There was something a bit artificial about it to begin with, and not just because the worst team in the National League playoffs became the first beneficiary of the expanded wild card.
The St. Louis Cardinals certainly celebrated as if it was real, even if they had to wait until they were off the field to go wild about their wild-card win. No sense antagonizing the fans in Atlanta any more, in case they still had a few more beer bottles in reserve.
Baseball is not supposed to be decided in one game. Never was, no matter how much extra money it brings Bud Selig and his owners.
That a 94-win season can end because of a few ill-timed errors is hard enough to digest for Atlanta fans who kept the faith through a long season. That a call an umpire had no business making thwarted a possible comeback will make the offseason seem even longer.
Actually, left field umpire Sam Holbrook may have done everybody but Braves fans a favor by raising his arm and calling an infield fly in the eighth inning Friday. His call highlighted the absurdity of a sudden-death playoff system thrown together quickly and without a great deal of careful thought.
The idea was sound, much like the original plan to add a wild-card team back in 1994. More teams in contention in August and September means more fans in the stands, which means more money to the owners.
The original wild card — instituted when baseball went to three divisions from two — has worked well, even if purists grumble that the best-of-five opening series should be best-of-seven. It has added excitement to baseball races, and given teams that might never beat a juggernaut in their division something to play for.
The expanded wild card is more of a gimmick that punishes the wild-card entry with the best record and makes the 162-game regular season even less meaningful. There's too much emphasis put on one game, too many chances that something weird — like a bizarre infield fly rule call — causes an entire season to suddenly go bad.
And let there be no mistake about it. The infield rule call was bizarre, beginning with the fact it was made in the outfield.
It might not have cost the Braves the game, but it surely cost them a chance to get back in the game. And while it may have been the technically correct call to make under the broad interpretation of the rule, it was the wrong call to make under the rule of common sense.
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