After the Royals got beat for the first time in the MLB postseason, in game one of the World Series, I got to thinking about the difference between how baseball determines its champion vs. how football does. Instead of typing out a few hundred words explaining why, I went the 140 character route instead. The gist of my tweet was the Royals should be glad they play baseball instead of football.
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— Rob Harris (@rlincolnharris) October 22, 2014
Let’s imagine that the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers were playing in the Super Bowl. It would be played on a Sunday in January (or February) at a neutral site, with plenty of pregame hype and lots of high-priced commercials. It would turn into a big cultural event, and in the course of three or four hours, a winner would be determined and the offseason would begin immediately.
So, let’s say the Chiefs came out flat in the first quarter, and the 49ers really took it to them. At the end of the first quarter, the Chiefs were in a 7-1 hole. I know you can’t score just one point in football, but work with me on this. Rather than showering and going home for a good night’s rest — like the Royals were able to do after game one was over — the Chiefs would have to stay out there for the second quarter. But they somehow manage to turn things around, and the Chiefs outscore the 49ers 7-2 in the second quarter. (Those who bet on a safety in the game get what they want in the second quarter.)
Now it’s halftime, and the band is out for the halftime show while the teams are making their adjustments in the locker room. The venue doesn’t change — like it did for the Royals and the Giants — and the game is now half over. It’s close at 9-8 49ers, which is more than we can say for some Super Bowls in the past.
The third quarter begins, and it’s an epic, back-and-forth affair. The Chiefs outscore the Niners 3-2, and a second safety is enough to make this a game for the record books. The game’s now tied 11-11, with one quarter left to play.
The fourth quarter starts off close, and then the 49ers blow it open late and win the quarter, 11-4. The final score ends up as 22-15, and the trophy presentation begins right away on the field. It was a great season, with 60 minutes played on a neutral field enough to determine who the champion should be.
But baseball crowns their champion in a whole different way. Home crowds are involved on both ends, and the number of runs scored in one game don’t carry over to the next one. Both teams can come back and fight another day, and perhaps have a better chance the second time around. And — most importantly of all — the length of the contest is flexible, with anywhere from four to seven games played before a winner is crowned. A bad day isn’t necessarily fatal in a series, as it would be in a football game.
In my imperfect analogy of quarters to games and points to runs, it’s all over and the team from San Francisco has come out on top. But in the world of baseball, that’s not the case at all. Not only is the team from Kansas City still alive, they have the advantage of possibly playing the decisive game seven at home. San Francisco’s impressive 12-run advantage in the Series thus far means nothing. They have to win a game in Kansas City in order to prevail, while all the Royals have to do is protect their home turf to hoist the trophy for themselves.
So, what I tweeted out after game one of this Series is still just as relevant after game five: The Royals are fortunate to still be playing, needing a win on Tuesday to set up a game seven. Whether they can take advantage of being at home is still anybody’s guess, but we’ll learn the answer on Tuesday or Wednesday. And then we’ll have on-field presentations and the offseason will begin. But let’s worry about that one in a few days. There’s still at least nine more innings left in the MLB postseason.