Sports are silly; there's no other way around this idea. A minor player's impact on one game early in the season can have a long-reaching effect. Obviously, so many different factors affect a team's season that the Indians' final destination of the Wild Card round cannot be pinned solely on one play. However, that doesn't make it any less amusing that the result made a difference.
Yankees prospect Corban Joseph had a down season from his strong first showing in Triple-A last year. He fell from a 134 wRC+ in 84 Triple-A games in 2012 to a 101 wRC+ in 47 Triple-A games in 2013. He didn't hit for power like he did last year, he didn't walk as much, and his offense took a bit of a hit. More importantly, his season also ended prematurely when he hurt his shoulder at the end of May and never made it into another game afterwards, later undergoing shoulder surgery. Nonetheless, the year will always offer a highlight to him and his family since he made his major league debut in a doubleheader against the Indians on May 13th.
Joseph played in both games, but the Yankees lost the opener 1-0, and they only held a 1-0 lead in the seventh inning of the second game. The second baseman was 0-for-4 on the day with a walk when he came to bat against Trevor Bauer to lead off the inning. He hit Bauer's first pitch to left-center field for a base hit, the first of his young career. "CoJo" hustled it into a double, and after Alberto Gonzalez fouled out, Joseph came around to score on a double by the slumping Austin Romine. The Yankees finally had an insurance for Joseph's fellow rookies Vidal Nuno (who started) and Adam Warren (who relieved Nuno), and they proceeded to pile on Nick Hagadone, who was terrible in relief of Bauer. The final score was 7-0, so CoJo's run did not end up being too important, but it did spark a rally.
The Indians lost that game, but they went on to win the top Wild Card spot in the AL, reaching the playoffs. The Tigers clinched the AL Central on September 25th with three games to go; their lead was big enough so that the Indians' then-six-game winning streak didn't even matter. So the Tigers rested against the Marlins in the final series of the season, and they were swept. Meanwhile, the Indians won four more consecutively to end the season just one game back of the Tigers.
Imagine if CoJo had not gotten that hit back in May and the inning went quietly. It would not be inconceivable for the Indians to rally from a one-run deficit. A win way back then would have brought them closer to the top of the AL Central. Hell, the Indians played like crap all year against the Yankees, going 1-6 against them. If they had just played a little bit better against the Yankees, they would have been a lot closer to the top of the division and an automatic path to the Division Series without needing to win the Wild Card playoff that they lost last night.
Again, it's obvious that the story wouldn't have entirely changed if the Indians kept CoJo hitless. Even if they came back from down 1-0 to win that game, they would have had to make up at least two others to theoretically keep the Tigers from clinching with three games left in their season. The hit was just one minuscule ripple in the entire season, as was their decision to cut Nuno, their seemingly irrelevant 48th round pick from 2009, in Spring Training 2011, which eventually led to him joining the Yankees and shutting them out for five innings that day.
Nonetheless, the hit reflects on the craziness of sports that a kid who only had one hit in two games all season long was one of the numerous reasons why the Indians couldn't put up more of a challenge to the Tigers for the AL Central crown. Baseball!