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October 3, 2011 - Al Stephenson
As a supposed baseball purist, I have never been much of a fan of wild card teams. The last night of this year's regular season may have changed all that however.
With two teams in each league tied for the wild card spot heading into the last day of the regular season, four games were going to be crucial. In the National League the St. Louis Cardinals would pin their post season hopes on beating the Houston Astros or hoping for an Atlanta Braves loss to East champion Philadelphia. In the American League Boston and Tampa Bay were tied with the Bosox in Baltimore and the Rays taking on the East champion Yankees.
St. Louis took care of business in Houston beating up on the hapless Astros 8-0. The other three games were incredible. The Braves lost a late lead to Philadelphia and finally the game in extra innings and the Cardinals were in. The Red Sox were clinging to a one run lead late in their game when a rain delay put their fortunes on hold.
Meanwhile in Tampa the Rays found themselves trailing the hated Bronx Bombers 7-0 going into the bottom of the 8th inning. Tampa scored six runs in the bottom of that inning and folks in New England suddenly became a little nauseated. The Yankees seemed on the verge of closing out the game when reserve first baseman Dan Johnson hit a two out home run to tie the game and send it into extras. The Rays eventually won the game on an Evan Longoria home run while Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon blew another ninth inning save. The Red Sox had a terrible September and lost in extras putting Tampa Bay into the playoffs.
So am I now a fan of the wild card after watching these crazy games? Yeah, I guess I am. The games were great, though a one game playoff in each league to determine the wild cards would have been neat. The Yankee-Rays game came with a little controversy that needs to be addressed. Some baseball purists (many disguised as Red Sox fans) felt the Yankees owed it to the integrity of the game of baseball to go with Mariano Rivera in that crucial ninth inning in Tampa. To that I say hogwash. The Yankees owed no one anything in that game. They were gearing up for the playoffs that they had already clinched a spot in. So quit crying folks.
Another controversy on the last day of the season took place when Jose Reyes of the Mets had a bunt single in the first inning and then removed himself from the (meaningless) game to try to protect his lead in the batting race. He did win the crown, edging out Ryan Braun of the Brewers. Again many baseball purists thought that was bush. I didn't particularly like the way he did things, but I don't have a serious problem with it either. For the fans that were disgusted, perhaps you should take solace in what Braun said about it afterward. He said he had no problem with what Reyes did. Braun suggested that he had 162 games to get a few more hits to possible win the title. He suggested this: "who am I to be judging someone else."
Well said Ryan. You showed a lot of class.
Another thing the final day did was to lead to a suggestion that baseball should have more wild card teams. Creating even more excitement would be great, or so it was proposed.
The view from my seat suggests that baseball should not consider such an idea. This year was great for fans. Next year may not be so interesting. If you water down the product too much, you'll ruin it.
Enjoy the playoffs everyone.
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