The 25 Greatest League Division Series Ever

Doug MeadCorrespondent IOctober 3, 2012

The 25 Greatest League Division Series Ever

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    Starting this Saturday, Major League Baseball's League Division Series will get started, marking the 18th year of baseball's expanded playoff structure.

    This year brings a different twist. With the addition of another wild-card team for each league, a one-game Wild Card Round has been added. In addition, the format for the LDS changes for this year only as well. The lower-seeded team will host the first two games before traveling to play as many as three games on the road.

    The League Division Series has been packed with excitement during its previous 17 seasons, as the introduction of the wild card in 1995 added a new element to the postseason. In fact, five wild-card teams have gone on to win a World Series championship.

    As fans everywhere wait for the regular season to wind down and for playoff baseball to begin, we will go back and take a look at 25 of the most memorable League Division Series matchups in history.

1. 1999: New York Mets vs. Arizona Diamondbacks

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    The Arizona Diamondbacks began play as an expansion team in the National League in 1998, winning only 65 games in their first season.

    The following year, the Diamondbacks stunned the baseball world by winning 100 games and capturing the NL West Division title in just their second year of existence.

    Led by the arm of Randy Johnson and the bats of Luis Gonzalez, Steve Finley, Jay Bell and Matt Williams, the Diamondbacks matched up against the New York Mets in the NLDS.

    Game 1 was highlighted by a controversial move by Diamondbacks manager Buck Showalter. With the score tied at 4-4 heading into the ninth inning, Showalter allowed starter Johnson to stay in the game. Johnson promptly gave up two singles and a walk, loading the bases.

    Reliever Bobby Chouinard replaced Johnson. After recording the second out of the inning, Chouinard gave up a grand-slam home run to Edgardo Alfonzo—the deciding blow in the Mets' 8-4 victory.

    The D-Backs took Game 2 at Bank One Ballpark, but dropped the third game at Shea Stadium.

    With their backs against the wall, the Diamondbacks sent Brian Anderson to the hill for Game 4, matched up against Al Leiter. The teams battled to a 3-3 tie at the end of regulation.

    In the bottom of the 10th, D-Backs pitcher Matt Mantei was working into his third inning in relief. After retiring Robin Ventura on a fly ball to right field, Mantei served up a nice fat offering for Mets catcher Todd Pratt, who promptly drove the ball into the stands for a game-winning walk-off home run, giving the Mets a 4-3 victory and advancing them to the NLCS.

2. 2000 NLDS: New York Mets vs. San Francisco Giants

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    In 2000, the New York Mets returned to the playoffs as a Wild Card for the second consecutive season, facing the NL West Division champion San Francisco Giants.

    The two teams traded wins at Pacific Bell Park before returning to Shea Stadium for Game 3.

    In an epic battle, the Mets and Giants were tied at 2-2 heading into the bottom of the 13th inning.

    Once again, the Mets prevailed in an extra-inning thriller, as left fielder Benny Agbayani connected on an Aaron Fultz pitch, depositing a solo home run to left-center field to give the Mets a walk-off 3-2 victory.

    Game 4 featured a matchup between right-handers Mark Gardner for the Giants and Bobby Jones for the Mets.

    The Mets got to Gardner early with Robin Ventura's two-run blast in the first inning, giving a Mets an early 2-0 lead. Those would be all the runs Jones would need.

    In a masterful performance, Jones allowed only a leadoff double to Jeff Kent in the fifth inning, hurling a complete-game, one-hit shutout to give the Mets a 4-0 victory and advance to the NLCS for the second straight season.

3. 1996 ALDS: Baltimore Orioles vs. Cleveland Indians

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    In 1996, the Cleveland Indians easily won their second consecutive AL Central Division title. The Baltimore Orioles captured the Wild Card, putting them in the playoffs for the first time since 1983.

    The Indians were heavily favored, coming into the series with a 99-63 record and featuring the bats of Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Albert Belle. The Tribe also featured dangerous leadoff hitter Kenny Lofton, who hit .317 with 75 stolen bases during the regular season.

    The Orioles took advantage of the system at the time that had the lower seed hosting the first two games, winning Games 1 and 2 at Camden Yards.

