A Brief History of Game 5 showdowns

Rob Carr - Getty Images

For a while we didn't have them and while some want them to go away again, we can't deny there have been some memorable ones.

For the first time since the inception of the League Division Series in 1995, all four match-ups are running to their full complement of five games. We are actually in the midst of a five-game boom period, as three of the four series in 2011 also went the route.

It wasn't always like this, however. In fact, before last season, only one in five best-of-five series were pushed to the limit. Of those, I've selected of some of the most memorable performances. (If you've got a favorite that wasn't cited, mention it in the comments.)

The First One Ends Wildly: Pirates at Reds; October 11, 1972
It wasn't until the fourth season of the two-division format that a League Championship Series was pushed to five games. In fact, only one of the first nine such series even made it to four; losing teams posted a 1-18 record from 1969 to 1971. This game should probably have a higher profile than it does, considering it ended on a wild pitch. The Pirates led 4-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth, but Johnny Bench tied it with a leadoff homer off Dave Giusti, who then surrendered two more singles before being lifted for Bob Moose. He recorded two outs, although George Foster -- pinch running for Tony Perez -- advanced to from second to third on the first one, an extra base that would prove telling. With Hal McRae at the plate, Moose uncorked a wild pitch that sent his Pirates packing.

Now that's Relief: A's at Tigers; October 12, 1972
After the inaugural drought, baseball was treated to two Games 5 in 1972. In this one, Vida Blue relieved Blue Moon Odom to start the sixth inning for the A's, and held the Tigers to three hits over the next four innings to preserve the slim 2-1 lead. Woody Fryman pitched well for Detroit, but was victimized by the baserunning of Reggie Jackson, who stole second and home in the second inning.

Walk it Off: Royals at Yankees; October 14, 1976
New York and Kansas City had battled to a tie after four games, but it looked like the Yankees had gained the upper hand with a 6-3 lead late in the deciding Game 5. But starter Ed Figueroa started to tire and was pulled in favor of Grant Jackson after Al Cowens led off the eighth with a single. Jim Wohlford greeted Jackson with a single before George Brett tied the game with a three-run shot. Mark Littell set down the Yankees in the home eighth after getting the last two batters of the seventh. His effectiveness came to an abrupt halt when Chris Chambliss led off the ninth with a drive that just carried the fence in right center. One hectic trip around the bases later, the Yankees were in the World Series for the first time in 12 years.

One for the Books: Phillies at Astros, October 12, 1980
Until the madness of the Mets-Astros and Red Sox-Angels LCSs of 1986, the Phillies-Astros series of 1980 was generally considered to be the best example of LCS-ness. Every contest was tight; Game 1 had ended with the tying run at the plate and the next three all went to extra innings. Game 5 went above and beyond, though, with three lead changes and an Astros rally in the bottom of the eighth to make it 7-7. The Phillies had the go-ahead runs on in the ninth, but couldn't plate them, guaranteeing a fourth straight trip to extra innings. Del Unser and Gary Maddox then hit doubles in the tenth off Frank LaCorte to close the deal.

The Collapse within the Collapse: Cubs at Padres; October 7, 1984
Making their first postseason appearance since 1945, the Cubs raced out to a 2-0 lead against the Padres, who were making their first postseason appearance period. The 13-0 Game 1 victory seemed like a harbinger that the great Chicago drought was over. But when Steve Garvey hit a walk-off home run to end Game Four, the Padres had brought things even. Still, the Cubs were looking great in Game 5. They got off to a 3-0 start after two innings on the backs of home runs by Leon Durham and Jody Davis. Their ace, Rick Sutcliffe, was cruising through five. It all came undone soon thereafter, though, as the Padres got two runs on sac flies in the sixth and took the lead with four more in the seventh, with Leon Durham's through-the-wickets play providing the visual in the collective memory of a generation of frustrated Cubs fans.

A Real Barn Burner: Yankees at Mariners; October 8, 1995
After a decade hiatus, the best-of-five format returned to baseball with the advent of the League Division Series. Three of the four Division Series that year went three or four games, but the fourth one -- featuring the Yankees' return to the postseason for the first time since 1981, and the Mariners' playoff debut -- delivered all the goods. Each game had something to recommend it. There was a 15-inning tilt in Game 2 and lots of runs and opportunities for the cognoscenti. Down 4-2 in the home eighth, the Mariners evened the score on Ken Griffey, Jr.'s homer and a bases-loaded walk to Doug Strange. For the 10th inning, both Buck Showalter and Lou Pinella called on their aces -- Jack McDowell and Randy Johnson -- to pitch relief. It was the Big Unit who flinched first, allowing an RBI single by Randy Velarde before catching Jim Leyritz and Paul O'Neill looking at called third strikes. The M's came right back with singles by Joey Cora and Griffey before Edgar Martinez drove them in with a hit so famous in franchise history it has its own Wikipedia page.

The Best Postseason Relief Performance Ever: Red Sox at Indians; October 11, 1999
For much of their LDS matchup in 1999, Boston and Cleveland beat on each other like two fat men fighting with table legs. The day before, the Red Sox had crunched Cleveland 23-7 after downing them 9-3 the day before that. On their way to a 2-0 lead, the Indians had humbled Boston, 11-1. It was late-20th Century baseball in microcosm. Game 5 was no different. After three innings, the Tribe was up 8-7. Boston tied it 8-8 in the top of the fourth, and manager Jimy Williams summoned Pedro Martinez from the pen. Martinez was coming off one of the best regular-season performances ever, but was hampered by a bad back. In spite of that, he threw six innings of hitless ball, while walking three and striking out six. On the strength of Troy O'Leary's three-run homer, the Red Sox prevailed 12-8. How dominant was he? If he had been the starting pitcher, his Game Score would have been a 77 (see list below).

The Biggest Game 5 Thrashing: Astros at Braves, October 11, 2004
The Astros' 2012 lineup was about as far removed as possible from what they sent up against Jaret Wright and the Braves in this decider eight seasons ago. The first through fifth spots in the Houston order were populated with Hall of Famers and near Hall of Famers: Craig Biggio, Carlos Beltran, Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman and Jeff Kent. They backed the pitching of Roy Oswalt with a 17-hit onslaught. This included two home runs by Beltran (his third and fourth of the series) and one by Bagwell en route to the 12-3 victory.

The Best Game Five Pitching Matchup: Cardinals at Phillies; October 7, 2011
Of the 60-plus Game 5 starts made, only a handful or so have really been off-the-charts great. Last year's Chris Carpenter-Roy Halladay pairing has proven to be the best Game 5 showdown yet, with both pitchers racking up Game Scores that rank among the best Game 5 performances ever. In fact, Carpenter's performance was -- until Justin Verlander shut out the A's Thursday night -- the highest ever, while Halladay's 72 left him just shy of making this list.








Chris Carpenter




3 H, no walks


Cliff Lee




0 walks, 11 Ks


Curt Schilling




9 Ks


Jerry Reuss




beat Nolan Ryan


Fernando Valenzuela




8.2 IP, 3 H, 1 ER


Catfish Hunter




5 H, 1 walk


Steve Rogers




beat Steve Carlton

*1981 strike-year Division Series

Was Cliff Lee more dominant in beating the Rays with 11 strikeouts in 2010? You could argue as much.

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