Bud Selig has created a wild September
Anthony RieberAnthony Rieber
Anthony Rieber has been at Newsday since Aug. 31, 1998
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Bud Selig was right.
Baseball's commissioner championed the double wild card and pushed to implement it for this season. The fruits of that decision were in full bloom Saturday at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.
Gone are the days of the single wild card and no penalty for not winning your division. In its place is the dreaded wild-card playoff game, a winner-take-all, loser-go-home, made-for-TV stroke of brilliance.
But fans don't have to wait until Oct. 5 for playoff-style drama. They are getting it now. They got it in the Bronx, where the Yankees won a future YES classic, 10-9, over the A's in 14 innings on Eduardo Nuñez's two-out, bases-loaded squibber that was booted by Oakland first baseman Brandon Moss.
Orioles fans also got it from Boston, where Baltimore topped the Red Sox in 12 innings, 9-6.
The Yankees, who have won seven in a row and the last two in walk-off fashion, maintained a one-game lead over Baltimore in the AL East. The Orioles, who have won six straight, hold the first wild-card spot.
Neither team wants to end the season as a wild card. So they are both going all out to win the division.
Like it oughta be.
"They're playing extremely well and we're playing well," Joe Girardi said. "It's exciting for baseball."
Oh, teams in previous years talked the talk about wanting to win the division, but the wild card was too enticing a cushion. So players were rested. Pitchers were given extra days off and slotted for the playoffs. Fans were often left with lifeless September baseball.
Not anymore. Not if you were at Yankee Stadium Saturday. Not if you like drama. Even if it took five hours and 43 minutes.
The desperation-style maneuvering started early. Girardi took out an ineffective Ivan Nova in the third inning to bring in lefty specialist Clay Rapada. He used Curtis Granderson as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the third.
He used Raul Ibañez as a pinch hitter in the fifth and Ibanez homered.
In the 12th inning, Ibañez tried to score from third on a grounder to second with the infield in. Knowing he was going to be out, Ibañez bowled over catcher Derek Norris in a major-league collision. He was still out.
Oakland hit three home runs in the 13th, two against Freddy Garcia and one against Justin Thomas, and took a 9-5 lead. (Admit it. Most of you didn't even know the Yankees had a pitcher named Justin Thomas.)
Incredibly, the Yankees tied it in the bottom of the inning, with the final two runs coming on Ibañez's second home run of the day. And it had just started to rain.
Then came the crazy 14th, when pinch runner Melky Mesa -- in his big-league debut -- missed third base on what could have been a game-ending single by Alex Rodriguez. And then the Yankees won it on an error.
Yes, expanded rosters can cheapen September baseball. But don't tell that to the Yankees fans who jumped out of their seats -- in the stands or at home -- when Steve Pearce made a spectacular diving catch to rob Josh Reddick of a potential go-ahead single with the bases loaded and two outs in the 11th.
Pearce had entered the game in the 10th and was the Yankees' third of four first basemen. That just wouldn't happen in April. The teams used 18 pitchers -- nine apiece.
Girardi stayed away from Rafael Soriano and David Robertson, but not because the Yankees have anything clinched. Quite the opposite: Soriano and Robertson are exhausted because of how Girardi has had to push them to get wins.
"We knew the importance of that game and every game the rest of the way out," Girardi said. "It probably feels a little different."
It's more than that. Fans, this Bud's finally for you.