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Clubs unafraid of quick hook in Wild Card Game

October 4, 2017

It's not about setting a trend. It's about survival.It's why Yankees manager Joe Girardi went to his bullpen just six batters, four hits -- including two home runs -- a walk and a popout into the first inning of the American League Wild Card Game against the Twins on Tuesday

It's not about setting a trend. It's about survival.
It's why Yankees manager Joe Girardi went to his bullpen just six batters, four hits -- including two home runs -- a walk and a popout into the first inning of the American League Wild Card Game against the Twins on Tuesday night. No offense to Luis Severino, but what teams have finally understood about the matchups of the two Wild Cards is, that it is a one-game, now-or-never moment. There is no margin for error.
A 3-0 deficit before the Yankees came to bat was a deep-enough hole, and so Girardi went to the bullpen early and often, as four relievers combined to throw 8 2/3 innings in what became an 8-4 Yankees victory that sent the Bronx Bombers to Cleveland for the best-of-five AL Division Series presented by Doosan that begins on Thursday.

Now, it won't be the most famous game ever played on the first Wednesday in October in New York City. Nah, that was 66 years ago and it was a bit more of a dramatic comeback than the one we saw Tuesday night. Giants outfielder Bobby Thomson delivered what became known as the "Shot Heard 'Round the World" off Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, capping off a four-run inning for a 5-4 victory. A Giants team that had trailed the Dodgers by 13 contests with 44 games to play tied for first place in the National League, prompting a three-game playoff for the NL pennant.
:: NL Wild Card Game schedule and coverage ::
Tuesday's game, however, was a definite sign of an awareness teams have about the win-or-go-home nature of the Wild Card Game that is in only its sixth year of existence. Not only did Girardi make the move in the first inning, but Minnesota manager Paul Molitor was quick to move, too, lifting his starter, Ervin Santana, after two innings in which he let a 3-0 lead evaporate.
Now, it didn't work out that well for the Twins. While the Yankees' bullpen allowed only one run in 8 2/3 innings of work, Minnesota's first reliever, Jose Berrios, gave up three runs himself in three innings and was credited with the loss.

The Girardi vs. Molitor matchup will go down in history as Nos. 1-2 in the world of the Wild Card quick hook, but they won't be the last.
Check out how the Rockies and D-backs were set up for Wednesday night's NL Wild Card Game:
Colorado scratched Tyler Anderson from what would have been his final regular-season start on Sunday. In a perfect world, the Rockies want Anderson to start on Friday in Game 1 of the NL Division Series presented by T-Mobile against the Dodgers on what would be nine days of rest.
But Colorado has to win on Wednesday before it could put plans for Friday in place. If the Rockies don't beat the D-backs, they won't need a starting pitcher for another meaningful game for another 176 days, when they are scheduled to open the 2018 season against the D-backs in Phoenix.
Arizona, meanwhile, did start Robbie Ray on Sunday in Kansas City, but five batters into what became a 14-2 victory against the Royals, Ray was a spectator, lined up to start a possible Game 1 in the NLDS at Dodger Stadium, but also on hold in case Zack Grienke, the starter on Wednesday against the Rockies, got in trouble early.
In reality, it didn't take teams long to realize they had to adjust their approach to pitching in a one game win-or-go-home series. There is no tomorrow without winning today.
Prior to this year, the shortest effort by a starting pitcher in the 10 previous Wild Card Games was 3 1/3 innings by Johnny Cueto for the Reds against the Pirates on Oct. 1, 2013. In fact, only three of the 20 starting pitchers in Wild Card Games prior to this year failed to work at least the five innings needed to qualify for a win.
The team with the pitcher who failed to work five innings lost each time -- Cueto with the Reds; Danny Salazar, who went four innings for the Indians against the Rays in 2013 and Chris Tilllman, who worked 4 1/3 innings against the Blue Jays in '16.
You get the picture. It's win-or-go-home time.
And for the Rockies or the D-backs, there is no hurry to take a vacation just yet.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.