In all my years of being a baseball fan, I’ve always said that the five-game series is a crapshoot. The best teams don’t always win and that’s what makes baseball so great. Well, at least for the teams that win and advance to the League Championship Series.
Believe me, I’ve lived through many first round exits as a fan of the New York Yankees and it’s not fun especially when your team enters the series as the favorite which brings us to the first series we’re going to discuss.
Washington Nationals vs. St. Louis Cardinals
This one didn’t end the way most people expected it to. Only fans of the St. Louis Cardinals expected the redbirds to come away as winners after trailing by as many as six runs in the decisive fifth game.
But before we get to that, let’s talk about the first four games. The series began in St. Louis because with the new wildcard set up, the lower seeds opened at home and the series itself was in a 2-3 format. The Washington Nationals, who were the top seed in the National League – they finished with 98 wins in the regular season – waited and watched the wild card game between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals to see who their opponents would be.
They were rewarded with the task of trying to unseat the defending World Series Champions.
They failed and in a shocking way.
Not that losing in St. Louis is a bad thing. Most of the higher seeds in the playoffs were hoping for splits in the first two games so the series is whittled down to a best two out of three.
Game One went to the Nats who won 3-2 with the help of five pitchers. Gio Gonzalez started but only lasted five innings and had trouble locating – he surrendered seven walks in those five innings. Stammen, Matheus, Clippard and Storen combined to throw four scoreless innings to preserve the win.
Game Two was a 12-4 blow out by the Cardinals. Carlos Beltran hit two home runs for the Cards and Jordan Zimmerman gave up five runs in three innings for the Nats. Allen Craig and Daniel Descalso added home runs and Jon Jay finished with three RBI.
Game Three was back in Washington and saw the Cardinals pitchers shutdown the Nats while Edwin Jackson, who started for the Nats, put his team in a 4-0 hole in the second inning. The Cardinals went on to win 8-0 and were looking to steal the series win in Game Four.
In that game, a well-pitched contest by both clubs was 1-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning. With their season on the line, Jayson Werth stepped into the box against Lance Lynn and it was a classic battle that lasted 13 pitches. And on that 13th pitch, Werth sent Nats fans hope happy with a walk-off home run to left field which forced the decisive Game Five.
Last night’s game started off well for the Nationals who found themselves up 6-0 in the third innings thanks to home runs by Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Mike Morse. The Cardinals were able to cut the lead to 6-3 in the fifth and 6-5 in the eighth.
In the bottom of the eighth, Kurt Suzuki hit what seemed like a huge RBI single to score Adam LaRoche and put the Nationals up by two runs.
Drew Storen came in to pitch the bottom of the ninth, it was his fourth appearance in five games. This would come back to bite the Nationals, big time.
Carlos Beltran who seems to have a 1.000 career average in the playoffs started the inning off with a double into the right-center field gap. Matt Holliday followed by hitting one of those productive ground outs to advance Beltran to third.
Allen Craig struck out swinging and at the time it seemed like a huge strikeout. With two out and a man on third, Storen walked both Yadier Molina and David Freese to load the bases. Molina was replaced on the bases by Adrion Chambers.
Daniel Descalso stepped in and one the first pitch from Storen hit a two-run double that hit off Ian Desmond’s glove at short to tie the game at seven. The St. Louis Cardinals were down to their final out, again, in a decisive game, again and came through, again.
And they weren’t done.
Pete Kozma singled to right on a 2-2 sinker to score Freese and Descalso. The Cardinals who were down to their last out were now up 9-7. The Nationals were in shock, the fans at Nationals Park were in shock and fans across the Country were shocked. The only ones not shocked were the St. Louis Cardinals and their fans.
When the Nationals came up in the bottom of the ninth, they were defeated. There was no way they could come back from such a shocking turn of events. They were set down 1-2-3 to end the game. The Cardinals rushed the field and the Nationals were left to wonder, “What the hell just happened?”
Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland Athletics
Our next series was between the AL Central winning Detroit Tigers and the AL West winning Oakland Athletics.
The series began in Detroit – they had 88 wins during the regular season, Oakland finished with 92. Oakland could not do what the Nationals did and split the series in Detroit. They dropped the first two and flew back to Oakland in an 0-2 hole.
In those first two games, Oakland was victimized by sloppy fielding. Not that they made 2-3 errors a game but each error in each game – one by Jarrod Parker and one by Coco Crisp – were big and impacted the games.
Detroit held on to win Game One 3-1 behind great pitching by Justin Verlander who lasted seven innings and only gave up that one run on three hits while striking out 11 A’s.
