One on one card games

One Game, One Night: Winner Take All

It’s a good thing PNC Park is constructed of limestone blocks and steel trusses. Imagine the stress the ballpark will endure for yet another October night when the team that calls it home distills its postseason chances into one game. The stadium could barely contain the fans — black-clad, towels spinning, flags waving — the first time around as they unleashed 20 years of pent-up frustration upon Johnny Cueto. The next year, tense silence followed as Madison Bumgarner baffled and stymied and subdued the Pirates’ lineup. Now: Jake Arrieta.

As the Pirates have evolved, so has the source of fans’ frustration. Why, they now ask, is a team that won 98 games, a team with the second-best record in Major League Baseball, forced to oppose a Cy Young candidate in a one-game playoff?

Tonight’s wild-card game against the Chicago Cubs represents an outlier, a blip on the baseball chart. Never before, since divisional expansion in 1994, have the three best teams in the league come from one division. Only twice before since division play began in 1969, according to STATS LLC, have teams from one division had three of the majors’ best four records. That happened to the American League East in 1978 and 1983, before baseball expanded from four divisions to six and when the AL East had seven teams rather than five. What happened in 2015 — the St. Louis Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs finishing with the three best records in baseball — is the postseason matchup equivalent of the unassisted triple play.

“You hope that the best teams wind up in the playoffs in a series that is fair, that people would deem fair, just as a fan, ” starter Charlie Morton said shortly after the Pirates lost to the Cardinals, the definitive stroke in their relegation to a third consecutive wild-card game. “Do you really want to see two of the top three or four teams in all of baseball play a one-game playoff? No. And I’m not just saying that because we’re one of those teams, I’m saying that because it just doesn’t seem like, it just doesn’t seem right.”

A three-year total of 280 victories and yet three trips to an elimination game just doesn’t seem right, but such is life in the same division with the Cardinals. This year they missed, for large chunks of the season, Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, Matt Adams, Jordan Walden and Jaime Garcia yet went 100-62 and won the division for the third year in a row.

The Cubs weren’t supposed to be here. A year early, everybody thought, even though they spent $155 million on Jon Lester. But then Arrieta spent the second half pitching like Bob Gibson, rookie Kris Bryant matched even the most optimistic projections, Anthony Rizzo put forth a season that will earn MVP votes, and manager Joe Maddon somehow kept all the plates spinning in his first year in Wrigleyville.

“There’s no question that [in] the National League Central today, the Cardinals and the Cubs and the Buccos, as I call them, are three of the best teams in baseball, ” former MLB commissioner Bud Selig said.

Selig is the reason MLB had one wild-card team, let alone two. Until 1969, the two pennant winners advanced directly to the World Series. The League Championship Series were created in 1969, doubling the playoff field. In 1994, MLB expanded the divisions as we know them today, an East, Central and West in each league, and created the League Division Series. To round out an eight-team bracket, two wild-card teams were added in addition to the six division winners.

“The managing general partner of the Texas Rangers, George W. Bush, whom I love, said to me, ‘If you need my vote, you got it, ’ ” Selig said.

“I got killed for years after this. Man, did I get killed. ‘He’s ruining the game, we don’t have wild cards in baseball.’ … It was so good, that in about ’07, ’08, ’09, we started talking about an additional wild card.”

In 2009, Selig formed a 14-member committee to study on-field matters, among them playoff scheduling. The committee included managers, front-office executives, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson and writer George Will. They eventually recommended a one-game playoff rather than a best-of-three series, which surprised Selig, a former MLB owner.

“When I ran the Brewers, I lived and died with my team every day, every out, every inning, ” he said. One elimination game worried him. “But the four managers talked me into it.”

The committee’s vote was unanimous, as was that of the clubs, and the two additional wild-card teams went into effect with the new collective bargaining agreement for the 2012 season.

“I remember voting for the second wild-card and thinking it was a great opportunity to get an additional team into the postseason, ” general manager Neal Huntington said. “I say this jokingly, it’s probably the worst vote I’ve had as a general manager.

“It is great for the game. It is absolutely great for the game that it includes a handful more cities for a much longer period of time in the playoff excitement, in the playoff environment. If we end up in the wild-card game and hosting the wild-card game for the third consecutive year, that doesn’t work well in our favor, but also there’s going to come a point in time where maybe we’re the second wild card and we’re able to fight our way into the wild card when we wouldn’t have been in the postseason.”

Mark Melancon remembers the conference call, in 2011, discussing the pros and cons of the additional playoff teams. At that time, Melancon was the Houston Astros closer and Major League Baseball Players Association representative. He had no way of knowing he would later enter PNC Park’s cauldron, the realization of that phone call and Huntington’s vote and Selig’s committee, three times. He had no way of knowing that Arrieta, who in 2011 was pitching his way to a 5.05 ERA with the Baltimore Orioles, would stand in his way.

“The wild-card game is so much fun, ” Melancon said. “It’s not fun if you lose, but the overall game is just a blast.”

MLB created the wild-card game to adequately reward teams that win their division, to allow more teams the chance at a postseason spot and to give fans two guaranteed nights of Game 7 atmosphere. Tony Clark can appreciate those notions.

Clark played for the 2002 Boston Red Sox, who finished 93-69 but in second place in the AL East behind the 103-58 New York Yankees. The Anaheim Angels, at 99-63, earned the lone wild-card spot. He also experienced a Game 7, as a member of the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, when the Red Sox won after being down three games to none.

Melissa & Doug Melissa & Doug Smarty Pants 1st Grade Cards
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  • Whimsical design and lighthearted tone get kids excited about learning
  • Illustrated activities include trivia quizzes, problem-solving puzzles, word play, fun facts, creative story-building games, and more
  • Developed with educators to support the curriculum of each grade level
  • 120 cards in each set (with multiple questions/activities on each)
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