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History of MLB tiebreakers

History of MLB tiebreakers

Prior to divisional play, which began in 1969, best-of-three playoff series were used three times to break first-place ties and determine pennant winners in the National League. Here is a look at the history of the unscheduled tiebreakers that were needed to get the postseason show on the road:

2009 - Twins 6, Tigers 5 (12 innings)

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For the third year in a row, the Majors featured a Game 163, and for the second consecutive season, the Twins went down to the wire. But this time around, Minnesota was on the winning side of a thriller, a 7-6 walk-off win over the Tigers that took 12 innings and 4 1/2 hours to complete. Alexi Casilla was the hero, singling to right field to bring home Carlos Gomez from second base to give the Twins their fifth division title in the past eight seasons.

2008 - White Sox 1, Twins 0

Minnesota swept a three-game series from the front-running White Sox during the last week of the season then won game No. 162 over the Royals to force a tiebreaker with Chicago. In the tiebreaker, the Twins got great pitching from starter Nick Blackburn, but the Sox got one big swing from veteran Jim Thome and eight spectacular innings from lefty John Danks en route to a 1-0 win and a trip to the postseason.

2007 - Rockies 9, Padres 8 (13 innings)

In one of the wildest finishes in regular-season history, the Rockies won their last two games, while the Padres lost their last two, giving both clubs identical 89-73 marks. The two clubs then played an epic tiebreaker at Colorado's Coors Field, with the NL Wild Card spot on the line. Scott Hairston's home run in the top of the 13th left the Padres just three outs away from the postseason, but all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman could not seal the deal against the Rockies, who scored three in the 13th to win 9-8.

1999 - Mets 5, Reds 0

Houston captured the NL Central title with a 97-65 record, but there was still a matter of Cincinnati in second at 96-66 -- an identical record to a Mets team that finished behind Atlanta in the East. Game No. 163 was scheduled between the Mets and Reds at Riverfront Stadium, but there was no home-field advantage for Cincinnati. Al Leiter went the distance, pitching a two-hitter, and the Mets won the Wild Card and advanced to the Division Series with a 5-0 victory.

1998 - Cubs 5, Giants 3

Much of the attention in September was on the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who each passed Roger Maris' previous single-season record and went on to finish with 70 and 66 homers, respectively. But Sosa played on that fall, as he and the Cubs beat the Giants, 5-3, in a one-game tiebreaker to win the NL Wild Card. The Giants scored all three of their runs in the top of the ninth, so there was a fleeting concern before any of the 39,556 left Wrigley Field.

1995 - Mariners 9, Angels 1

The Yankees were assured of being the AL Wild Card after the final Sunday, finishing with a 79-65 record. In the AL West, the Mariners and Angels were deadlocked at 78-66, so it was win-or-go-home for the loser of a Monday tiebreaker. It was played at Seattle's Kingdome, where Randy Johnson continued his Cy Young season by allowing just three hits and whiffing 12 in the Mariners' 9-1 victory. Edgar Martinez went 2-for-3 to finish at .356 and win his second batting title. It was game No. 145, instead of No. 163, for those teams, because the start of the season had been delayed by a work stoppage that had carried over from 1994.

1980 - Astros 7, Dodgers 1

It was Nolan Ryan's first year and J.R. Richard's last with the Astros, and Houston celebrated its first-ever division title in the Majors. But it didn't come easily. Los Angeles swept a three-game series from Houston during the final weekend at Dodger Stadium, winning each by a run, to create a first-place tie. That forced the Astros to stay over in LA for a playoff, and they won, 7-1, before falling to eventual NL champion Philadelphia. Long live the rainbow jerseys.

1978 - Yankees 5, Red Sox 4

Just about everyone knows what Bucky Dent did at Fenway Park on Oct. 2 of that season. The Yankees shortstop had batted .140 over his previous 20 games, but he stepped up to the plate and hit a Mike Torrez pitch over the Green Monster for a three-run homer, giving the Yankees a 4-2 lead. New York won, 5-4.

"When I hit the ball, I knew that I had hit it high enough to hit the wall," Dent said. "But there were shadows on the net behind the wall and I didn't see the ball land there. I didn't know I had hit a homer until I saw the umpire at first signaling home run with his hand. I couldn't believe it."

