Major League Baseball has come under heavy criticism over the past month for its generic format. Critics have complained that forcing the second-best team in the majors to risk elimination in the do-or-die round was not the goal of the two-wildcard system.
Of course, it is true that when MLB instituted the second wild card in 2012, the intention was not for the reigning Dodgers champion, who won 106 games, to face the Cardinals, who won 16 games of less. However, the MLB was keen to emphasize the importance of division races while expanding the playoff field for two teams (one from each league) and creating must-see back-to-back TV nights to start the playoffs. Mission accomplished.
The moment for justification did not come when Chris Taylor threw a two-run homerun against Alex Reyes, sailed in the skies of Southern California, but four hours earlier, when millions of casual and outright fans and tough guys hooked up to the action. What they saw was an epic game filled with suspense, euphoria, disappointment and finally euphoria. Dodgers 3, Cardinals 1.
The narrowness of the game definitely played into these drastic emotional swings. This is the reason why this one was so much more exciting than the AL Joker game, despite the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. From the start it was clear that Max Scherzer didn’t have his best gear last night; the bigger question during the first half of the game was when Dave Roberts would pull his ace. The Cardinals scored in Game 1 on a wild pitch and had at least one batting goal in each inning. But LA, with its deep pitching staff, hasn’t broken up; St. Louis was 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position. Another question: How long would Mike Shildt ride 40-year-old Adam Wainwright? Uncle Charlie was relieved with an out in the sixth inning after a single dribble along the third baseline. The pressure built with every throw, every change of pitch, and every stolen base (there were five of them!).
But, more importantly, the tension in that game was related to its stakes, which were no doubt increased due to the Dodgers’ second-best regular season record. Win and move forward; lose and go home.
Indeed, this season sparked a key question about the virtues of MLB’s wild card system, but we looked at it badly. It was not a question of whether the fate of a team should comes down to one game to start the playoffs, but Why It does.
Last night’s game provided all the evidence we need to answer it: This is exactly why.
“The Dodgers never wanted that. They have spent the last six months unsuccessfully trying to avoid the exact scenario they found themselves in on Wednesday night: a white-handed stressfest of an elimination game to start the playoffs. Instead of a quick release, the four-hour pressure cooker ended with another instantly iconic postseason moment for a franchise with more than one of them.
So begins Nick Selbe’s post-game column at Dodger Stadium. He perfectly captures the atmosphere of the moment, both the dismay of the Cardinals and the jubilation of the Dodgers. It was the best result for the sport, with the Giants and Dodgers meeting for the first time in the playoffs, following an instant classic.
Did you miss all or part of last night’s game? Relive everything in our live blog.
Dodgers win Taylor walk-in HR thriller by Emma Baccellieri and Matt Martell
Revisit the tension, heartache and real-time excitement of the epic LA victory in the NL wild-card game.
Curious about what’s going on with NL West’s third contender? here is a update on San Diego after a disappointing year.
Padres Fire Manager Jayce Tingler after two seasons by Michael Shapiro
Interested in Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker’s five-decade relationship before the White Sox and Astros started their ALDS in Houston this afternoon? Discover their history in our playoff preview.
Welcome to the updated version of Playoff Baseball by Tom Verducci
3. NOTE by Tom Verducci
The Etch A Sketch that is the post-season has proven itself again. The Cardinals’ title as “the hottest team in baseball”? Pouf. Faded away. Suddenly they couldn’t get any of those hits produced each night on their 17-game winning streak in September.
Cody Bellinger’s 0.165 batting average? The sixth worst ever for someone who has come at bat 350 times? Doesn’t mean anything now. Gone with a jerk.
The Dodgers’ 3-1 win in the NL wildcard game against the Cardinals is a reminder of how October has its own ecosystem. He laughs at what is called the “momentum” of the regular season.
Chris Taylor added to the show. Taylor didn’t hit any home runs on breaking ground in August and September. He had hit 0.119 rotations in the past two months, hitting five hits from 245 breaking shots. Of course, he got away with smashing a hanging cursor from Alex Reyes.
Now Bellinger is a cat to watch in the NLDS against the Giants. As bad as he looks in the regular season, he’s seen 18 shots in four plate appearances in wild play, stroked a 0-2 pitch for a single, and stole two goals. It was only the third game of his career in which he has reached base three times and slipped two sacks. The guy who reached eighth – and was the subject of early guesses as to why he started in place of Taylor – might just be a factor in the NLDS. Hey, it’s October. It’s a brand new game.
4. WHAT TO MONITOR
Today begins the American League Divisional Series, with the Astros hosting the White Sox at Minute Maid Park (opening pitch: 4:07 p.m. ET) to begin. Next, the Red Sox will travel to St. Petersburg to begin their five-game streak with the Rays’ 100 wins at Tropicana Field (first pitch: 8:07 p.m. ET).
The first game, a rematch of the 2005 World Series, when Houston was a National League team, is the more exciting of the two. Both clubs have dynamic young players and grassroots veterans, as well as managers who are 70 years old: Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker.
La Russa came out of pre-season retirement to lead Chicago, the organization that gave him his first managerial job. It seemed strange then, and it remains a bit confusing today. Beyond the obvious personality differences between La Russa and Tim Anderson, there were also baseball issues. La Russa, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a manager in 2014, last wore his baseball pants in 2011. While only a decade ago, the game was vastly different from what it was. it is now. He led the Cardinals to their most recent World Series title that year, then retired from the dugout. The White Sox are one of the most talented rosters in the game, anchored by the best rotation in the American League, but they reached the AL Central crown and haven’t played well against teams with record wins. They have gone long stretches of the season without several of their main hitters, who have missed out on time due to injuries. Now their range is complete. It’s fair to wonder if the White Sox have come this far because of or despite their 77-year-old manager.
5. THE FARM of Emma Baccellieri
Red Sox Game 1 starter Eduardo Rodriguez made two starts against the Rays in September. They couldn’t have gone more differently. The first (September 2) featured six scoreless innings with six strikeouts. The second (Sept. 7) was a disaster, with Rodriguez being set on fire for six points, failing to come out of the fourth inning and watching the Rays attack his particular cutter. Presumably, he learned a lot from the two outings, and the Rays learned as much about him. So what will we see from Rodriguez tonight?
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