Hold the champagne


The San Francisco Giants clinched a playoff spot Thursday afternoon when the Milwaukee Brewers lost. A half day later and three times zones away, the Giants won Thursday night’s game; for a nightcap, they celebrated with champagne. Given that they beat the Padres, they could probably have had the champagne party first.

The Giants, who won the World Series in 2010 and 2012, were appropriately subdued in their festivities, unlike the Royals, who celebrated when they clinched a berth as if they hadn’t been to the playoffs in 29 years — and didn’t plan to stay long.

Baseball may pride itself on being a sport of tradition, but here’s one that ought to be nipped: pouring and spraying alcoholic beverages to mark being the fifth-best team in your league. Do NHL teams don three-D goggles and, in giddy excitement, douse sportscasters, for being the last seed? If you do that for a wild card, what do you do when you actually win a series: water ski across the clubhouse on a pond of champagne?

It’s one thing to savor the moment, as pitcher James Shields exhorted his Royals teammates Friday. It’s another to exaggerate it.

Getting the wild-card gets you one more game. After playing 162 of them, that’s not much, nor should it be. It’s no more than a football team getting the ball at their opponent’s 25-yard line to start overtime: a wild-card berth is an opportunity, not fulfillment. No one will long commemorate who loses wild-card games, unless it’s the Atlanta Braves because an umpire got dizzy staring at a pop fly and misinterpreted the infield fly rule.

I denigrate the champagne party as I endorse the wild card. Commissioner Bud Selig touts the 19 years of the wild card as one of the great advances of his tenure, conveniently omitting that it would already be 20 but for that work stoppage that happened on his watch instead of the 1994 postseason.

The wild card was such a good idea you wonder why it took Selig a decade and a half to add another in each league. But once he did it gave division winners the advantage they deserved.

Baseball is rarely straightforward, and there’s a catch, and not the kind playoff-bound Gold Glove outfielder Alex Gordon makes. The Giants will be the second wild-card team in the NL, which may not be much given the double-digit lead they had in June. But it’s more than the team across the Bay, which still needs a win in Game 162 to get in. The long weekend gives the Giants a chance to set their rotation (Madison Bumgarner will start Wednesday), prepare their bullpen and rest outfielder Hunter Pence, who had started 331 games in a row.

Not so their opponent, whoever it is, as the Pirates push the Cardinals to the final day of the regular season in the NL Central. One of them will host the Giants, but neither will have its best starter available Wednesday: Gerrit Cole and Adam Wainwright are scheduled to start on the season’s final day. And as Pence took R&R on Saturday, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, hit by pitches four times this month after a stint on the DL last month because of one, played extra innings.

As the two NL Central teams exert themselves to the finish, the Giants pace themselves.

There’s an inequity there that adding another wild card won’t make right.

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