The Empire Strikes Back, Wrath of Khan, The Dark Knight — all instances where the sequel was better than the original.
So for everyone who marveled at the heart-stopping finish to the final day of last season, get ready for Game 162, or Revenge of the Wild Card, coming to a ballpark near you Wednesday, Oct. 3.
A year ago, both the Red Sox and Braves completed dizzying collapses by losing the final game, and as a consequence, thrusting the Rays and Cardinals, respectively, into the playoffs. The fact that all of the American League East permutations were decided within minutes that night enhanced the evening’s mythology.
Hoping to make that magic an annual event, as well as attach more significance to a division title, commissioner Bud Selig added a second wild card for 2012, a move that also spun off a one-game, do-or-die, first-round playoff between the two wild-card clubs.
In doing so, Selig may have created a monster, at least from a logistical standpoint. With 12 or fewer games remaining in the regular season, 18 teams were within 51/2 games of a playoff spot. Only two had locked up postseason berths — the Nationals and Reds — and every other division still was in play.
“It’s been amazing,” said Selig. “The first thing I do every day — I did this morning, at 6 to work out — was to see who won. It’s fascinating to watch the different things that happen. We really have a little bit of everything.
“But I’ve always said, you really judge how well you’ve done by the number of teams, Labor Day and then post-Labor Day, that are still in the hunt. And, I mean, even I didn’t think we could do this well. It’s surprising.”
But here’s the tricky part. With the revamped schedule, which was done on the fly to accommodate the reformatted playoffs, it doesn’t leave much room to settle tiebreakers, i.e., play-in games, should they be necessary. Those will have to be shoehorned in on Oct. 4, with the wild-card games scheduled for the next day.
Look at what could happen to the Cardinals. In one possible scenario, St. Louis would have to fly to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers, win that tiebreaker, and then travel back to play the Braves. That’s two elimination games, on opposite sides of the country, in 24 hours.
With the wild-card winner hosting the first two games of the divisional round, however, that would eliminate the Cardinals potentially needing to fly back again to San Francisco immediately afterward.
That’s one interesting wrinkle the new format has created, which would further escalate the heightened drama building for the end of the regular season. And drama makes for good TV, something that Selig is always mindful of when it comes to his broadcast partners.
Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer is scheduled to pitch the opener in today’s doubleheader against the Twins after his last start was cut short because his arm felt weak. Scherzer leads baseball with 224 strikeouts — one more than teammate Justin Verlander — and ranks third in the American League with a .727 winning percentage. … Cardinals right-hander Jake Westbrook was shut down just a few pitches into his bullpen session and will be re-evaluated today. Westbrook suffered a strained right oblique Sept. 8.