Final Sunday a fan's delight
Four NL contenders in action on last day of regular season
After 182 days and more than 2,400 games, it's all come down to this: one more unbearably delicious afternoon in one of the wildest finishes in Major League Baseball history.
Right now, the American League postseason matchups are set -- it's the Angels at Red Sox on Wednesday and the Yankees at Indians on Thursday. The National League, meanwhile, is chaos. It is such chaos, in fact, that many normal folks in Denver who ordinarily would lock in for a 4:15 p.m. ET Broncos game at Indianapolis are just now realizing they will have to focus instead on a Rockies team that should be in about the fourth inning of a most meaningful game.
Today you expect high drama down to the wire in the Majors, but did anyone really expect this? If the Padres lose at Milwaukee, if the Rockies win at home against Arizona, if the Phillies and Mets each win their respective home games, then a four-way tiebreaker process will be required starting on Monday and lasting through Wednesday.
In that scenario, the Phillies and Mets will tie for the NL East title, and they will have a play-in game Monday to decide the division champ. The loser would then enter a three-game mini-tournament for which the Rockies, based on head-to-head records during the regular season, would have the option of trying to win at home and then on the road or just once on the road to advance.
If the Rockies choose to stay home, their opponent would be determined by the wishes of the team with the second-best combined head-to-head record; it'd be the Phillies if they're involved, but the Padres if the Mets drop into the three-way. That team could choose to play at the Rockies on Tuesday, but it's more likely that it would opt for a single game and travel to play the winner of Tuesday's game on Wednesday. If the Rockies opt for the one road game, Tuesday's game would feature New York at San Diego, or San Diego at Philly, with the winner hosting Colorado on Wednesday.
That survivor will be the eighth and final playoff team. There never has been a three-way tiebreaker in Major League history.
Ah, but that is still merely a scenario. Everything still can be decided today, rendering the hypotheticals moot. All the Padres have to do is win and they're in as the NL Wild Card, but that's what could have happened on Saturday if not for one of the most unbelievable events in final-weekend memory -- Anthony Gwynn Jr., son of "Mr. Padre", golfing a perfect Trevor Hoffman pitch for a game-tying triple with San Diego one pitch away from celebrating a clincher. Milwaukee won it, prolonging the drama until today. If the Rockies and either the Phillies or Mets (but not both) lose, then it doesn't matter what the Padres do; San Diego would be back into the postseason. It can be very easy.
But little has come easy this season, and so naturally it will unfold in very dramatic fashion today. Both the Mets and the Phillies will pin their postseason hopes on 40-plus left-handers. It starts at 1:10 p.m. ET with the Marlins' Dontrelle Willis opposing Tom Glavine of the Mets at Shea Stadium. At 1:35 p.m. ET, the Nationals' Jason Bergmann goes up against Philadelphia's Jamie Moyer.
A half an hour later, at 2:05 p.m. ET, the Padres turn to Brett Tomko at Milwaukee and Jeff Suppan. At 3:05 p.m., the Rockies and rookie Ubaldo Jiminez are at home to face Arizona and Doug Davis.
Yes, all four of those games will be happening at the same time for at least some of the action. Typical of this entire recent homestretch and this breathtaking final weekend, it will be a scoreboard-watcher's delight. If your team is involved, then you aren't just watching one other team. You are watching three other games. If you have the MLB.com Postseason Package -- maybe the best 15 bucks you could spend right now -- then you will be able to watch or listen to all four of them live over your computer, toggling back and forth, and then using the service for the next month as well.
Just listen to Drew Goodman, the Rockies' play-by-play broadcaster for FSN Mountain and KTVD in Denver. After rookie Troy Tulowitzki ripped a grand slam against Arizona, Goodman told the MLB.TV viewer: "Stand and cheer! It's 11-1, Colorado!" And later, describing the insanity, Goodman said, "This is exactly what Bud Selig wanted when he wanted the Wild Card. No question."
What is happening on this final Sunday is maybe the most dramatic result of the Wild Card being added in 1995. There has been plenty of final-Sunday excitement in recent years -- who can forget Steve Finley's walk-off grand slam to give the Dodgers the NL West title in 2004? -- but never a situation quite like this.
How did it get to this point? We're here because the Mets demolished the Marlins on Saturday afternoon behind an unforgettable near-no-hitter by John Maine, and because the Phillies weren't able to clinch against Washington. It is the third time in the history of division play (circa 1969) that a division has been tied entering the final Sunday, previously done in 1993 (Braves and Giants in the NL West) and 1982 (Brewers and Orioles in the AL East).
Sunday will get started with a dazzling pitching matchup. Glavine is the man the Mets want on the mound in this clutch situation. But Willis is 11-3 with a 2.00 ERA in his career against the Mets, and more important, he is 5-0 all-time at Shea Stadium. Moyer is almost a mirror image over in Philly, the ageless lefty going up against a righty who just turned 26 on Wednesday and is 5-0 since the All-Star break.
Can Bergmann do what Matt Chico just did for the Nationals on Saturday? He took the Philly crowd out of the game right at the start. It never was quite the same atmosphere during this game as it had been in the immediate nights before. Expect to see white rally towels waving at Citizens Bank Park; the Phillies haven't won a division title since the scruffy 1993 team that lost to Toronto in the World Series.
There was considerable drama right after the Padres lost that amazing game Saturday at Milwaukee against a club reduced to spoiler status. "Now Bud Black has to make the biggest decision of his Padre managerial career," a San Diego broadcaster said during the Padres' postgame show, streamed live over MLB.com Gameday Audio. "Does he make the decision of going to Jake Peavy?"
No, the Padres announced right afterward that it would be Tomko on schedule. Peavy, the possible NL Cy Young Award winner, could come back today on three days' rest, and one could argue that this is a must-win game because you just have to get to the postseason. But even if the Padres lose, they are at least assured of a Wild Card tie. The Diamondbacks already have clinched the NL West title. They know they might need Peavy shortly thereafter for a tiebreaker, or it could all fall into place and he could start an NLDS just as the club would wish. That's why Tomko is starting.
And the Rockies? Unless your name is Brandon Webb, they still seem to be the hottest team in the sport. By light years. Throw out that Friday loss and they are just brutalizing everyone who gets in their way. Will it be enough, though? How will it all end?
"We've played 161 games and it all comes down to this," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "It's probably fitting."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.