Thursday was all about Division Series fanfare; red, white and blue bunting; a road thrashing by the Blue Jays over the Rangers; and a confident opening statement by the Indians over the Red Sox at home.There was enough drama, intensity and excellence on the mound and in the batter's box to get
Thursday was all about Division Series fanfare; red, white and blue bunting; a road thrashing by the Blue Jays over the Rangers; and a confident opening statement by the Indians over the Red Sox at home.
There was enough drama, intensity and excellence on the mound and in the batter's box to get those baseball taste buds primed as the game's brightest strobes continue to fire up.
But Thursday was an American League appetizer. Next up is the Friday Four, a Major League Baseball postseason-palooza.
And you can watch them all: Blue Jays at Rangers at 1 p.m. ET on TBS and SportsNet in AL Division Series Game 2, Red Sox at Indians at 4:30 p.m. ET on TBS in their Game 2, plus National League Division Series Game 1s featuring the Dodgers at Nationals at 5:30 p.m. ET on FS1 and the Giants at Cubs at 9 p.m. ET on FS1 for a sumptuous dessert.
In other words, it's October's first full, delicious four-course meal, with the beginning of both NL Division Series and a pair of quick-turn rematches in the AL.
"It's what you play this game for," said Nationals ace Max Scherzer, the NL Cy Young Award contender who's matched up against three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers in Game 1 on Friday.
"You don't measure yourself against the worst; you measure yourself against the best. ... This is something you always remember. You want to be in these situations, because this is too much fun, to be able to go up and face a team and pitcher of this caliber."
The same can be said for the memorable matchups in all four Friday games, but first a little primer on Thursday's action.
The Blue Jays flat-out ambushed the Rangers on their home turf, taking Game 1 with a 10-1 victory at Globe Life Park. Toronto starter Marco Estrada was brilliant through 8 1/3 innings and the Blue Jays knocked Cole Hamels out early. Now, Toronto has the early advantage in the best-of-five set.
But these are the Rangers, who had the best record in the AL. They're not going down easily.
"Given how our club has played all year long, and we've been in these type of situations before ... we've come back and played well after these type of games," manager Jeff Banister said. "And with the veteran group that we have in there, I don't worry about the collateral damage in a game like this."
The same can be said for Boston, which dropped a 5-4 decision to Cleveland in the opener of that ALDS on Thursday. But the loss shouldn't get the Sox down.
This is, after all, a club with quite a few players who won the World Series for manager John Farrell in 2013 and has blossomed this season with a young, potent offense and resilient pitching staff. All of this under the watch of franchise icon David Ortiz, who is in his last October hurrah at 40 years old.
• Ortiz legs out his fastest double of the season
The Red Sox will be looking to regroup after the Indians swung Game 1 with a three-run third. Roberto Pérez, Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor each homered in the inning off 22-game winner Rick Porcello, and the Tribe never looked back.
"It was certainly exciting to watch," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. "What I guess I liked the most was when [Boston] scored, we came back and scored. And you knew it was going to be a good game."
Those two games set the table for a Friday feast of wall-to-wall ball. Here's the sweet and savory menu, in chronological order:
ALDS Game 2: Blue Jays (1-0) at Rangers (0-1), 1 p.m. ET, TBS and SportsNet
Toronto lefty J.A. Happ (20-4, 3.18 ERA) had a monster season that puts him in the AL Cy Young Award conversation, but he has a highly qualified adversary in right-hander Yu Darvish (7-5, 3.41 ERA), who had 132 strikeouts in 100 1/3 innings in his first season back after missing the Rangers' 2015 playoff run because of Tommy John surgery.
If the Blue Jays take two on the road, it could be an almost insurmountable task for the Rangers to win the series. Then again, Texas opened last year's ALDS between these clubs by taking two north of the border and ended up losing the next three, including the unforgettable, emotional Game 5 won on José Bautista's bat-flip home run.
Bautista, who was greeted with boos by the Globe Life Park crowd on Thursday, homered late in Game 1. But he knows better than to further inflame an already-heated rivalry.
"Still got a series to win," Bautista said. "And like I said, I'm not trying to make it about myself. But helping my team win feels good."
ALDS Game 2: Red Sox (0-1) at Indians (1-0), 4:30 p.m. ET, TBS
As if there weren't enough pitchers' duels on tap Friday, here's another, with the Red Sox throwing 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price (17-9, 3.99 ERA) against '14 Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14 ERA) to try to take a series split back to Boston.
The Red Sox got close on Thursday, leaving the potential tying run on third base in the eighth inning and getting a runner on in the ninth. They know from experience that there's no such thing as panic when you've got decorated veterans such as Ortiz, Price and Dustin Pedroia patrolling the field and clubhouse.
"Every atmosphere you play in is going to be huge," Price said. "Whenever you get to playoff baseball it feels like Opening Day all over again. Everybody is refreshed. Everybody has got that extra adrenaline. And to be able to just calm those emotions and go out there. You can't try and do too much. You have to understand that what you bring to the table is good enough."
NLDS Game 1: Dodgers at Nationals, 5:30 p.m. ET, FS1
Kershaw (12-4, 1.69 ERA) was on his way to another Cy Young Award before back problems derailed his season, but he's back. Scherzer (20-7, 2.96 ERA) was 10-1 with a 2.86 ERA after the All-Star break.
But that's not the only storyline for this series. Nationals manager Dusty Baker is a former Dodger who came oh-so-close to postseason glory as skipper of the 2002 Giants and '03 Cubs. Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts is in his first season and will try to bring a World Series title back to Chavez Ravine for the first time since 1988.
Oh yeah, and this: Kershaw is 2-6 with a 4.59 ERA all-time in the postseason, but he said he won't be pressuring himself to gain any personal October redemption. It's all about team, and the Dodgers have a really good one.
"I think it's really kind of hit home for me a little bit as I've come back that I can definitely be a part of this and definitely help, and definitely be a factor in winning," Kershaw said. "But I don't have to be the factor."
NLDS Game 1: Giants at Cubs, 9 p.m. ET, FS1
Until they're knocked out, the Giants, those incredible World Series champions of 2010, '12 and '14, will have that freaky even-numbered-year thing going for them, and it worked -- along with the typical mastery of Madison Bumgarner -- in their Wild Card Game triumph over the Mets.
But now, they're up against the regular-season juggernaut of the Major Leagues, the team with the best record (103-58), the highest-scoring offense, the best pitching staff and a 108-year-long World Series chip on their shoulder.
Fittingly, the nightcap of this fabulous Friday will take place at the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field. NL Cy Young Award candidates will square off again, with San Francisco's Johnny Cueto (18-5, 2.79 ERA) going against Cubs veteran Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44 ERA).
It's safe to say both teams can't wait to get between the lines.
"It just is who is playing the game better right now," Cubs skipper Joe Maddon said. "The body of work during the season, normally it indicates that you had a pretty complete team, you played well, you get to this point where you don't have to worry about the one-game Wild Card Game. But otherwise, man, it's pretty even at this point. ... So it's really about right now."
Right now is Friday. Bon appetit.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.