and the Phils went into a tailspin as lineup cards seemingly filled at random took the field. But despite the fact that many fans thought it’d be better for the Phillies to lose a few to the Braves so Atlanta could back their way into the postseason and keep the much more dangerous Cardinals out, Charlie Manuel restored his lineup to what it will likely resemble this weekend and kept them at full throttle till the final out.

They didn’t throw games to draw a lesser opponent, and really, who thought they would? They also didn’t just let games be lost by continuing to rest their players. Everyone on the field wanted to set a franchise record for a club that has existed for more than a century, and also enter the postseason on a hot streak of their own. Even after the guys got their reps out there, Charlie’s boys kept at it deep into extra innings trying to win.

I’m not sure there’s an NL team I’d want the Phillies to face less than the Cardinals, but that was still exactly the way I wanted to watch the season end.

The Rays needed a comeback win for the ages to break through to the postseason too. Hell they needed two of them, with the Orioles climbing out of a ninth-inning hole to set the Red Sox into a late night holding pattern. In Tampa, the Yankees got out to a 7-0 lead on the strength of two Mark Teixiera homers off of David Price. Evan Longoria answered with a pair of bombs of his own, including a walkoff after the Rays had learned that the Red Sox had lost in Baltimore. In between Longo’s long balls, pinch-hitter Dan Johnson, hitting well below .200 on the season and for the past several, hit a game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth.

It was even more improbable than seeing the Braves’ rookie phenom closer, with a league-leading 46 saves and 126 relief K’s, blow a save when the team needed win to stay alive and go to a one-game playoff.

If you weren’t glued to your TV last night or haven’t seen the recaps on MLB Network, believe me when I say that each of these games featured amazing plays by both teams on the field. Try to catch a video roundup that syncs all the games as they happened in real time, because it was mind-blowing. I mean, just look at these guys:

If you have kids, save this bookmark, and show it to them the next time they pout or worry that their team is going to miss the playoffs well before they’re actually eliminated. Or, if they are fans of a team that can’t keep up with what the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, and others are paying out for talent, show them this, and remind them that the second-lowest paid team in baseball caught the third highest, and they came from the same division. Hell with the kids, we all need these reminders ourselves from time to time, and baseball gave it to us on Wednesday, September 28, 2011.

Until the champagne hits the clubhouse carpets, anything is possible, and we saw that play out for a handful teams over the past month, especially yesterday.

The wild card system is alive and well. Let’s not go messing with a good thing, eh baseball?


Photos courtesy US Presswire