MLB's postseason eight is set

MLB's postseason eight is set

Never in Major League Baseball history have so many fates been decided so late, but finally the 2006 postseason is all set.

Here are the Division Series opening matchups:

Tigers at Yankees, 8 p.m. ET Tuesday
Only a matter of feet separated a Brandon Inge grand slam from a foul ball on Sunday, and as a result the Tigers are not the American League Central champs but instead will head for the Bronx as the AL Wild Card. The Yankees are the AL East winners for the ninth straight year, and begin pursuit of a record 27th world championship by opening against a club they beat five of seven times this season.

Athletics at Twins, 1 p.m. ET Tuesday
That Detroit loss at KC marked a colossal turnaround for a Twins team that mastered the turnaround in 2006, giving Minnesota the division title and a chance to open in the Metrodome with AL Cy Young favorite Johan Santana. It marks the fifth postseason trip in seven years for an Oakland club that easily won the AL West.

Cardinals at Padres, 4 p.m. ET Tuesday
Both clubs won division titles at the last moment. St. Louis lost at home against Milwaukee but claims its third consecutive National League Central title by virtue of Houston's loss in Atlanta.

San Diego and Los Angeles finished with victories and identical records, but the Padres win the West by virtue of the better head-to-head record against the Dodgers this season. Amazingly, it all came down to Trevor Hoffman surviving back-to-back homers in the ninth at Arizona and then a disputed play at second base, ending the regular season in stunning fashion.

Dodgers at Mets, 4 p.m. ET Wednesday
The Mets ran away with the NL East, ending the historic run of division titles by Atlanta. Now the boys from Queens' quest for a 20th-anniversary title celebration begins with an NLDS against the Dodgers, who had to watch the wild final scene at Arizona with bewilderment and now return to the postseason as a Wild Card.

Maybe fans are in store for a Tigers-Padres 1984 World Series rematch. Maybe it will be another Subway Series, the way this decade began. Maybe the Cardinals will end their longest drought of titles by avenging their 1987 loss to the Twins. Or maybe we will be reminded of 1988, when Oakland went down to see Kirk Gibson and the Dodgers. It is time to start deciding this stuff, because those are the eight clubs that are in the 2006 Major League postseason. The field is finally set, no tiebreakers are needed, Rally Monday celebrations are at hand and October is officially here.

Last time they won it all
The Red Sox won in 2004 for their first title since 1918, and the White Sox won in 2005 for their first since 1917. There will be none of that profound drought-busting this year, because the Cubs (1908) again aren't a factor. But because that has been the trend, it still is worth noting the prospects for ending some relatively notable waits.

Padres: Never. They were one of the four expansion clubs in 1969, so that's 36 years without one (excluding the 1994 strike year). San Diego lost to the Tigers in 1984 and was swept by the Yankees in 1998.

Cardinals: 1982. Bruce Sutter closed it out against Milwaukee. This is the longest world championship drought in the rich Redbirds history, surpassing the time before the first title. They lost subsequent trips in 1985, 1987 and 2004.

Tigers: 1984. Joel Zumaya was born a couple weeks after Sparky Anderson's Tigers beat the Padres for Motown's last World Series title. Detroit has not been back to the World Series since.

Mets: 1986. It was Mookie Wilson's dribbler through Bill Buckner's legs that allowed a Game 6 and then led to a clincher one night later against Boston. The Mets made it back in the 2000 Subway Series but lost in five.

Dodgers: 1988. Kirk Gibson's miracle homer off Dennis Eckersley was the key blow against Oakland. No World Series appearances since then.

Athletics: 1989. Those were the days when Oakland was expected to be there every year, their second of three consecutive trips to the Fall Classic. It was the only one they won during that stretch, a sweep of the Giants remembered mostly because of the tragic Loma Prieta earthquake that created a delay for Game 3 in the Bay Area. The A's haven't been back in the World Series since, and during this decade have had trouble getting over a hump in early rounds.

Twins: 1991. Gene Larkin's single in the 10th won Game 7 of an unforgettable World Series against Atlanta. Minnesota hasn't been back.

Yankees: 2000. It was the third title in a row and No. 26 in all, by far the most in baseball. The Bombers then lost to Arizona on Luis Gonzalez's single in the seventh inning of Game 7 a year later, and they were shocked at home by Josh Beckett and Florida in a decisive Game 6 in 2003. This is something of a World Series appearance drought for the Yanks, who have gone consecutive years without being in one for the first time since 1995.

What to watch for in October
It is the time of year when baseball tells its own stories, when the meek inherit the Earth in the form of a Buddy Biancalana or a Larkin. That's why you watch. But in the meantime, here are some interesting storylines entering the Division Series:

Yes, that guy managing the Dodgers is the same Grady Little who managed Boston to the cusp of a pennant in 2003 before Aaron Boone hit a classic Game 7 ALCS homer to send him packing. Will Little have another shot at Joe Torre's Yankees later this fall? We'll see.

Will Johan Santana and the Twins open their postseason against the A's the way they opened their regular season home schedule against them? It was a three-game sweep of the A's in April at the Metrodome. The A's took three of four from the Twins in Oakland to open the month of June, and then the Twins won two of three at home on Sept. 11-13. So far in 2006, home field has mattered a great deal between these two clubs.

The Mets won't have Pedro Martinez in October because of his surgery. Will they be able to show the same season-long swagger without him? How will youngsters like David Wright and Jose Reyes handle their first postseason?

Jim Leyland won it all as Florida's manager in 1997, and he admitted that it was hard for his Tigers to keep their same intensity level the last week after clinching a berth and just waiting to see whether it was a division or Wild Card berth. Now the road has to go through a Yankees lineup being compared by many to the 1927 Bombers. The Yankees won two of three the last time the teams met at the end of August in the Bronx, and they won three of four in the previous series at Comerica Park from May 29 to June 1.

The Cardinals got close in 2004 but ran into a Boston train, and then last year the Astros knocked them out in the NLCS. Can Tony La Russa find an answer for the loss of closer Jason Isringhausen for the postseason? Will it be one of those rare years when a club opens a new ballpark -- and celebrates a world championship there?

The home-field advantage in the World Series again will go to the AL, because of Michael Young's game-winner in the last All-Star Game. What will that mean this time? It hasn't been especially significant since the rule was adopted for the 2003 season. What may be more significant, though, is the widespread perception that this is the Year of the AL -- witness the Interleague results, the winning percentages, even the Midsummer Classic. Will the Padres get more respect out of the gates than a year ago, and perhaps help the NL make a dent in that AL power perception?

There are many questions, but the identities of the elite eight no longer are among them. The field is set. It's time to play some postseason ball again.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.