Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Entire season rests on one game

Baseball split on merits of wild-card playoff format

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By sometime Friday night, either Chipper Jones will be out of baseball or the defending World Series champion Cardinals will be out of the playoffs.

One and done.

A pair of wild-card matchups -- St. Louis at Atlanta, then Baltimore at Texas -- to decide which teams advance to the next round. Part of the new, expanded post-season format, where 162 games, six months of grinding and upward of 50,000 pitches get boiled down to nine all-or-nothing innings.

Dramatic? Certainly. Fair? Well, depends on who you ask.

"I hate it. I'm old-school. I'm old," Washington manager Davey Johnson said.

At 69, he has a vested interest. His NL East champion Nationals will visit the Cardinals-Braves winner Sunday in Game 1 of the division series.

"I love it," Cleveland closer Chris Perez said. "If you are in it, or watching it as a fan, it doesn't get any more exciting."

Or, as Texas general manager Jon Daniels summed up on the eve of his team's big game: "I'll let you know tomorrow."

Clearly, several sides to this debate.

Major League Baseball hoped to get more clubs involved in post-season races, and the Angels, Dodgers, Brewers, Rays and Pirates were among those that enjoyed the chase this year.

There also was some sentiment that wild-card teams were getting it too easy and winning the World Series too often, as the Cardinals did last season. By adding an extra playoff club in each league and then forcing it to play in a winner-take-all game, it could make the path tougher.

That's OK by Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, whose team clinched the majors' final playoff spot this year.

"We're ecstatic. We'd be home right now. We'd be spectators, so we're exceptionally happy about the format," he said.

"The fact that we have to use up a pitcher, it makes sense to me. I believe the team that wins the division ought to have an advantage. I think it's been well done," he said.

On the other hand, a club that runs into the wrong pitcher could be eliminated in a hurry.

"I think for teams like Atlanta -- who had an unbelievable year, and it could be ruined by one game -- it's probably unfair," Washington first baseman Adam LaRoche said.

"Now, in one game, any given day, a college team could beat a big league team. It's just the way the ball rolls. So I don't know how much one game proves as far as who deserves to move on," he said. "You almost have to do it two out of three. But then you get other teams sitting around for a week. So I don't know the right way to do it."

Braves second baseman Dan Uggla isn't a fan.

"I'm not for this new playoff thing at all," he said. "They're kind of messing things up for everybody."

This could be the last game for Uggla's star teammate, with Jones set to retire at age 40.

This is not the first time a whole season has come down to one game.

Baseball history is filled with thrilling one-game playoffs -- the Bucky Dent home run in 1978, Matt Holliday heading home in the 13th inning in 2007, among others. But those came about naturally, tiebreakers forced by final-day developments.

Minnesota's Ron Gardenhire is the only person to manage two one-game division tiebreakers, losing 1-0 to the Chicago White Sox in 2008, then beating Detroit 6-5 in 12 innings the following year.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 5, 2012 C10

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