Royals and Athletics prove value to MLB wildcard playoff

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Wild is the word for the new first-round Major League playoff games. The American League game between the Kansas City Royals and the Oakland A’s was wilder than the Wild West Tuesday night.

The National League game was more about classic post-season pitching with the hot hand dominating. San Francisco’s Madison Bumgartner simply handcuffed the Pittsburgh Pirates Wednesday night, throwing a four-hit, complete-game shutout.

Wow, a complete game. Those are endangered species, especially in the post-season. You really have to excel for a nervous manager to keep you around for the full nine. Giants boss Bruce Bochy never blinked because Baumgarner, an 18-game-winner in the regular season, never gave him cause to twitch.

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This is the third year of the second wild-card team in the mix and it has proven to be an excellent addition to the post-season. For one game in each league the majors’ post-season is like the NCAA playoffs – one and done – and there has been plenty of suspense because of it.

The Pirates, who put on a spirited second-half rush to reach the playoffs, will be haunted by this one for a while unless they use it for a springboard to better things in 2015. Pittsburgh broke a two-decades-long playoff-less streak last year and won the Wild Card game. They did OK a second time around this season. But the young club seems poised to take it to another level next year if management can keep the core players together.

San Francisco seems to be getting dangerously hot at the right time and the Giants are a seasoned cast with 2010 and 2012 World Series championships in their background. The Washington Nationals, their next-round opponent starting Friday, had a better all-around season, but these guys don’t seem to wilt under pressure. The five-game series might be a juicy one.

Athletics and Royals epic

The American League Wild Card game was an epic. Just as they had in the first half of the regular season, the A’s looked as if they had complete control of their fate and were going to advance to play the Los Angeles Angels next. And then, just as happened to them late in the season, they were topped by another team. The Angels spurted past to capture the AL West Division. Tuesday night, the scrappy Royals, who appeared dead in their first playoff appearance in 29 years, came back to tie, send the game into extra innings, and kept deflecting Oakland’s best shots until they shoved them aside and won the near-five-hour-long, 12-inning marathon, 9-8.

Ty Cobb would love this Royals team. That’s because KC plays baseball as if it is still the Deadball era. The Royals hit 95 home runs all regular season. Tuesday, they stole seven bases. Geovany Soto started as the A’s catcher, but left early with a thumb injury. Derek Norris, the usual starter, who doesn’t throw as well, was embarrassed by the KC base-running spree.

However, his pitchers, especially Jon Lester, did not help much keeping runners close. For most of the night, Lester, one of the game’s best hurlers, seemed in command and he appeared to have it wrapped up when leading 7-3. Kansas City’s prominent starter James Shields was long gone and the Royals were into their kitchen-sink bullpen.

A's bullpen

Both of the front-line starters have expiring contracts and it is not as wild a thought as this game that the Boston Red Sox, who traded Lester, but have a nobody rotation and plenty of spending money, could go after both of them in the off-season.

A gripe with Lester is that apparently it is his personal policy never to throw to first base to keep a runner close. That might have cost him and the A’s the game. If Lester had only done so before Lorenzo Cain scored a critical run because he had a clear path to steal second beforehand, the result may have differed. Cain was so far off the first-base bag it was all you could do not to scream at Lester to toss one throw over there to remind him this wasn’t Little League.

But no, never happened. A simple thing, that. It was one of those my-kingdom-for-a-horse deals. That could have changed the entire night and changed the makeup of the playoffs.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Kansas City Royals
San Francisco Giants
Oakland Athletics

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