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).
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.