Baseball’s 10 Most Dramatic Division Series

Sep 29th, 2011

Old school baseball fans still bemoan the addition of the division series. To them, the extra playoff action devalues the six-month-long marathon of a regular season, which meant a little more when baseball consisted of fewer teams. But, expansion has brought forth the realization that things can’t remain the same forever. For the past 16 years, winning the pennant and winning the World Series have been a bit more difficult, as teams have fought tooth and nail to overcome comparably talented opponents in the short, opening-round series. The following dramatic division series prove that baseball, in its current format, is as healthy as ever, and October is even more captivating than it was two decades ago.

  1. Mariners defeat Yankees, 1995

    The introduction of the division series was delayed a year by the strike, which eliminated the postseason in 1994. So anticipation was especially high as the Yankees, who hadn’t reached the postseason since 1981, faced an upstart, star-studded Mariners squad in a five-game set. Game 2 consisted of four lead changes in 15 innings, then the longest game in terms of elapsed time in playoff history. The Yankees took a commanding 2-0 series lead when Jim Leyritz, whose propensity for playoff clutchness was still unknown, hit a two-run walk-off home run. The Mariners demonstrated their resolve by winning the next two games, including a Game 4 in which Edgar Martinez tallied seven RBIs, forcing a Game 5. Remarkably tense, the decisive game culminated with Martinez’s series-clinching two-run double in the 11th inning, which scored Ken Griffey Jr. from first base. Three outs from advancing, the Yankees went home heartbroken and determined to rebound in ’96.

  2. Red Sox defeat Indians, 1999

    Even though the defending World Series champion Yankees would be heavily favored in the ALCS against the eventual winner, both the Sox and Indians had the star power and confidence to make a deep postseason run. A Game 1 back injury to Pedro Martinez, who left in the fifth inning with a 2-0 lead, enabled the Indians to log three runs, enough for Bartolo Colon to secure an opening-game victory. Down 2-0 in the series, the Sox staged a ferocious rally in the next two games, scoring a combined 31 runs, 23 of which came in Game 4 as a still-tired Bartolo Colon started on three days’ rest for the first time in his career. Because both teams were beset by fatigued pitchers, Game 5 was another high-scoring contest. Three heroic scoreless innings in relief from the ailing Martinez enabled the Sox to capture and maintain the lead and advance to face their archrivals in the next round.

  3. Mets defeat Giants, 2000

    A wide open race for the NL pennant increased the stakes in the division series, in which two of the four games between the Mets and Giants, appropriately, reached extra innings. In Game 2, the Mets’ 4-1 lead in the ninth inning was erased by a three-run home run from JT Snow off of Armando Benitez. Jay Payton’s RBI single in the top of the 10th gave the Mets the lead again, and John Franco’s dramatic strikeout of Barry Bonds with the tying run aboard secured the victory. With the series tied, neither team wanted to surrender Game 3. The Giants’ Russ Ortiz took a no-hitter and 2-0 lead into the sixth inning before the Mets mustered a run. In the eighth, Edgardo Alfonzo’s RBI double off of Giants’ closer Rob Nen tied the game, and in the thirteenth, Benny Agbayani hit a towering walk-off shot to give the Mets control of the series. Game 4 is best remembered for the masterful performance by the Mets’ Bobby Jones, who one-hit the Giants to end the series, setting the record for fewest hits allowed a division series game — Roy Halladay broke it in 2010 when he no-hit the Reds.

  4. Yankees defeat A’s, 2000

    A young team that seemed destined to challenge for an AL pennant, the A’s were undaunted by the two-time defending World Series champions. Their Game 1 victory over the Yankees, who had swept their previous two division series opponents, caught the baseball world by surprise, as the Yankees were almost never in vulnerable positions. Not surprisingly, the veteran squad proceeded to win the next two games with excellent pitching performances by Andy Pettitte and Orlando Hernandez, the latter of whom boasted a remarkable 6-0 career playoff record. The A’s responded in resounding fashion by posting an 11-1 victory in Game 4, a game that pitted legend Roger Clemens against rookie Barry Zito. Game 5 was a dominated by the Yankees’ bullpen, which allowed just three hits, no walks and no runs in 5.1 innings of relief, baffling the Athletics’ inexperienced bats.