    With their backs against the wall, the Indians fought back to take Game 3, but were still faced with a do-or-die matchup in Game 4 at Jacobs Field.

    The Indians twice had opportunities to extend the ALDS in the night inning. First, with two outs in the top of the ninth, closer Jose Mesa allowed a single to Roberto Alomar, scoring pinch-runner Manny Alexander with the tying run.

    Then, in the bottom of the ninth, the Tribe had runners on second and third with two outs. However, Orioles reliever Jesse Orosco got Kenny Lofton to strike out, ending the threat.

    The Indians' inability to capitalize would end up biting them. In the top of the 12th inning, Alomar led off with a solo home run. O's closer Randy Myers kept the lead, giving the Orioles an improbable 3-1 ALDS win.

4. 2010 NLDS: Philadelphia Phillies vs. Cincinnati Reds

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    The 2010 NLDS between the Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds featured two division winners going at each other.

    It also featured the playoff debut for Phillies starter Roy Halladay.

    Halladay had a memorable first season in Philadelphia after spending his first 12 years in Toronto. A winner of 21 games with a 2.44 ERA, Halladay also threw the 20th perfect game in history against the Florida Marlins on May 29.

    On Oct. 6, Halladay set out to pitch in his very first postseason game, facing Edinson Volquez for the Reds. The Phillies got to Volquez, torching him for four runs and chasing him in the second inning.

    Meanwhile, Halladay was on top of his game, shutting the Reds down in order through four innings. Halladay issued a walk to Jay Bruce with two outs in the fifth, and that would be the only baserunner for the Reds.

    Halladay threw only the second no-hitter in postseason history, and the Reds simply never recovered. The Phillies swept the Reds to move on to the NLCS.

5. 2002 ALDS: Anaheim Angels vs. New York Yankees

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    In 2002, the Anaheim Angels won 99 games, but still found themselves four games behind the Oakland A's in the AL West Division. Nonetheless, they captured the Wild Card and faced off against the AL defending champion New York Yankees.

    The Yankees won 103 games that year to easily win the AL East by 10.5 games over the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees asserted their dominance right away, defeating the Angels 8-5 to take a 1-0 series lead.

    However, the Angels came back in Game 2. In the top of the eighth inning, Garrett Anderson and Troy Glaus hit back-to-back home runs, giving the Angels the lead for good and tying the series at one game apiece.

    The Angels again came through in the late innings in Game 3. Trailing 6-5, the Angels scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth, highlighted by a two-run homer by right fielder Tim Salmon. Their 8-6 win put the Yankees' backs against the wall.

    Game 4 once again saw the Angels trailing, this time 2-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth. The Angels would open the floodgates, however. By the time all was said and done, the Angels plated eight runs off David Wells, Ramiro Mendoza and Orlando Hernandez.

    The Yankees were unable to answer back, recording only single runs in the sixth, seventh and ninth innings, as the Angels won 9-6 to move on to the ALCS.

6. 2005 NLDS: Houston Astros vs. Atlanta Braves

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    In 2005, the Houston Astros were returning to the playoffs for the second consecutive year as the Wild Card representative in the National League.

    After a thrilling five-game series win over the Atlanta Braves the previous season, the Astros were once again matched up with Atlanta in 2005.

    The two teams would split the first two games at Turner Field before moving to Minute Maid Park in Houston for Game 3. The Astros set the tone early, scoring two runs in the bottom of the first. Houston would then open things up with a four-run seventh, coasting to a 7-3 victory and a 2-1 series lead.

    In Game 4, it looked the Braves would even up the series, up 6-1 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. However, the Astros scored four in the bottom of the frame on a Lance Berkman grand-slam home run to pull within one. And then Houston tied it up in the bottom of the ninth with a two-out solo home run by catcher Brad Ausmus.

    The game would stay tied at 6-6. With the Astros running out of players, manager Phil Garner turned to ace pitcher Roger Clemens to pinch-hit in the bottom of the 15th inning and take the mound in the next frame. Clemens, who was on in relief for only the second time in his career, gave the Astros three scoreless innings.

    Chris Burke finally ended the marathon affair with his solo blast in the bottom of the 18th inning, giving the Astros a 7-6 victory and a second NLDS victory in a row over the Braves.

