UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – Sadly, there’ll never be another Game 163

This time 15 years ago, the Rockies had won 69 and lost 65. That September 1, Colorado was in fourth place in the NL West, five games behind first-place San Diego, and seventh in the National League Wild Card standings.

No one could have predicted what was to happen in the last month of the 2007 season.

Colorado won 11 in a row and 13 of its last 14 games, while the Padres collapsed, going 14-13 that month including losing six of their last 10. The teams finished in a dead heat for the lone Wild Card berth, with 89-73 records.

The Wild Card tiebreaker game was played in Denver, and it was a classic. 

After San Diego tied the score 6-6 with a run in the eighth off Brian Fuentes, the ninth and the first three extra innings were scoreless, though not without threats by the Padres in each, 10th through 12th. 

San Diego broke through with two runs in the 13th, and it looked as if the Rockies’ improbable run would fall short when future Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman entered in the bottom of the inning.

But doubles by Kaz Matsui and Troy Tulowitzki and a triple by Matt Holliday tied the score and left the winning run at third base with no outs and Todd Helton next up to bat.

Helton, of course, was walked intentionally, leaving utilityman Jamie Carroll to find a way to bring Holliday home.

“I’m standing on deck,” Carroll told me when I interviewed him for my book, Game 163. “And when they walked Todd, I’m fully believing I’m not going to hit.”

But manager Clint Hurdle didn’t call Carroll back to send up pinch-hitter Ian Stewart in his place.

“When I got to the plate,” Carroll said, “I was like, ‘This is reality.’”

Carroll was one of only 1,350 Major League players to collect 1,000 or more hits—of more than 22,000 to play in the Big Leagues. Yet he rarely swung at the first pitch of an at-bat. 

However, knowing that Hoffman liked to start hitters with a fastball away to set up his lethal changeup, he told himself if he was ever going to swing at a first pitch, “this is when I’m going to do it.”

He hit a line drive to right. Brian Giles charged, caught it, and fired home.  Matt Holliday tagged up at third and charged plateward.

Holliday dove as catcher Michael Barrett prepared to receive Giles’ throw. Umpire Tim McClelland, known for his deliberate calls, eventually signaled “safe” after the ball had bounded away from Barrett. The Rockies had won 7-6.

The enduring controversy of whether or not Holliday actually touched home plate notwithstanding, this Game 163—and the improbable final weeks that made it possible—are worth recalling because such a dramatic climax to a season cannot occur today.  

Thanks to Major League Baseball’s inability to resist the lure of ever-increasing millions from television, this year’s expanded playoffs exclude the possibility of a Wild Card tiebreaker.

With a month to go in the 2022 season, Philadelphia, San Diego and Milwaukee are in a close race for the newly added second and third Wild Card spots in the NL. 

And the AL is even tighter, with Tampa Bay, Toronto and Seattle jockeying for position under the same blanket, with Baltimore, Minnesota and Chicago all as close to a playoff spot as the Rockies were at the start of September 2007. 

Anything can happen in the final month, as 2007 proved.

But if any two of these teams should finish tied for the last Wild Card spot after Games 162 are decided, MLB will turn to a multi-step tiebreaker system to decide which team plays on, instead of letting them decide things on the field in a head-to-head playoff like the Rockies and Padres did so dramatically in 2007.

This is because the Wild Card Round is now best-of-three instead of a sole, winner-take-all contest—the potential of three games on television being worth far more than a single game.

Why not have both, you ask? 

Because MLB wants to limit the length of the playoffs while at the same time expanding them. Allowing for a Wild Card tiebreaker would add at least two days to the maximum length of the post-season, thus possibly forcing Game 7 of the World Series to November 7.

 Thus, true baseball fans are denied the possibility of Game 163 drama, most likely forever. 

Enjoy the stretch run.

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 14 books, eight of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at denny
dressman@comcast.net.