A flurry of tiebreakers, that might’ve been fun for fans. For the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves, a guaranteed spot in the playoffs was just fine.
What could’ve turned into a real tangle of a postseason picture suddenly became clear Sunday: Manager Bobby Cox and his wild-card Braves will face the Giants, while the San Diego Padres are finished.
“We try hard,” Cox said after beating the Philadelphia Phillies. “This team is the hardest-working, hardest-trying team we’ve ever had here.”
Major League Baseball was looking at the possibility of a three-team, two-day, coast-to-coast set of tiebreakers to sort out all the postseason slots. Instead, for the first time in four years, the regular season ended with Game No. 162.
The first round was set when Jonathan Sanchez and the Giants eliminated the Padres 3-0 to win the NL West. Philadelphia and Cincinnati will meet in the other NL division series.
“We nailed it,” Giants outfielder Pat Burrell said. “It was looking like it was heading the wrong way. Our guys toughed it out.”
Tampa Bay clinched the AL East when the World Series champion New York Yankees lost at Boston 8-4. That sent the Rays back home to open the playoffs against Texas, while the wild-card Yankees will start their best-of-five series at Minnesota.
The action begins Wednesday afternoon at Tropicana Field, followed by games at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and Target Field in the Twin Cities. The banged-up Braves visit Tim Lincecum and the Giants at AT&T Park on Thursday night.
“We’re probably not expected to do well,” said Braves ace Tim Hudson, wearing a T-shirt with “Wild Card” across the front.
No matter, Cox is in the postseason yet again. At 69, he’s retiring after this season. And his Braves went 4-3 against the Giants this year.
Cox guided Atlanta to 14 consecutive division titles from 1991-2005, but only one World Series championship during that run in 1995. He and the Braves are back in the postseason after a four-year absence.
The Giants’ win simplified the playoff scenario. Had they lost, the Giants, Padres and Braves would’ve all finished 91-71, forcing one tiebreaker in San Diego on Monday for the NL West title and another Tuesday in Atlanta for the wild card.
The Giants make their first postseason appearance since 2003, when the team was built around Barry Bonds.
“Versus the past when we lived and died with one superstar player, there aren’t any superstars on this team. There might be a couple rising stars,” Giants general manager Brian Sabean said.
Hudson and his teammates saw the Giants’ victory on TV in their clubhouse. A few hundred fans stayed past a postgame REO Speedwagon concert at Turner Field to watch on the video board, and chanted “Bobby! Bobby!” while watching the Braves celebrate.
The Yankees and Tampa Bay started the day at 95-66, with both teams already guaranteed playoff spots. To win the AL East, the Yankees needed to finish ahead of the Rays, who held the tiebreaker after winning the season series 10-8.
In the ninth inning of the Rays’ game at Kansas City, the Yankees’ loss was posted on the scoreboard. Tampa Bay players briefly exchanged high-fives, then rushed onto the field after closing out a 3-2 win in 12 innings.
“It took a little of the tension off,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “We wanted to win this game. How ‘bout that? Extra innings, on the road, didn’t need to win. It tells you something about our ballclub.”
The Yankees and Rays both had plenty of chances to pull away in the last week or two.
“It would be stupid to say it doesn’t matter how you finish. We would have liked to get this thing done, but we didn’t,” Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte said. “The bottom line is: We’re the world champs until someone knocks us off.”