7. 2003 NLDS: Florida Marlins vs. San Francisco Giants

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    Six years after their first-ever World Series victory, the Florida Marlins were back in the playoffs.

    Immediately following the 1997 World Series championship, the Marlins had been systematically dismantled by owner Wayne Huzienga, selling off just about every major contributor. The Marlins suffered through several losing seasons as a result.

    However, after a sluggish start under manager Jeff Torborg in 2003, he was fired and replaced with Jack McKeon. And under McKeon's guidance, the Marlins were 75-49, qualifying for the postseason as the Wild Card.

    The Marlins would be matched up with the potent San Francisco Giants, winners off 100 games and the NL West Division title.

    The series was memorable for two reasons: The Giants were held without a home run after hitting 180 during the regular season, and it's the only series in postseason history that ended with the potential tying run thrown out at the plate.

    Game 4 came down to the top of the ninth inning with the Marlins clinging to a 7-5 lead. The Giants mounted a rally against closer Ugueth Urbina, with pinch-hitter Neifi Perez leading off with a double and scoring on J.T. Snow's single to right.

    Urbina retired the next two batters before hitting Ray Durham with a pitch. With runners on first and second and two out, Jeffrey Hammonds stroked a single to left field. Snow was waved home on the play, but left fielder Jeff Conine's was on target and on time to catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

    Snow barreled into Rodriguez, but I-Rod hung on, giving the Marlins a 7-6 win and the chance to play the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS.

8. 2002 ALDS: Minnesota Twins vs. Oakland Athletics

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    The 2002 Oakland Athletics were built on the premise of Moneyball—the practice of finding undervalued players by using sabermetric values. General manager Billy Beane was its architect, and by 2002, the A's were in the playoffs for the third consecutive season despite a limited payroll.

    Under manager Art Howe, the A's won 103 games and were set to face the Minnesota Twins, winners of the AL Central Division with a 94-67 mark.

    The two teams split the first four games, each winning one game away from home. The teams then headed back to Oakland for the fifth and deciding game.

    The Twins sent veteran right-hander Brad Radke to the hill, facing 19-game winner Mark Mulder. Radke held tough, allowing only a run on six hits in 6.2 innings. Mulder held up as well, giving up just two runs in his seven innings of work.

    The Twins broke it open in the top of the ninth, courtesy of a two-run homer by catcher A.J. Pierzynski and a run-scoring double by David Ortiz, making the score 5-1. However, the A's weren't about to go quietly.

    In the bottom of the frame, second baseman Mark Ellis made things interesting, launching a three-run homer off Twins closer Eddie Guadardo to get the A's within one. Guadardo shut the door, however, getting Ray Durham to pop up in foul territory to end the season for the A's.

9. 1999 ALDS: Boston Red Sox vs. Cleveland Indians

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    In 1999, the Cleveland Indians once again found themselves in the postseason, still on the hunt for a World Series title with a potent offense.

    The Boston Red Sox, however, had other plans.

    The Red Sox quickly dropped the first two games, managing only three runs combined at Jacobs Field. With the series headed back to Fenway Park, the Red Sox bats came alive, pummeling the Indians 9-3 in Game 3 and then punishing Bartolo Colon and reliever Steve Reed for 15 runs combined on their way to a 23-7 victory.

    With the series tied at two games apiece, the two teams traveled back to Jacobs Field for Game 5.

    Game 5 started as a slugfest as well, with Boston starter Bret Saberhagen and reliever Derek Lowe getting hammered for eight runs in three innings. However, the Red Sox offense was still hot, scoring eight runs of their own in the first four innings.

    Red Sox manager Jimy Williams replaced Lowe with Pedro Martinez, who had left Game 1 with a back issue. Martinez was brilliant, throwing six hitless innings and completely shutting down the Indians' attack.

    Troy O'Leary's three-run homer in the top of the seventh proved to be the difference, as the Sox defeated the Indians 12-8 to move on to the ALCS.

    The three-game collapse by the Indians also spelled the end for manager Mike Hargrove, who was dismissed at the conclusion of the series.

10. 2001 NLDS: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. St. Louis Cardinals

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    The 2001 NLDS between the Arizona Diamondbacks and St. Louis Cardinals promised to be a matchup featuring strong pitching. It didn't disappoint.