Game Two was a see-saw game. Oakland struck first with one run in the top of the third and the Tigers came back with one of their own in the bottom of the third.
Oakland scored in the top of the seventh but the Tigers roared – sorry, had to – back with two runs in their half of the seventh. Oakland struck back again in the top of the eighth, thanks to a two-run shot by Josh Reddick to put the A’s up 4-3.
In the bottom of the eighth, Detroit scored the tying run on a wild pitch by A’s reliever Ryan Cook. The game was 4-4 going into the bottom of the ninth. If Detroit were to win, they’d have a commanding 2-0 lead in the season, if Oakland wer to win, they’d return home with a split and a chance to win the series at home.
Grant Balfour came in to pitch the ninth for the A’s and started things off by striking out Austin Jackson. He quickly gave up a single to Omar Infante. Triple Crown Winner, Miguel Cabrera followed with a single which sent Infante to third. Balfour intentionally walked Prince Fielder to load the bases and then gave up the game-winning sacrifice fly to Don Kelly. Tigers win 5-4.
Game Three was a 2-0 victory for the A’s behind strong pitching by a combination of four pitchers. Brett Anderson started the game, lasted six innings and gave up only two hits. He walked two and struck out six. His bullpen came in and pitched three scoreless innings to preserve the win which kept Oakland alive one more day.
Game Four saw the A’s down 3-1 going into the bottom of the ninth. With their season on the line and Jose Valverde in to close the game for the Tigers, Oakland sent Josh Reddick to the plate to start the inning.
Reddick singled to start things off. That was followed by a first-pitch double off the bat of Josh Donaldson that sent Reddick to third. So the A’s were set up with two on and no outs.
Seth Smith hit a double of his own on a 92 m.p.h offering from Valverde and the game was tied at three.
Valverde recovered to induce a George Kottaras pop out and to strike out Cliff Pennington. On the first pitch of Coco Crisps’s at bat, Crisp hit a line drive single to right fielder Avisail Garcia who charged it and missed it which allowed Seth Smith to score. Oakland wins 4-3 to force a decisive fifth game.
In that fifth game, Justin Verlander was on the mound for the Tigers and the A’s didn’t stand a chance. Verlander pitched a complete game, four-hit shutout to preserve the series win for Detroit and send the surprising Oakland Athletics home for the offseason.
San Francisco Giants vs. Cincinnati Reds
This series matched the 2010 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants with AL Central winning Cincinnati Reds.
It began in San Francisco because Cincinnati finished with the better record and Cincinnati showed in those first two games why they won the AL Central. Although Game One started off with a big blow to Cincinnati when their ace Johnny Cueto was lost to an oblique injury eight pitches into the game.
The Reds were able to get to Matt Cain for three runs in five innings – Brandon Phillips hit a two-run home run and Jay Bruce hit a solo shot. The Giants scored one run off Mat Latos who pitched four innings in relief of Cueto and one run off Aroldis Chapman who made things interesting in the bottom of the ninth. The Reds held on for a 5-2 victory.
In Game Two, Bronson Arroyo started for the Reds and held the Giants to one hit in seven innings. In fact, the three Reds Pitchers combined to hold the Giants to only two hits the entire game. The Giants were only able to get two runners in scoring position all game and were helped by the three walks surrendered by Reds pitching.
On the flip side, Madison Bumgarner gave up four runs in 4.1 innings, Jose Mijares gave up three runs without recording an out in the eighth inning and Guillermo Mota gave up two more to help the Reds to a 9-0 victory. It put them up 2-0 in the series but unlike Detroit in the AL Division Series, the Reds would be heading home for the final three games, surely they could win two out of three in the Great American Ballpark.
Game Three was a pitching duel between the teams. Homer Bailey started for the Reds and lasted seven innings. He gave up only one run on one hit, with one walk and 10 strikeouts. Ryan Vogelsong started for the Giants, he gave up only one run as well but only pitched 5.1 innings. His bullpen held the Reds scoreless the rest of the game. Bailey wasn’t so lucky.
In the top of the tenth, with the game tied at one, Jonathan Broxton came in to replace Aroldis Chapman who pitched a scoreless ninth. He promptly gave up a back-to-back singles to Buster Posey and Hunter pence. He recovered to strike out both Brandon Belt and Xavier Nady swinging to get two quick outs.
