MLB's final day holds unprecedented intrigue
Both leagues' Wild Card races deadlocked entering Wednesday
Welcome to the first Wild Wednesday.
It is unusual enough with the change from Sunday to Wednesday for Game 162 for Major League Baseball's regular season. It is now unprecedented because this is the first time both Wild Card races are tied entering the final day with two teams in each league facing elimination.
In the American League, Boston and Tampa Bay are both 90-71. Jon Lester starts for the Red Sox in Baltimore at 7:05 p.m. ET, and David Price starts for the Rays at home against the AL East champion Yankees at 7:10.
In the National League, Atlanta and St. Louis are both 89-72. Tim Hudson starts for the Braves at home against the NL East champion Phillies at 7:10, while Chris Carpenter starts for the Cardinals at Houston at 8:05 ET.
"Let's play two!" Ernie Banks once said, but he never used those words to describe a tiebreaker doubleheader. If the Red Sox and Rays finish tied, a play-in game will be at 4:07 p.m. ET on Thursday at Tropicana Field. If Atlanta and St. Louis tie, they will decide it at 8:07 ET at Busch Stadium.
There's other jockeying for positioning to be done today. The Rangers can clinch the No. 2 seed in the AL with a win over the Angels or a Detroit loss vs. Cleveland, and the Brewers can clinch No. 2 in the NL with a win vs. Pittsburgh or an Arizona loss to the Dodgers. If both win or both lose in either league, it'd be Rangers and Brewers at No. 2.
But it's the dual Wild Card races that are breaking new ground.
Just last year, both Wild Card races were tied entering the final day. But whereas San Diego was the odd team out in the NL, it was not the same dire straits in the AL, where it was a matter of the Rays and Yankees simply deciding who would be division champion and who would be Wild Card. In 2011, it is final survival in both leagues that has not been experienced since a third round was added in 1995.
In 1998, the Cubs and Giants entered the final Sunday with 89-72 records. Both lost No. 162, so they met that Monday at Wrigley Field and the Cubs won, 5-3, to make the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Red Sox were easy AL Wild Card winners.
In 1999, the Mets and Reds were both 95-66 after Saturday games. Both won on Sunday, and the Mets advanced with a 5-0 tiebreaker victory at Cincinnati. Again, Boston won the AL Wild Card.
In 2007, the Mets and Rockies both entered the final day of the season at 88-73 after 161 games. The Rockies beat the D-backs while the Mets lost to the Marlins, and since the Padres lost to the Brewers, Colorado and San Diego played a tiebreaker the next day. The Rockies won when Matt Holliday crashed into home plate with the winning run, then pushed all the way to the World Series before losing to the Red Sox.
In 2008, it was again a finish Mets fans would like to forget. Their team was 89-72 after Johan Santana's 2-0 shutout on Saturday against Florida. Milwaukee had the same record. The Brewers won Sunday, and the Mets fell to the Marlins, 4-2, in the final game at Shea Stadium. Once again, Boston cruised to the AL Wild Card.
Last year was one of the most exciting finishes in the game's history. In the NL, the Braves, Padres and Giants all had 90-71 records entering the final day. Still to be decided was a West champion and a Wild Card. Hudson pitched that Sunday as the Braves won at home against the Phillies -- the same scenario as today -- and the Giants shut out the Padres to win the West on their way to a World Series title.
The Rays and Yankees were both 95-66 entering the final Sunday last year, and the AL East title and Wild Card was decided when the Rays won at Kansas City and the Yankees lost at Fenway Park.
Tampa Bay and New York had the comfort of knowing that both of them were going to the postseason. Today presents a much different scenario.