Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Elimination games in 2011

Carlos Gomez flying around third and sliding into home. Chris Carpenter completely shutting down the heavily favored Phillies. Detroit being completely unimpressed by Yankee mystique. The 2011 postseason was, from start to finish, one of the best in many years. What helped that was that three of the four first-round series went the full five games.

I recently finished a countdown of the best early playoff elimination games, and I feel a divine obligation to add this year's three ALDS Game 5s to the list. Specifically, Milwaukee over Arizona, Detroit over New York, and St. Louis over Philadelphia. The problem is, where? How do I shoehorn three games into a list that's already 31 games long?

First, I ranked the three teams against each other, which was pretty easy to do. Milwaukee beating Arizona was a great game, easily the best of the three. Carpenter's masterpiece over Philadelphia was pretty easy to rank ahead of Detroit's win over the Yankees. So there's the ranking:

1. Milwaukee 3, Arizona 2
2. St. Louis 1, Philadelphia 0
3. Detroit 3, New York 2

Now, where to put them in the list? I decided to answer this question by simply comparing the Milwaukee game against all the top games, in order, until I found a spot where it fit.

Like, the number 1 game, the Shot Heard Round the World. Since Milwaukee's win over Arizona was not the single most memorable game in Major League history, it has to rank below that one. Minnesota-Detroit game 163? Nope, sorry. They both ended the same way - with Gomez flying around third to score the winning run in extra innings - but that Twins game featured so many twists and turns and changes in momentum that the Milwaukee game just doesn't compare.

The Brewers win doesn't quite add up to the Seattle-New York game of '95 or the Colorado-San Diego game of '07, either, again because of the changing fortunes part of it. Sure, there was a blown save in the ninth, but when Arizona didn't take the
lead that inning, it felt - at least to a neutral observer - that it was only a matter of time before Milwaukee finished it off.

But then? I think we found our spot for the Brewers. Sure, Bucky Dent's home run was a famous moment in baseball history, the fact that it happened in the seventh inning gives the Brewers their opening here. The Red Sox had three innings to recover from that disaster, and they almost did. But since the '78 game didn't have the added drama of a sudden death, it wasn't as good as the Brewers win. So the Brewers get ranked fifth. Not too shabby.

So next, Carpenter's 1-0 victory over his good buddy Roy Halladay. On the surface, it looks like it should have been a great game, as 1-0 games have the potential to be. But ... it wasn't. Rafael Furcal led off the game with a triple, scored one batter later, and that was it. The Phillies only challenged once, when Raul Ibanez flew out to deep right with two on in the 4th. After that, nothing. It's telling that if you look at the Win Probability Chart for that game, the biggest play of the game was Furcal's hit. When the game's biggest momentum shift comes on the fourth pitch thrown, you kind of have a dud.

But still, it was 1-0, so those always have a bit of tension. So I decided to rank this one right behind another 1-0 game, the White Sox-Twins Game 163 of 2008. That one actually had big plays that occurred after the first inning, allowing it to stay just barely ahead of the Carpenter-Halladay duel.

So then came the Detroit-Yankees game. After the Tigers took a 3-0 lead, the drama became about whether the Yankees would have enough time to get those runs back. There was plenty of drama in this one, with the Yankees leading the bases loaded twice, including in the seventh when they had cut the score to 3-2.

But, the Yankees never took the lead. In fact, there was never a lead change in this game, as Detroit took the lead in the top of the first. That fact hurts it in these rankings. I decided to rank it 12th, nestled between the Arizona-St. Louis game of 2001 and the Merkle's Boner Cubs-Giants game of 1908.

So, the final list (at least until next year):

1. N.Y. Giants 5, Brooklyn 4 (1951 National League playoff)
2. Minnesota 6, Detroit 5 (2009 AL Central tiebreaker)
3. Seattle 6, N.Y. Yankees 5 (1995 ALDS)
4. Colorado 9, San Diego 8 (2007 NL Wild Card tiebreaker)
5. Milwaukee 3, Arizona 2 (2011 NLDS)
6. N.Y. Yankees 5, Boston 4 (1978 AL East tiebreaker)
7. San Francisco 6, Los Angeles 4 (1962 National League playoff)
8. Chicago 1, Minnesota 0 (2008 AL Central tiebreaker)
9. St. Louis 1, Philadelphia 0 (2011 NLDS)
10. N.Y. Yankees 5, Boston 3 (1949 American League)
11. Arizona 2, St. Louis 1 (2001 NLDS)
12. Detroit 3, New York 2 (2011 ALDS)
13. Chicago 4, New York 2 (1908 National League makeup game)
14. Boston 12, Cleveland 8 (1999 ALDS)
15. Boston 5, Minnesota 3 (1967 American League)
16. Minnesota 5, Oakland 4 (2002 ALDS)
17. Boston 4, Oakland 3 (2003 ALDS)
18. Cleveland 4, N.Y. Yankees 3 (1997 ALDS)
19. L.A. Angels 5, N.Y. Yankees 3 (2005 ALDS)
20. Texas 5, Tampa Bay 1 (2010 ALDS)
21. San Francisco 3, Atlanta 1 (2002 NLDS)
22. N.Y. Yankees 5, Oakland 3 (2001 ALDS)
23. Seattle 3, Cleveland 1 (2001 ALDS)
24. Chicago 5, San Francisco 3 (1998 NL Wild Card tiebreaker)
25. N.Y. Yankees 7, Oakland 5 (2000 ALDS)
26. Los Angeles 4, Houston 0 (1981 NL West Division Series)
27. Montreal 3, Philadelphia 0 (1981 NL East Division Series)
28. N.Y. Yankees 7, Milwaukee 3 (1981 AL East Division Series)
29. Seattle 9, California 1 (1995 AL West tiebreaker)
30. Chicago 5, Atlanta 1 (2003 NLDS)
31. Houston 12, Atlanta 3 (2004 NLDS)
32. N.Y. Mets 5, Cincinnati 0 (1999 NL Wild Card tiebreaker)
33. Cleveland 8, Boston 3 (1948 American League tiebreaker)
34. Houston 7, Los Angeles 1 (1980 NL West tiebreaker)

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