Yesterday marked the first ever Wild Card One-Game Playoff Mayhem event, and Major League Baseball has to be feeling good about the first year results. Two underdogs came out victorious in the process, both of which feature bird-themed team names, and plenty of fireworks were provided throughout. You had your intrigue (can the surprising Orioles keep their surprising season alive against a team that surprisingly couldn’t win their division after making two consecutive trips to the World Series?) as well as your irony (what were the odds that the two teams which experienced such drastically end-of-season fortunes all of one season ago would meet again to decide who goes on?), making both the American League and National League match-ups appealing enough to baseball fans everywhere. All told, Bud Selig is probably pretty glad he introduced this new playoff system in 2012, as these games provided enough hype to generate interest in the Wild Card showdowns for years to come.
In Atlanta, the general consensus was that the Braves entered play as the heavy favorites. The Cardinals, despite being the defending champions, were expected to fall pretty easily. After all, they never really got going this season, and they consistently struggled on the road and against teams with better than a .500 record. Considering yesterday’s NL Wild Card setting required St. Louis to overcome both of those problems against a pitcher (Kris Medlen) who lost exactly once all season, it was not expected for them to be the team still standing when play concluded.
Instead, the Braves failed to execute on offense (just three runs despite getting 12 hits) or defense (three errors that led to four unearned runs) in addition to having to endure an infield fly call that was questionable at best. In what to be considered an unofficial protest, Atlanta fans then proceeded to litter the field with various going-away presents for Chipper Jones, who was playing what would be his final game. Braves’ skipper Fredi Gonzalez would of course protest the game in an official manner only to have it overturned very quickly. The controversy generated from the call helped to disguise the fact that the game was sloppily played and not especially dramatic in any other way.
Over in Texas, a team that paced its own division for the great majority of the season and featured arguably the game’s most balanced roster found itself in an elimination game simply because they hit a rough stretch at the end of the season and Oakland simply refused to relent. Baltimore, the team no one wanted to take seriously all year, had to travel all the way to Texas to prove they were for real. Again, intrigue! Nine innings later, Ranger fans watched as the visiting team celebrated after systematically taking their opponent apart in a one-sided 5-1 victory.
Two bird teams. Two underdogs. Two teams who will see their seasons continue in the next round against the team with the best record in their respective league on Sunday. Maybe it’s not especially promising to associate a bizarre infield fly rule call with the first edition of baseball’s new Wild Card Showdown, but the event is definitely not short on headlines, and in the end, yesterday’s contests will go into the vault of memorable playoff days for all to look back fondly on for years to come.