MLB championships cannot be clinched during the Division Series.
Nonetheless, the constant threat of elimination inspires heroic performances and captivating moments. I've ranked the 10 greatest of all time.
The ALDS and NLDS debuted during the strike-shortened 1981 season, reemerged in 1995 and have since been played every October to determine the Championship Series participants.
My objective is to get you hyped for the 2012 matchups.
With any luck, their highlights will stack up to some of these past occurrences.
It just didn't look like the Houston Astros were going to get the job done in front of their home crowd.
They had an opportunity to clinch the 2005 NLDS in Game 4, but fell behind early. A grand slam off the bat of Adam LaRoche put the Atlanta Braves ahead 4-0 in the third inning. By the middle of eighth, the visitors had an insurmountable 6-1 lead...right?
Of course not. Never underestimate the grittiness of a Wild Card!
Houston scored five unanswered runs to force extra innings, and then both sides began throwing up zeroes. Through 15 frames, the teams were still knotted at 6-6 and reliever Dan Wheeler was exhausted after 55 pitches.
With few remaining options, manager Phil Garner had to call upon seven-time Cy Young Award Roger Clemens. The 43-year-old had started a game just three days prior.
The Rocket would make his second career relief appearance—and first since 1984—to hold the Braves at bay. Chris Burke mashed a solo shot in the 18th to end the longest game in MLB postseason history.
Tim Lincecum caught fire down the stretch in 2010, winning five of his six September starts while pitching to a 1.94 ERA.
But his MLB postseason debut trumped them all.
Given a one-run advantage, the Freak was untouchable. His fastball location was impeccable, and batters couldn't lay off his changeups in the dirt.
Lincecum tallied 13 strikeouts through eight and two-third innings with his filthy stuff. All, but two were of the strike-three-swinging variety.
His final victim of the night was Derrek Lee, who came to the plate representing the tying run. The first baseman expected something out of the zone; Linceum instead painted the outside corner at 92 miles per hour.
What an epic ending to the complete-game shutout (video courtesy of MLB.com).
Again, the star of this Division Series moment was in a groove during the preceding weeks.
Tony Womack posted a phenomenal .382/.440/.539 triple-slash line following the 9/11 postponements. His contributions enabled the Arizona Diamondbacks to win 11 of 17 games during that stretch and just barely lock up the NL West title.
Anyway, fast-forward to the ninth inning of the NLDS winner-take-all finale. The teams are even at 1-1 and Womack is agitated after failing to execute a suicide squeeze. As a result, teammate Midre Cummings was caught stealing.
But still, he's up with a runner in scoring position.
Redemption (via MLB.com).
The national media gave Nyjer Morgan opportunities to voice his insanity during a season when his Milwaukee Brewers were dominant and Morgan was personally posting impressive numbers.
The outfielder invented an alter ego named "Tony Plush" and tried to introduce "tickle" into the baseball vernacular, so screaming "F*** yeah!" for millions of viewers to hear was pretty standard behavior for him.
In bringing home the NLDS-clinching run, Morgan propelled the Brew Crew to its first postseason series victory in 29 years.
That single and its expletive-laden reaction will always be linked.
After years of mediocrity, the New York Yankees finally surrounded Don Mattingly with a sufficient supporting cast in 1995.
But at that point, he was already a reduced player. Chronic back injuries had sapped him of his power at the plate and athleticism at first base.
His sixth-inning, go-ahead home run in Game 2 was far above anybody's expectations. It sent 57,000-plus fans into pandemonium and triggered an ovation that broadcaster Gary Thorne prefaced with the famous words, "Hang on to the roof!"
That classic matchup against the Seattle Mariners just kept on giving into the wee hours of the night...
The visitors re-took the lead during the ensuing half-inning, only to give it right back. The contest continued into extra frames.
As Wednesday evening turned into Thursday morning, both teams were anxious to break the gridlock.
Fortunately, Mariano Rivera bought the New York Yankees some time with several innings of containment. Right-hander Tim Belcher aimed to do the same, but he finally wilted the second time through the batting order.
Jim Leyritz became the unlikely hero with a two-run blast. The very next year, he validated his reputation as a great postseason hitter by going deep in the World Series.
The New York Mets ended an 11-year playoff drought when they edged out the Cincinnati Reds for the 1999 National League Wild Card.
All-Star Mike Piazza had been the primary catcher throughout the season. It was assumed that he would be an impact player in October, as well.
However, an injury forced second-stringer Todd Pratt into the starting lineup during the NLDS.
He was hitless in nine plate appearances against Arizona Diamondbacks pitching when Game 4 went into extra innings. But strikeout artist Matt Mantei caught too much of the plate with a belt-high fastball and Pratt launched it beyond the center-field wall.
Click here to relive it (video courtesy of MLB.com).
A sizable chunk of baseball practices are comprised of contingency drills, where players prepare for unlikely situations.
Derek Jeter probably never expected to chase down an errant cut-off throw and make a back-handed flip to his catcher in stride. But when put in those circumstances, he was perfectly composed.
So much was at stake for the New York Yankees. If Jeter was one millisecond off, the run would have scored and the Oakland Athletics may have completed an ALDS sweep.
In reality, Jorge Posada's tag preserved a 1-0 advantage, and the Bombers came back to win the best-of-five set.
MLB.com presents the timeless footage.
Roy Halladay's first-ever postseason start was like a fairy tale—too perfect to be true.
In front of a towel-waving crowd of Philadelphia Phillies fans, Doc manhandled the Cincinnati Reds. He needed 104 pitches (79 strikes) to complete the only no-hitter ever thrown in the National League playoffs.
The last out was so dramatic, too.
Brandon Phillips chopped Hallday's pitch into the infield dirt, and Carlos Ruiz had to drop to his knees to field it. After the necessary throw was made, the battery members engaged in a heart-warming embrace (via MLB.com).
Edgar Martinez amassed more than 800 extra-base hits during his MLB career, but just one had franchise-saving significance.
The historically abysmal Seattle Mariners were already being praised for dragging the New York Yankees to an all-important fifth game. Advancing past them, however, was the sort of unimaginable feat that could electrify the city and stimulate construction of a new baseball stadium.
One last time, MLB.com video paints a prettier scene than I ever could through words.