It didn't have to go this way: The various tipping points in each of the 2012 playoffs

Rob Carr

When everything changed for all 10 playoff teams.

For the first time in baseball history, there were nine postseason series. The first one started in the winter of '06. At least, that's what it feels like. It's like the old Rogers Hornsby quote:

People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I read books, watch things that don't include Tim McCarver, don't see any stupid GEICO commercials … really, everything's wiiide open.

We know how those series played out, but is there a way to identify the tipping point of each series? Probably not. But I don't have anything better to do, seeing as there's no baseball, and there's actually a clause in my contract that prohibits me from staring outside my window and waiting for spring. Here are the tipping points of every postseason series:

N.L. Wild Card - Cardinals/Braves
Everyone remembers the Atlanta sky raining plastic bottles because of an umpire-related mishap, but the infield-fly call wasn't the tipping point. The Braves were already down four, and they were trying to get into the game. Sure, things might have turned out differently if the rule isn't called, but the Braves were already playing catch-up. The run expectancy for a team with the bases loaded and no outs is just over two runs.

Unfortunately, the tipping point was Chipper Jones's error. The good news is that it's the last one he'll ever make. The bad news is, well, it's the last one he'll ever make.

Matt Holliday bounced into what should have been a double play, but Jones winged it into right, putting two on and no out when there should have been two outs with the bases empty. The Cards took advantage, scoring three runs and running up Kris Medlen's pitch count.

A.L. Wild Card - Orioles/Rangers
It's not fair to call Josh Hamilton a choke artist because of his lousy play against the A's in the final series of the year or his Wild Card performance. Well, you can call him whatever you'd like, but it's not fair to label him as someone who can't hit under pressure. If Nelson Cruz has a little more range, or if Neftali Feliz doesn't walk Lance Berkman, this becomes the most memorable, clutch at-bat in franchise history.

But, yeah, Hamilton kind of stunk in the last week of the season. And his double play with runners on first and third and no outs in the first inning drove in a run, but it also quashed a rally. The Rangers didn't score another run.

ALDS - Yankees/Orioles
Just like we all predicted, a Mark Teixeira stolen base turned the whole series. In the fifth inning of Game 5, Texeira singled, swiped a bag, and scored on a Raul Ibañez single, giving the Yankees a 1-0 lead.

You can go with the Nate McLouth strikeout with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth, but there's poetry to Mark Teixeira swiping a bag against a good catcher and making it count. It's crappy poetry, but it's still poetry.

ALDS - Tigers/A's
The tipping point of this series came when Richard Verlander slicked his hair back with some pomade, donned the finest duds he could afford, and chose the very best anecdotes for his first date with Kathy. Man, was he dashing and witty that night.

NLDS - Nationals/Cardinals
This is the most obvious one of the bunch. If Ian Desmond corrals this baseball in Game 5 …

… the Nationals move on to the NLCS. It ticked off his glove, though, and the Cardinals tied the game with two outs in the ninth because they are a zombie team that will never die with the first or second shotgun blast.

NLDS - Giants/Reds
The Giants had an early lead in Game 5, but a Ryan Ludwick home run brought the Reds within three. Jay Bruce walked, and Scott Rolen singled, bringing Ryan Hanigan up as the possible tying run. With nobody out and a full count, Dusty Baker started the runners.

That changed everything. Matt Cain was sputtering and leaving pitches up. And how's this for a tipping point: It probably should have been bases loaded and no outs:

The same caveat applies as the one up there about the infield fly -- the odds were the Reds weren't going to tie or take the lead in that situation -- but they probably would have liked their chances a lot better.

ALCS - Tigers/Yankees
Even though the ALCS will be remembered for the Tigers' sweep, it could have been remembered as the Jose Valverde Meltdown Spectacular. The Tigers blew a four-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 1, and in the 10th, Derek Jeter was hitting with the winning run on third. He flew out to end the threat, and in the next inning, he fractured his ankle. A chopper off the plate might have made the difference in the entire postseason.

NLCS - Giants/Cardinals
Two weeks ago, you probably didn't think Barry Zito was any good. You probably still don't, but, well, stay with me. When the first two Cardinals reached in the bottom of the second of Game 5, with the Cards holding a 3-1 series lead, you really didn't think Zito was any good. He was the same ol' Zito.

But Zito got out of the inning unscathed, and this pitch was a huge reason why:

I think that gun was on the metric system, so 84 was actually k.p.h., which … wait, that makes it worse. Regardless, Daniel Descalso whiffed, and in the next at-bat, Lance Lynn -- 3-for-54 with 37 strikeouts in his career -- grounded into a double play to end the inning.

World Series - Giants/Tigers
I wrote more about the rough start of Justin Verlander here, and Ángel Pagán's two-out at-bat was a huge part of it. Verlander got ahead early, and after a lengthy battle, he got Pagán to take this swing:

That should have ended the inning, but it was hit so poorly that it became an infield hit. Even more, it bounced off third base and ended up as a double. After Pagán reached, the Giants scored three times, and they wouldn't trail until the third inning of Game 4. If Pagán had made an out, as he probably should have, it would have been a manageable 1-0 deficit for the Tigers.

The postseason played out a certain way. But we were inches away from something completely different. GAME OF INCHES EVERYBODY. THIS IS A GAME OF INCHES, AND I JUST MADE THAT SAYING UP, PLEASE CREDIT ME IN THE FUTURE.

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