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Top Five MLB Play-In Games of My Lifetime: Fan Opinion
With the advent of the new wild card round and the one-game play-in still in discussion, I thought back to the top five play-in games from my lifetime (since 1969). These games counted on the regular seasons as Game 163 (except for 1995) as the teams involved went all-out to make the postseason.
This was Game 145 for each team due to the postponement of Opening Day following the 1994 strike. The Seattle Mariners were six games behind as late as September 12 but overtook the California Angels. The Angles then came back to force the play-in game.
The final score itself (9-1, Mariners) may not merit making the list, but Randy Johnson at his best makes this a game to remember. Johnson pitched a complete game, allowing one run on three hits. The Mariners led 1-0 after five and then broke it open with four runs in each of the 7th and 8th innings. Luis Sojo hit a three-run double in the 7th and scored on an error on the same play. By then, Johnson had the Angels well in hand. This game was a precursor to the Mariner's incredible postseason comeback over the New York Yankees.
The San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies both finished one game out in the N.L. West and had a one-game playoff in Denver for the N.L. Wild Card. A seesaw game through eight innings saw the teams tied at 6-6. In the 13th inning, the Padres scored two on a Brian Giles two-run shot to put the Padres up 8-6. The Rockies tied it on Troy Tulowitzki's double and Matt Holliday's triple, both off the terrific closer Trevor Hoffman. Jamey Carroll then lofted a fly ball to right that set up the play at the plate. Matt Holliday scored on a bang-bang play with the argument over whether or not he touched home plate. He was called safe, and the Rockies won 9-8 and eventually reached the World Series against the Boston Red Sox.
As a Chicago Cubs fan, I could cheat and rate this one higher. The 1998 Cubs and San Francisco Giants finished tied for the N.L. Wild Card and played one game at Wrigley Field. With the game scoreless in the 5th, Cubs third baseman Gary Gaetti homered to put the Cubs in front to stay. The Cubs built a 5-0 lead after eight thanks to Matt Meiske's pinch two run single in the 6th and a wild pitch in the 8th. The Giants rallied for three in the top of the ninth before Rod Beck closed it out to earn his 51st save of the season. The Cubs made the postseason for the first time since 1989 but still did not reach the World Series or even NLCS, breaking our hearts once again.
This 12-inning thriller determined the A.L. Central champion. The Minnesota Twins were three games behind the Detroit Tigers on September 30 but forced the play-in game. Miguel Cabrera's third-inning two-run shot put the Tigers ahead 3-0, but the Twins scored single runs in the third and sixth and then took the lead in the 7th when Orlando Cabrera homered with a man on. Magglio Ordonez's solo shot in the 8th tied it at 4-4. Both teams scored in the 10th. With one out in the bottom of the 10th, Nick Punto lined to left only to have Tiger left fielder Ryan Rayburn throw out Alexi Casilla at the plate for an inning-ending double play. The Twins won it 6-5 when Casilla's walk-off hit scored Carlos Gomez in the 12th.
The best play-in game of my life occurred between the sports world's biggest rivalry. The Yankees were 11.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox at the All-Star break but led by one on September 30. The Red Sox tied it on the final day to force the play-in game in Fenway Park.
Boston led 2-0 after six on a homerun from Carl Yastrzemski and an RBI single from Jim Rice. Then in the 7th, the least likely hero of all, Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent, popped a three-run blast over the Big Green Monster to put the Yankees up 3-2, and they scored one more. Lou Piniella's two great plays in right kept Boston from scoring more. Reggie Jackson socked a lesser-remembered home run in the top of the 8th to give the Yankees an extra run, and they needed it. Boston scored two in the bottom of the 8th to pull to within one at 5-4. Closer Goose Gossage shut the door in the 9th to give Ron Guidry his 25th win and put the Yankees in their third consecutive ALCS and eventual World Series.
I cannot predict if any of the new Wild Card play-in games will match or beat any of these, but I will have fun watching them.
Baseball Reference, Individual Game Box Scores (Linked Above), baseball-reference.com.
Major League Baseball, Regular Season Standings, mlb.mlb.com.
Raymond became a baseball fan at a very young age. He played baseball through high school and soon after became a varsity coach. He currently coaches Little League in Florida. Raymond previously produced radio sports talk shows and hosted a weekly baseball radio call-in show.
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