What Happened In The MLB Playoffs This Week?

Weekend Edition host Scott Simon talks baseball with Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Wake up. It's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Nature and the St. Louis Cardinals find a way. The Cards were a strike away from flying home for the winter, but staged a four-run, ninth-inning, last-minute, one-tick-to doomsday rally to defeat the young and gifted Washington Nationals 9-7 late last night to win the National League Division Series.

Earlier, CC Sabathia kept the Baltimore Orioles in handcuffs. No, I saw it. Really, they were handcuffed. As the Yankees won the American League Division Series 3-1. The League Championship Series begin later today. Howard Bryant, senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine, joins us now from New England Public Radio.

Good morning, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott. How are you doing?

SIMON: I'm fine, thanks. That was a breathtaking ninth inning. The Cardinals find a way.

BRYANT: It's incredible. And once again, it explains that at its highest level, when played in the most important games, there's no sport like baseball. That's nothing like it. There's no stoppage time. There's no taking a knee. There's no running out the clock or (unintelligible). You have to get the 27th out.

And the Nationals last night were a strike away. And Drew Storen, the closer, had five pitches where all he needed was one strike, all he needed was one more pitch. And he couldn't get it. And the Cardinals, you're down two runs, the season's over. And they did it again.

This is the sixth straight elimination game that they've won. They just had that look about them. And there's going to be a lot of talk about how this happened. But the bottom line once again, is in baseball you've got to finish the deal. And nobody is tougher to finish off than the St. Louis Cardinals. We saw it last year at the World Series.

SIMON: Yeah. They have a genius for winning close games, I don't mind saying.

BRYANT: Very tough team. That's the thing. They're a very tough baseball club.

SIMON: Is this going to bring back questions as to whether or not Stephen Strasburg should've been on the bench, should've been rested (unintelligible) good, as they say?

BRYANT: Well, it should. It should. I mean, let's face it. There are a couple of different things at work. Maybe the Nationals aren't in a 1-2 hole if Strasberg's there. Maybe there's coming home with two chances to win. You know, maybe the Cardinals beat Strasberg the same way they beat Jordan Zimmermann in game two. I don't know. I mean, you can't say that for certain.

What you can say is: did the Washington Nationals, walking into their first playoff in their history, did they put their best team on the field? And the answer is clearly no. And because that answer is no, then they have a lot to answer for.

That said, you have to give the credit to the St. Louis Cardinals. Gio Gonzalez was on the mound last night with a 6-0 lead and he couldn't get out of the fifth inning. Stephen Strasberg might not have been able to help that. Or maybe he would've been the victim of a great Cardinals comeback.

But once again, there are baseball gods out there. And the baseball gods say you put your best team on the field when you have a chance because these chances don't come very often.

SIMON: Let me ask about the Yankees game. CC Sabathia was masterful. Four hits, I believe is all he let them have. When that twilight game between the Yanks and the O's began, Alex Rodriguez was on the bench. Is - not just metaphorically - is this twilight for his career, too?

BRYANT: Oh, no question. No question. You're looking at one of the greatest players of all time. Alex Rodriguez has been a signature player for 17 years. And at some point they all have to say goodbye. And one of the biggest signs obviously is when you can no longer be what you were in these clutch moments. And no matter what the Yankees do this season, they will never be forgotten that Alex Rodriguez was pinch hit for in the ninth inning of two close games at Yankee Stadium. It's time.

And whether or not he's going to retire, no matter what he does, he's not going to be the Alex Rodriguez of our memories. And therefore everyone is going to have to view him differently, including his team, which owes him five more years and over $100 million in terms of contracts.

SIMON: In the 30 seconds we have left, Tigers-Yankees begin a league championship series tonight. What do you see?

BRYANT: I see a lot - I see two teams really going at it because their two best pitchers - C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander, you're not going to see them until game two or game three maybe. So I think it's just going to be a really tight compact schedule. It's going to be a close game. Someone's just going to have to grind this out. And let's also not forget the San Francisco Giants, who play tomorrow night, as well. This is a great, great time of year.

SIMON: OK. Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. And you'll be covering these games. Thanks so much.

BRYANT: Take it easy, Scott.

SIMON: Thanks so much, Howard.

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