New to the 2012 season, Major League Baseball instituted a Wild Card “play-in” game between the top two teams that did not finish first in their division. The winner of that game advances to play in the Division Series of their respective league.
While the American League game went off without a hitch, with the Baltimore Orioles defeating the Texas Rangers, the National League contest between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals did not encounter the same fate. A controversial infield fly rule call in the bottom of the seventh inning caused a stir among fans.
Instead of a pop-up dropping in for a bloop single that would have loaded the bases for Atlanta, left field umpire Sam Holbrook called an infield fly rule less than a half-second before the ball hit the ground. Irate Braves fans littered the field with garbage in protest, causing a 19-minute delay in the game. After resuming the game, Atlanta failed to score in that inning and lost, 6-3.
As a result, fans had mixed reactions about the new playoff system.
“I think [the playoff system] should have always been like [it currently is],” junior Michael Scerbo said. “It makes things more interesting, and [the added playoff spot] also makes the ‘down the stretch’ part of the season more interesting and definitely gets more viewers to watch their teams and go to the ballparks to watch their teams.”
Scerbo thinks the new format is fair, but also thinks that having an enhanced replay in baseball could eliminate umpire calls that are detrimental to the game.
“Any regular season blown calls could have changed the [playoff] brackets, so I think it’s fair,” Scerbo said. “But then you ask the question of replays. I believe that on calls like that, [the umpires] should have a meeting and maybe be able to discuss it so they can get the call correct, kind of like in football where there is an official on the sideline to keep things in order.”
Junior Matt Rainey thinks the new system creates a disadvantage for both teams.
“It’s unfair because there is no room for mistakes,” Rainey said. “One error can wipe out the last 162 games you just played to nothing, even if everyone knows you’re the better team.”
That theory came to fruition during the Braves-Cardinals game, as Atlanta made three errors in the game, in addition to the blown call hurting them, all culminating in a loss and an end to their season. In the regular season, Atlanta won six more games than St. Louis.
The Cardinals now are one away from knocking out the Washington Nationals, who finished the season with baseball’s best record at 98-64.
“Baseball is meant to have series, hence the long season and five-to-seven game series,” Rainey said. “Too much can go wrong in one game. [Major League Baseball] should at least make it a three-game series.”
While the jury is still out on the fairness of a one-game playoff, it created a stir in its inaugural season, and it remains to be seen how it will be handled going forward.