The last two days of the MLB playoffs consisted of eight games stretching over the course of roughly 24 hours, with six teams facing elimination—some of them multiple times.
Wait a minute. Is this March Madness?
It's actually October, where legends are born and champions are crowned. But it’s easy to understand why some may confuse the last two days with the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which takes place in approximately five months.
You could try and compare it to, say, the first round of the NBA playoffs or even the Wild Card Round in the NFL, but how often do you see so many teams vying for their postseason lives—on the same day?
In football, even though there is the pressure of the one-and-done scenario, rarely are you awarded with the pressure-filled moment of a team driving down the field, trailing by a score. Even so, when does that drive end with a last-second touchdown, the equivalent of a walk-off in baseball?
The same goes for basketball. Of course, March Madness is a completely different animal, but how often do you see a team bringing the ball down the court with seconds left down by two, let alone convert in that opportunity?
In baseball, there is no playing against the clock. There is always a chance to come back, no matter how large the deficit. And look at the magic it has created over the past two days.
Late Wednesday night, it was the New York Yankees who struck first thanks to the heroics of pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez, who homered to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. He followed that up with a walk-off blast in the 12th inning, putting the Yankees ahead two games to one over the Baltimore Orioles.
The ensuing night, the Orioles pulled off their own extra inning victory in the Bronx, breaking a 1-1 tie with a J.J. Hardy RBI double in the 13th to draw the series even.
Not to be outdone, the Oakland Athletics completed a mesmerizing comeback just before the clock struck 1 AM on the East Coast. Down 3-1 to the Detroit Tigers, the A’s scored three in the bottom of the ninth, culminating with a walk-off single by Coco Crisp as mayhem ensued in Oaktown.
Oakland’s magic would run out Thursday night as Detroit rode a masterful Justin Verlander to victory in Game 5.
The San Francisco Giants also staved off elimination against the Cincinnati Reds, only to eliminate the Reds themselves the very next afternoon after a six-run outburst in the fifth. The Reds caused a stir of their own, fighting back to make it 6-4 and putting the tying run on base in four straight innings, but falling short after a valiant effort in the ninth.
More Thursday pandemonium followed. The St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals were deadlocked in a 1-1 pitcher’s duel for six innings until Jayson Werth’s walk-off jack forced yet another Game 5.
Werth’s at-bat? Thirteen pitches.
Four Divisional Series, and four Game 5’s for the first time in MLB history.
What are the odds? Two percent (via Dan Brooks of Baseball Prospectus).
Drama. Drama. Drama. And it’s not even over yet.
Baseball certainly benefited from this stretch of games taking place during the middle of the week, so it wasn’t forced to compete with the NFL. Even on Thursday night, Game 4 of Baltimore versus New York and Game 5 of Detroit versus Oakland had to go up against a Week 6 matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans.
You tell me—which would you rather watch?
It’s difficult to deny the popularity of football overtaking baseball in America. The opening weekend of the MLB playoffs was outdone in ratings by Week 5 of the NFL, and it’s disappointing to see (via USA Today).
Football’s popularity continues to grow year after year, largely a product of the media shoving meaningless storylines down our throat and treating each week of play like it’s the Super Bowl, all while putting baseball on the backburner.
Football is captivating, no doubt. From the excitement of Sunday Ticket to the agony of fantasy football, fans can’t seem to get enough of the NFL—myself included.
But the evolution—or rather the disintegration—of the rules of football is something you will never see in baseball. Long delays while reviewing obvious touchdowns and turnovers, throwing a flag anytime the quarterback isn’t hit within a square foot area, even moving the kickoff up to the 35-yard line, taking away the excitement of the return in order to “protect player safety.”
Yes, the speed of the game creates more danger and risk of injury, but it’s football, and putting your body on the line is part of the game. Taking precautions with helmet-to-helmet contact is a necessary change, but the NFL has taken it too far with protecting players, and it has taken a lot away from the game.
Baseball is about as straight-forward as it gets. No yearly rule changes. No instant replay to delay games, aside from the rare home run review. If you’re going to complain about baseball’s pace, consider the 30 to 40 second wait in between each snap in football, not to mention the countless commercial breaks.
We could go on and on, and these comparisons don’t even include basketball, mainly because the MLB playoffs are currently going up against the NFL regular season. But the fact of the matter is that the consistency and clarity of baseball is refreshing, as opposed to the confusing and ever-changing landscape of football.
We hinge on every pitch, every at-bat, for any one of them could be the defining moment of the game.
This year, the storylines playing out in the MLB playoffs are endless, from the emergent A’s, O’s and Nats to the multiple late-game heroics. They are the underdogs we root for, while the Cardinals and Yankees play the bad guys, making their bid to reign supreme in baseball against the hopes of many.
Is 162 games too many? Probably. But it all culminates in the mad dash in September and the drama of October. It’s more regular season games than the NBA and NFL—and this season the NHL—combined (via Brian Stubits of CBS Sports).
So maybe not every game matters quite as much, but at least it’s always there. You can’t have too much of a good thing, especially if you’re a true fan of baseball.
But this MLB postseason is giving that old adage a run for its money.