Because they pit evenly matched teams, playoff games frequently turn on one decision point. Those are moments when a manager, or possibly a player, faces a choice of strategic calls only he can make. Upon that strategic call the contest can turn.
All four of the MLB Wild Card games played Friday contained such a decision point. Sometimes it came early, sometimes late. Sometimes it involved a personnel decision, and sometimes it turned on a player’s performance.
In every case, however, the game outcome either immediately or eventually pivoted based on the aftermath of that decision point.
In postseason ball, that’s not unusual. Sometimes entire postseason fates hang in the balance as the decision point plays out. Since 2018, one in every five postseason games was decided by a single run, and another one in five came down to a two-run difference.
Friday’s play didn’t stray far from that pattern. The Guardians edged Tampa Bay by a single run, and the Cards-Phillies game was a two-run affair into the ninth inning, when St. Louis’ bullpen collapsed.
The noteworthy exception played out at Citi Field, when the visiting San Diego Padres lit up Max Scherzer for seven runs inside of five innings of an eventual 7-1 victory. But even then there was a potentially pivotal decision point in the bottom of the first inning.
It’s enlightening, then, to look at each game’s decision point and see how that point turned the game’s outcome.