    Game 1 turned into a classic pitcher's duel between Curt Schilling and Matt Morris. The Diamondbacks got to Morris in the fifth inning when Steve Finley singled home Damian Miller with the first and only run of the game. Schilling threw a complete-game, three-hit shutout in his first playoff start in eight seasons.

    The Cardinals struck back in Game 2, buoyed by a two-run homer off the bat of rookie Albert Pujols against eventual Cy Young Award winner Randy Johnson.

    The two teams swapped wins at Busch Stadium before returning to Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix for Game 5. Schilling and Morris once again matched up in the deciding game. And Schilling again went the distance, giving up only a solo home run to J.D. Drew.

    However, the game was locked at 1-1 heading to the bottom of the ninth.

    But Tony Womack's series-winning single gave the Diamondbacks a hard-earned 2-1 win and their first postseason series victory in franchise history.

11. 2010 ALDS: Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Rays

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    In the late 1990s, the Texas Rangers won three AL West Division titles under manager Johnny Oates, but failed to get past the ALDS on all three occasions.

    In 2010, the Rangers again won the AL West Division, looking to win their first-ever playoff series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

    The series was indeed odd—it was the first in postseason history that saw the visiting team win every game.

    Game 5 saw the series switch back to Tropicana Field with the Rays hoping to break the above trend. However, Rangers starter Cliff Lee saw to it that the trend would continue.

    Lee was magnificent, allowing only one run on six hits in a dominant complete-game performance to put his Rangers into the ALCS for the first time in team history.

12. 2004 NLDS: Houston Astros vs. Atlanta Braves

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    Prior to 2004, the Houston Astros had been to the playoffs seven times, yet had nothing to show for it. In 2004, they were in search of their first-ever postseason series win.

    On several of their previous trips to the playoffs, the Atlanta Braves had been the ones to eliminate them, and that's who they would face in the 2004 NLDS.

    The teams traded off victories for the first four games and headed back to Turner Field for a deciding fifth game. The Astros took a 3-2 lead into the top of the seventh thanks to two home runs from center fielder Carlos Beltran.

    A five-run seventh, highlighted by a two-run homer from first baseman Jeff Bagwell, put the game away for the Astros, finally winning a playoff series for the first time in 43 years.

13. 2002 NLDS: San Francisco Giants vs. Atlanta Braves

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    In 2002, the San Francisco Giants captured the Wild Card in the National League and moved on to face the Atlanta Braves.

    The Braves were the best team in the National League, winners of 101 games and capturing their 11th consecutive NL East Division title.

    The Braves moved out to a 2-1 series lead and were looking to close things out in Game 4 at Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco. The Giants, however, scored seven runs off of Braves starter Tom Glavine in the first three innings, coasting to an 8-3 victory and knotting the series at two games apiece.

    Game 5 at Turner Field saw both managers go to their bullpens early, doing all they could to silence bats. The Giants scratched a run across in the top of the seventh inning, and the Braves squandered numerous chances, leaving 12 runners on base. The Giants prevailed 3-2 to move on to the NLCS.

14. 2005 ALDS: Los Angeles Angels vs. New York Yankees

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    In 2005, the newly-named Los Angeles Angels were back in the postseason for the third time in four seasons, this time taking on the AL East Division champion New York Yankees.

    The teams were tied at two games apiece with Game 5 at Angel Stadium. Mike Mussina was on the hill for the Yankees.

    In the bottom of the second, with the Yankees ahead 2-0, Mussina gave up a leadoff homer to Garret Anderson.

    Mussina was in trouble with two outs and two runners aboard later in the inning when second baseman Adam Kennedy lifted a fly ball deep to right-center field. Bubba Crosby and Gary Sheffield collided at the wall with the ball caroming away. Kennedy made it all the way to third, plating both runners for a 3-2 lead.

    Mussina gave up two more runs in the bottom of the third before being lifted for Randy Johnson. Johnson kept the Angels off the board for 4.1 innings, but the damage was done—the Angels had a 5-3 victory and a berth in the ALCS.

15. 2011 ALDS: Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees

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    The 2011 ALDS between the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers saw a suspended Game 1 that significantly altered the way both managers would use their starting rotations for the rest of the series.

