Now in the format’s second year, MLB may have found a formula that brings out the best (and worst) in teams, creates amazing runs or collapses in September, and thus sets a perfect stage for the October playoffs.
In modern sports with 30- to 32-team leagues, the era of two conferences and one title game is as antique as the 1950s. But who would come up with a plot that was totally different, more profitable, yet felt honorable, not a gimmick?
Call it Bud Selig’s legacy. Some would rather pound their thumb with a hammer than grant praise to the commissioner who announced last week that he will indeed retire after next season. But the Perfect Postseason may be his jewel.
Selig has been wrong, or too timid, on major issues: labor relations, performance-enhancing drugs, baseball’s return to Washington. Issues and enemies expire of exhaustion at his feet. Why, the Nats-Orioles MASN dispute is a mere toddler in Bud years.
But fortune smiles on Bud. If Selig bought a lottery ticket, he would absent-mindedly leave it in his suit when he took it to the dry cleaners. The dry-cleaning store would burn down, but the winds from the fire would blow the ticket back to Bud’s house where he’d find it on his front porch with a handwritten note from God: “Bud, please don’t lose this ticket again.”
And the next day, he’d win the lottery.
This week is one of those lottery tickets for baseball fans. On Monday night, the Rays went to Texas for a one-game playoff for the last American League wild-card spot. How did the Rangers get there? They had to sweep all seven games of their last homestand. Win every night or else. They did.
“It’s been good and it’s been fun,” the Rangers’ Adrian Beltre synopsized.
On Tuesday night, the Reds will visit Pittsburgh, which has not played a postseason game, much less hosted one, in 21 years. In the most beautiful park east of San Francisco, the Pirates will try to prove it was worth all the effort they made to sweep the Reds in Cincinnati over the weekend to ensure this game would be played by their own win-parched fans.
Then, on Wednesday, for the third straight evening at about 8 p.m. Eastern time, baseball has another loser-goes-home game between Manager Terry Francona’s underdog Indians and the Tampa Bay Rays. How insanely hot is Cleveland? With 18 games to play, the Indians were six games behind the Tigers in the AL Central. Cleveland won its last 10 games and 16 of 18. The Tigers had to play .611 ball (11-7) just to win the Central by one game.