Wild-Card Wins And Anxiety-Prone Players

Friday, the MLB debuted its new playoff format: Two wild-card teams from each league played in a high-stakes, single-shot game to advance to the full playoffs. The Baltimore Orioles defeated the Texas Rangers, and the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Atlanta Braves. NPR's Tom Goldman speaks with host Scott Simon about those games and the Rockets' Royce White, who plays in the NBA with a generalized anxiety disorder.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Major League Baseball premiered its new high-stakes, single game wild-card playoff round last night. But a controversial call involving a famously vague old rule is at the center of attention today. The - eh-eh - defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Atlanta Braves in that game. The Baltimore Orioles put away the Texas Rangers. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now. Morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Vague and old. I thought you were talking about me.

SIMON: No, no, no. Neither, my friend.

GOLDMAN: OK, OK.

SIMON: I've got to ask. That infield fly. That was the call. What happened?

GOLDMAN: Crazy. Braves trailing 6-3, two runners on, it was the bottom of the eighth, the Atlanta batter hit a towering fly ball to shallow left field that dropped between a confused-looking infielder and outfielder. But the umpire closest to the spot called that vague and old infield fly rule, which made it an automatic out. So instead of bases loaded and one out, Atlanta had men on 2nd and 3rd and two outs. Not a happy situation for Atlanta.

SIMON: OK, with the advantage of hindsight and, you know, also sitting in our living rooms - or watching it online - good call or not?

GOLDMAN: If you're a fan, an especially an Atlanta fan who hurled anything within reach onto the field, helping cause a 19 minute delay, no. It was a horrible call. If you listen to former umpires - of course they are a close fraternity - many said it was a good call, although made too late. You're supposed to make it at the top of the ball's arc before it comes down. This ump didn't do that.

Now, question is: did it change the game? St. Louis definitely outplayed the Braves throughout this game. The Braves were sloppy, with three key errors. But at that moment, having the bases loaded with one out, that's a pretty good opportunity. Of course, we'll never know if Atlanta could've capitalized.

SIMON: Yeah, I have to point out, insofar as anybody understands the infield fly rule, I always thought the idea was to prevent players from flubbing a ball that they would ordinarily catch to be able to get two outs. It seemed - this looked like a hit.

GOLDMAN: Well, yeah. And the umpire has to make a judgment call. Can the fielder catch the ball making an ordinary effort? That's the terminology. And it sure looked like either one of those two - the infielder going out, the outfielder coming in - could catch it, making an ordinary effort. But it looked like they simply miscommunicated on who would catch it.

SIMON: Baltimore Orioles defeated the reigning American League champion Texas Rangers. Are these one-game playoffs fair, if I can use that word, to teams with winning records?

GOLDMAN: Well, if you're the St. Louis Cardinals, they're very fair. The Cards wouldn't have been in this situation in the old format. That's when the three division winners and the team with the next best record after them - that was the automatic wildcard team - qualified for the playoffs. This year, the teams with the next two best records qualified. St. Louis was that second best. The Cards got a chance in this one-game playoff and made the most of it. They loved it.

SIMON: Today, Oakland A's play the Tigers, Cincy against San Francisco. Tomorrow, the Washington, D.C. Nationals versus the St. Louis - what are they again? The defending world champion Cardinals, and then the New York Yankees against the Baltimore Orioles. Just as it was looking that the Nats are just about the best story of the baseball season, D.C. getting into the playoffs for the first time - Major League Baseball team for the first time since I believe FDR - was early in his term - along come the Oakland A's. What a wonderful story.

GOLDMAN: They could be the story. Tiny payroll. Another team of no names. This whole "Moneyball" story kind of lives again. The A's, though, have fantastic pitching. Learned people say that could carry them to a title. And that would be a stunner, considering how far back in the pack they were at mid-season. These playoffs in general, Scott, though, great rebound stories, teams here unexpectedly. You mentioned the Nats, the O's, teams that were sub-.500 last year and suddenly, here they are.

SIMON: It's a great time of year, isn't it?

GOLDMAN: Fantastic.

SIMON: All that and Halloween, too. What a great month. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thanks so much.

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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