There are those who insist that every game counts, that games in April equate to the same value as games in September, and by all manner of arithmetic, they are correct. Still, with the Yankees and Rays – both sporting the same 95-66 record after 161 games – knowing full well that the fate of the division hangs on one final day, those egalitarian statisticians would be hard pressed to diminish the gargantuan meaning of Game No. 162.
Tampa Bay has the upper hand, owning the tiebreaker based on head-to-head (for those who don’t know, since both teams have already qualified for the playoffs, there is no one-game playoff for division and wild card). The Yankees need to beat Boston and hope the Rays lose to the Royals.
There are several significant factors at stake.
Rangers or Twins: The division winner will get the Rangers, even though the Twins are scuffling. Minnesota has played horrendously over the last few weeks. The Rangers, in the meantime, look like a multifaceted threat, capable of bouncing anyone. Avoiding Texas would be a huge plus, so there is a silver lining to being the wild card.
ALCS home field: If the American League Championship Series comes down to the Yankees and Rays, the division winner will have four of seven home games, including a critical Game 7. That is worth playing for alone, not only for the competitive advantage, but also for the fans who might want to see more playoff matches.
Pride: Even if the matchups do not favor the AL East winner, there is still reason to aim high. Why strive to achieve anything in this world if it doesn’t matter? Why try to win 110 games instead of 108? Why try to win a World Series when there are oil spills in the gulf? Accomplishments can always be overshadowed by greater issues, but that does not make succeeding in them an act of futility.
Decoration: Would you hoist a “2010 Wild Card!” banner in your stadium? Division champs sounds a whole lot better.
Regardless of what happens, this final Sunday reminds us of how beautiful a Major League season can be, and though a true pennant race would have been more electrifying, we should still appreciate this last-day treat.
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