And, so, after the greatest night of regular season baseball in this 24-year-old man's history, the $41 million Tampa Bay Rays are in the post-season and the $161 million Boston Red Sox are out.
If Wednesday night's action proved anything to me -- and it should have proved this to everyone else -- it's that baseball's playoff format is absolutely fine.
Four teams per League get in... that's it, and that's all you need.
No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Four is always perfect... four worked for Entourage (I mean, how weird was it when Dom and Scott Lavin tried to become part of the group?), four worked for me and my three college roommates, four worked for Bobby Orr (get the irony in that one, Beantown?), four works for seasons of the year, four works for college basketball (the Final Four, that is), or college hockey (the Frozen Four, meh), four worked for Seinfeld... and four works for baseball.
The only people today who are unhappy about who is in and who is out live in Boston or Atlanta (and maybe Arlington, Texas, because I'm sure a certain percentage of that population realizes that the Rays may be a tougher out now than previously thought).
(NOTE: I'm also sure that Georgia's Native American community is happy, because they don't have to watch a bunch of white people with Tommy Bahama khaki shorts and prescription sunglasses mock them with the Tomahawk Chop after every Braves run scored.)
For as long as I've been born, and that's 24 years, baseball has gone like this: the regular season lasts for 162 games -- 100 of which are in the middle and seem irrelevant. The final two to three weeks of the regular season launch "wild" wild-card races and "divisive" division races, most of which are even more exciting than the playoff rounds which follow them. Three division winners make it from each League- - one of which is almost always a lame duck team like the Arizona Diamondbacks seem to be (although don't think for a second they can't win) -- and one wild card team is chosen.
Every year, more than one team deserves that last spot. But, hell, that's sport!
Did the Chicago Blackhawks deserve to be in the second round in last year's NHL playoffs? Maybe, you could say. But, that seven game series was the most exciting first round hockey matchup of all-time -- in hockey and, perhaps, professional sports.
There has never been a period of 14 days like that series and one team had to win it.
Last night was like that.
(Click here to read ESPN.com's recap of last night)
Because, if you really watched or followed any of last night's events, you would know that six playoff teams per League is too much. You would know that eight is too much. You would know that four teams is PERFECT, that anything more changes the dynamic, waters down the product, and makes nights like last night impossible.
I mean, hey, why don't we just let every team get in?
But, seriously, are we really prepared to reward mediocrity? After the way they played down the stretch, neither the Red Sox nor the Braves deserved to make the playoffs, but the Cardinals and the Rays did. You could even argue that the Angels deserved it over the Red Sox (and I would, if this was about that).
But, I mean, it doesn't always turn out like this, and it could have just as easily gone the other way... it really looked like Boston was going to make it, and I guess we would have had to live with that. We would have had to watch another Boston-New York series, this one not as fit for Joe Buck's commentary as past ones.
But -- in the craziest of scenarios -- Boston didn't make it. Atlanta didn't make it. They both collapsed, and the Red Sox actually did the Atlanta Braves a favour... because, this morning, everyone is focusing on what happened in Baltimore and nobody seems to realize that the Braves collapse in September was -- statistically -- the worst of all-time. All-time.
In one night, the AL MVP candidacy of Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury came to a standstill. The only thing really that was ever pushing them past a more superior Jose Bautista (*even Bill Simmons said it) was that their team was in the playoffs. Now? Jesus, just give it to Justin Verlander... why even wait until the offseason?
Hockey and the NBA allow eight teams to make the playoffs from each of their Conferences, and a few of those teams are simply awarded for mediocrity. Still, there's the off-chance that one of those teams that limps into the playoffs will shock the world - as the Chicago Blackhawks almost did last year -- and the entire system is vindicated.
Baseball's system was vindicated last night, in the same way that the 2006 Rose Bowl/BCS Championship between Texas and USC vindicated college football's system, at least for a couple years.
Everyone who really knows baseball knows that the "playoffs" actually start a month before the postseason. The Red Sox, Rays, Braves, Cardinals (and Angels, really) have been in the playoffs for almost a month now.
Just because the Red Sox and Braves are not in the Final Four (or the Elite Eight, if you count the entire MLB) doesn't mean their seasons were worthless, and it certainly doesn't mean they never had a shot.
You're forgetting -- Boston could have wrapped this up a long time ago.
The people who continue to argue that the MLB should increase the number of playoff teams are the same people that argue against icing in hockey, or offsides in soccer, or three in the key in basketball. "It's boring."
Stop telling me that because hockey and basketball allow eight teams, or that football allows six teams, that baseball should increase its size.
FACT: The NFL only plays 16 games a season.
FACT: Hockey rewards teams who lose regular season games in overtime or shootouts with one point.
FACT: Basketball plays 82 games (this zero they'll play zero), not 162.
All these FACTS drastically alter a sport's playoff system. Baseball teams have 162 games to figure it out, and there's a reason one of the sport's Hall of Famers has the nickname "Mr. October." It's a one-month carnival of craziness, and it's worked for a very, very long time.
Baseball is baseball... let it be.
Because, if we're prepared to alter a sport just to appease the teams that didn't make it, we're just rewarding them for not being good enough. Every season, every team knows what it has to do.
Sure, Boston is hurting this morning. But, seriously, who cares?
They screwed up. Let them deal with it.
Don't punish the sport for it.
(*This "article" was originally published on White Cover Magazine.)