Edwin Encarnacion Home Run, Showalter Blunder Give 2016 Postseason Perfect Start

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistOctober 5, 2016

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 04:  Edwin Encarnacion #10 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts after hitting a three-run walk-off home run in the eleventh inning to defeat the Baltimore Orioles 5-2 in the American League Wild Card game at Rogers Centre on October 4, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The beauty of the Wild Card Game is that every moment is magnified.

On Tuesday in Toronto, that beauty shone in all its glory.

Playing before a raucous Rogers Centre crowd in the do-or-die American League showdown, the Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles tussled for 11 taut innings before Toronto won, 5-2, on a three-run walk-off homer by Edwin Encarnacion.

It was a close, exciting contest. We got a head-scratching managerial decision by Orioles' skipper Buck Showalter (more on that in a moment). And we got an iconic Blue Jays home run that was arguably the biggest since Joe Carter did his thing in 1993.

All of that was condensed in a single game, which is the undeniable appeal of the one-and-done wild card.

Let's start with Encarnacion. The 33-year-old slugger is in the final year of his contract with Toronto. Along with right fielder Jose Bautista—who launched a solo homer to open the scoring Tuesday—he's almost certain to depart this winter for a gaudy payday in a weak free-agent class.

That makes his home run, which sent the Jays to a division series against the rival Texas Rangers, all the more poignant.

Really, though, it didn't need any context to be awesome.

Encarnacion hit 42 homers and tied for the AL lead with 127 RBI this year. So it's not shocking he did what he did.

Postseason walk-offs, however, belong in their own special category.

Here it is, let's watch it, because a picture is worth a thousand words, and a video is worth a thousand pictures:

OK, now it's time to toss a manager under the bus. Sorry, Buck.

Hindsight, as they say, is always 20/20. Second-guessing is easy. But boy, Showalter has some 'splaining to do.

He went to his bullpen early, pulling starter Chris Tillman with one out in the fifth inning and the score knotted 2-2. He used six relief pitchers in all.

But he never turned to his All-Star closer, Zach Britton, who was chilling on ice when Ubaldo Jimenez coughed up Encarnacion's fateful shot.

To be fair, Jimenez had been on a resurgent roll, as I noted just last week.

With everything on the line, though, how do you not summon the hurler who posted a 0.54 ERA and 0.84 WHIP with 74 strikeouts in 67 innings?

Zach Britton never got a chance to pitch in the Wild Card Game.
Zach Britton never got a chance to pitch in the Wild Card Game.Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The first counterargument was that there may have been something off with Britton, but Showalter shot that down.

Britton was fine, the O's manager said, and "no one has been pitching better for us than Ubaldo," per ESPN.com's Jayson Stark.

For Nintendo fans, Yahoo Sports' Greg Wyshynski offered the following analogy:

Now, about the Wild Card Game as an idea.

It has its detractors—folks who say a 162-game slog shouldn't be reduced to the mother of all small samples.

On the other hand, consider how it ratchets up the drama. Pulses pound. Palms sweat. And, again, moments matter more.

That's good news for Encarnacion, who won't have to buy a drink north of the border ever again. It's bad news for Showalter, who will presumably close his eyes and see Britton ready in the bullpen for the rest of his natural life.

Either way, it's compelling. It nudges the excitement meter northward.

"Both teams played so well," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said, per MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm and Brittany Ghiroli. "Both teams deserved to win that game."

Only one could. Only one did.

On Wednesday, we hit the reset button and get the New York Mets and Noah Syndergaard hosting the San Francisco Giants and Madison Bumgarner. The stakes will be the same, as will the potential for heroism and folly.

Orioles fans are cursing Showalter Tuesday night, or perhaps rotten luck if they're feeling magnanimous. Jays nation is playing Encarnacion's exploits on a loop and grinning uncontrollably.

The real winner, however, is the format—and anyone who loves a nail-gnawing piece of unabashed entertainment.

And we're just getting started.

    

Statistics accurate as of Tuesday and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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