Remember the long, hard slog that was the NL Central race in 2014?
The Cardinals were in Arizona, facing the Diamonbacks in a three-game series. St. Louis and Arizona had split the first two games of the series. Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh had stumbled against the Reds, losing two in a row and enabling the Cards to open up a slim lead in the standings.
The division title came down to the regular season's final day. On the morning of September 28, the St. Louis Cardinals owned an 89-72 record. The Pittsburgh Pirates stood at 88-73. The Cards stood one game ahead of the Pirates.
Johnny Cueto threw the first pitch of the game at 1:10 p.m. local time in Cincinnati, which is located in the eastern time zone. The righty pitched beautifully and also came threw with a game-winning hit. The Reds beat the Pirates in two hours and 46 minutes. The Cardinals, who were likely watching on pins and needles in the visitors' clubhouse in Arizona, knew that they had won the Central division before they took the field to face the Diamondbacks because of the time differential between Cincinnati and Phoenix.
Up until the final out in Cincinnati, the Cardinals had maintained that Adam Wainwright would start Game 162. At the time, having him start the season finale made some sense because it would keep him on the typical starter's schedule of pitching every fifth day for NLDS Game 1, which was scheduled to take place that Friday, October 3. Of course, after Wainwright's Winter Warm-Up interview, we know was suffering from weakness in his throwing arm that prevented him from being able to open a can of Sprite and pain severe enough that Wainwright told FOX's Ken Rosenthal in an interview earlier this spring that he felt the "worst pain he has ever felt" when pitching during each and every second-half start in 2014. It's a wonder he was pitching at all.
After the Reds bested the Pirates, manager Mike Matheny scratched Wainwright (along with every St. Louis regular) and sent out a squad of minor-leaguers and bench players that beat the Diamondacks 1-0, which allowed the Cards to finish two games ahead of Pittsburgh in the Central standings.
All of this would have played out differently if Major League Baseball had instituted the scheduling rule it announced this week for the 2015 regular season's final day.
Bill Shaikin reports in the Los Angeles Times that MLB has announced that all of the games that impact one another on the season's final day will be played at the time, regardless of time zone:
"If a game impacts another game, they're all occurring at the same time, so no team would be put into a lame-duck situation because their fate already had been decided by an earlier result," said Tony Petitti, MLB chief operating officer.
"If we do have games coming down to the wire, we want to make sure we maximize that day."
The schedule calls for all games on Oct. 4 to start at noon Pacific time (2 p.m. Central, 3 p.m. Eastern).
For the sake of Adam Wainwright's elbow, I'm glad these rules weren't in effect last season. However, as a baseball fan, I'm glad MLB is making this change going forward. It will create more drama and make the season's final day more entertaining.
If MLB had this policy in effect last year, Wainwright would have started Game 162 against the Diamondbacks, despite the righty's injured throwing elbow. The Cards and their fans would've been scoreboard watching (or split-screen watching on MLB.tv) throughout the contest. There's a chance that the game against Arizona might have concluded before the Reds-Pirates match-up. The Cards might very well have triggered their own celebration with a win before the final out of the Pirates game. At any rate, that Cards-Diamondbacks game would have been a lot more nerve wracking than the one that included every member of the expanded September roster who wasn't a regular.
It's not a coincidence that MLB announced this policy on the first day of the NCAA cartel's March Madness. The first Thursday and Friday are chock full of bad basketball that nobody remembers because the subpar amateur play is wiped from folks' memories by buzzer beaters and underdogs toppling big-money, name-brand programs. MLB is hoping to capture some of this magic, like they did on the final day of the 2011 regular season. As a fan, this pleases me, even if such games featuring the Cardinals might cause my hair to grow grayer more quickly (if not fall out) and my heart to go sooner than it might have otherwise.