MLB Playoffs: Five best Game Fives
Game fives: Five of the best
In 1969 the MLB expansion meant that for the first time ever there would be a pair of League Championship series preceding the World Series. The first ever ALCS and NLCS were both rather one-sided affairs with the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Mets, both winners of a hundred games or more during the regular season, sweeping their opponents. The story was repeated in 1970 and it was not until 1972 that the first ever LCS deciding game was played. On Wednesday the 11th of October the Cincinnati Reds scored two in the bottom of the ninth against the Pittsburgh Pirates to win the National League pennant. The next day saw the first ever ALCS deciding game and it was a pre-match of one of this year's deciding games. In that affair, The Oakland A's edged past the Detroit Tigers 2-1 at Tiger Stadium.
The League Championship Series were expanded to best-of-seven series in 1985, but with the introduction of the Wild Card in 1995 the playoffs were expanded to include four best-of-five League Division Series. Between the old LCS format and the LDS there have been 104 best-of-five series before this year and of those exactly thirty have gone the distance. This year, however, is the first time all four League Division Series have gone to a full five games.
The words 'Game Five' probably do not have the quite the same thrilling air as the words 'Game Seven', but an elimination game is an elimination game. There have been some thrilling games throughout the years and these are the best:
11 October 1972: Reds 4-3 Pirates
That first game five was one of the best. The Pirates took a 2-0 lead in the top of the second and after five held a 3-2 advantage. But after that the scoring dried up and the teams managed just two hits between them until the bottom of the ninth. With Dave Giusti on to see the Pirates to the World Series, Johnny Bench led off the inning with a game tying home run. A pair of singles later and Bob Moose came on to pitch now just trying to keep the Pirates alive. He got the first two outs of the inning, but with Hal McRae batting he threw a pitch past his catcher and pinch-runner George Foster scored to send the Reds to the World Series.
19 October 1981: Expos 1-2 Dodgers
The 1981 strike meant that the first and second half Champions of the then four divisions had to play each other in the first ever League Division Series. This gave the Montreal Expos their first ever taste of playoff baseball. After beating the Philadelphia Phillies in five games in the NLDS they advanced to play the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. This series also went to five games and the fifth was a thrilling pitchers' duel.
The Expos had scratched out a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first and held that until the fifth in which the Dodgers manufactured a run of their own. Although the Expos threatened in the seventh the score stayed tied going into the ninth. But after comfortably retiring the first two hitters in the top of the inning, Steve Rogers surrendered a solo home run to Rick Monday to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. The Dodgers held the lead in the bottom of the inning to become the National League Champions and the Expos would never again return to the playoffs under that name.
8 October 1995: Mariners 6-5 Yankees (11)
The Seattle Mariners went to the playoffs for the first time ever in the 1995 season and under the new format they played the New York Yankees in the ALDS. The series went to five games and despite the Mariners scoring first they went into the eighth trailing 2-4. A solo home run and three walks in the eighth tied the game, but the Mariners left the bases loaded. The game went to extras and the Yankees took a 5-4 lead in the top of the 11th. In the bottom of the inning Seattle got runners on the corners with nobody out for Edgar Martinez. Martinez stepped up and hit The Double. Joey Cora scored comfortably from third and Ken Griffey Jr sprinted around from first to beat the throw in from left and send the Mariners to the ALCS.
14 October 2001: Diamondbacks 2-1 Cardinals
The 2001 NLDS between the Arizona Diamondbacks and St Louis Cardinals was a close one all the way and especially when Matt Morris and Curt Schilling faced each other. Arizona had won a tense 1-0 victory in the opener when that pair duelled each other and took the same advantage in the bottom of the fourth in the finale. But this time the Cardinals managed to equalise with a solo home run in the top of the eighth. The game went to the bottom of the ninth at 1-1. After the potential winning run was out at the plate on a botched squeeze, Tony Womack delivered a two out RBI single to end the series. It would not, of course, be the last walk-off win for the Diamondbacks that October.
7 October 2011: Phillies 0-1 Cardinals
The seventh day of October in the year 2011 of the Common Era was possibly the single most exciting day in LDS history. Both of the NLDS matchups played deciding games on that day and both were thrillers. In the second of the two games the Cardinals scored in the first with a leadoff triple and an RBI double off Phillies ace Roy Halliday, but that was all they would get as they left two men on. Halliday scattered just four hits after that, but Chris Carpenter did him one better giving up only three hits. The tension mounted as the Cardinals maintained their 1-0 lead deeper and deeper into the game. Finally, Carpenter went out for the ninth against the heart of the Phillies order. He retired them in order and the Cardinals backs-to-the-wall season would go on.
One of the amusing aspects of the game was that many people missed seeing the only run to score. The other Game Five that day went into the tenth inning (courtesy of a run in the top of the ninth) and it was not until after the Cardinals were already 1-0 up that the Milwaukee Brewers completed their walk-off win.