For sheer drama, there's nothing quite like a one-game, winner-take-all scenario — and that's about to become a lot less rare in baseball with the debut of a new postseason format this year. The two wild cards in each league play Friday to determine which teams advance to the division series.
Until this year, one-game playoffs occurred only if there was a tie in the regular season that needed to be broken — and even then, the format wasn't always the same. For example, Bobby Thomson's famous "Shot Heard 'Round the World" in 1951 that gave the New York Giants the National League pennant was in the deciding game of a best-of-three tiebreaker against the Brooklyn Dodgers.
There have been nine one-game playoffs in major league history. Here's a look back at each:
OCT. 4, 1948. CLEVELAND 8, BOSTON 3. FOR THE AL PENNANT.
The Indians went to Fenway Park and defeated the Red Sox to advance to the World Series, where they beat another Boston team — the Braves — in six games. Cleveland hasn't won a World Series since.
OCT. 2, 1978. NEW YORK 5, BOSTON 4. FOR THE AL EAST TITLE.
Two words: Bucky Dent. The Yankees were 14 games behind the Red Sox in July, but in the end it was Boston that needed to win eight in a row just to force this playoff. Dent's three-run homer over the Green Monster in the seventh put New York ahead 3-2, and the Yankees never trailed again. It was only Dent's fifth homer of the season.
OCT. 6, 1980. HOUSTON 7, LOS ANGELES 1. FOR THE NL WEST TITLE.
The Dodgers took three in a row from the Astros in the final series of the regular season to knot things up atop the division, but they fell short in this tiebreaker. Don Sutton, Jerry Reuss and Burt Hooton had started for Los Angeles in the other must-win games against Houston. In the playoff, the Dodgers sent Dave Goltz to the mound against Joe Niekro, and it was no contest.
OCT. 2, 1995. SEATTLE 9, CALIFORNIA 1. FOR THE AL WEST TITLE.
This rout capped a 12-26 collapse down the stretch that cost the Angels the division and a playoff shot. Randy Johnson tossed a three-hitter for the Mariners in the playoff and struck out 12. California started Mark Langston, which was noteworthy because Seattle acquired Johnson in 1989 when it traded Langston to Montreal.
SEPT. 28, 1998. CHICAGO 5, SAN FRANCISCO 3. FOR THE NL WILD CARD.
Sammy Sosa's 66-homer season ended with a postseason berth, in part because he had two hits and scored twice in this win over the Giants. Down 5-1 in the ninth, San Francisco actually got Barry Bonds to the plate with the bases loaded and nobody out, but he was held to a sacrifice fly and Jeff Kent followed by hitting into a forceout as the Cubs held on.
OCT. 4, 1999. NEW YORK 5, CINCINNATI 0. FOR THE NL WILD CARD.
The Mets lost seven straight in late September but steadied themselves in time to force this showdown with the Reds. Al Leiter took it from there, allowing only two hits in a 135-pitch shutout.
OCT. 1, 2007. COLORADO 9, SAN DIEGO 8 IN 13 INNINGS. FOR THE NL WILD CARD.
This was perhaps the most improbable tiebreaker because the Rockies needed to go on a 13-1 tear just to pull even with the Padres. The playoff was more of the same. San Diego scored twice in the top of the 13th, but Trevor Hoffman got only one out in the bottom half — and that was on Jamey Carroll's game-winning sacrifice fly. Replays were inconclusive on whether Matt Holliday actually touched the plate while scoring the winning run, but he was called safe. The Rockies didn't lose again until they were swept by Boston in the World Series.
SEPT. 30, 2008. CHICAGO 1, MINNESOTA 0. FOR THE AL CENTRAL TITLE.
The White Sox beat Detroit in a makeup game to force the playoff with the Twins the next night. John Danks pitched eight innings of two-hit ball, and Jim Thome hit a 461-foot homer for Chicago in the seventh for the game's only run.
OCT. 6, 2009. MINNESOTA 6, DETROIT 5 IN 12 INNINGS. FOR THE AL CENTRAL TITLE.
The Twins rallied from a three-game deficit with four to play, and the drama was only beginning. Both teams scored a run in the 10th inning of the playoff, but Detroit left fielder Ryan Raburn threw out Alexi Casilla at the plate to send it to the 11th. The Tigers thought they'd taken the lead in the 12th, but with the bases loaded, plate umpire Randy Marsh ruled that Brandon Inge was not hit by a pitch from Bobby Keppel. The replay appeared to show the pitch grazing Inge's billowing uniform. The game remained tied, and Casilla drove in the winning run with a single in the bottom of the inning.
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