Catcher Ryan Hanigan allowed a passed ball with Joaquin Arias at the plate which advanced Posey and Pence to second and third respectively. On the fourth pitch of the at bat, Arias hit a ground ball to Scott Rolen at third base who couldn’t handle it which allowed Posey to score and put the Giants up 2-1.
Broxton got Sergio Romo to strikeout to end the inning but the damage was done. And what we didn’t know at the time was that one play – the error by Rolen – would be the moment when the series shifted.
Game Four was a disaster for the Reds. Their starter, Mike Leake was charged with five runs in 4.1 innings and the Reds, who had Giants’s Barry Zito on the ropes a couple of times, couldn’t get anything going. The Giants won the game 8-3 to force a game five.
Game Five was a battle of the Matts – Matt with two t’s and Mat with one – and the Matt with two t’s won the battle. Matt Cain, while not as sharp as he can be did the job and held the Reds to three runs in 5.2 innings. Latos on the other hand was victimized by a Buster Posey grand slam in what turned out to be a six-run fifth inning for the Giants.
There is a history of bad blood between the Giants and Latos and the Giants were especially fired up after Posey’s big blow, a monster shot to the second deck in left field. The crowd at Great American Ballpark was silent, in shock and were more than likely not believing what they were seeing.
The Reds were able to chip away and pull within two runs in the ninth inning but that was all they could muster. Sergio Romo got Jay Bruce to fly out to Xavier Nady and he struck out poor Scott Rolen to end the game and the series.
The Giants who were waiting in Cincinnati to see who would win the Nationals/Cardinals series flew home to San Francisco to prep for Game One of the National League Championship series which is scheduled for Sunday night.
New York Yankees vs. Baltimore Orioles
And last but not least, the series that took approximately 15 years off my life.
The New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles were evenly matched coming into the series – each team won nine games head to head.
In Game One, the teams were locked in a 2-2 tie from the fourth inning until the ninth inning. Both starting pitchers surrendered those two runs but CC Sabathia pitched until there was one out left in the game, Jason Hammel only lasted 5.2 innings.
In the top of the ninth, Buck Showalter brought his closer into a tie game and it didn’t exactly work out as planned. Russell Martin hit a 2-0 fastball into the leftfield seats to put the Yankees up 3-2. They weren’t done.
Raul Ibanez and Derek Jeter hit back-to-back singles to put runners on first and third with no outs. Eduardo Nunez came in to pinch run for Ibanez and the next batter, Ichiro Suzuki, hit a soft ground ball which was fielded by Johnson. There was no play at home because Nunez scored easily and Ichiro made it to first to put runners on first and second with no outs.
Robinson Cano came up to bat and on an 0-2 four-seam fastball, hit a double into left. Both Jeter and Ichiro scored and Cano advanced to third thanks to a fielding error by J.J. Hardy.
Tommy Hunter came in to replace Johnson and Nick Swisher hit a sacrifice fly to put the Yankees up 7-2.
Sabathia came out for the bottom of the ninth and after getting the first two outs, he gave up a double to Lew Ford. Joe Girardi replaced the big man with David Robertson who got Ryan Flaherty out on a foul tip.
In Game Two, Andy Pettitte started for the Yankees and gave up three runs in seven innings. It was a quality start but he was out-pitched by the Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen pitched 6.1 innings, gave up two runs on eight hits with three strikeouts and Chen’s relievers who only allowed one hit in 2.2 innings to preserve a 3-2 win for the Orioles.
Game Three was a memorable game for more than one reason. Mike Gonzalez started for the Orioles and held the Yankees offense in check. He pitched seven innings, gave up only one run on five hits and struck out eight. Hiroki Kuroda pitched into the ninth inning and made two mistakes which resulted in two solo home runs – one by Manny Machado and the other by Ryan Flaherty. Other than those two blemished, Kuroda only gave up five hits (total) and struck out three.
Memorable moment number one in this game came in the bottom of the ninth with the Yankees down 2-1 with one out. Joe Girardi opted to pinch hit Raul Ibanez for Alex Rodriguez who hadn’t done much of anything in the first three games up to that point. It was a pretty ballsy move by the Yankee manager who is usually teased for his “by the book” way of managing ballgames.
The move, which Girardi called a gut feeling, paid off big time when Ibanez sent a 1-0 fastball into the seats in right centerfield to tie the game at two.
After two scoreless innings by both bullpens, Ibanez came up to lead off the bottom of the twelfth inning and before you could blink he sent a 0-0 slider from Brian Matusz into the second deck in right field to win the game 3-2.
