Famous Last Words: Baseball's Memorable Game 162s In The Wild Card Era

Matt Holliday of the Colorado Rockies dives home with the winning run on a base hit by Jamey Carroll as Michael Barrett of the San Diego Padres tries to control the ball at Coors Field in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Padres 9-8 in 13 innings.

It's the last day of the 2011 regular season and four teams are still in contention for two wild-card spots. In fact, both leagues have two teams tied for the top spot, which means the season could end today ... or, we could be faced with wild-card tiebreaking games in both the American and National Leagues on Thursday, before the Division Series begin on Friday.

It's so close between the Red Sox and Rays and Braves and Cardinals that all four teams might finish their schedules with the same 90-72 record; it will happen if Boston and Tampa Bay both lose Wednesday, and St. Louis and Atlanta would win.

In the wild-card era -- since 1995 -- there have been six tiebreaker games to decide wild-card berths or division titles, including three consecutive seasons with one from 2007-2009. All three of those games were decided by one run, two in extra innings.

But how did those teams get there? And what other Game 162s have decided playoff spots?

Here's a brief rundown of some of those games.

1995: You're likely familiar with the famous late-season run by the Mariners (and concurrent late-season collapse by the Angels) that resulted in the Oct. 2, 1995 game in Seattle won by Randy Johnson and the Mariners. But just one day before that, on Oct. 1, 1995 in Denver, the Rockies hung on for a 10-9 win over the Giants, clinching the NL wild card by one game over the Astros, who won that day at Wrigley Field. Had the Rockies lost, a tiebreaker would have been necessary in the NL as well as the AL.

1996: The Padres and Dodgers came into the last day of the season tied for the NL West lead at 90-71, and faced each other. The game went into extra innings scoreless before Chris Gwynn doubled in two runs off Chan Ho Park in the top of the 11th for a 2-0 Padres victory which clinched the divison title.

1998: The NL wild-card race had no more than one game separating the top two teams for the season's last 45 days. On the final day of the regular season, the Cubs lost 4-3 to the Astros in 11 innings, giving the Giants the chance to win the wild card outright with a win in Colorado. But Neifi Perez of the Rockies -- who later played for both the Cubs and Giants -- hit a walkoff homer, forcing a tiebreaker game at Wrigley Field and leading to the bizarre sight of literally hundreds of people running down the street near Wrigley to line up to buy tickets for the tiebreaker.

1999: The Reds and Mets entered the season's final day tied for the wild card at 95-66, after Cincinnati had lost three straight. The Mets won their last game, meaning the Reds would have to win to force a tie; Cincinnati was in Milwaukee to face the Brewers in a game that was supposed to have a 1 p.m. Central start on Sunday, Oct. 3. It rained... and rained... and rained. At one point MLB was contemplating flying the Reds, Brewers and Mets to Cincinnati, where the Reds and Brewers would make up their game on Monday afternoon; if the Reds won, they'd then play the Mets in the tiebreaker that night. It never did quite stop raining, but they finally began play in 45-degree temperatures after a rain delay of almost eight hours; the Reds won 7-1, forcing the tiebreaker on Monday, which the Mets won 5-0.

2006: The Cardinals, seemingly in control of the NL Central, led by seven games with 13 remaining. They promptly lost eight in a row. After righting their ship a bit by defeating the Brewers twice, the Astros still had a chance to tie them going into the season's final day. The Cardinals lost their final regular-season game on Oct. 1 to Milwaukee and awaited the result of Houston's game at Atlanta. Had the Astros won, it would have forced the Cardinals to fly to San Francisco to make up a rainout against the Giants; if they had then lost that game, it would have forced a tiebreaker with Houston. But the Braves defeated the Astros 3-1, clinching the NL Central for the Cardinals -- who went on to win the World Series.

2007: The Padres lost their final two regular-season games in Milwaukee, forcing a tiebreaker with the Rockies for the NL wild card, when a win in either of those games would have sent San Diego to the postseason. That included this loss on Sept. 29, with the Padres literally one strike away from going to the playoffs before Tony Gwynn Jr. -- son of the Padres' Hall of Famer -- tied up the game with a triple off Trevor Hoffman. The Brewers won in 11 innings; the Padres eventually lost an excruciatingly exciting tiebreaker to Colorado in 13 innings (although the Padres are still waiting for Matt Holliday to touch the plate).

2008: The White Sox had to win three straight elimination games against three different teams to make the playoffs; a loss in any one of them would have sent them home for the winter. First, they defeated the Indians 5-1 on the last day of the regular season to necessitate the make up a rained-out game against the Tigers the next day. They won that one, too, 8-2, forcing a tiebreaker with the Twins. They won the AL Central by defeating the Twins 1-0, the only run scoring on a Jim Thome home run and the game ending on a spectacular diving catch by center fielder Brian Anderson of  Alexi Casilla's sinking liner.

Do we have excitement like that waiting for us tonight -- or even tomorrow? There are four meaningful games on the last day of the regular season beginning at roughly the same time Wednesday night. We don't get that very often; it'll surely create some moments like these that will last in baseball lore forever.

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