1962 - Giants beat Dodgers in best of three, 2-1

The Dodgers and Giants were in their fifth year on the West Coast and each finished with 101 wins as the NL played a 162-game schedule for the first time. Billy Pierce threw a three-hitter and Willie Mays homered twice for San Francisco in a 8-0 victory at home over Los Angeles in Game 1. At Dodger Stadium, Ron Fairly's sacrifice fly scored Maury Wills to give LA an 8-7 win in a four-hour, 18-minute game that was the longest nine-inning affair in NL history. In Game 3, also at Dodger Stadium, a crowd of 45,693 saw the Giants score four in the top of the ninth to take a 6-4 victory and move on to the World Series, which they would eventually lose to the Yankees in seven.

1959 - Dodgers beat Milwaukee Braves in best of three, 2-1

In a great NL finish, the Dodgers and Milwaukee Braves ended the regular season tied in the NL with 86-68 records, with the Giants a close third at 83-71. A best-of-three was scheduled, and the Dodgers won the opener, 3-2, behind rookie Larry Sherry's 7 2/3 innings of scoreless relief on a chilly Milwaukee Monday. The next day, Los Angeles took the pennant in dramatic style. They rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the ninth to tie it, and then won in the 12th after Felix Mantilla's off-balance throw to first went wild, allowing Gil Hodges to score.

1951 - N.Y. Giants beat Brooklyn Dodgers in best of three, 2-1

The most famous playoff tiebreaker in history. The New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers had identical 96-58 records after the final Sunday, in a time when they played 154-game regular seasons. The first game was scheduled at Ebbets Field, and the second (and third if needed) at the Giants' Polo Grounds.

The Giants won the first game that Monday, the first game ever to be televised live coast-to-coast. In a bit of ominous portent, Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca served up a homer to Bobby Thomson. The Dodgers came back to win big the next day, 10-0. And they seemed to have a World Series date with the Yankees all sewn up when they took a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth.

With two runners on, Branca was back on the mound to face Thomson. Then came the immortal moment, the "Shot Heard 'Round the World." Thomson hit a three-run homer over the left field wall to give the Giants a 5-4 victory, leading to Russ Hodges' fabled radio call: "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"

1948 - Indians 8, Red Sox 3

Cleveland had a chance to clinch on the final day, but the Indians could not solve Detroit's Hal Newhouser. Meanwhile, the Red Sox had overcome four Joe DiMaggio hits to win that day and force a one-game playoff. The game was played at Fenway Park, and the Indians beat Boston, 8-3, behind knuckleballer Gene Bearden's 20th victory of the year. Indians manager-shortstop Lou Boudreau had four hits, including two long balls. Ken Keltner had the big blow, a three-run homer to left that broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth, and Sox manager Joe McCarthy was second-guessed for ignoring his rotation pitchers to go with journeyman Denny Galehouse (8-7).

1946 - Cardinals beat Brooklyn Dodgers in best of three, 2-0

The Cardinals and Dodgers finished with identical 96-58 records, setting up the first-ever best-of-three playoff series. There was an off day first, while the AL-champion Red Sox were tuning up against a team of AL all-stars. The Cardinals won the opener at Ebbets Field, 4-2, behind Joe Garagiola's three hits. Then St. Louis moved on two days later in the same venue, where Murry Dickson allowed just two hits until the last inning during an easy 8-4 victory for the eventual world champions.

1908 - Cubs 4, N.Y. Giants 2

The Giants and Cubs each finished at 98-55, a half-game better than Pittsburgh. It forced a Thursday playoff between the Giants and Cubs at the Polo Grounds, and according to published reports, nearly 250,000 fans showed up. The gates closed at 1:30 for the 3 p.m. game, but fans still tried to storm the gates. Firemen with high-pressure hoses knocked down fans who tried to climb walls. Nearly 40,000 fans watched from Coogan's Bluff, telephone poles and elsewhere, and two fans reportedly died when they fell from a pillar on an elevated subway platform.

It was not just any one-game playoff; it was the result of arguably the most controversial game in Major League history -- the Sept. 23 game between these same clubs that was known for "Merkle's Boner." Fred Merkle, 19 and making his first start of the year for the Giants, was on first base in the bottom of the ninth inning with the score tied at 1-1. Harry McCormick was on third. Al Bridwell singled to score McCormick with what would have been the winning run, but as the crowd stormed the field, Merkle, halfway to second base, suddenly turned for the clubhouse out in center. The run was nullified and the game ended in a tie, taking away a win that would have given the Giants the pennant by one game.

Given a second chance, the Cubs took advantage, beating Christy Mathewson and the Giants, 4-2. And as every Cubs fan knows, it led to what would be the last World Series title in Cubs history, as they beat Detroit in five.

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