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October 8, 2012 12:10 pm

Head Games: The Weirdness of Wild Card Friday

6

Will Woods

Some players weren't quite themselves during last week's wild card games, which made for some of the best baseball we've seen this season.

Leading up to last week, there was some kerfuffle over how teams would manage their rosters for the first-ever Wild Card Friday. Would we see six LOOGYs? A player-manager? Three catchers? No catchers? Turns out the question we should’ve been asking was how the players themselves would handle the novelty of a single-elimination game. The answer? Not very well: we were treated to seven errors in two games, including a Braves infield that couldn’t have won a teddy bear at a carnival and dueling errant pickoff throws from Derek Holland and Darren O’Day that their first basemen hardly bothered to reach for. Between the errors, the botched (?) infield fly call, and the possible ends of two great careers (Chipper Jones and Jim Thome), there were enough storylines in play on Friday to keep Dick Stockton on script for the rest of the month.

I loved every second of it. Look, there are plenty of practical reasons to support the second wild card—it leads to more money and higher ratings, it puts a premium on winning the division, and it gives more teams late-season hope, all without cheapening the achievement of making the playoffs—but in retrospect, one of the best reasons to like it is that it gave us two unbelievable games. It should continue to do so in future years, too, for the reason stated above: the new format is putting the players in situations with which they’re unfamiliar. How many players have ever been thrust into one winner-take-all contest to keep their seasons alive? Even the College World Series isn’t so cruel. Everywhere you looked, players seemed just a little bit off, and I defy you to tell me you didn’t have fun watching, or that it wasn’t good for the game.

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