Major League Baseball’s inaugural “Wild Wednesday” certainly lived up to its billing, with four teams—the Atlanta Braves, the Tampa Bay Rays, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox—all vying for two postseason slots headed into Game 162 of the 2011 regular season.
In keeping with the magic and luster of our glorious national pastime, the unexpected and flair for the dramatics were on full display Wednesday, in what some are calling the most exciting night in the history of baseball.
Between these four teams, we witnessed one extended rain delay, two extra inning contests, three come from behind victories (one, Tampa Bay, who trailed by 7 in the 8th inning), two walk-off winners and zero play-in games scheduled for Thursday with the Braves and BoSox headed home, and the Cards and Rays on to play games in October.
The night was a baseball lover’s delight and the human drama was rich: Evan Longoria hit a three run homer to pull Tampa Bay within one run of the Yankees in the eighth, as well as the eventual game-winning walk-off shot in the 12th to complete the Ray’s improbable run to the playoffs. It wouldn’t have been possible, however, without Dan Johnson’s game tying homer in the bottom of the ninth, with the Rays down to the final strike of their 2011 season.
Elsewhere, ROY candidate and closing phenom Craig Kimbrel blew a save, which had he converted it—as he has done 46 times this season—the Braves would still be playing today. Even the hapless Orioles—not to be outdone—jumped up to play “spoiler of the season” with a valiant rally and walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth to cement the Boston Red Sox historic September collapse.
Sadly, were we to fast forward this same scenario to 2013, none of these games would have held any meaning whatsoever. With MLB’s announcement that the playoffs will be expanded to two Wild Card teams who will play a “one-game playoff,” were it 2013, in this same scenario all four teams would be in, win or lose, and would be playing each other on Thursday, regardless.
It isn’t that one-game playoffs (which seem eerily similar to play-in games) aren’t exciting. In 2007, the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres gave us No. 163, one of the most exciting games of all time, with Matt Hollliday tagging from third in the bottom of the 13th and sending the Rockies to the postseason with a headfirst slide.
However, what made it so exiting wasn’t the fact that it was a winner-take all, one game affair after the regular season had ended, but rather that it took the Rockies winning 14 of their final 15 games (11 consecutively) to put them in that position in the first place.
In the same way, what made Wild Wednesday so epic wasn’t Game 162 itself, but instead the heightened buildup it took to make it what it was: with the Cardinals winning 16 of their last 21 games to leapfrog the Braves, and the Rays overtaking the Red Sox, despite Boston holding a nine game lead in the Wild Card race entering September. Both streaks just so happened to culminate on Game 162, where both improbable finishes were ultimately realized.
Were this 2013, the importance of those late-season runs and certainly the drama surrounding the final game would be far less. Maybe there would have been some excitement, or at least mild acknowledgment, on Game 158 when the third place teams were eliminated.
But we certainly wouldn’t have seen David Price, Jon Lester, Chris Carpenter and Zack Grienke all toeing the rubber on Game 162, with all hands on deck knowing there’s no tomorrow. In 2013, one thing we have guaranteed ourselves is tomorrow (at least for one more day) and the pressure and drama that only baseball can provide will be somewhat lessened, with "Wild Wednesday," as glorious as it was, a short-lived thing of the past.