Pat Higgins | Sports Editor
Last week, after 162 games of regular season play, the Pirates, Giants, Athletics and Royals faced off in a single-elimination Wild Card game here in Pittsburgh and Kansas City, respectively.
In 2012, former Commissioner Bud Selig implemented a one-game playoff to expand the pool of teams that qualify for the postseason. With only three division titles up for grabs in each league, the expanded playoff format essentially created a play-in game for the top two Wild Card contenders in the National and American Leagues.
It increased the number of playoff spots up for grabs, which creates a more exciting environment in the postseason chase. But as we saw last week, one game is not enough.
Last Wednesday, the Pirates faced the Giants in the National League’s rendition. The teams finished with identical 88-74 records. In front of a raucous crowd at PNC Park, Edinson Volquez got into trouble in the fourth inning and loaded the bases. Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford stepped into the box and pulled a hanging 2-1 curveball over the bleachers in right field to put the Giants out to an early 4-0 lead.
Starter Madison Bumgartner cruised from there, tossing a complete game shutout. The Giants ended Buctober before it could even begin.
On Thursday, the Athletics and Royals battled to the 12th inning to provide an outstanding distraction from Thursday Night Football. The Royals battled back from a 7-3 deficit in the bottom of the 8th inning and entered the 9th down only 7-6. Pinch runner Jarrod Dyson stole third with one out and made it home on a sacrifice fly shortly after to tie the game at 7.
From there, the top two teams not to win division crowns battled to the 12th inning. The A’s once again took the lead in the top of the frame, but the Royals proved resilient when it was their turn to bat. Christian Colon tied the game on an infield single. Two batters later, Salvador Perez yanked a hanging slider down the third base line to push Kansas City into the Division Series.
The point of all this: players and teams battle through a 162-game marathon each season. After all that, the Pirates and Giants finished with the same record, while Kansas City finished just a game better than Oakland. The Giants took care of the Buccos in the allotted nine innings, but the Royals-A’s result is just begging for a three-game series.
As we’ve seen so far in the 2014 postseason, every at-bat matters. The Royals needed every one of their 27 outs to tie the Athletics and send the game to extra innings.
Major League Baseball has nothing to lose in adding another game or two in the Wild-Card round. Teams are evenly matched enough to warrant the move. Owners have nothing but ticket revenue to gain from guaranteeing at least one home game in this newly-proposed Wild Card round of three. Fans surely won’t have a problem with the prospect of guaranteed postseason drama.
The rule change in 2012 was progressive, but as the A’s and Royals showed last Thursday, nine innings is not enough.