NL winner-take-all games

Following up from yesterday’s <a href=”http://www.highheatstats.com/2012/08/al-winner-take-all-games-and-the-new-wild-card-format/”>post</a> on AL winner-take-all games, here is the NL summary.

As mentioned in the earlier post, this is a remembrance of the very rare regular season winner-take-all game, before we see these games every year in the wild card playoff game (technically a post-season game, but likely to feel like a one-game playoff to qualify for the real post-season).

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As a reminder, for a winner-take-all game, I’m talking about regular season playoff games or final day of the season games where both teams can make the playoffs with a win, or miss the playoffs with a loss.

<span style=”text-decoration: underline;”><strong>National League</strong></span>

<strong>1.</strong> As in the AL, there was a close 3-way NL race in 1908 involving the Cubs, Pirates and Giants. After the scheduled games concluded, the Cubs won a make-up game with the Pirates to move a half-game ahead of the Bucs, whose season was now complete. Then, the Giants won three (apparently) make-up games with the Braves to tie the Cubs (and eliminate the Pirates), forcing completion of a final make-up game between New York and Chicago. The Cubs won 4-2 to complete their comeback, erasing the Giants’ 4.5 game lead on Sep 18 with a 14-2 finish while the Giants could manage only an 11-10 mark over the same period. Of course, the reason the Giants had to play that make-up game was because of a tie game between the clubs back on Sep 23rd. That game was called a draw on account of darkness, mainly because of a very long delay occasioned by tremendous confusion attending a certain play in the 9th inning of that contest. It was, indeed, the <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/merklfr01.shtml”>Fred Merkle</a> <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merkle’s_Boner”>game</a>.

<strong>2.</strong> It was 1951 before the next winner-take-all <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NY1/NY1195110030.shtml”>game</a> occurred. Brooklyn, up 3 games on Sep 23rd, saw that lead evaporate with a 3-4 finish while the Giants ran off 7 straight wins to finish in a tie.  After splitting the first two games of a 3-game playoff, Brooklyn took a 4-1 lead into the 9th inning of game 3. But, starter <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/n/newcodo01.shtml”>Don Newcombe</a>, valiantly pitching in his 32nd inning of work in the space of only 8 days, finally ran out of gas, allowing a run-scoring double before leaving the game with one out and the tying runs in scoring position. Two pitches later, <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/brancra01.shtml”>Ralph Branca</a> gave up perhaps the most famous home run ever, <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/t/thomsbo01.shtml”>Bobby Thomson</a>’s shot down the very short left-field line at the Polo Grounds.

<strong>3.</strong> The Dodgers and Giants again provided the drama in 1962, but this time on the left coast. As in 1951, the Dodgers looked to be home and dry with a 4 game lead on Sep 23rd and only 7 games remaining, 6 of them in their shiny new home at Chavez Ravine. But, a 1-6 collapse teamed with a 5-2 Giants’ finish spelled another 3-game playoff. In <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SFN/SFN196210010.shtml”>game 1</a>, the Giants shocked the visitors with an 8-0 whitewash of Dodger ace <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/k/koufasa01.shtml”>Sandy Koufax</a>, who was replaced after only 7 batters. <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/k/koufasa01.shtml”>Game 2</a> was an epic struggle lasting 4 hours 18 minutes, setting a record for a 9-inning game that would stand for over 30 years. The Giants used 8 pitchers, tying the then record for a nine-inning game (excepting a stunt <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SLA/SLA194910021.shtml”>game</a> by Bill Veeck’s Browns, when a different pitcher was used each inning), before the Dodgers prevailed 8-7 on a walk-off <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/f/fairlro01.shtml”>Ron Fairly</a> sac fly to score <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/w/willsma01.shtml”>Maury Wills</a>, then completing his record-setting 104 stolen base campaign. In the <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/LAN/LAN196210030.shtml”>finale</a>, as they had done 11 years before, the Dodgers took a multi-run lead into the 9th inning and again failed to hold it as the Giants parlayed 2 singles, 4 walks and an error into 4 runs and the lead. The Dodgers went meekly in order in the home 9th against game 1 CG winner <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/p/piercbi02.shtml”>Billy Pierce</a>, appearing in relief.

<strong>4.</strong> In 1980, both NL divisions went down to the final weekend and both with the protagonists playing each other. In the East, Philadelphia clinched on the 2nd last day against Montreal. In the West, the Astros took a 3-game lead into their final series against the Dodgers in LA, only to be swept and finish tied with the boys in blue. The Dodgers won the coin toss so the teams stayed put for a one-game <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/LAN/LAN198010060.shtml”>playoff</a> at Chavez. Having gone with their best pitchers to force the playoff, the Dodgers had no better option than journeyman <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/g/goltzda01.shtml”>Dave Goltz</a>, who proved no match for Astros ace <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/n/niekrjo01.shtml”>Joe Niekro</a>, logging his 20th win in an easy 7-1 CG triumph.

