One-game wild-card playoffs: Dramatic, but fair?
By BEN WALKER
The Associated Press | October 05,2012
Baltimore’s Chris Davis stands in the outfield during their workout at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, on Thursday. The Orioles are scheduled to play the Texas Rangers in a wild card game today.
By sometime Friday night, either Chipper Jones will be out of baseball or the defending World Series champion Cardinals will be out of the playoffs.
One and done.
A pair of wild-card matchups — St. Louis at Atlanta, then Baltimore at Texas — to decide which teams advance to the next round. Part of the new, expanded postseason format, where 162 games, six months of grinding and upward of 50,000 pitches get boiled down to nine all-or-nothing innings.
Dramatic? Certainly. Fair? Well, depends on who you ask.
“I hate it. I’m old-school. I’m old,” Washington manager Davey Johnson said.
At 69, he has a vested interest. His NL East champion Nationals will visit the Cardinals-Braves winner Sunday in Game 1 of the division series.
“I love it,” Cleveland closer Chris Perez said. “If you are in it, or watching it as a fan, it doesn’t get any more exciting.”
Or, as Texas general manager Jon Daniels summed up on the eve of his team’s big game: “I’ll let you know tomorrow.”
Clearly, several sides to this debate.
Major League Baseball hoped to get more clubs involved in postseason races, and the Angels, Dodgers, Brewers, Rays and Pirates were among those that enjoyed the chase this year.
There also was some sentiment that wild-card teams were getting it too easy and winning the World Series too often, as the Cardinals did last season. By adding an extra playoff club in each league, and then forcing it to play in a winner-take-all game, it could make the path tougher.
That’s OK by Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, whose team clinched the majors’ final playoff spot this year.
“We’re ecstatic. We’d be home right now. We’d be spectators, so we’re exceptionally happy about the format,” he said.
“The fact that we have to use up a pitcher, it makes sense to me. I believe the team that wins the division ought to have an advantage. I think it’s been well done,” he said.
On the other hand, a club that runs into the wrong pitcher could be eliminated in a hurry.
“I think for teams like Atlanta — who had an unbelievable year, and it could be ruined by one game — it’s probably unfair,” Washington first baseman Adam LaRoche said.
“Now, in one game, any given day, a college team could beat a big league team. It’s just the way the ball rolls. So I don’t know how much one game proves as far as who deserves to move on,” he said. “You almost have to do it two out of three. But then you get other teams sitting around for a week. So I don’t know the right way to do it.”
Braves second baseman Dan Uggla isn’t a fan.
“I’m not for this new playoff thing at all,” he said. “They’re kind of messing things up for everybody.”
This could be the last game for Uggla’s star teammate, with Jones set to retire at age 40.
Orioles All-Star center fielder Adam Jones also is in jeopardy. His team returns to the postseason for the first time since 1997, but could be ousted before it gets a home playoff game.
“I’m sure there are some people in Baltimore that are frustrated. Of course you want Camden Yards rocking,” he said.
“This is the situation we put ourselves in. We’re happy to be in the situation, and we’re going to take full advantage of the opportunity,” he said.
This is not the first time a whole season has come down to one game.
Baseball history is filled with thrilling one-game playoffs — the Bucky Dent home run in 1978, Matt Holliday heading home in the 13th inning in 2007, among others. But those came about naturally, tiebreakers forced by final-day developments.
Minnesota’s Ron Gardenhire is the only person to manage two one-game division tiebreakers, losing 1-0 to the Chicago White Sox in 2008, then beating Detroit 6-5 in 12 innings the following year.
“When we won Game 163 against Detroit, that was probably one of the funnest times I’ve had on a baseball field,” he said.
“After everything you’ve been through to go and play and get one chance and lose 1-0 was really heartbreaking.
“And you’re going to see that this year. You go through a whole big battle like they’ve gone through down the end with every game, every inning, every pitch meaning something and then you get one game? Somebody is going to go, `We did all that for this?”’
The NFL is set up for one-and-dones. The NBA and NHL play a series in the postseason. So did baseball — best-of-five, best-of-seven — until adding this mini-round.
“I wish it was a three-game playoff,” Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. “I’ve clinched and I wait for you and you just got here, and one game, anybody can win, and I’m done? I wish they would cut the season to 159 and play three games. A lot of people would love that.”
Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria agreed that one game makes things difficult. Yet after the Rays were eliminated in the final days, he’d gladly trade places with Texas or Baltimore.
“I’d take their situation over ours any day. They’re in the postseason,” he said.
Slugger Adam Dunn would like the chance for one more swing, too, after his White Sox were overtaken by Detroit in the AL Central. Still, one game is rugged for anyone.
“I can see from a fan’s perspective, but from a player’s perspective I can’t imagine liking it,” Dunn said. “I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s fair.”
No matter, it’s a new era in baseball. Oakland general manager Billy Beane can accept that, and sees all sides to the fresh playoff format.
“Yeah, listen, it’s great and it’s terrible all in the same sentence,” he said.