By C. Trent Rosecrans
Plain and simple, if you're a baseball fan, Wednesday night was flat awesome. It reminded you just why we have the greatest game out there, and that each and every of the 162 games of the season could end up meaning something. Three of the four games that were part of the wild-card races were tight, two of them going into extra innings with ninth-inning heroics. Although this space will be filled from the four big games of the night, there were several other worthy performances that shouldn't be overlooked -- like Mike Napoli's two-run homer against his old team giving the Rangers home-field advantage in the ALDS, Stephen Strasburg striking out 10 in six innings to earn his first win of the season, Trevor Plouffe's RBI single with two outs in the ninth to help the Twins avoid 100 losses and Miguel Bautista's two-hit shutout for the Mets. But what made Wednesday exciting was the four games that decided the wild cards -- Red Sox-Orioles, Yankees-Rays, Cardinals-Astros and Braves-Phillies.
Evan Longoria, Rays: Only two players in the history of the game have hit walk-off homers in their team's last game of the regular season to send their team to the postseason -- Bobby Thompson and now Evan Longoria. And Longoria didn't just hit the game-winner, he also gave the team the idea that it could come back with a three-run homer to cap a six-run eighth and pull the Rays to within a run of the Yankees. He also had a big defensive play, but more on that later.
Chris Carpenter, Cardinals: While the other three games for the wild cards were taut nip-tuck affairs, Carpenter made sure the Cardinals had no worries, throwing a two-hit shutout in a 8-0 victory over the Astros. Carpenter finishes the season with a rather pedestrian 11-9 record and 3.45 ERA, but over the last month of the season he was 3-0 with a 2.15 ERA in six starts, including two shutouts.
Bud Selig: Yeah, everyone loves to complain about everything Bud does, but you've got to give credit where credit's due -- this ending the season on a Wednesday worked. Not only will it give us early games of the playoffs on a weekend, it gave us Wednesday night's excitement, without any other distractions. There were no football games to compete against, instead all of the sports world's eyes were on baseball. And anyone watching was rewarded in an amazing night.
Carl Crawford, Red Sox: It may not be fair to place the entire blame of Boston's disastrous 2011 on Crawford's shoulders, but when you have a $142-million contract, your shoulders have to be broad. Crawford was 1 for 4 on the night, but he'll best be remembered for not being able to run down Robert Andino's sinking liner that scored Nolan Reimold from second with the winning run. Crawford charged the ball and slid, but came up just short as the Red Sox lost for the 20th time in September. Crawford finished his first season in Boston hitting .255/.289/.405 with 11 homers and 56 RBI. Marco Scutaro's baserunning gaffe in the eighth inning will also be remembered as part of the team's epic collapse, but right now, Crawford's Q rating in Boston is lower than Bill Buckner's.
Craig Kimbrel, Braves: Atlanta's rookie closer led all big-league relievers with 126 strikeouts, finished tied for the most saves in the National League with 46 and may win Rookie of the Year in the NL. But his 2011 will forever be remembered for Wednesday night when he blew his eight save of the season, giving up a leadoff single to Placido Polanco. After striking out Carlos Ruiz, he walked Ben Francisco and Jimmy Rollins to load the bases. Chase Utley followed with a sacrifice fly to tie the game at 3, before Kimbrel was lifted from his 79th game of the season. Four innings later, the Phillies finally scored and then ended the Braves' season. Of Kimbrel's eight blown saves, three came in September, including a pivotal game on Sept. 9 in St. Louis against the eventual wild-card winners.
Greg Golson, Yankees: Before Lognoria's heroics in the bottom of the 12th, Golson led off the top of the inning with a single, and then went to third when the next batter, Eric Chavez, singled. It appeared the Yankees would be able to push the go-ahead run across the plate, but Jorge Posada hit a grounder to third, and Golson was caught too far off the bag and Longoria tagged him out for the first out of the inning. Not only did Golson make the out, he also didn't even get into a rundown to let Chavez advance to third. Chris Dickerson then struck out and Brett Gardner grounded out to end the Yankees threat and set up Longoria's heroics.For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.