For me, the best example of the agonizing nature of baseball came in a 24-hour period last season, when the New York Mets put their fans through the most stressful of defeats and the most exhilarating of victories.
On Sept. 21, 2016, they blew a 3-0 lead to a Braves club that was 30 games under .500, completing a sweep by the worst team in the NL. The game ended with Ender Inciarte robbing Yoenis Cespedes of a walk-off home run with as good a catch as you'll ever see. I'd describe this (as I have before) as a Charlie Brown loss -- an "aaaaaugh!"
The next day, the Mets got one of the most amazing wins I've seen in 36 years of watching games, as they rallied from two runs down in the ninth inning to tie it on Jose Reyes' home run, then came back from two down in the 11th to beat the Phillies on Asdrubal Cabrera's mega-bat-flip, walk-off homer. The Mets ended up making the playoffs by one game, and that game was the difference. As Tim Kurkjian would say, "Circle that game!"
The purpose of this preamble was to apply it to this season, in which the race for the second NL wild-card spot has become highly compelling. Let's see what qualifies as the "circle" and what represents the "aaaaugh!" for each of the teams involved:
Aaaaugh! Aug. 8 vs. Indians (4-1 loss)
The details: In fairness, if the Rockies blow this, their worst loss probably hasn't happened yet. But we work with what we have. This one was the second struggle and blown save in as many games for Rockies closer Greg Holland, who had basically been invincible all season to that point.
The Rockies led the Indians 1-0 in the ninth inning and had a chance to win a game in which they were throwing German Marquez against Cy Young contender Corey Kluber. But Holland could not get the last out.
With two on and two out, Austin Jackson worked Holland eight pitches deep and placed the eighth into right center, just a hair from being caught by a diving Charlie Blackmon. That plated the tying run. Indians fans celebrating that moment and Rockies fans crushed by the heartbreak didn’t have to wait long for the finish. Yan Gomes hit Holland’s next pitch over the fence in left-center for a walk-off home run.
Circle that game: June 18 vs. Giants (7-5 win)
The details: Nolan Arenado's MVP highlight reel probably starts and ends with this game, in which his walk-off, three-run home run not only won the game but also completed a cycle for the dynamic third baseman. The win was the fifth of six straight for the Rockies and probably represented the point in their season when fans felt like this was going to be a magical year.
Aaaaugh! Aug. 16 vs. Red Sox (5-4 loss)
The details: For the second time this season, the Cardinals took a 4-0 lead against the Red Sox and blew it. They held a 4-2 lead in the ninth inning, one started by Trevor Rosenthal. But after a home run by Xander Bogaerts and a walk to Mitch Moreland, Mike Matheny hooked Rosenthal for Zach Duke, who struck out Brock Holt but walked Jackie Bradley Jr.
That led to the entrance of John Brebbia, who got Eduardo Nunez to pop out. But Brebbia couldn’t get the last out. He got ahead of Mookie Betts 1-2, couldn’t get him to chase two sliders, then hung a slider that Betts hit off the Green Monster. Tommy Pham played the ball off the wall well, and the relay from Paul DeJong to Yadier Molina was there in time, but Molina couldn’t handle the hop, and that allowed Bradley to score the winning run.
Circle that game: Aug. 26 vs. Rays (6-4 win)
The details: Their best win came 10 days after their worst loss, and Pham (nearly a hero in defeat) got the best measure of validation on the offensive end. First, he started a game-tying, two-run rally with an eighth-inning walk to help the Cardinals overcome a 4-2 deficit. Then, in the bottom of the ninth, his two-run, walk-off home run prevented the Cardinals from falling below the .500 mark. Pham, an unlikely star in 2017, won't win the MVP, but he has hit like an MVP late in games all season, and this was one of the best representations of that.
Aaaaugh(s)! Sept. 20-22 vs. Pirates, Cubs (6-4, 5-3, 5-4 losses)
The details: Everything was going so well for the Brewers. They had won nine of 11, including back-to-back shutouts in the first two games of their series against the Pirates. They had a 4-3 lead in the series finale with their closer, Corey Knebel, on the mound, fielding a weakly hit ball by David Freese.
Ever since Knebel threw that ball away, it has been "oof" after "oof" for the Brewers. Adam Frazier beat Knebel with a walk-off home run the next inning. The Brewers led the Cubs (whom they had swept earlier in the month) 3-2 in the ninth inning the next day and lost in 10 innings. Then they blew a 3-0 lead and lost in 10 innings on Friday. The Brewers could easily be right there with the Rockies, but they’ve been on the wrong end of the fine line between victory and defeat.
Circle that game: Sept. 23 vs. Cubs (4-3 win)
The details: The Brewers are the closest thing to the 2016 Mets in terms of the immediate nature of the "aaaaugh!" and the "circle" coming so close to each other. Following their heartbreaking three-game skid, the Brewers rallied from a 3-2 deficit to tie it on Orlando Arcia's home run (the first blown save by Cubs closer Wade Davis this season). Then they rallied again in the 10th inning, winning when team MVP Travis Shaw hit a walk-off, opposite-field home run off Davis.
Can the Brewers replicate the 2016 Mets and make the postseason because of that one victory? Or will they be crushed by the weight of those "aaaaughs"? We'll know the answer in a few days.