The final day of the 2011 MLB season goes down in history as one of the best season finales of all time, and it puts the idea of playoff expansion to rest.
The Wild Card was introduced to Major League Baseball in 1995 by Bud Selig in an attempt to enliven the pennant races.
Entering game No. 162 of the 2011 season, all six divisions had already crowned a champion. However, four games were being played to determine two wild-card spots.
What ensued was perhaps the greatest finish to a baseball season of all time. The events that occurred were improbable, and the story unbelievable.
In the National League, the Atlanta Braves were three outs away from a win-to-stay-alive victory. The St. Louis Cardinals had already won their game and would face Atlanta in a one-game playoff if it did the same.
NL Rookie of the Year favorite Craig Kimbrel was looking for his 47th save of the season, far surpassing the previous NL saves record for a rookie (Todd Worrell, Cardinals: 36). Kimbrel had averaged fewer than three walks per nine innings pitched the entire season.
He proceeded to walk three in one inning on Wednesday night, blowing the save and allowing the Philadelphia Phillies to tie the score. Philadelphia made St. Louis the NL Wild Card when it completed a 4-3 victory over the Braves in the 13th inning. Atlanta had made official the first of the two biggest September collapses in baseball history.
Jonathan Papelbon of the Boston Red Sox followed by blowing just his third save of the season in the ninth inning in Baltimore. The Orioles scored the tying and winning runs of the game with two outs.
Just minutes later, the Tampa Bay Rays, who had trailed by seven runs going into the bottom of the eighth inning, miraculously completed a comeback victory. They had tied the New York Yankees in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, and sealed the deal in walk-off fashion in the 12th. The Red Sox had blown a nine-game wild-card lead in less than one month, and the Tampa Bay Rays seized the AL Wild Card.
What a night.
Still, the significance of this night never would have been recorded if Selig had not introduced the Wild Card 16 years ago. Now the Commissioner of Baseball wants to change up the postseason structure again, adding a second Wild Card—a fifth playoff spot—to each league. This would entail the top two wild-card teams facing each other in a playoff game or series.
If the season had ended on September 5th, the Atlanta Braves would have finished with an 8.5-game wild-card lead, and Boston would have ended with a 7.0-game lead. Under commissioner Selig’s new proposed rules, each team would have to face the second-place wild-card team, likely in a one-game playoff.
The teams who had dominated the race could have their postseason spots snatched from them by the result of one game. Commissioner Selig’s proposed playoff expansion would be bad for baseball.
We understand that this season’s spectacular grand finale was one for the ages. We cannot expect this display of competition to every season’s finish. However, we can take the events of the final day of the 2011 Major League Baseball season and determine that baseball is perfect the way it is right now. If such a monumental display of America’s past time doesn't convince Bud Selig of this truth, then nothing will.