Unforgettable moments from Comerica Park, PNC Park, Tropicana Field and Dodger Stadium punctuated an amazing day of October baseball.
Somehow, the last game of the day turned out to be the only one that decided a series.
Juan Uribe's dramatic two-run home run in the eighth inning beat the Braves, 4-3, added to Uribe's growing resume as an October hero and booked Los Angeles a ticket into the National League Championship Series.
The Dodgers gambled a bit on Monday, changing their plan to start Ricky Nolasco and giving the ball to ace Clayton Kershaw on three days' rest instead, hoping for a victory and four days of rest for Kershaw before he would be asked to start Game 2 of the NLCS on Saturday.
It looked like it might not work. Kershaw gave up two unearned runs over six, Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario gave up a run in the seventh and it was enough to give the Braves a 3-2 lead, until Yasiel Puig doubled in the eighth off Atlanta reliever David Carpenter and Uribe blasted one to left field for the game- and series-winning drive.
Now the Dodgers will wait to see if they're playing the Pirates at home or the Cardinals in St. Louis when the NLCS begins on Friday on TBS.
"I'm just so proud of those guys in that room that have just kind of stayed together, kept working ... continued to work and continued to stay after it, and kind of stayed the course," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
"I feel like it's another step. I think getting in is the first thing, when you talk about 11 [victories] and now we have to talk about eight. We've moved one step closer, and we don't have to get back on a plane tomorrow. It's a good feeling."
And as riveting as that game was, there was a lot more October theater on Monday.
The most dramatic individual moment of this amazing day came in St. Petersburg, where pinch-hitter Jose Lobaton golfed a two-out home run in the bottom of the ninth inning into the Rays Touch Tank beyond the right center-field wall, a drive that allowed Tampa Bay to walk off a 5-4 winner over the Red Sox and avoid an American League Division Series sweep.
Earlier in the game, Rays third baseman Evan Longoria had done his usual postseason thing, tying the game at 3 with a three-run homer off Clay Buchholz, and after the lead went back and forth through tight late innings and arrived at a 4-4 tie with lockdown Boston closer Koji Uehara on the mound, it seemed like extra innings were on the way.
And then Rays manager Joe Maddon pulled a double-switch, Uehara threw a low split-fingered fastball, Lobaton happened and now a Game 4 will happen on Tuesday night. The Rays will live for at least one more game in the 2013 season.
"All these things, if you want to … look at the probability of it, if you work out his abilities vs. that pitcher's abilities, what's been going on, if you're going to bet some bucks on that, you're going to lose," Maddon said.
"It's not normally going to happen. He climbed all over that. It was down, but he got the head of the bat on it and the rest is Rays history. It's really an incredible game to participate in."
So was the one in Pittsburgh, just in a different way.
The Cardinals were down in the series, 2-1, when they took the field in Pittsburgh, facing elimination on the road. The crowd at PNC Park had been deafening and hard to overcome, and the Cardinals were starting a rookie in Michael Wacha.
So naturally, Wacha pitched 7 1/3 no-hit innings before giving up a home run to Pedro Alvarez, and St. Louis held on for a 2-1 victory.
The Cardinals' clutch win forces the series back to Busch Stadium for a Wednesday winner-take-all Game 5 in which they'll hand the ball to their ace, Adam Wainwright. But on Monday, the ace was Wacha, who had lost a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth in his final regular-season start and did what he did in Game 4 to follow it up.
"Fastball, velocity, obviously there," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He had a little extra when he wanted to, when he needed to. The changeup, we knew going in, is a very, very good pitch for him. The curveball he sprinkled in as well. But the command, the location, the sharpness, all of it was there."
It wasn't there for Anibal Sanchez of the Tigers, and now Detroit can be knocked out of the playoffs on Tuesday if it doesn't beat the A's to force a Game 5 in Oakland.
In Monday's 6-3 Game 4 win, the A's belted three home runs -- one each by Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss and Seth Smith -- and got just enough from starter Jarrod Parker to do something they couldn't do in two tries in last year's AL Division Series: win at Comerica Park.
