“Get your popcorn ready,”
Look, I wanted the four-way tie as much as you did. It’s OK to be disappointed that it didn’t happen. I encourage you to acknowledge that disappointment, sit in that feeling for a moment, and then let it pass so that you can look forward to the wild-card matchups we did get, because we’re getting spoiled.
The Wild-Card Game may have only been around for 10 years but these are the best matchups yet, and likely will remain so for a long time.
On the NL side we have the St. Louis Unstoppable Force visiting the Los Angeles Immovable Object. The Dodgers are the best team to ever play in one of these games and it isn’t even close. At 106-56, they beat the next best team, the 2018 New York Yankees, by a whopping six wins. They would’ve won any other division by a mile but they just happened to get unlucky enough to be in the same division as the San Francisco Giants, and now they might be eliminated after one game.
That’s the thing about the Wild-Card Game: it feels silly to reduce a 162-game season to a 1-game playoff — that would be like if NFL teams played one quarter against each other to decide who advanced in the playoffs — but goddamn is it captivating.
The Dodgers are facing the St. Louis Cardinals who not that long ago weren’t anywhere near the playoff picture, coasting along at just above .500. Then one day they looked up at the clock, realized they had just a month until their final exam in Making The Playoffs 101, and started to cram, winning 17 straight.
Not only are these two of the most storied teams in the NL, former Cardinal and future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols happens to be on the Dodgers. This will be his first game with any real stakes against his former team. I don’t even want to let myself imagine a future where Pujols pimps a pinch-hit home run to sink the team that he became a legend with.
And in the AL? Oh nothing, just the most famous rivalry in American sports. The Red Sox host the Yankees as these two meet in the Wild-Card Game for the first time. Though in 1978 they famously tied atop the AL East and had to play a one-game playoff in Fenway to reach the ALCS. The game that launched 10,000,000 Bucky ‘Fucking’ Dents.
It will also be the first time that these two will play in the postseason when both are facing elimination since Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS. Yes, the game that launched 1,000,000 Aaron ‘Fucking’ Boones. And just for kicks, throw in the added drama that whoever wins will have to face another division rival, the Rays, in the ALDS.
In a winner-take-all game, starting pitching matters more than ever, and these games don’t disappoint in that aspect either. Starting for the Dodgers will be three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, the blockbuster trade deadline acquisition and 2021 All-Star Game starter who, I discovered while doing research for this article, was born in St. Louis. What? The Dodgers are 11-0 in games that he has started which either means they’re getting an easy win or they’re due for a loss. He faces Cardinals lifer, old man Adam Wainwright, who is having his best season since 2014 and just signed to return for next season.
The Red Sox are fielding Nathan Eovaldi — their ace until Chris Sale came back from Tommy John surgery — who didn’t make it through three innings in his last start against the Yankees. He faces your friendly neighborhood Spider Tack, Gerrit Cole, who was given a $324 million contract in 2019 specifically to win games like this one. Cole, by the way, still might win the AL Cy Young award.
Sale last pitched Tuesday, so don’t be surprised if you see him warming up in the bullpen. This is do-or-die time, so anything can happen.