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Coins flipped for tiebreaker scenarios

Coins flipped for tiebreaker scenarios

The Arizona D-backs, one of the Major League's hottest teams in the second half of the season, proved as capable making calls as making plays on Friday afternoon.

The National League West leaders -- by the slimmest of margins -- emerged as the big winners on Flip Friday, as Major League Baseball conducted a series of coin flips by telephone conference to determine sites for potential one-game playoffs to resolve ties at the end of regular-season play.

A total of 28 coin flips were required to account for all possible two-team ties -- for either division titles or the leagues' respective Wild Card races. Easily the most volatile league is the National, which thus hogged 25 of the 28 flips.

The D-backs would host the playoff game to decide the division title against any of the three teams with which they could end up tied -- the Padres, Dodgers or Rockies.

Arizona club president Derrick Hall did not take this development lightly, and saluted the intuition of GM Josh Byrnes, whose needle was stuck on "tails."

"It was great news for us," Hall said, "and I know there was a lot of debate of whether we were going to go heads or tails, and at the end we stuck with Josh's instincts. It was tails throughout ... and we got home field throughout, so I couldn't be happier."

By contrast, in the NL Central, the only other division presenting realistic scenarios for ties among three different teams, each won the right to host a game.

The Cubs would host the Brewers, the Brewers would host the Cardinals, and the Cardinals would host the Cubs.

Milwaukee fans got credit for Brewers assistant GM Gordon Ash's proper call of "heads" in the toss for a possible tiebreaker against St. Louis. Given the power of determining the call in an online poll, 54 percent of nearly 9,000 participants at Brewers.com voted for "heads."

In the event of a tie in the NL East, the Phillies would host the Mets in the one-game decider at Citizens Bank Park.

With all three of its races relatively settled -- coin flips were required only in situations where the spread was five games or fewer -- the American League needed only to resolve sites for potential Wild Card deciders.

TIEBREAKER SCENARIOS
AL WILD CARD
Mariners @ Yankees
Tigers @ Yankees
Mariners @ Tigers

NL EAST
Mets @ Phillies

NL CENTRAL
Brewers @ Cubs
Cubs @ Cardinals
Cardinals @ Brewers

NL WEST
Padres @ D-backs
Dodgers @ D-backs
Rockies @ D-backs
Padres @ Dodgers
Rockies @ Padres
Dodgers @ Rockies

NL WILD CARD
Dodgers @ Padres
Phillies @ Padres
Padres @ Rockies
Cubs @ Padres
Padres @ Brewers
Phillies @ Dodgers
Dodgers @ Rockies
Cubs @ Dodgers
Dodgers @ Brewers
Phillies @ Rockies
Cubs @ Phillies
Phillies @ Brewers
Rockies @ Cubs
Brewers @ Rockies
Brewers @ Cubs
Offering the flip side of Arizona's trend, the skidding Seattle Mariners couldn't coin a new direction. They would be visitors in a playoff with either the Yankees or the Tigers. The Bombers would also host Detroit if those teams deadlocked for the AL Wild Card berth.

"Everything is in our hands at this point in time," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "We are still (thinking) in terms of winning the division. That's our mindset right now and we are not going to change that until we run out of games, basically. We are out here to win as many games as we can and see where that gets us."

"If we can play one game to decide if whether we go to the playoffs, I don't care who we play, where or when," said Detroit pitcher Chad Durbin. "It doesn't matter, it could be 3:30 a.m., it could be anywhere."

Seattle reliever George Sherrill just shook his head when told his club, losers of 11 of their last 12 games, had also gone 0-for-2 in coin calls.

"We lost both coin flips?" Sherrill said. "That's a shocker. What did they use, a two-sided coin? Chalk up another one."

The jumbled NL Wild Card race -- with four teams within five games of the current leader, San Diego -- dominated much of Friday's flips and calls. A total of 15 coins had to be flipped to determine potential sites for playoffs.

With such a sample, the coins fell in accordance with the laws of probability. All of the teams emerged with a fair chance of hosting the playoff -- although the Rockies fared the best.

Colorado would host either San Diego, Los Angeles, Philadelphia or Milwaukee in a Wild Card decider, In addition, a Rockies-Dodgers tie for the NL West would also be played off at Coors Field.

"To win four out of five in the Wild Card, that's pretty good. We'll take it," said the Rockies' Garrett Atkins.

The Padres, Dodgers and Brewers would each host a Wild Card playoff under three different scenarios.

"It surprises you how many combinations there are," Brewers GM Doug Melvin said. "I thought it was fun to let the fans make our choice."

Despite the necessity of these coin flips, there is no assurance that the chaotic prelude to postseason they imply will ever come to fruition.

For evidence of that, merely flash back a year. Last September, too, there were so many coin flips, MLB officials had to take water breaks between tosses.

Originally, 22 coin flips were required to resolve potential playoff scenarios heading into the stretch. As if that weren't enough, subsequently two additional coins had to be flipped to account for late-season developments, between the hard-charging Astros and Cardinals, and between the Phillies and the Dodgers.

Yet, when the final out was made, all eight playoff teams fell orderly into place.

Having the coin flips is important. But how critical is winning them? As noted last year, not very.

Historically, six one-game playoffs whose sites were determined by coin-flips have actually been played -- and visitors won four of them.

The most famous example is 1978's ultimate game, in which Bucky Dent's home run into the Fenway Park netting beat Boston, 5-4, to send the Yankees to the AL Championship Series.

Other teams to lose coin-flips but win games were the 1948 Indians (also in Boston), the 1980 Astros (in Dodger Stadium) and the 1999 Mets, who won at Cincinnati to claim the NL Wild Card.

The only two teams to make good on this home-field advantage thus were the 1995 Mariners, who won the AL West with a 9-1 trouncing of the Angels in the Kingdome, and the 1998 Cubs, who claimed the NL Wild Card in Wrigley Field with a 5-3 victory over the Giants.

Yankees rookie Shelly Duncan has fond memories of that Angels-Mariners one-game showdown 12 years ago -- when he was a 16-year-old fan in Tucson.

"I skipped school because I wanted to go watch it," Duncan said. "I was so pumped up. I just remember how energized the Kingdome was. I can only imagine a one-game playoff would be like Game 7. I think that home field would be one of the most important parts of that, so I think that it was pretty big whoever picked heads or tails got it right."

The coin flips do not address two other possible scenarios: Three-way ties, and ties involving two teams from the same division already assured of postseason participation.

In the latter event, the first tie-breaker would be the head-to-head regular-season series between the teams to determine which club is the Division Champion and which club is the Wild Card.

Should three clubs finish the season with the same winning percentage, one of which as a division winner and the other as a Wild Card, playoff games would be played as follows:

• The two teams tied for the division lead play the one-game tie-breaker, with the winner being declared the division champion.

• The losing team in that game then plays the club from the other division for the Wild Card.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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