On Sunday, September 29, 1968, the final day of the regular season, the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Houston Astros 11-1 for their 97th victory. Meanwhile, in Detroit, the Tigers lost a 3-2 game to the Washington Senators, only their 59th loss of the year. Three days later, the Cardinals hosted the Tigers for Game 1 of the World Series, with 31-game winner Denny McLain facing off against Bob Gibson and his 1.12 regular season ERA. (The Tigers, of course, would go on to win the Series in seven games despite three starts from Gibson.)
One year to the day later, the newly expanded American and National Leagues finished their season. The New York Mets found themselves on the losing end of the ledger, dropping their 62nd game of the year to the Cubs while the Baltimore Orioles had finished the night before with a victory over Mickey Lolich and the Tigers.
Things were different this year, however. With the addition of four new clubs to Major League Baseball, the American and National Leagues had been divided into two divisions each. Instead of immediately heading into the World Series after the season ended, as had been the case for 65 years, there was a new layer of playoffs in the way. Two days later, the best-of-five American and National League Championship Series began, with the Orioles hosting the Minnesota Twins and the Mets visiting the Atlanta Braves.
"We're trying to accomplish in five games," Earl Weaver said, " what in previous years it took 162 games to do."
After winning 109 games, two short of the league record for victories in one season, the Orioles still haven't qualified for the World Series.
"I think there's more anxiety waiting for the playoffs to start than it is for the World Series," Weaver said, "because we're still trying to reach the Series.
"The World Series becomes important only after you're in it. Right now, it means nothing to four teams. Soon it will be important to two teams, and the other two will be rooting for their league."
Earl Weaver is a smart man, but even he couldn't avoid letting out some anxiety about the new, unpredictable path to the World Series. Change, it seems, can be tough.
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