HOUSTON -- The Wild Card is out and the Central Division is in.
Two mysterious trends in Major League Baseball were halted Wednesday night when the Chicago White Sox swept the World Series from the Houston Astros, giving a Central Division team a world championship for the first time and ending the three-year reign of Wild Cards at the Fall Classic.
Once again, having the best record in your league and winning your division actually means something in the final analysis. Even if that division happens to be the Central, which is what the White Sox won by leading the American League with 99 victories.
Major League Baseball went most of the 1900s with eight teams per league, and then expanded to include East and West divisions starting in 1969. In 1994, realignment brought a three-division format that introduced the Central Division. There was no postseason that year, so 1995 marked the first autumn in which the postseason was expanded to include three rounds and feature a Wild Card from both leagues.
Not once, until Wednesday night, had a Central representative won the World Series. The Cleveland Indians reached the World Series in 1995 and 1997, but lost both times. The St. Louis Cardinals got there last fall, but were swept by the Boston Red Sox. It has been a predominantly coastal event in the years since that realignment, and this World Series was assured of at least ending that trend when it included both Chicago and Houston, a pair of Central representatives.
The only question was whether the Wild Card magic would continue. The Astros earned that distinction in the National League for the second year in a row, but they were unable to extend a streak that began in 2002.
That year, the Anaheim Angels and San Francisco Giants met in the first all-Wild Card World Series, and the Angels prevailed in seven. The Florida Marlins were the NL Wild Cards in 2003, and they beat the Yankees in six to win it all. Last year, the Red Sox entered as the AL Wild Card and proceeded to oust the Angels, Yankees and Cardinals on the way to making it three straight Wild Card champs.
While the Wild Card and Central trends were halted, one interesting trend did continue. This marked the third year in a row that the world champions celebrated on the opponents' field. The White Sox just did at Minute Maid Park what the Red Sox did last year at Busch Stadium and what the Marlins did the year before at Yankee Stadium.
It also marked the second year in a row that the home-field advantage certainly meant something. That advantage is the result of a new rule instituted for 2003 to give the winning league at the All-Star Game the home-field edge in that year's World Series. The Yankees were unable to capitalize on it in 2003, but the Red Sox won their first two at home in 2004 en route to a sweep and the White Sox just did the same.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.