Wild Card comes up aces in playoffs
October has wide-open feel since three-tier system began
Troy Tulowitzki was just saying this week what so many other members of Wild Cards have been saying for most of this past decade:
"This has been an incredible run. We played so long where, if we lost, our season was over. We've been playing every day like that's still the case."
Tulowitzki and the Rockies survived their way right into the postseason, earning the National League Wild Card with that unforgettable tiebreaker victory over the Padres on Oct. 1 and winning every game since to reach the World Series.
It marks the sixth consecutive year that a Wild Card has been in the Fall Classic, and that makes it eight over the eight events in this decade (including the one to come). That's half of the 16 participants, which is even more amazing when you consider that Wild Cards comprise only one-fourth of the postseason field each year.
If you go all the way back to 1995, when the Wild Card was instituted, there will be nine Wild Cards out of 26 World Series participants over the 13 postseasons including this one. Nine out of 26 makes mathematical sense, because there are six division champs and two wild cards, so one out of three would be the probability.
But throw all that out the window, because the past several years have marked a new age for the sport. Wild Cards have been powerhouses. The only time in this decade that a World Series was Wild Card-free was the 2001 event between the Diamondbacks and Yankees. For an equalizer, that was followed by the 2002 World Series featuring a pair of Wild Cards, the Angels and the Giants.
It remains to be seen if the Rockies can return the Wild Card to its World Series winning ways, though. After the Angels, Marlins and Red Sox won it all in succession, making it almost appear that a team should get in as a Wild Card rather than as a division champ, the White Sox and Cardinals parlayed division titles into rings.
"When we implemented the Wild Card and three-division play, we were a target for some national criticism," Commissioner Bud Selig has said in the past. "Critics accused us of cheapening the pennant races and the World Series. Now ... it has worked out brilliantly, as we thought it would."
Tulowitzki is a rookie who showed plenty of experience with his aforementioned quote that perfectly described the Wild Card mindset. The Rockies put together their run with the constant overhanging threat of watching the playoffs on TV. While the 2003 Marlins were putting together that surprising run, Derrek Lee, then their first baseman, said they felt like they had an advantage "because it makes you big-game ready."
It would not be surprising if that perceived advantage wanes a bit now, though. After all, the Wild Cards were not exactly the only postseason berth being pursued. This year, it was more wide-open than ever in the overall standings during that final week. Six races were still up for grabs. Only the Angels in the AL West and Indians in the AL Central were safe leaders heading into that last week. Those other division champs weren't resting their regulars and kicking back down the stretch, but rather, they were needing the same killer edge that it takes to be "big-game ready."
Wild Card to World Series
|With their victory in the NLCS, the Rockies became the sixth straight Wild Card team to advance to the World Series.|
|*Won the World Series|
"I believe in confidence and I believe that this team has great chemistry," NLCS MVP Matt Holliday said. "I do believe in that. You can call that mojo or whatever you want to call it. It's a lot of fun coming to work with these guys and spending time with them."
Spoken like a true Wild Card.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.