Pittsburgh Pirates: Going Wild Again


If the Pittsburgh Pirates fail to catch the first place St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central Division before the season ends and take away the division title, the Buccos are headed for a third-straight wild card appearance.

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What that means is Pittsburgh will be faced with yet another one-game playoff to make it into the divisional playoffs. It could in essence be termed a “one-game tie-breaker” which is something that prior to the wild card teams rule, did not happen that often in the history of Major League Baseball.

Before wild card teams were added to the mix, only the winners of each division qualified for the post-season. Of course, a tie for first place in any division meant a one-game tie-breaker to decide who wins the division. If you go back in history even further, prior to 1969 there were no divisions in either the American or National leagues. That year, 1969, the East and West divisions in both leagues began.

Up until 1969, the only one game tie-breakers that took place came at a time when two teams finished with identical records atop their respective leagues. Back then, only two teams advanced to the playoffs and it wasn’t even the playoffs known so well today. Finish first in either the American or National League, and a ticket is punched directly into the World Series. Just two teams alone vying for a world title. Today there are five from each league, eight more than what took place prior to 1969.

So what were some of the true one game tie-breakers in history? Technically and logically 1946’s National League deciding games between the St. Louis Cardinals and Brooklyn dodgers can’t be thrown into that category of one-game playoffs because the teams played a best-of-three series which was won by the Cardinals in two straight.

In 1948 however, the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Redsox finished tied for first in the A.L. so a tiebreaker took place at Fenway Park  and Cleveland prevailed 8-3.

Another three game series took place in 1951 when the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers finished tied for first place in the National League and this one had a historic moment. That came in the decisive third game when the Giants’ Bobby Thomson smashed a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning off of Ralph Branca after Thomson’s team trailed 4-1 heading into the last of that final frame. The four-bagged forever became known as “The shot heard ’round the world.”

For diehard baseball fans and historians alike, they are well versed on play-by-play man Russ Hodges call of that play, which went as:

“There’s a long drive … it’s gonna be, I believe … The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant and they’re goin’ crazy, they’re goin’ crazy! I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! I do not believe it! Bobby Thomson hit a line drive into the lower deck of the left-field stands and this blame place is goin’ crazy! The Giants! Horace Stoneham has got a winner! The Giants won it by a score of 5 to 4, and they’re pickin’ Bobby Thomson up, and carryin’ him off the field!”

Since 1951, all tie-breakers all came down to just one game. It would be 27 years (1976) before another tie breaker was played and that came between the New York Yankees and their top rivals, the Boston Redsox. Finishing in a tie for first place in the A.L. East, the Yanks ousted the Bosox from World Series contention with. 5-4 victory.

Another divisional tie in 1980 between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros resulted in the Astros forging ahead only to lose in the NLCS. There have been three more divisional ties on record, first in 1995 when the Seattle Mariners and California Angels finished knotted up for a first-place tie in the A.L. West. The Mariners crushed the Angels chances to advance with a 9-1 victory.

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  • In 2007, the Colorado Rockies prevailed with a division crown ousting the San Diego Padres in a one-game playoff. Finally, in the last division tie-breaker to take place, the 2009 A.L. Central Division champion Twins had to go to extra innings (12) to take the division away from the Detroit Tigers.

    Even with the addition of wild card teams, tie-breakers can sometimes not be avoided. That was the case in 1998, 1999, 2007, and in 2013. The Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants had to play a one-game playoff to determine the second wild card team in 1998 which became the Cubs via 5-3 victory.

    A year later, the New York Mets knocked off the Cincinnati Reds in a wild-card tie-breaker shutting out Cincy 5-0. In 2007, it was the Colorado Rockies edging the San Diego Padres in extra innings (13) 9-8 as the Rockies would advance to the World Series only to lose.

    Finally, two years ago, the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Texas Rangers 5-2 in yet another wild card one-game playoff to advance to the real wild card game.

    So for the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates, it’s either catch the front-running St. Louis Cardinals, or face a third straight one-game playoff to get a shot at advancing to the National League championship series and get to the World Series. That’s not something they have done in 36 years.

    Next: LISTEN: Talking Pirates stretch run, postseason chances

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