Only four teams remain in this epic battle of the basketballing baseballers! The wheat has been separated from the chaff, the cream has risen to the top, and so on and so forth. In the AL side, it's a showdown of epic proportions between Joe Mauer's Twins and Matt Wieters' Orioles; in the Senior Circuit, Matt Kemp's Dodgers and Ryan Howard's Phillies were the NL's top dogs last season. Will the Dodgers make up for their playoff failings? Will the Phillies add another (imaginary) trophy to their mantle? Will the Mauer/Wieters showdown leave us all too utterly in awe to even tell you about it? Those answers, and more, are coming right up. As always, games to 21, 2's and 3's, call own fouls, and let's get a champ ee yun ship game squared away!
Game 1: (5) Minnesota Twins vs. (13) Baltimore Orioles
Players: Joe Mauer/Pat Neshek vs. Matt Wieters/Brian Matusz
The Orioles are the lowest seed to advance this far in tournament history (admittedly, perhaps not the most impressive record), and have done so on the strength of Matt Wieters' phenomenal swag. The Twins have overcome a pair of formidable title contenders (Rangers, Yankees) because of Joe Mauer's dominance. We don't mind saying that this has been the most hotly anticipated pairing of the tournament; it's a regular ratings bonanza (relatively speaking). And from the outset, neither team disappoints. It's a flurry of stunning crossovers, no-look assists, clean jumpers, and lockdown defense. Paradoxical? Maybe. Entertaining? You bet. The game stays deadlocked most of the way, until the Orioles start to pull ahead late as Matusz asserts his dominance over Neshek. The O's jump to a 19-16 lead, but Mauer ties it up from 3 after a crazy side-armed assist from Neshek that snakes through the legs of the unsuspecting Matusz. Tied 19-19, and unwilling to go through another epic showdown like they just had against, the Orioles were in a crucial spot. But there's a reason why Matt Wieters already has a Hall of Fame plaque and Joe Mauer doesn't. The thunderous game-winning alley-oop that he throws down isn't that reason, but it's pretty indicative, no? Orioles win, 21-19.
Game 2: (1) Los Angeles Dodgers vs. (2) Philadelphia Phillies
Players: Matt Kemp/Jon Broxton vs. Shane Victorino/Ryan Howard
These may be the top two seeds, but they certainly got here in strange ways. The Phillies won one game by virtue of playing only against 5'6'' Danny Ray-Herrera and another by the Rockies' rulebook recklessness, while the Dodgers advanced last round because of Matt Kemp's midget stripper. What we're saying is, this could go either way. The Dodgers size advantage seems to hurt them early, as Victorino, seemingly unencumbered by the ceremonial lei he's been insisting on wearing, darts around nimbly as ever, finishing around the rim and from the perimeter with equal aplomb. Kemp heats up from deep, though, draining a couple of three-pointers to put the Dodgers right back in it. Howard and Broxton wage a battle for the ages down on the blocks, trading subtle elbows and jostling constantly. Hook shots and drop step-layups abound from down around the basket, until as with the earlier game, we stand deadlocked at 19. Victorino had been somewhat quiet, seemingly worn down, but he turned on the jets and streaked past a flatfooted Kemp on the way to the hole...only to find himself yanked to the ground by the lei mid-triumphant dunk. FOUL! Which we don't remember, exactly, but we think that's the first one called. The crowd goes hushed, but applauds as Victorino gets up and heads to the line for his potentially game-clinching free throws...and of course sinks them both. But don't get too excited, Phillies fans - he celebrated by popping his new t-shirt line that he's been wearing to games. Sweet shirt, bro. Phillies win, 21-19.
Well, well, well, a couple of thrillers there! O's and Phitins for the 'ship...not too shabby if we say so ourselves. Let us play you out with the bracket to date: