posted 2012-10-24 11:46:54

The MLB Playoffs Get off to a Wild Start

A controversial call sets the tone for an exciting October    

Andy Bell-Baltaci

Contributing Writer

Chipper Jones’s storied 19-year career with the Atlanta Braves came to a sud- den end in a 6-3 Wild Card Game loss to the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals.

The Wild Card Game was the first of its kind, a one-game knockout between the National League’s top two Wild Card teams to determine who would go on to play in the National League Division Series. In the American League’s edition of the Wild Card Game, the Baltimore Orioles defeated the collapsing Texas Rangers 5-1 to advance to the American League Divi- sion Series for the first time since 1997.

The playoffs didn’t take long to become controversial. In the aforementioned Braves-Cardinals game, a pivotal fly ball that dropped to the grass in left field was nullified by a late and questionable infield fly rule call made by umpire Sam Hol- brook. Instead of having the bases loaded with one out, the infield fly rule deemed batter Andrelton Simmons automatically out on the fly ball. The calling of the rarely used rule kept the Braves from being in a position to tie the game or take the lead with the bases loaded, and instead left them with runners on second and third with two outs. A lot of people (and especially the Braves’ fanbase) think the call ended up costing the Braves the game, and Atlanta’s fans, who had the luxury of witnessing the call at their team’s home stadium, littered the field in protest with beer cups, food containers, newspapers and anything else they could find, causing an almost twenty-minute delay in the game. Atlanta didn’t put a run on the board through the rest of the game, and in one quick night, both their season and Jones’s great career were over.
In the American League, the Texas Rangers, who led the Oakland Athletics by five games in the AL West before collaps- ing in the final week of the season, lost at home to the surging Baltimore Orioles, who advanced with a 5-1 victory to take on the New York Yankees in the ALDS. The Orioles victory came off the arm of Joe Saunders, who pitched 5 2/3 innings of one-run baseball to get the victory over Rangers sensation Yu Darvish. Darvish didn’t pitch a bad game in his losing effort, though, allowing 2 earned runs in 6 2/3 innings. The problem for Darvish, as well as the Texas Rangers as a whole over the last week of the season, was a lack of run production.
The Wild Card games set the tone for the ALDS and NLDS matchups. In the American League, the Detroit Tigers overtook the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central to win the division and set up a series with the Oakland Athletics. The Athletics, perhaps the most exciting team in baseball, also overcame a deficit in their division, beating out the struggling Texas Rangers for the AL West crown in the final days of the regular season.

The other ALDS matchup pitted the Yankees, who clinched the AL East title and the best record in the American League during the final day of the season, against the play-in Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees and Orioles evenly split 18 regular season head-to-head matchups, and as of the printing of this article, were headed into a thrilling Game 5 at Yankee Stadium to decide which of the teams would go on to play for the American League pennant. In the National League, the NL East- winning Washington Nationals, making their first playoff appearance since 1981 (when they were still the Montreal Expos), clinched the National League’s best record, securing a NLDS matchup with the Wild Card play-in St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals are surging in their first year without all-world sensation Albert Pujols at first base. Pujols, who left in the offseason to sign a monster deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, will have to watch his old team from home, as the Angels failed to qualify for the postseason.
Meanwhile, the other NLDS playoff series features the Cincinnati Reds, who ran away with the NL Central, and the

San Francisco Giants, who won the World Series in 2010. Cincinnati will have to go through the series without their ace, John- ny Cueto, who was removed after eight pitches in Game 1 because of back spasms. The Giants have also endured their fair share of injuries this year, most notably to closer Brian Wilson, who is out for the rest of the season, and they will have to dig deep to overcome a Reds team that hasn’t lost three straight games at home all year. The Giants are also still recovering from the loss of outfielder Melky Cabrera, who was hitting .346 when he left to serve a 50-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
After an exciting start in the Wild Card round, these playoffs have a special feel to them. The team that ends up bathed in champagne at the end of October will have to overcome plenty of challenge and adversity to get there. And isn’t that what the playoffs are all about?