9 Most Memorable One-Game Playoffs And Tie Breakers In MLB History
“One-game playoff” or “tie-breaker?” The nomenclature here can get a little confusing, so let’s clear things up before we get into the best examples in baseball history. However, because either term is basically an instance of the regular season failing us (How DARE you, regular season?), the device can be a little convoluted.
All one-game playoffs are tie-breakers, but not all tie-breakers are one-game playoffs. In the unlikely event of several teams getting all jammed up upon completion of game 162, it’s possible that one single game wouldn’t set things straight, and there would need to be a sort of mini-season to set things straight. Also, before 1969, a three-game series was used to usher in the NL champs, while the AL used a single game.
Now that I’ve clouded the issue even further, let’s get going to study the best regular-season extensions in baseball history.
Let’s start off with the first tie-breaker in modern baseball history, which was a three-game series between two NL stalwarts. Interestingly enough, the Dodgers have been involved in 5 of the 14 tiebreakers in history, which has probably shortened the life spans of some of their more elderly fans. The series was a slugfest, taking place in hitter-friendly Sportsman’s Park for the first game, and Ebbetts Field for the second one. However, home field advantage didn’t afford the Dodgers much in Game 2, as they were swept by the Cardinals, who went on to win the World Series. When the winner of the first tiebreaker gets the golden egg, it’s bound to set up fans’ expectations (and knock them down) for years to come.
9. Cardinals-Dodgers, 1946
While the NL was running around solving its problems with three-game series, the AL found that it could get to the same place with 66.6% fewer playoff games. While the AL only got to use its format once before the 1969 playoff structure changes, the Indians and Sox made sure they made it count. The Indians busted the game open in the fourth, scoring four runs. The Sox couldn’t cover the gap with only five hits all game. The Indians won the series, then won the World Series, and baseball fans waited 30 years to see the next one-game playoff.
8. Indians-Red Sox, 1948
I think the Giants and Dodgers could have competed in a one-game tiddlywink playoff and it would have made the top 9 of all time. Here, the Giants won in three games, taking the second and third games while at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers stepped into the series on a downward slide, so the momentum was palpably with the Giants, but in rivalries like this, especially with the Dodgers having two home games out of three, all bets were off. The Giants dropped the World Series, but many would argue that this series was the real showcase of the postseason.
7. Giants-Dodgers, 1962
In this unique instance, the game wasn’t to decide the wild card spot, but the division champion. Counterintuitvely, the loser wouldn't get the wild card spot (because a team in another division with a better record would). So the game was still single-elimination from the playoffs, and it turned into a pitchers’ duel as the Sox edged out the Twins 1-0, courtesy of a Jim Thome home run. Normally, you’d have to go further down the list to find a game decided by one at-bat, but since it happened mid-game, and the Sox lost to the Rays subsequently, it gets stuck at 6.
6. White Sox-Twins, 2008
This wild card game was perhaps more remarkable for its context than for the game itself, but that does nothing to diminish its legacy. 1998 was the year of the home run race between McGwire and Sosa, who ended up hitting 70 and 66 HR’s, respectively. However, the biggest story here was reigning home run champ Barry Bonds, who lived up to his critics as a guy who would hit big in the regular season, then the wheels would come off near October. His critics were not disappointed, but neither were the dormant baseball fans who wanted badly to get behind the sport in the aftermath of the strike years earlier. The home run contest lit the fire, and this game dumped some gasoline on it. Oh, in case the game itself IS actually important, the Cubs won 5-3 and lost in the next round.
5. Giants-Cubs, 1998
When the wild card spot is at play, there’s a certain charming desperation to a game. I say “charming” because there’s still a decent shot of the winner to go all the way, unlike, say, the team that plays in for the 64th March Madness spot. But generally, the teams are very much underdogs, or else they wouldn't be playing for the wild card to begin with. That night, both teams played as though it was their God-given right to go to the playoffs, battling it out until the Rockies eked by 9-8 in the 13th inning. So for those of you keeping track at home, the wild card spot, which is largely a tie-breaker of its own, was decided by a tiebreaker game, which needed extra innings to break the tie.
4. Rockies-Padres, 2007
One of the more recent one-game playoffs is also the runner-up for the most memorable of all time. Sure, the Twins lost in the ALDS, but they were able to score a big victory over the Tigers in 12 innings at home. In the 12th, with the bases (intentionally) loaded, the Twins pitcher Bobby Keppel threw an inside fastball to (or at) Brandon Inge. Inge maintained that he was hit and sauntered off to first. The ump disagreed, and Inge ended up grounding out with a force at home, leaving the game locked. The Twins capitalized on their luck by getting a base hit from Alexi Casilla with two men on, resulting in a walk-off win.
3. Twins-Tigers, 2009Bucky F****in’ Dent.
2. Yankees-Red Sox, 1978
It’s widely known that one of the best rivalries in the history of sports is the ongoing, transcontinental Giants-Dodgers feud. It’s safe to say that the importance of this game was fueled by the rivalry in place, and that the outcome carried the rivalry from that point forward to legendary places, courtesy of the amazing “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” In the bottom of the ninth, of the third game of a three-game playoff, Bobby Thompson took what was at the time the biggest rivalry in American sports and turned it on its head with a walkoff homerun to win the game, and the series. The fact that this moment is among the most iconic in baseball, despite the fact that the Giants lost the World Series, is a testament to the rivalry.