  5. Yankees defeat A’s, 2001

    One year later, the two teams dueled in a hotly-contested rematch in which four of the five games were decided by two runs or fewer. Poised to avenge last season’s loss and make a World Series run, the A’s took a 2-0 series lead as Mark Mulder allowed one run in seven innings in Game 1, and Tim Hudson pitched eight shutout innings in Game 2. With the chance to sweep the Yankees in Game 3, Barry Zito tossed eight innings of two-hit, one-run ball, but was outdueled by Mike Mussina, who tossed seven shutout innings. Memorably, during the seventh inning, the Athletics’ Terrance Long hit a line drive that almost scored Jason Giambi, who decided not to slide to home plate. In turn, Derek Jeter bare-handed and redirected a poor relay throw to Jorge Posada, who tagged out Giambi, maintaining the Yankees’ lead. The 1-0 victory sparked the Yankees’ series comeback and incredible postseason run, which ended with a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Diamondbacks in the World Series.

  6. Diamondbacks defeat Cardinals, 2001

    The Diamondbacks and Cardinals had both been eliminated by the Mets in each of their previous playoff appearances, and were hoping to take advantage of a weaker NL playoff field. Game 1 was a classic pitching duel between the Cards’ Matt Morris and the D-Backs Curt Schilling, who earned the 1-0 win with a three-hit shutout. The teams traded wins in the next three games, each of which were decided by three runs or fewer, before reaching Game 5, which featured a rematch between Morris and Schilling. Entering the bottom of the ninth, the game was tied 1-1, and the D-Backs had a chance to end the game and series. After they initially failed to manufacture a run, Tony Womack singled in pinch runner Danny Bautista from second base, giving the franchise its first-ever playoff series victory. Schilling again notched a win with a complete game.

  7. Marlins defeat Giants, 2003

    Two winning seasons, two World Series championships. The Marlins’ second improbable October run began with a difficult test versus the defending NL champs. In Game 1, Josh Beckett kicked off his outstanding postseason by pitching seven innings of two-hit, one-run ball, but the Marlins failed to score on Jason Schmidt, who tossed a complete game shutout. The Marlins won Game 2 in a relatively high-scoring 9-5 affair, and claimed the series lead after an 11-inning 4-3 win in Game 4 in which Pudge Rodriguez drove in the game-tying and-winning runs. Game 4 featured the defining moment of the Marlins’ postseason and Pudge’s career. Up 7-6 with two outs in the ninth, he withstood a collision at the plate with JT Snow, tagging him out and securing the series victory for the Marlins.

  8. Red Sox defeat A’s, 2003

    No team has suffered as much division series heartache as the "Moneyball" A’s. Two years after two consecutive five-game losses to the Yankees, they faced another big-market AL East team with pitching equally as strong. Oakland again won the first two games, the second of which came on the heels of Zito’s seven-inning, one-run and nine-strikeout performance. Two questionable calls in Game 3 prevented the A’s from taking a lead, and the contest eventually ended in the 11th inning with a two-run walk-off home run by Trot Nixon. In Game 4, the A’s bullpen picked up the slack for Tim Hudson after he left the game in the first inning with a strained oblique, but the Sox, resilient as ever, scored two runs in the eighth on David Ortiz’s double, giving them the 5-4 win. Fittingly, Game 5 was the series’ third one-run game, as Manny Ramirez’s three-run home run provided most of their scoring, and Derek Lowe escaped a bases-loaded jam in the ninth to close out the game and series.

  9. Astros defeat Braves, 2005

    Game 4 might as well have served as Games 4 and 5. The 18-inning affair featured a late-inning rally from the Astros, who erased the Braves’ a five-run deficit with an eighth-inning grand slam by Lance Berkman and ninth-inning, two-out solo home run from Brad Ausmus. The scoring ceased for the next eight-and-a-half innings, during which Roger Clemens made just the second relief appearance of his career, as the Astros were out of pitchers. He allowed just one hit in three innings, eventually logging the win. Chris Burke’s solo home run in the bottom of the 18th inning ended the longest game — in innings and time — in postseason history and advanced the Astros to their second consecutive NLCS appearance versus the Cardinals.

  10. Angels defeat Yankees, 2005

    Few playoff series in baseball history were as evenly matched as this one. Four of the five games were decided by two runs or fewer, including the nerve-racking Game 4, in which Al Leiter and Mariano Rivera surrendered no hits in the final 2.2 innings, enabling the Yankees to rally in the bottom of the seventh with RBI singles from Ruben Sierra and Derek Jeter. The 3-2 win forced a Game 5, giving the Yankees a chance to upset the Angles in Anaheim. This time, the Angels staved off the rally — and overcame Bartolo Colon’s second-inning hand injury — with gutsy impromptu relief work from Ervin Santana followed by the usual exemplary work from Kelvim Escobar and Francisco Rodriguez.