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Friday, April 19, 2024
The Observer

Everett: Embrace the single-game wild-card round

Two weekends ago, I wrote a column arguing that the home stretch of the regular season would be chock-full of exciting baseball as teams fought tooth and nail for playoff berths and the schedule hurtled towards postseason baseball.

That never really materialized. That three-team race for the NL Central crown? The Cubs ran away with it. The fierce competition for the second AL and NL wild card spots? The Twins and Rockies didn’t break much of a sweat. The contenders and pretenders cleanly separated themselves, and we had 10 bona-fide teams qualify for the postseason. Not too much drama or excitement to be found there.

Thank goodness, then, for the one-game wild-card matchups: baseball’s best idea in a long time. Both games were fantastic, and great for the game. On Tuesday night, the underdog Minnesota Twins faced off against the home team New York Yankees, and promptly put three runs on the board in the first half inning, knocking out New York starting pitcher Luis Severino after the Yankees ace managed to record just one out.

Game over? New York’s postseason over, just like that?

Not quite.

The Yankees fought for their lives and responded, quickly. With one swing of shortstop Didi Gregorius’ bat, the Yankees tied the game 3-3 in the bottom half of the inning — sending a formerly stunned crowd into pandemonium.

Not a bad first inning of postseason baseball, I’d say.

New York’s bullpen combination of Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman went on to combine for 8 2/3 innings of one run, five-hit relief, striking out 13 Twins to tie the postseason record for a bullpen. Yankees manger Joe Girardi made the bold move of yanking Severino just one out into the game, and his bullpen stepped up. 8-4 Yanks.

The NL game between the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks may have been even better, and once again it got off to a raucous start. The Diamondbacks put up three runs in the first inning and extended the lead to 6-0 by the time the third inning was in the books.

Game over, right? With ace Zack Grienke on the mound for Arizona, surely.

Not quite.

The Rockies rallied, and put up a four-spot in the fourth inning to chase Grienke from the game. A back-and-forth game took off from there, and the Diamondbacks eventually relied upon a two-run triple by reliever Archie Bradley to grab an 11-8 victory. A reliever had the most important hit of the game? Welcome to the crazy unpredictability of the MLB playoffs.

Starting off the postseason with these types of games is exactly what baseball needs to sell: momentum swings, energy, strategy, edge-of-your seat nervousness and excitement. All these characteristics were found in both wild-card games this week, and that’s why we need to keep them.

People complain every year that the wild-card games are fluky, unfair and inaccurate representations of which team is actually better. There’s some validity to these claims, as a 162-game season deserves more than just a one-and-done opportunity. However, the one-and-dones are awesome. Every inning, every batter, every pitch is magnified in importance. Additionally, winning the division becomes all the more important and incentivized, because teams don’t want to have to experience the crazy all-or-nothing pressure of the single wild-card game.

So accept and embrace the single wild-card playoff game, even during seasons where the games aren’t as great as this year’s. The magical intensity of these games introduces and reveals what the rest of the postseason will look like — it’s the opening act postseason baseball needs in a sports world that demands action, uncertainty and excitement.

And if these wild-card games were any indication, this postseason should be incredibly special.