Baseball’s Wild Cards Are the Perfect Postseason Prologue – The Atlantic

In Tuesday night’s American League Wild Card contest, the New York Yankees fell behind in a hurry. Luis Severino, the 23-year-old flamethrower, gave up two home runs to the first four Minnesota Twins he faced, and the manager Joe Girardi removed him just one out into the game—a decision he’d never have made in August. The Yankees pulled even with a homer of their own in the bottom of the first and, after two more blasts and some tidy work from their relief pitchers, won 8 to 4. Girardi’s quick move had paid off. Afterward, the Twins manager Paul Molitor expressed admiration for Girardi’s gutsy deployment of his roster. “He extended some guys probably past their comfort zone,” Molitor said. “They still performed.”

If the AL Wild Card game spoke to a manager’s sway, the next evening’s National League installment showed that, sometimes, postseason baseball resists all design. The Arizona Diamondbacks jumped out to an early 6-0 lead over the Colorado Rockies and then set about giving it back; scores of 6-4 and 8-7 came on the way to an eventual, anxious 11-8 Arizona win. The Diamondbacks’s Archie Bradley encapsulated the up-and-down madness, becoming the first relief pitcher in playoff history to hit a triple and, an inning later, allowing back-to-back home runs. “After today, I think pretty much I’ve seen everything,” the Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said late in the night. “This was an incredible game.” The slugger Paul Goldschmidt, who had hit a three-run homer, concurred: “That’s one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of, if not the best.”

The better teams won this year’s games; New York and Arizona both had more regular-season wins, the truest indicators of quality, than their counterparts. But just outcomes, nice as they are, are hardly the point. The Wild Card round is an opening ceremony, and an effective one. Someone who had never watched an inning of playoff baseball could have tuned in Tuesday and Wednesday night and experienced the full range of the postseason’s possibility: primary plans giving way to contingencies, can’t-make-it-up juxtapositions, constant stress. More than anything, they’d have noticed the plain absurdity of compressing a sport designed to dawdle, the way that changing the scale changes its essence.

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