October means playoff baseball and last night, MLB’s playoffs began with a thriller between two AL East rivals. The Blue Jays managed to beat the Baltimore Orioles to move on to the Division series, but it took them eleven innings and a walk-off home run from Edwin Encarnacion off of not-Zach-Britton to do it. Tonight, The Mets will send one of the best young pitchers in the game, Noah Syndergaard, to the hill to face the Giants and a pitcher- Madison Bumgarner- whose playoff performances have been the stuff legends are made of. This is nothing short of baseball thunderdome.
When baseball first introduced this new playoff format, I was skeptical. Baseball is played in series. That is how it has been basically forever and that system works extremely well. In-season series help cement rivalries and inject game-to-game strategy that is catnip for baseball wonks like me. The anything-can-happen nature of single baseball games means that randomness might beat out merit more often than not. But for all the negatives with having a spot in the divisional series decided by a single game, four years into this new system, it is clear that the Wild Card play-in game is a massive success for MLB. In fact, it is pure, unfiltered baseball awesomeness.
There have already been incredible, iconic games in the Wild Card play-in. There was the titanic roar of Pirates fans overjoyed to see the team back to contention for the first time since Barry Bonds left town, a cacophony that unnerved Reds starter Jonny Cueto to the point where he dropped the ball and ended up balking. 2014 gave us the incredible Athletics-Royals battle that swung back and forth like a wrecking ball. And last night was a masterpiece as well. Here we had two teams who could barely separate themselves for each other over 162 games despite eighteen head-to-head battles in the regular season. In last night’s game, they failed to separate themselves again for eleven more innings, with every moment infused with the win-or-go home tension of a Game 7. This is hardly coincidence.The play-in game is built to create iconic games. There may be bad games in the future- giant blow-outs, ugly error-laden messes, but they will be the exception. Insane drama is in the DNA of the single game play-in. It is the 1978- Bucky-f&@#ing-Dent-Game-163- every year.
Tonight, the most successful playoff pitcher in history will take on a man who is nicknamed after a Norse-God. It’s baseball Thunderdome and it is incredible.