The first round of the 2019 baseball play-offs has been an absolute treat, almost certainly the best I can remember in recent years. Three of the best of 5 game series when to a deciding 5th game and the series between the St Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves had more twists and turns that could be imagined.
The bad news is that the exception to the rule was the team everyone least wanted to progress, the New York Yankees swept the Minnesota Twins 3-0 in a series that was so one-sided that the early finish seemed like an act of kindness to the Twins.
Minnesota, who had a wonderful season in the AL Central extended their run of consecutive play-off losses to 14, a record in all American sport. To make matters worse for the wonderful people of the twin cities most of those defeats have come at the hands of the boys from the Bronx.
Elsewhere the biggest surprise was in the other AL division series. Having taken a 2-0 lead over the wild card winning Tampa Bay Rays the much fancied Houston Astros were pegged back to 2-2 in the best of five series and needed to use one of their two acers Gerrit Cole in game 5 to win through to the Championship series.
In the National League both games went to a game 5. The wild card winning Washington Nationals continued their impressive late season form to beat the top seeded Dodgers back in LA in a game which was tied at 3 each and went into extra innings. A grand slam (four run home run) by Howie Kendrick sealed the Dodgers fate, after losing in the last two World Series (to the Astros and Boston Red Sox) the agony goes no for LA fans who this year have to cope with being far and away the best team in the National League during the regular season but being eliminated at the first stage of the post-season.
While the Washington / LA game went to 5 only the last game was close. In the other NLDS matchup every game was a classic with all of the first four games being close and two being decided by a single run. Back in Atlanta the Braves were fancied to win through but St Louis had their own ace starting to even things up.
It was asking a lot of Atlanta to beat Jack Flaherty who has become one of the best pitchers in baseball in this his second season but when the Cardinals scored 10 in the top of the first the mountain became impossibly steep. Flaherty did his bit for 6 innings and the bullpen closed out 3 scoreless innings to earn a place in the NLCS on the back of a 13-1 win.
So now we move on to the best of 7 Championship series. In the American League the tow juggernauts of the season collide with the Astros taking on the Yankees with the incentive that the winner will be considered heavy favourites to win it all. In the National League momentum is with the Nationals in a match-up of two teams that no-one would have predicted would make it this far.