A NEW DEAL FOR AN OLD SPORT - Sports Illustrated Vault | SI.com
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That newest of American sporting institutions, the major league baseball playoffs, was unveiled last week in Atlanta and Baltimore as a necessary prelude to that most honorable and ancient of American sporting institutions, the World Series. Although traditionalists grumbled, no one could suggest a system that would eliminate two of the new-style four divisional champions without some preliminary scuffling. So the Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets—a remarkable parlay in view of April's opening National League odds—and the predictably powerful Baltimore Orioles and Minnesota Twins squared off to decide who would advance in what has now become a two-week-long tournament.

Like most tournaments, this one had a favorite, the Orioles, runaway champions of the American League East—and a sentimental favorite, the more or less miracle Mets. But the real winners were going to be the fans. The playoffs were fun, they were exciting if sometimes one-sided, and they obviously added something to the season, a kind of mini-Series. As these pictures show, the country's latest sporting baby looks robust. Its health should help overcome the controversy that attended its birth.

Gasping New York Owner Joan Payson watches galloping Cleon Jones take advantage of Atlanta's sloppy fielding to score the opening game's winning run and make the Mets pennant favorites for the first time. Jones, who had reached third on an earlier blunder crossed the plate when a low throw skipped past Catcher Bob Didier. New York won 9-5.

Three long drives and a short dribble won the opener 4-3 for Baltimore. Home runs by Frank Robinson. Mark Belanger and Boog Powell kept the Orioles tied with Minnesota until two out in the 12th inning when Paul Blair bunted so precisely that Twins Catcher John Roseboro was left futilely grasping for the ball as Belanger scored the deciding run.

Biggest guns in Baltimore's second extra-inning victory were lefthander Dave McNally (above) and huge Boog Powell, who delicately crashed down on home plate to score game's only run in the 11th. On Monday, Powell got two more hits, Paul Blair eschewed the bunt and the Orioles massacred the Twins 11-2 to move into the Series against the Mets.

The helpful gremlins, who seemed to accompany the Mets everywhere during the past months, were there again at Atlanta's second game, popping routine ground balls just out of the reach of Braves fielders. But Cleon Jones and welcoming Tommie Agee each hit two-run homers in 11-6 win, and the next day Agee walloped another to start the Mets on the way to their high-scoring playoff sweep.