Proof that eight (playoff teams) is enough

September, 29, 2011
9/29/11
4:00
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A plea to Bud Selig, the players union, the TV networks and whoever greenlighted Ken Burns' second "Baseball'' documentary. Whatever you do, please, please, PLEASE do not screw up the playoff format by adding two more wild cards.

The theory behind this discussed change is that it supposedly would add needed drama to the regular season but not even screenwriter Aaron Sorkin could surpass the drama of the past week.

The Tampa Bay Rays, a team that covers its payroll by passing a hat between innings and stationing its general manager on highway exit ramps with a sign reading "Anything will help," overcame a nine-game deficit in September to beat out a Red Sox team with a payroll $119 million higher. They turned a triple play against the Yankees and rallied to win Tuesday night. In Wednesday night’s regular-season finale, they overcame a 7-0 deficit in the eighth inning and hit a two-out, game-tying home run in the ninth and then won on a walk-off homer in the 12th to take the American League wild-card spot and ensure a dozen more books about Boston’s suffering.

[+] EnlargeEvan Longoria
Kim Klement/US PresswireEvan Longoria's home run sent Tampa Bay to the playoffs.
And you thought the coke machine bit in "Moneyball'' was unbelievable.

The thing is, all that was happening in Tampa Bay at the same time the Red Sox were blowing a 3-2 lead with two out in the ninth in Baltimore. When Evan Longoria waited in the on-deck circle before his home run, the Rays were in danger of their season ending before the night did. Within three minutes, Longoria had homered and the Rays were spraying champagne.

I would call it baseball’s greatest comeback that did not include Roy Hobbs leaving a hospital maternity ward except it wasn’t even the greatest comeback of the season. That distinction goes to the St. Louis Cardinals, who rallied back from a 10.5-game deficit in late August to catch Atlanta for the wild-card lead Tuesday, then earned the postseason spot when Chris Carpenter shut out Houston while Atlanta blew a lead in the ninth and lost to the Phillies in 13 innings.

Does anyone have any cuticles left?

I don’t know whether this was the greatest single most thrilling night in baseball history but it’s certainly in the starting lineup. And it was made more dramatic by the wonder of modern media, which allowed fans to switch between games on TV and receive updates on other games via Twitter, emails, Facebook, Gamecasts and for all I know, ham radio. I don’t know about you, but I may spend the postseason on the DL with carpal tunnel from all the truly "digital" media that kept my fingers busy.

And baseball wants to mess with this? Great. Maybe it can swing a partnership with New Coke, too.

Part of the reasoning for a second wild card is it would give meaning to more September games. This would be known as the Yankees-Red Sox Rule, because no one seems to care about any other team’s situation. Except, this month showed that Boston and Atlanta, seemingly safe with their big leads, had plenty to play for the final four weeks. And Tampa Bay proved that it is as much of an AL East power as Boston, what with three postseason appearances in the past four years.

Baseball already has enough postseason teams. The sport’s beauty -- what sets it apart from the others -- is the 162-game season that gradually builds tension and suspense day by day over the course of six months. Adding more teams to the postseason damages that. In a foolish attempt to add more meaning to late regular-season games, baseball would make the regular season less meaningful.

Sure, there would be frantic, late-season battles for a second wild-card spot, but the more teams you let in, the less we’ll care about any race. And that’s not even addressing the potential logistical nightmares of adding another round of playoffs (if there was a tie for the second wild-card spot, the World Series would get beat in the ratings by "A Charlie Brown Christmas'' ).

No matter how many teams baseball adds, it can’t top career minor leaguer Dan Johnson homering down the right-field line with two outs in the ninth or Longoria homering down the left-field line in the 12th. Keep the postseason the way it is. The past few weeks are ample evidence that eight is definitely enough.

Although fans in Boston and Atlanta may disagree. If they’ve stopped cursing, that is.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter @jimcaple.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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