Tight races may set up crazy scenarios

Races may set up crazy scenarios

It doesn't happen very often -- a one-game, end-of-the-season playoff game to qualify for the postseason. But it could happen this year if a number of combinations fall into place.

Everyone remembers Bobby Thomson's homer that sunk Brooklyn in favor of the New York Giants (1951) and Bucky Dent's Green Monster shot that helped the Yanks eliminate the Red Sox (1978) when it comes to end-of-the-regular-season playoff game heroics.

But just to jog the memory, since the current three-division and Wild Card format spawned postseason competitors for the first time in 1995, three spots have been decided by that one-game "playoff" -- a game in which all personal records count, and the one that determines the final result in the standings.

The Mariners won the American League West over the Angels in the old Kingdome in 1995; the Cubs vanquished the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field for the National League's Wild Card berth in 1998; and a year later, the Mets ousted the Reds to win the NL's Wild Card spot.

Each year, the powers that be in Major League Baseball toss coins in the weeks before the end of the season to determine who would host those games. They usually don't happen. Remember last year? The Dodgers, Giants and Astros all went into the last weekend of the season with the possibility of a three-way tie that could have locked up the NL West and the Wild Card after 162 games were played.

Coins were flipped, and it was determined that the Dodgers would play the Giants in San Francisco for the NL West title on the Monday after the regular season ended. The loser would've had to play the Astros for the Wild Card the next day. It never happened. The Dodgers defeated the Giants in L.A. on the next-to-last day of the season, and the Astros eliminated the Giants by winning on the final day of the season.

There are some scenarios -- a few crazy, the remainder a possibility -- that could result in some playoff games to get to the postseason if all the stars align come the end of play Sunday.

What if the AL East and Central divisions are won outright and two teams in the AL Wild Card race finish with the same records?
The Yankees would play the Indians at the Jake or the Red Sox would play Cleveland at Fenway Park in a one-game playoff.

What if the Yankees, Red Sox and Indians all finish with the same records?
The Yankees and Red Sox play in New York for the AL East title and the loser plays the Indians for the Wild Card berth on Tuesday. New York is at the Jake if the Yanks lose and the Tribe is at Fenway if the Red Sox lose.

Why, you might ask, is there a Wild Card playoff game when the Indians would have a half-game better record than the Yankees-Red Sox loser? MLB has determined that it would not be fair for a team that's tied for a division title at the end of the regular season to be displaced in the postseason by a second-place team. Thus, the mandatory Wild Card playoff game.

What if the Yankees tie the Red Sox in the AL East?
Next Monday, the Yankees would host the Red Sox, unless those two teams finish with the best records in the AL. In that case, there wouldn't be a playoff game. Both teams would make the playoffs and the first-place team is determined by the two teams' head-to-head record. As of Tuesday, the Yankees led the season series, 9-7.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.