For the third consecutive year -- the longest such streak in MLB history -- the regular season will go beyond the limit and require a playoff tiebreaker to finalize the postseason field.
Detroit and Minnesota each won in its 162nd games on Sunday, leading to a one-game tiebreaker Tuesday at the Metrodome to decide the American League Central champion.
The Twins become the first club ever to play such a tiebreaker in consecutive years, having lost the AL Central tiebreaker against the White Sox in 2008. The Rockies beat the Padres for the 2007 National League Wild Card to start this now-expected extension.
Tuesday's winner will play Game 1 of the AL Division Series either Wednesday or Thursday at Yankee Stadium, and the Red Sox will be at the Angels in the other ALDS. The NL Division Series are all set, with Rockies at Phillies and Cardinals at Dodgers, both on Wednesday.
"It's going to be fun," Detroit's Curtis Granderson said. "I'm sure Minnesota is going to be rocking."
The tiebreaker is scheduled to begin at 5:07 p.m. ET and will be televised on TBS, which also will be showing all four Division Series plus the National League Championship Series. FOX will broadcast the AL Championship Series and World Series.
Somehow you just knew that in this season of such little day-to-day turnover atop the standings, there would still be a mad rush of suspenseful drama. Here we are again. The Metrodome is hot right now, site of a huge "Monday Night Football" rivalry featuring Vikings quarterback Brett Favre against his former Packers team, hence MLB's wait till Tuesday.
WINNERS TAKE ALL
|Major League Baseball is the only major sports league that decides whether teams that are tied for a single playoff berth advance or go home the old-fashioned way: on the field. Other leagues, such as the NFL, NBA and NHL, deploy a series of statistical tiebreakers, such as head-to-head matchups and divisional records. Baseball's on-the-field solution has led to some of the sport's most memorable games.
Four tiebreaker games were to decide division titles, three were for the Wild Card and one was for the World Series.
|Sept. 30, 2008||AL Central||White Sox 1, Twins 0|
|Oct. 1, 2007||NL Wild Card||Rockies 9, Padres 8, 13 innings|
|Oct. 4, 1999||NL Wild Card||Mets 5, Reds 0|
|Sept. 28, 1998||NL Wild Card||Cubs 5, Giants 3|
|Oct. 2, 1995||AL West||Mariners 9, Angels 1|
|Oct. 6, 1980||NL West||Astros 7, Dodgers 1|
|Oct. 2, 1978||AL East||Yankees 5, Red Sox 4|
|Oct. 4, 1948||AL pennant||Indians 8, Red Sox 3|
Alex Rodriguez even stepped in to be a big part of the story, as he was when the season began, but this time he spoke with his bat, driving in an astounding seven runs in one inning on a three-run homer and grand slam. He is waiting on the tiebreaker, too.
It also was as if A-Rod reminded the Tigers and Twins pitchers about what could lie ahead for the tiebreaker survivor in the days to come. Remember in 2006, when the Tigers came in as underdogs against the mighty Yankees, only to see Rodriguez dropped far down the batting order amid a slump, and the Bronx Bombers dropped the series?
Justin Verlander, now unquestionably a real AL Cy Young candidate (no one in baseball has more wins or strikeouts), finished the regular season at 19-9 by beating the White Sox in No. 162 at Comerica Park. It came before a giddy crowd that hopes for the city's first World Series title in a quarter-century.
The Twins built a quick 7-0 lead against the Royals on what everyone in attendance knew could be the final day of baseball in the history of the Metrodome. Their team moves into outdoor Target Field next spring. As the game progressed, it became official that the Tigers had won and that the locals had to hold up their end in order to meet in a tiebreaker. Minnesota withstood a Royals rally and did just that, and can now wonder whether there will be a third and final World Series in that facility.
The tiebreaker will be in Minnesota because the Twins won the season series between the clubs. That is especially worth noting, because in the past it would have been a coin flip that decided where this game would be played. The rules were changed this year, so head-to-head decided it. In other words, it came down to what happened on the field instead of the pure chance of a coin falling on either side.
Detroit is trying desperately to avoid the ignominy of becoming the first team in history to be in first place on May 10 or earlier and remain on top until losing the title in the final week of the season.
A couple of right-handers will be the probable starting pitchers for the tiebreaker: Rookie Rick Porcello (14-9, 4.04 ERA) for the Tigers, and Scott Baker (15-9, 4.36) for the Twins. Two of Porcello's last three outings were against Minnesota, one a loss and one a no-decision, but both were quality starts. Baker tossed five solid innings, allowing no earned runs, to beat the Tigers on Thursday.
The only other time tiebreakers happened in consecutive years was 1998-99 -- and obviously the chances of it happening at all are greater in the Wild Card era. The Cubs eliminated the Giants at Wrigley Field for the 1998 NL Wild Card, and a year later the Mets won at Cincinnati to secure the same berth. The Yankees were the last to win a playoff tiebreaker and then win a World Series, thanks to Bucky Dent's unexpected homer at Fenway Park in 1978.
Right now, it is Beyond 162.
The regular season goes on -- again.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.