The A's are playing great baseball and are full of confidence -- one needed only to watch catcher Stephen Vogt leg out a triple in Monday's game and score from third on a very short fly ball by Coco Crisp to figure that out. But they're also too wise and too experienced to assume this series is over.
"I don't think, if you were to ask any of us, we don't really expect to put up six runs on Anibal Sanchez, so we're definitely happy with that," Moss said. "Obviously, we're happy to be at 2 -1, but with that team over there, there is no comfortable lead."
The Road to the World Series doesn't stop here, even though Monday was as heart-stopping as baseball gets.
Nope, there are two more games set for a Super Tuesday -- both of which could end the AL Division Series.
The first one will take place in Detroit, with right-hander Doug Fister going for the Tigers against young A's righty Dan Straily at 5 p.m. ET on TBS. Even if the Tigers win it and tie up the series, they'll have to go to Oakland to play Game 5.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland has been through a dance or two and said there are no tricks here. He will not tinker with his roster. He'll use what got him to this point.
"We've got to win the game tomorrow to try to extend it to Game 5," Leyland said. "It's that simple. There are no different players or no different pitchers, anything of that nature. The bullpen did a great job today. We ran into another situation where we didn't put enough runs on the board and an excellent starting pitcher didn't have a very good day."
The second game, airing at 8:30 p.m. on TBS, pits the Rays against the Red Sox one more time, with Tampa Bay righty Jeremy Hellickson going up against veteran Red Sox starter Jake Peavy. And while the Rays might enter the game with momentum following Monday's incredible victory, they're still one loss away from going home for the winter.
That's why Red Sox manager John Farrell was already awaiting that first pitch, even in the aftermath of Monday's crushing defeat.
"Tomorrow night, we'll be here ready to go, 8:30 game time," Farrell said. "Our guys have a very strong ability to put this one behind us. We knew coming in this was going to be a hard-fought series. They played well tonight. We left a number of guys on base, as did they. But we'll be ready to go tomorrow night, for sure."
Longoria insists the Rays will be, too.
"I think we all understand the stakes," Longoria said. "We all understand that we have our backs against the wall. And it seems like those moments have been fueling us. These are the games that we've really played well in. Although you'd like to be on the other side, maybe we need that right now."
Tuesday's Division Series games
A's (Straily) at Tigers (Fister), 5 p.m. ETPreview >
Red Sox (Peavy) at Rays (Hellickson), 8:30 p.m. ETPreview >
2013 MLB POSTSEASON MATCHUPS
Division Series: Rays at Red Sox | Tigers at A's
Division Series: Pirates at Cardinals | Dodgers beat Braves, 3-1
2013 postseason schedule
NL Division Series
Game 1: Cardinals 9, Pirates 1
Game 2: Pirates 7, Cardinals 1
Game 3: Pirates 5, Cardinals 3
Game 4: Cardinals 2, Pirates 1, Series tied, 2-2
Game 5: Pirates at Cardinals, Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET (TBS)
Game 1: Dodgers 6, Braves 1
Game 2: Braves 4, Dodgers 3
Game 3: Dodgers 13, Braves 6
Game 4: Dodgers 4, Braves 3, Dodgers win series, 3-1
AL Division Series
Game 1: Red Sox 12, Rays 2
Game 2: Red Sox 7, Rays 4
Game 3: Rays 5, Red Sox 4, Red Sox lead series, 2-1
Game 4: Red Sox at Rays, Tuesday, 8:30 p.m. ET (TBS)
Game 5*: Rays at Red Sox, Thursday, Oct. 10, 5:30 p.m. ET
* - if necessary
Game 1: Tigers 3, A's 2
Game 2: A's 1, Tigers 0
Game 3: A's 6, Tigers 3, A's lead series, 2-1
Game 4: A's at Tigers, Tuesday, 5 p.m. ET (TBS)
Game 5*: Tigers at A's, Thursday, Oct. 10, 9 p.m. ET
* - if necessary
NL Championship Series begins: Friday (TBS)
AL Championship Series begins: Saturday (FOX)
World Series begins: Oct. 23 (FOX)