<strong>5.</strong> In 1996, the NL West race went down to the final weekend with the Padres visiting the Dodgers and needing a sweep to overcome a 2 game deficit. After San Diego won the first two to draw even with LA, the <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/LAN/LAN199609290.shtml”>finale</a> saw the two teams locked in a scoreless draw through 10 innings. In the 11th, singles by <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/f/finlest01.shtml”>Steve Finley</a> and <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/caminke01.shtml”>Ken Caminiti</a> put Padres on the corners with nobody out. Former Dodger <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/g/gwynnch01.shtml”>Chris Gwynn</a> (playing alongside brother <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/g/gwynnto01.shtml”>Tony</a> in their only season together) came up next to pinch-hit against <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/p/parkch01.shtml”>Chan Ho Park</a> and delivered a bases-clearing double to the right field gap, the last (and, very likely, the biggest) regular season hit of his career. <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/hoffmtr01.shtml”>Trevor Hoffman</a> got the Dodgers in order in the home 11th to complete the series sweep.

<strong>6.</strong> In 1998, the Cubs and Giants finished tied for the NL wild card berth, forcing a one-game playoff to make the post-season. The Mets were also in the hunt, finishing just a game behind. Unusually, none of these teams were in the hunt for their respective division titles, so it was strictly a race for that one wild card spot. After play on Sep 20th, it looked to be a two team race between the Mets (88-69) and Cubs (87-70) with the Giants (83-72) seemingly out of it. But, 6 straight wins by San Francisco while the Mets went 0-4 and the Cubs 2-2 left the Cubs and Giants tied and the Mets a game back going into the last day. The Braves’ <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/m/maddugr01.shtml”>Greg Maddux</a> then dispatched the Mets in a 7-2 <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/ATL/ATL199809270.shtml”>romp</a>, while the Cubs and Giants narrowly lost walk-off games to the <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/HOU/HOU199809270.shtml”>Astros</a> and <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/COL/COL199809270.shtml”>Rockies</a>, respectively. In the <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CHN/CHN199809280.shtml”>playoff</a>, the Cubs took a 5 run lead into the 9th inning and then held on as the Giants made it interesting. <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/b/beckro01.shtml”>Rod Beck</a> (playing for the Cubs, not the Giants) came on to claim the save, retiring <a href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/cartejo01.shtml”>Joe Carter</a> in his final major league AB.

Like Boston in the AL, the winner-take-all game has been the true nemesis for the Dodgers.

So, until the wild card game a month from now, that’s it for the NL winner-take-all contests. Maybe I’ll grow to like the one game wild card playoff, but I hope not.

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30 Comments on "NL winner-take-all games"

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Evil Squirrel
Guest
That 1996 season-ender with the Padres and Dodgers was the first time the very issue that brought forth the new playoff format rose its ugly head. It technically wasn’t a do-or-die series, because whichever team lost the NL West title was still going to advance with the wild card. I recall there being the sentiment going into that showdown that the Padres cared more about winning the division than the Dodgers did, and it showed in the result (Though it should be noted that the Dodgers had already clinched a playoff berth prior to that series, while the Padres still… Read more »
Brent
Guest
Hmm, I think the Braves and the Dodgers tied in either 1957 or 1958 too. Am I wrong? So I think the 1908 race is fascinating. I think under the AL rules being used, the Pirates would have won the pennant. On Saturday, October 3, all three teams played their last scheduled games. The Pirates won in St. Louis to go to 98-55. The Cubs won in Cincinatti to go 97-55. The Giants lost in Philadelphia to go 95-55. It looks to me like that in the AL, the Pirates would have been declared champs, but in the NL they… Read more »
Brent
Guest

BTW, I’d like to think that if, under my scenario above, all 3 teams ended up tied, they would have decided the pennant with a Battle Royale wrestle off between Frank Chance, Fred Clarke and John McGraw. I know McGraw would have been giving up a lot of size to both of the other managers, but as pugnacious as he was, you gotta think he still would have been the odds on favorite.

Brent
Guest

It was 1959 and I guess, technically, you can say there wasn’t a winner take all game because the Dodgers won the 2 out of 3 2-0. So I stand corrected.

no statistician but
Guest

Doug:

I’m not sure the one-game wildcard playoff in 1998 between the Cubs and Giants meets your criteria, but it deserves a mention. Cubs won 5-3.

Brooklyn Mick
Guest

Thanks Doug. I never realized they had a best of three playoff for the Pennant if there was a tie, as you mentioned in your summaries of the Dodgers-Giants 1951 and 1962 series.

When did they start with the best of three format, and when did it end?

e pluribus munu
Guest

Mick, The first true pennant playoff (in either league) was in 1942. The Cards beat Brooklyn 2-0 in a best of three format. The format ended with divisional play in 1969, since there was no longer a pennant directly at stake.

