Phillies make right calls in coin flips

Phillies make right calls in coin flips

While fans everywhere are wigging out over boiling playoff races, their teams and Major League Baseball flipped out Friday afternoon.

It was time for the revival of a new annual tradition -- Flip Friday, the day a series of coin tosses is held to determine home-field advantage for potential one-game playoffs required to resolve ties following the conclusion of the regular season.

TIEBREAKER SCENARIOS
AMERICAN LEAGUE

Playoff for AL East
Tampa Bay at Boston

Playoff for AL Central
Minnesota at Chicago

Playoff for AL Wild Card
Minnesota at Boston

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Playoff for NL East
New York at Philadelphia

Playoff for NL Central
Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee

Playoff for NL West
Arizona at Los Angeles

Playoff for NL Wild Card
Milwaukee at Philadelphia
Milwaukee at Houston
Milwaukee at New York
Milwaukee at St. Louis
Houston at Philadelphia
St. Louis at Philadelphia
Houston at St. Louis

The big winners of the 12-flip event were the Phillies, who would host any of four possible playoff games, and the Red Sox, who would be in their Fenway Park bunker for both American League East and AL Wild Card deciders.

On fortune's flip side were the Twins, who wouldn't have a roof over their heads for any playoff game, and the team being pursued by the Phillies in the National League Wild Card race, the Brewers, who, in following their fans' advice, kept making the wrong calls.

The coin flips were conducted at Major League Baseball's Manhattan headquarters, with representatives of affected teams participating during a conference call.

The "buy in" for the flips was being within five games either of the division lead or the league's Wild Card lead.

Bear in mind that Friday's initial round of coin flips did not address all possible contingencies. For instance, the only potential AL Wild Card playoff game dealt involved Boston and Minnesota, although races in both of their divisions are tight.

Other coin flips will thus be arranged on a per-need basis -- for instance, to prepare for other possible AL Wild Card knots, between the Red Sox and the White Sox, or between the Rays and Twins.

One thing is for certain: People paid a lot closer attention to the flying coins than they might have without the experience of the Colorado Rockies on the first day of last October.

The Rockies blitzed into the 2007 playoffs with an amazing 163rd-game comeback over San Diego -- scoring three in the bottom of the 13th for a 9-8 win -- that would not have been possible away from Coors Field.

As was the case a year ago -- when 25 of the 28 coin flips affected NL scenarios -- the Senior Circuit again dominated Friday's flip-a-thon. Of the dozen coin flips, nine concerned possible NL deadlocks.

In each instance, the team with the superior record got to call "heads" or "tails." And the Phillies were perfect regardless of who was in control -- they made the right call against the Astros and the Cardinals, and heard wrong calls by the Brewers and the Mets.

Meaning that Citizens Bank Park would be the site for any tiebreaker game involving the Phillies -- against the Mets for the NL East title, or against any of the other three for the NL Wild Card berth.

Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin, keeping his pledge to follow the directive of online-voting fans who favored "tails" by a 51-49 margin, kept making the wrong call. If forced to play a 163rd game for their Wild Card lives, the Brewers thus would have to travel to St. Louis, Houston or Philadelphia.

For a game possibly needed to decide the NL Central title, Melvin didn't get to make the call -- and that's the only flip he won, meaning the Brewers would host the Cubs in Miller Park.

In the relatively sedate AL, where the Angels have already clinched the West Division and Tampa Bay and Boston only have to determine East Division champ and AL Wild Card roles, the Twins were the big losers.

Losing their dramatic edge inside the Metrodome, the Twins would play the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field in a potential AL Central tie-breaker, and also have to travel to Boston to resolve a possible Wild Card tie.

The Red Sox would also host the Rays if needed to determine the champion of their division.

Flip Friday has quickly evolved into one of the most consequential days in baseball's stretch drive. The Wild Card-induced multi-tier playoffs present numerous potential scenarios for ties that need resolution, hence the coins fly at MLB headquarters.

Making the right call, and securing last at-bats in the potential playoff, historically has guaranteed little.

The Rockies, in fact, won only the third home game among the seven tiebreakers whose sites were determined by coin flips.

The prior two teams to make good on their home-field advantage 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.

The most famous example of shrugging off an uncooperative coin came in 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 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 tiebreaker 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. That most recently played out in 2005, when the Red Sox and Yankees finished atop the AL East with identical 95-67 records and the Bombers were declared division champs for their 10-9 edge over Boston.

Should three clubs finish the season with the same winning percentage, one 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 tiebreaker, 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.