Division Series round was one to remember

Division Series round was one to remember
October 13, 2012, 11:15 pm
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NEW YORK -- If baseball had tried, it could not have staged a better Division Series round.

For all the attention paid to the introduction of the second wild card and the one-game, winner-take-all format, it was the Division Series that most captivated fans.

Consider: all four of Division Series went the maximum five games, something that had never before happened since the format was introduced in 1995.

Moreover, three of the 20 games went into extra innings while seven were decided in the winning team's final at-bat. And more than a third of the first-round games (eight) were one-run games.

"If you wanted to see one round of great baseball, we got to see it,'' said New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi before Saturday's Game 1 of the ALCS. "(You had) four series that went five games, teams coming back, dramatic home runs. Pretty amazing. This first round was probably as good as it gets, probably as good as it can be with eight teams.''

The Division Series saw one team -- San Francisco -- win after losing its first two games at home and another -- Oakland -- which forced a fifth game after losing the first two on the road.

Twice, the Yankees won games in extra innings. Once, the A's rallied from being down by three in the bottom of the ninth.

And, for the capper, the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals rallied from being down 6-0 early and trailed by two heading into the bottom of the ninth in an elimination game.

The Cardinals' late-inning rally, though not quite as dramatic as their comeback in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, was spectacular nonetheless.

The Division Series made stars of Raul Ibanez, and, for a time, Jayson Werth, just as surely as it made goats of Drew Storen and Jim Johnson. In successive games, Coco Crisp was, alternately, goat and hero.

The week served as a reminder that, at its best, no sport can match baseball's post-season drama. Even in the first round, before story lines had a chance to fully form, the tension was unmatched as momentum swung wildly from game to game.

Ironically, MLB had hoped that the "knockout'' format of the wild-card games would offer that instant drama. But win-or-go-home games carry with them a built-in disadvantage: in the span of nine innings, there isn't time to build the back-and-forth that come from a longer series.

And if the games themselves aren't instantly compelling, they call attention to inherent questions about the equity of the format. Sadly for baseball, the most noteworthy thing about the first two ''play-in'' games was a infield fly ruling by the umpires that may have precluded the Atlanta Braves from mounting a late-inning comeback.

But there was no denying the quality of the games that followed.

Perhaps the competitive nature of the Division Series games are a reflection of the parity that exists in the game. There were no clear absolute favorites heading into the post-season this fall, and now that there are only four teams remaining, that's still the case.

Before 2011, there had been 64 Division Series since 1995 and only 14 had gone the maximum five games. In the last two Octobers, however, seven of the last eight first round games have gone the distance.

If that's a preview of things to come, baseball wouldn't argue.

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