Rays, Rangers Set For One-Game Playoff

The Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays came into Sunday tied for the second Wild Card berth into the AL Playoffs, one game behind the Cleveland Indians.  The Indians won, beating the Minnesota Twins 5-1, to clinch the first Wild Card berth.  They will host the AL Wild Card game on Wednesday.

This afternoon, the Rays scored 6 in the first and held on to beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 7-6.  That put the pressure on the Rangers, who were playing a little later since they’re in a later time zone.  Their opponent, the Los Angeles Angels, grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first.  After the Rangers took a 2-1 lead in the 5th, the Angels tied the game in the 6th.  The Rangers then scored single runs in the 6th and 7th, before scoring 2 more in the 8th, both on solo home runs, to grab a 6-2 lead.  Closer Joe Nathan retired the side in the ninth, and the Rangers stayed alive.

The tie in the Wild Card standings will be settled at 8:00 PM ET tomorrow night, when the Rays and Rangers play for the second Wild Card berth in a one-game playoff in Texas.  It is the fourteenth time a regular season tie will have to be broken, although it is just the ninth one-game tiebreaker (tiebreaks in 1946, 1951, 1959, and 1962 were played in best-of-three format).  It is the fourth time the Wild Card has been determined by a tiebreaker game, but the first time a second Wild Card berth has been determined this way (MLB added the second Wild Card just last year), and the first ever AL Wild Card tiebreak (the other three were in the NL).

Throughout history, tiebreaks have produced some exciting and memorable moments, from Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round The World” in 1951 to Bucky Dent’s HR against the Red Sox in 1978.  Four of the thirteen previous tiebreaks have produced the eventual World Series champion, with three more producing the team that would go on to lose the World Series.

Each of the three previous tiebreaker games have been decided by one run, with two of those games going into extra innings.  In 2007, the Colorado Rockies (who went on to win the NL Pennant with sweeps in the NLDS and NLCS) beat the San Diego Padres, 9-8 in 13 innings, for the NL Wild Card.  In 2008, the Chicago White Sox beat the Minnesota Twins, 1-0, to win the AL Central.  In 2009, those same Twins beat the Detroit Tigers, 6-5 in 12 innings, for the AL Central title.  Each of these games was won by the home team, although the home team is just 5-4 overall in one-game playoffs (this is tiebreakers, and does not count the Wild Card round of the actual playoffs).

The Rays now embark on what would, if they make it all the way to the ALDS, be a very interesting and exhausting traveling schedule.  The same would also be true for the Rangers, although they can spend tonight at home because they are hosting the one-game playoff.  The Rays will leave Toronto tonight, and fly to Texas, where they will play for the right to fly to Cleveland, where they will play in the AL Wild Card Game for the right to fly to Boston for the ALDS.

As for everyone else, the St. Louis Cardinals won today over the Cubs, 4-0, to clinch the #1 seed in the NL, and home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs.  They won that battle with the Atlanta Braves, who fell one game short, although they beat the Phillies today, 12-5.  The Los Angeles Dodgers are the #3 seed, and will travel to Atlanta for games 1 and 2 of the NLDS.  The NL Wild Card game will be Tuesday in Pittsburgh between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds, for the right to play the Cardinals in the NLDS.

The Boston Red Sox clinched the best record in the AL on Friday, and will host the AL Wild Card winner beginning on Friday in the NLDS.  The Oakland Athletics are the #2 seed, and will have home-field advantage in their series with the Detroit Tigers (who were no-hit today), the #3 seed.  As mentioned, the Wild Card game in the AL will be played on Wednesday between the hosting Cleveland Indians and the winner of the Rays-Rangers tiebreak, for the right to play the Red Sox in the ALDS.

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