MLB's COO Petitti talks about schedule with new twist
By Paul Hagen
When dawn broke on Sept. 28, 2014, the Cardinals were in Arizona, getting ready to play the Diamondbacks in the final game of the regular season. With a one-game lead over the Pirates, a win would clinch the National League Central title for St. Louis no matter what the Pirates did.
So manager Mike Matheny had ace Adam Wainwright scheduled to start. He didn't have much choice. If the Pirates won, the Cardinals would still need to win to avoid a tiebreaker game. And if they lost that, they'd face a sudden-death Wild Card Game. No team wants to risk that kind of postseason gauntlet.
The day could have provided high drama. Except for one detail. The Pirates, playing in Cincinnati, lost to the Reds minutes before the Cardinals game was to start. Matheny responded by pulling Wainwright and all of his starters, and everything was anticlimactic.
Not that there was anything wrong with that, Major League Baseball chief operating officer Tony Petitti noted Tuesday. "The Cardinals knew they had clinched, so they changed their personnel on the field. And rightfully so," he said.
Still, there had to be a better way, thought Petitti, then president and chief executive officer of MLB Network.
The solution was so simple and elegant that it's almost surprising that nobody thought of it sooner. When the upcoming season ends on Oct. 4, a Sunday, every game is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. ET.
MLB also considered how the English Premier League and the National Football League try to make sure that their games are properly sequenced at the end of each regular season.
"Watching that, we felt like that was a dramatic moment we could have had," Petitti said. "And we thought about a couple years ago we had that great Wednesday night where all those games were coming down at the same time. It became the dominant story in sports. So, juxtaposing the two, we thought we can fix this if those games are at the same time. We'd have fans interested right to the end."
Petitti was referring to the classic final day of the 2011 regular season. In the American League, the Rays and Red Sox started the day in a tie for what was then the one Wild Card berth. Tampa Bay fell behind the Yankees, 7-0, at Tropicana Dome but then rallied to win it in 12 innings on a home run by Evan Longoria. When, at virtually the same time, the Orioles scored twice in the bottom of the ninth for a walk-off win against Boston, the Rays won the playoff spot.
There was a similar scenario in the National League, where the Braves and Cardinals were tied for the final postseason availability. The Cardinals, at Houston, started later than the Braves' home game against the Phillies. But the game at Turner Field went 13 innings over 4 1/2 hours before Philadelphia won. That knocked the Braves out as the Cardinals won at Houston.
"Those are the types of nights we're looking for, and hopefully we'll have that again," Petitti said. "We'll see this year how it all comes together. You know, you're hoping to get lucky. With the Wild Card, there are so many teams in contention now that we just hope we have that great last day. And if we do, we'll be in a position to take advantage of it."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.