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Saturday Sports: Major League Baseball playoffs, Aaron Judge's milestone

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Playoff baseball is here, so no need to talk about the Cubs, is there? Aaron Judge makes history, but is it a record? Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine, thanks. Wild Card week - Guardians defeated Tampa Bay, 2-1. Cleveland rocks, Cleveland rocks. Phillies over the Cards, 6-3 - what a ninth inning. Seattle blanked the Blue Jays, 4-zip. Padres dunked the Mets, 7-1. What did you see in those games?

BRYANT: Well, it's a brand-new era, Scott. As you know, for the last 11 years, Wild Card weekend was actually Wild Card day.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: It was a one-game playoff. And if you won, you moved on to the division series, and if you lost, you went home. This year, brand-new format - this year, it's a three-game series, just like a regular weekend series. The lower seed doesn't get a home game. For the first time in baseball history, a playoff team doesn't get home fans. So what happens? Three of the four road teams win. The only home team to win was Cleveland. And so now the Mets, who blew a 10 1/2 game lead, are now facing elimination today. The Cardinals gave up six runs in the ninth inning to lose, and they're facing elimination to the Phillies. The Mariners, who hadn't made the playoffs since 2001 - they went up in Toronto.

And so it's a new era, and it's a - it was a pretty fascinating one, to be honest, and to watch some of these teams. I think that we always talk about the Yankees and the Red Sox and the Cardinals and some of those. But how about a big shoutout to the Mariners, who won 116 games way back in 2001 and hadn't made the playoffs since? It was something like 7,200 days since their last playoff appearance. And so that was really exciting.

The downside to all of this, of course, is going to be the baseball purist who says, well, you know, the playoffs are meant for the best teams. This is baseball. It's not basketball. It's not the other sports where you have to win your division because the season is so long and your best lineups aren't out there every day. Now you've got teams like the Padres, who were 22 games out of first place, and they've got a chance to move on. Do they really deserve it? But that's what you get. When you expand the playoffs, anybody can win. You had the Phillies - same thing. They were not a great team this year, and the Mariners were 16 games behind...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Houston. But all of these teams have a chance to move on. It's a new day in baseball, but on the field, pretty darn exciting.

SIMON: Yeah. Look, I want to draw you out on this. This week, Aaron Judge hit his 62nd home run of the season. To many, this is considered the real record, given Barry Bonds' 73 home runs happened during the time of steroids. You have written the definitive history in your book "Juicing The Game." What do you think? Is Aaron Judge's 62 the real record?

BRYANT: No, Scott, the real record is Barry Bonds' 73 home runs. And this is - the thing that took me out of all of this is that this is the price of the steroid era. The wound is still very much open. But here is the thing with Bonds. Why are we isolating Barry Bonds? There are a lot of records that came out of the steroid era, and people aren't talking about those being illegitimate. Albert Pujols has been celebrated all season long, and though he's never been completely connected with steroids, he came from the steroid era, too. He's got 703 home runs. There are all kinds of players who are not in the Hall of Fame, but the records have remained. It was very curious to me this year that the one record is Bonds's record. To me, the record is 73. Aaron Judge has the American League record, and he has the Yankees record but not the all-time record.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media, thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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