Game Four was another extra inning affair with both teams locked at 1-1 after nine. For the Orioles, starter Joe Saunders held the Yankees to one run in 5.2 innings. Phil Hughes held the Orioles in check for 6.2 innings giving up his one run on four hits.
A combination of seven Orioles relievers held the Yankees scoreless in the final 7.1 innings and for the Yankees, their bad luck break happened in the top of the twelfth when Joba Chamberlain who seems to be a magnet for bad injuries was hit by the fat part of Matt Wieters broken bat. Chamberlain pitched an effective 1-2-3 inning in the 11th and had to be taken out when the bat hit his surgically repaired elbow.
David Phelps replaced him and finished the inning without surrendering a run but wasn’t so lucky in the 13th.
The Orioles scored after a J.J. Hardy scored Manny Machado who led the inning off with a double. It put the Orioles up 3-2, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. It set up, you guessed it, a decisive fifth game.
In Game Five, both starting pitchers were on their game. Jason Hammel had a no-hitter going into the fifth inning and CC Sabathia one hit through seven innings.
The Yankees struck first after Mark Teixeira led off the fifth inning with a single. With Raul Ibanez at the plate and no one holding him on first – because he doesn’t steal bases and because he has a tender calf – Teixeira shocked pretty much everyone who knows the game of baseball, including the Orioles and stole second. That set up a different defensive setup by the Orioles which played right into the Yankees’s hands.
Ibanez smacked a single just past the diving Robert Andino and Teixeira was able to score to put the Yankees up 1-0.
The Orioles nearly answered in the tip half of the sixth when Nate McClouth hit a ball that just missed the right field foul pole. At least it looked it did on the 1500 replays they showed. The Orioles asked for a review and the umps disappeared into the tunnel to look at the play.
When they came back out, they ruled it was a foul ball and Sabathia struck him out on the next pitch to end the inning.
The Yankees struck again in the bottom of the sixth thanks to a Ichiro Suzuki double that scored Derek Jeter to put the Yankees up 2-0.
After another 1-2-3 inning from CC Sabathia in the seventh, the Yankees once again scored. This time it was a solo shot by Curtis Granderson. The Yankees were up 3-0 and with the way Sabathia had been pitching it looked like victory was a sure thing, right?
In the top of the eighth, things got scary for Yankee fans. Sabathia who had been pitching lights out all game, suddenly lost the strikezone. He gave up a single to Wieters, followed that up with a walk to Manny Machado and the Orioles were threatening with two on and no outs.
Sabathia struck out Mark Reynolds for the first out but gave up an RBI single to Lew Ford and Machado scored to make it 3-1 with only one out and two runners on.
Robert Andino hit a ball to no man’s land, Sabathia fielded it but had nowhere to throw and everyone was safe. So with the bases loaded and one out, in steps Nate McClouth who nearly tied up the game in the sixth and who had been victimizing Yankee pitching all series.
Sabathia started the at bat off with a slider for strike out, McClouth fouled off the next pitch for strike two, Sabathia came back with another slider in the dirt for ball two and then got him swinging on another slider for strike three. There were two outs but the Yankees were not out of danger.
J.J. Hardy came up and on a 1-2 pitch, hit a slow ground ball to Derek Jeter who fielded it cleanly and got Hardy out by a step. The inning was over, Sabathia was pumped and I didn’t die of a stroke.
After a quiet bottom of the eighth for the Yankees, Sabathia came back out to pitch the ninth. He got Adam Jones to fly out to left, he struck out Chris Davis swinging and for the final out of the game, induced a soft ground ball from Matt Wieters that he fielded himself and threw to first for the out.
And there’s no rest for the weary – the weary being the Yankees – as they open the American League Championship Series against the Tigers tonight at 8 p.m. in Yankee Stadium.
- All four series lasted until a decisive fifth game. Most in LDS history.
- In the Reds/Giants series, the road team won every game. And the San Francisco Giants were the first team to come back from 0-2 by winning three straight on the road.
- There were walk offs in three of the series.
- In Game Five of the Nationals/Cardinals game, the Cards came back from a 6-0 deficit to win the game 9-7 – it was largest deficit overcome in a winner-take-all game.
- Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia both pitched complete games in their decisive fifth games. First time for two CG in winner-take-all games in the same playoff round
So the big question is, will the League Championship round be even better than the Division Series round? I’m looking forward to finding out.
Stacey Gotsulias is the Lead New York Yankees Writer and Senior MLB Editor for Aerys Sports. She also is a contributor to The Pulse and Around the Horn. You can follow her on Twitter @StaceyGotsulias