MLB playoffs 2021: Game 162 didn't bring us chaos, but it brought us great baseball

CHAOS VANISHED ALMOST in an instant Sunday afternoon, as if Thanos snapped his fingers and restored order to the baseball world. For much of the past week, as the American League contenders bunched together closer and closer at the top of the wild-card standings, we had been dreaming of a madcap, pandemonium-filled day. And for a few hours, we got it. Until suddenly, almost before we had time to mourn its loss, the game's superpowers were back where they seemingly always are, the upstarts were readying themselves to nurse a winter's worth of wounds and our dreams of days filled with win-or-go-home October games yielded to a far less inspiring reality.

The brass tacks fallout looks like this: The New York Yankees will visit the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday to determine the American League wild-card winner, who has the pleasure of facing the 100-win Tampa Bay Rays in the division series starting Thursday. The Toronto Blue Jays, winners Sunday, and the Seattle Mariners, not winners, are done. The Los Angeles Dodgers won, but that and their previous 105 wins didn't matter because the San Francisco Giants won, too, and finished the year with 107 to clinch the National League West and relegate the Dodgers to a one-and-done wild-card game against St. Louis on Wednesday. The Houston Astros and the Chicago White Sox kick off their division series Thursday, and Milwaukee and Atlanta commence theirs Friday.

It was, in the end, an outcome so chalk that the playoff bracket should be written on a blackboard. And yet as easy as it is to lament the aftermath of a day of Game 162s that didn't birth a single Game 163, it would be downright spoiled to forget the three-plus hours before the topsy-turvy straightened itself out. Oct. 3, 2021, was still a splendid day of baseball drama in its own right, ripe with tension and spectacle, heroes and goats, elation and regret. It was the final chapter in some stories and the first in others.