The Dodgers certainly have endured a lot of pain in pivotal playoff games. The 1959 2-0 win Brent discovered was an exception (and, for a Dodger fan at the time, deeply satisfying).

Richard Chester
Guest

It was 1946, not 1942.

e pluribus munu
Guest

Indeed it was – thanks for catching and correcting my error (again), Richard. I transposed the season the Bums lost with 104 wins and the season they lost the first playoff. And after ’46, they went on to lose pennant or the Series in a sudden death final game (stretching a little in ’50) four of the next six years.

Brooklyn Mick
Guest

Thank you EPM and Richard. Talk about bonus baseball. If I’m reading correctly, all 4 such best of 3 series involved the Dodgers

1946 Dodgers vs. Cardinals
1951 Dodgers vs. Giants
1959 Dodgers vs. Braves
1962 Dodgers vs. Giants

Doug
Guest

Also, Mick,
– Dodgers almost forced a playoff with the Phillies in 1950, but lost to them on the last day, on a 10th inning HR by Dick Sisler (George’s son).
– in 1956, they avoided a playoff with Milwaukee by beating Pittsburgh on the last day, as Newcombe won his 27th with a key save assist by Don Bessent as Pittsburgh made it close at the end

RJ
Guest
Of course we narrowly avoided two play-off games in one season back in the heady days of 2010. A Padres victory over the Giants on final day, combined with an Atlanta win against the Phillies, would have resulted in a SD vs SF tie-breaker for the NL West, followed by the loser of that game playing the Braves to decide the Wild Card. But the Giants beat the Padres, and the Braves clinched the Wild card without the need for a playoff. If this scenario happened today, the Padres would have earned a reprieve in a one-off game against the… Read more »
oneblankspace
Guest

Do you mean Wild Card #1 or Wild Card #2 ?

Luis Gomez
Guest
Doug, I remember an extra game between the Padres and Rockies in 07(?) in Colorado for the Wild card. I recall just some of the Padres highlights, because, to tell you the truth, I tried to erase some of that game from my memory. Jake Peavy started for the Padres, he was trying to get his 20th win of the season but the Rockies got in the way. Adrian Gonzalez hit a grand slam earlier in the game, but the Rockies came back. In extra innings, Scott Hairston hit a would-be-one-greatest-homeruns-in-Padre-history, but Trevor Hoffman blew the save in the 10th… Read more »
bstar
Guest

So the Pads are your team, Luis? Maybe I knew that and had forgotten. Here’s the link to that game, and yes it should be included in Doug’s article:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/COL/COL200710010.shtml

Luis Gomez
Guest

Thanks for the link, Bstar. I wasn´t sure of the year, but I remember that it was too painful to watch the postseason games that year.

Chris
Guest

Wasn’t there an extra, winner-take-all game in 1999 between the Mets and the Reds for the wild card?

nightfly
Guest

Brevity is the soul of wit – and also getting into the comment thread first! I shouldn’t have yammered on about the ’51 pennant.

nightfly
Guest
Doug, in 1999 the Mets played a winner-take-all game for the NL WC with the Reds. Both were out of the division running (the Mets courtesy of a 7-game losing streak in the final two weeks – proudly September Swooning for over a decade!), so the loser wound up with nothing. The 1951 rally was, of course, one of the epic comebacks in baseball history. On August 9th, the Dodgers finished a sweep of the Giants and led by 12.5. The lead reached 13 after a Giants loss to the Phils on Aug 11th. Then New York hit the Konami… Read more »
birtelcom
Editor

Bobby Thomson, plus the guy with the telescope in center field. Plus the guy with the buzzer, signaling in the stolen signs from the guy with the telescope.

Richard Chester
Guest
There have been admissions and denials by Giant players about the stolen signs but it does appear that the signs were stolen. Cather Sal Yvars, who usually was in the Giants’ bullpen which was located on-field in deep left-center field, stated that he relayed signs back to the Giants’ players. The buzzer was located in the bullpen. One buzz indicated a breaking ball and no buzz meant a fast ball. Yvars would be holding a ball in his hand. If he tossed into the air it meant a breaking ball, otherwise it was a fast ball. I assume that if… Read more »
no statistician but
Guest

I’d guess they were stealing signs the whole game without too much result. As the immortal Casey might say, you’ve got to execute. I give Thomson all the credit, myself.

Timmy Pea
Guest

What a shock. I just got my new EBT card and headed down to the store to pick up some scotch, baseball cards, and cat food, none of which were allowed purchases for EBT cards. I’m so mad I might vote for Romney! I had to use the ATM in the store to get my own money, and there was a $1.50 charge for using that ATM. Damn!

Luis Gomez
Guest

Am I having computer troubles, or this post is not an easy thing to read?

e pluribus munu
Guest

The html codes have become visible – they weren’t earlier. Doug, you may want to adjust this post as the string moves into archive territory.

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