By Mike WilnerBaseball Columnist
Sat., Oct. 2, 2021timer4 min. read
updateArticle was updated 1 hr ago
The Blue Jays cruised to an easy win in the penultimate game of the regular season, pounding the Orioles 10-1 behind five home runs — giving them a club-record 258 for the season — and seven innings of dominant one-hitter from rookie Alek Manoah.
While they were winning, the New York Yankees were getting pounded at home, 12-2 by the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Boston Red Sox, playing under National League rules in Washington, pulled starter Tanner Houck in the sixth inning for a pinch-hitter — while he was pitching a perfect game — and while the pinch-hit move didn’t work, they won the game.
As a result, the final scheduled day of the regular season brings with it the opportunity for madness.
With the Jays trailing the Yankees and Red Sox by a game, the once-remote possibility of a three-way tie for the two wild-card spots has become very real.
Should the Jays finish off the sweep of Baltimore on Sunday while the Yankees and Red Sox both lose, then all three teams would be knotted up and the Jays would have a difficult and critical decision to make.
In the case of a three-way tie among those teams, the Red Sox would be the top seed, having won the season series against both the Jays and Yankees. The Jays, having beaten the Yankees 11 times out of 19, would be next.
The Red Sox would no doubt choose to host a Monday tiebreaker. The winner of that game would get the first wild card and a day off, while the loser would have to travel to play another tiebreaker for the second spot.
Therein lies the Jays’ potential big decision.
They could choose to go to Boston, play Monday and, if they win, come home and wait for the winner of a Tuesday Red Sox-Yankees affair in the Bronx. If they were to lose that game, they would have another shot, going to New York for a game with the second wild card (and a return trip to Boston) on the line.
Or they could choose to send the Yankees to Boston and stay home to play the loser of that game the next day.
What to do, what to do?
You’d think the easy choice would be to take the first option. That way the Jays would be pitching José Berríos in Boston on regular rest and a win would mean that the actual wild-card game would be in Toronto, against a team that played a must-win game in the Bronx the day before.
If they lost, they would still have another chance.
But isn’t there something to be said for allowing the Red Sox and Yankees to beat each other to a pulp on Monday, then make the loser stumble into town late at night for a game in Toronto the next day?
Granted, the Jays wouldn’t be leaving themselves with any margin for error. A loss and their season would be over. But they would be at home, after a day of rest, playing against a team that would be worn out after what one assumes would be a tough game and having to travel for a second straight day.
It’s not as easy a decision to make as it would seem on the surface.
If the Jays lose with Berríos in Boston on Monday, they would have Cy Young winner-to-be Robbie Ray at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. A good bet in either game, even though Ray just got knocked around by the Yanks this past week. Steven Matz would then start the wild-card game which, in that scenario, would be back in Boston.
If the Jays let the Red Sox and Yankees whale on each other on Monday, then they have their choice of Berríos or Ray for the must-win game Tuesday at home. If they win, the other one gets the start in the wild-card game the next day.
They would also have a day off to ensure that their bullpen is fully rested, in case they need to use the high-leverage guys on Sunday.
Having a bit of a breather after playing six consecutive must-win games wouldn’t be such a terrible idea, but it feels like going against the conventional wisdom of giving yourself a backup plan, survival even with a loss, might be too much for a team to refuse.
The Jays did go 5-4 in Boston this season, and having Berríos on the mound with the prospect of having a day off at home before a wild-card game probably wins the argument.
If it winds up being a four-way tie among the Blue Jays, Red Sox, Yankees and Seattle Mariners — only possible if the Mariners lost to the Angels late Saturday night — it becomes a lot less fun. The Red Sox and Jays would each host a “winner goes to the wild-card game” game and the Yankees would get to choose whether to go to Boston or Toronto, with Seattle going to the other city.
The winners of those games would play in the wild-card game.
Chaos is a blast, isn’t it? And the door remains open for plenty of it going into the season’s final day.
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