We interrupt the leisurely pace of the Major League Baseball schedule with a quick, sudden-death shot to the solar plexus.
Welcome to the winner-take-all wild card, an addition to the postseason that boils down a 162-game regular season marathon into a one-game postseason sprint. It's win or go home, and it all begins Friday with Baltimore at Texas and St. Louis at Atlanta.
In a historic season highlighted by the Triple Crown exploits of Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera, the rookie phenomenon Mike Trout and the Cinderella stories in Oakland, Baltimore and Washington, it is this new format, a second wild card team in each league that has peaked fans' interest. Overall Major League Baseball attendance was up 4.3 percent from 2011.
"I think it's awesome," Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler told the Associated Press. "It's really exciting for the game, there's so many different … scenarios where different teams can get in. Teams can get knocked out pretty quickly, it seems like."
Major League Baseball saw the excitement of last year's final day one that witnessed Boston, Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Atlanta still alive in the chase for postseason berths and wanted more. MLB wanted the intensity created from a game 163, which has happened several times over the past decade when teams have tied for the division lead.
Simply, there was some extra money to be made. There was also a feeling that the wild card should not enjoy the same advantage as a division winner, thus the wild card teams must now play that extra winner-take-all game.
Mainly, however, baseball officials wanted more teams and more fans involved. They got their wish.
By mid-September more than a dozen teams still had a shot at either a wild card or division title. Even Philadelphia, which endured a horrid first half, got hot and found itself within four games of the NL Wild Card during the stretch run. The Los Angeles Angels, once thought a postseason lock due to its off-season acquisitions, finished third in what turned out to be a strong AL won in amazing fashion by Oakland, which was under .500 at the All-Star break. Even the Yankees, who enjoyed a 10-game lead over Baltimore on July 18, found itself staring the wild card in the face.
"It's crazy," Kinsler continued. "And after last year with what happened at the end of the season with baseball, and all the late games, or late season drama, I think it just adds to it and it it's great for the fans."