New documentary, 'One-Game Season,' captures excitement of one-game playoff
By Richard Justice
Baseball typically rewards the teams and players that stay the course, the ones that ride out the highs and lows with pretty much the same approach. As former Orioles outfielder John Lowenstein once put it, "I never even look at the standings before August."
His point was that no matter how devastating the defeat or exhilarating the victory, there's usually another game the next day. If a team does things consistently well, it will be rewarded for its poise and approach.
And then it occasionally really does come down to one game. And that's what we'll get the next two nights, with the Twins facing the Yankees in the American League Card Game at 8 p.m. ET tonight (ESPN), and the D-backs hosting the Rockies in the NL Wild Card Game at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday (TBS).
"You're just thrown into a Game 7 atmosphere," former Padres pitcher Jake Peavy said. He knows this better than most because in 2007 he lived one of those winner-take-all games with a season of ebbs and flows and alternating heartbreak and glory.
One of the things we love about baseball's Wild Card games is that they put six months of work on the line in a single contest, and that spirit is captured perfectly in "One-Game Season," a new mini-documentary produced jointly by MLB.com and Prospect Productions.
This year's Wild Card matchups offer us a glimpse of some of the most dynamic talents the game has to offer. First, it will be the Twins' Byron Buxton and his incredible speed and defense against Yankees rookie Aaron Judge and his majestic power. And then on Wednesday we'll see Nolan Arenado, Colorado's all-world third baseman facing off against Zack Greinke, one of the smartest pitchers you'll ever see taking the mound for Arizona. And all of these guys know it could be their last game of the season.
"Win and move on," said former Reds first baseman Sean Casey, whose Reds fell short in Game 163 against the Mets in 1999. "Lose and go home."
Nothing could be simpler than that, right? Those 163rd games were part of the inspiration for Major League Baseball starting a Wild Card Game in each league in 2012.
These days, the idea of AL and NL Wild Card games looks smarter than ever because:
1. It renewed emphasis on winning a division title because no team wants to put a season's worth of work on the line in a single contest.
2. It kept more teams in contention and gave more teams a chance to play postseason baseball.
3. Best of all, the Wild Card give us two games that make for spectacularly great theater.
The Giants rode their Wild Card victory over the Pirates in 2014 all the way to their third World Series victory in five seasons. That run began with Madison Bumgarner beating the Pirates.
Two months after the game, Giants manager Bruce Bochy was still thinking of that contest when he approached Jeff Banister, a former Pirates coach who'd just been hired to manage the Rangers, and shook his hand.
"We had our horse going," Bochy said.
In other words, on a big stage, Bumgarner took control of the day and made it his own.
Fans of the Yankees, Twins and Rockies know about the euphoria that comes with a win in a one-game playoff, and that is on display in "One-Game Season." New York famously shocked the Red Sox in Game 163 of 1978 on the strength of an unlikely home run from Bucky Dent.
In 2007, the Rockies finished the regular season 13-1 to make up 6 1/2 games in the standings and force a one-game playoff with the Padres.
You can watch a lot of baseball and not see a game this good. Scott Harrison's two-run home run in the top of the 13th inning gave San Diego an 8-6 lead. And the Rockies came back with three in the bottom of the inning to win it.
Matt Holliday -- who will suit up for the Yankees on Tuesday -- scored the game-winning run on a very, very, very close play.
"To go home on a controversial play, you feel like your guts have been ripped out," Peavy said.
The Twins and Tigers played an instant classic in a game 163 in 2009. The Twins won it, 6-5, in 12 innings.
"What was interesting was the magnitude of every pitch," Twins broadcaster Dick Bremer said.
That's the beauty when it all comes down to one game.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.