Giants, Athletics can make postseason history Thursday

Ezra Shaw - Getty Images

Just seven teams in major-league history have won a five-game playoff series after losing the first two games. Two teams could add their names to that short list this year.

The Athletics and Giants dropped the first two games of their five-game division series; the A's on the road, the Giants at home.

Yet, these two Bay Area teams have something in common beyond their home location. They both have a chance to do something that's been done just seven previous times in baseball history -- to come back and win their five-game series after being down two games to none, one game from elimination.

Not all of these seven occurrences were in what we now know as the Division Series. Nevertheless, here's a quick rundown of the seven teams that had to win three straight games to advance to the next round of the postseason.

1981, Dodgers over Astros. This series was called a "Division Series", but that comes with an asterisk (as the 1987 Elias Baseball Analyst stated: "1981 always has an asterisk next to it.") Due to the strike that year, an extra round of playoffs was created, pitting the "first-half winner" (created when the strike happened) against the "second-half winner". In the National League, that cut out the teams that had the best overall records in each division, the Reds and Cardinals, because they didn't win either half. Instead, the Astros and Dodgers met one "Division Series", which was played in the 2-3 format also being used in 2012. Houston took a two-games-to-none lead by winning its home games, but managed just two runs in three games at Dodger Stadium; the hosts won three straight to advance to the NLCS.

1982, Brewers over Angels. Before 1985, the league championship series were best-of-five, and again, the home team won the first four games, the Angels taking a 2-0 series lead in Anaheim. The Brewers tied the series in Milwaukee, and the Angels had their shot at winning Game 5; they had a 3-2 lead going into the bottom of the seventh inning, when a two-run single by Cecil Cooper gave Milwaukee a 4-3 lead, which they held for the series victory and a berth in the World Series.

1984, Padres over Cubs. This is, as you can imagine, a difficult one for this Cubs fan to write. The Cubs crushed the Padres 13-0 in Game 1 and also won Game 2 at Wrigley Field. But San Diego came back to win three straight at home; the key blows were a walkoff homer by Steve Garvey in Game 4 and a ball that went under Leon Durham's allegedly Gatorade-soaked glove in Game 5. This was the last five-game NLCS.

1995, Mariners over Yankees. In the first year the current version of the division series was played, Seattle gave us one for the memory books. After dropping the first two games at Yankee Stadium (including a 15-inning marathon in Game 2), the Mariners won three straight at the Kingdome. In Game 5, the Yankees scored a run in the top of the 11th inning to take a 5-4 lead; three outs and they'd move to the ALCS. But the Mariners began the bottom of the inning with two singles off Jack McDowell, and Edgar Martinez's double scored the tying and winning runs. Ken Griffey Jr.'s slide across the plate with the game-winner is one of the indelible images of his career, and of Mariners history.

1999, Red Sox over Indians. Cleveland seemed headed to its third straight appearance in the ALCS, but Tribe pitchers forgot how to get outs in the last three games, during which the Red Sox scored nine (Game 3), 23 (Game 4) and 12 (Game 5) runs to advance. The 23 runs in Game 4 is the most scored in any postseason game.

2001, Yankees over Athletics. The highlight you see almost every time Derek Jeter's fielding is mentioned is his relay throw that nailed the A's Jeremy Giambi at the plate in the seventh inning of Game 3, which preserved a 1-0 Yankees lead. They hung on to win that game by that score, then crushed the A's 9-2 in Oakland in Game 4, and won Game 5 back at Yankee Stadium to continue to the ALCS.

2003, Red Sox over Athletics. The A's became the only team to twice lose a five-game series in which they needed just one more win to take the series. This one was perhaps the most painful; Oakland lost in extra innings in Game 3, and had the bases loaded with two out in the ninth inning in Game 5, with a chance to tie or win the game, when Derek Lowe struck out Terence Long to give Boston a 4-3 victory and the series win.

So it would be a measure of revenge for the A's to win a series in this way, which they have a chance to do Thursday. The Giants have the tougher task, sweeping three straight on the road, and if they do it they'll become the first National League team to do it in the wild-card era. But both teams still have a shot at it, nine years after the last time it happened.

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