    Game 1 promised to be a thriller, with eventual Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander facing off against ace Yankees hurler CC Sabathia.

    Both teams plated a run in the first inning before rain suspended play, with the game to be resumed the following evening. The rainout rendered both Verlander and Sabathia unavailable the following day. In their place, Doug Fister and Ivan Nova, both scheduled to start Game 2, came in on relief in the resumption of Game 1.

    Nova would have the upper hand, pitching 6.1 innings of relief, allowing only two runs on four hits to power the Yankees to a 9-3 win.

    Verlander and Sabathia would match up again in Game 3, with Verlander coming out on top to give the Tigers a 2-1 series lead.

    The following night, with their backs against the wall, the Yankees turned to beleaguered starter A.J. Burnett in Game 4. Burnett worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the first to give the Yankees a solid start, allowing only one run on four hits as the Yankees evened the series with an easy 10-1 victory.

    Game 5 came down to Fister and Nova again in a rematch of the resumption of Game 1. This time, Nova wasn't sharp and was pulled in the second inning with forearm tightness. The Yankees were forced to send in CC Sabathia in relief in the fifth inning, the first time Sabathia had ever pitched out of the bullpen in his career.

    Sabathia allowed a single to Victor Martinez to drive in Austin Jackson with Detroit's third run of the game. But it would prove the be the game-winner, as the Tigers bullpen held on to preserve a 3-2 win and a 3-2 series victory.

16. 2011 NLDS: Milwaukee Brewers vs. Arizona Diamondbacks

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    The 2011 NLDS matchup between the Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks featured teams who feasted on home cooking.

    The Brewers won the first two games at Miller Park, and the Diamondbacks followed suit, winning two elimination games at Chase Field.

    Game 5 returned to Miller Park, and nine innings just weren't enough to decide things.

    In the bottom of the 10th inning, Diamondbacks closer J.J. Putz came on in relief and got Craig Counsell to fly out to right field for the first out. Center fielder Carlos Gomez then singled and stole second base. Right fielder Nyjer Morgan singled up the middle, scoring Gomez with the winning run and sending the Diamondbacks home.

17. 2003 NLDS: Chicago Cubs vs. Atlanta Braves

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    By the end of the 2003 season, the Atlanta Braves had secured their 13th consecutive NL East Division title. The Chicago Cubs won a division title for the first time since 1989.

    The Braves were the clear favorites, having won 101 games during the regular season and coasting to the finish with a 10-game lead over the Florida Marlins.

    However, while the Braves were expected to win with a potent starting rotation, it was the Cubs who shined on the mound.

    Kerry Wood and Mark Prior delivered for the Cubs, with Wood winning Games 1 and 5 to register an upset over the Braves, moving on to face the Marlins in the NLCS.

18. 2007 NLDS Colorado Rockies vs. Philadelphia Phillies

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    On Sept. 15, 2007, the Colorado Rockies were seemingly out of contention for the playoffs, having lost to the Florida Marlins 10-2, dropping their record to 76-72.

    But no one told the Rockies their season was over.

    They won 13 of their last 14 games to tie the San Diego Padres for the National League Wild Card slot and then beat the Padres in the 13th inning of a play-in game in dramatic fashion.

    The Rockies then moved on to face the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS.

    At that point, no one was going to deny the Rockies. They swept the favored Phillies with solid starting pitching and three consecutive saves from closer Manny Corpas to move on and face the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLCS.

19. 2001 ALDS: New York Yankees vs. Oakland Athletics

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    In 2001, the New York Yankees were headed back to the postseason once again in search of their fourth straight World Series championship. The upstart Oakland A's were looking to dethrone them.

    It certainly looked like the A's would do just, taking the first two games of the series at Yankee Stadium.

    Heading back to Oakland, the A's turned to lefty Barry Zito to close things out.

    Zito certainly pitched well enough to win, with the Yankees scratching only one run across in the fifth inning.

    The A's threatened in the bottom of the seventh—but the controversial play then happened.

    Shortstop Derek Jeter's shovel pass to catcher Jorge Posada to nip Giambi at home was replayed for all the world to see for weeks on end. That play seemed to deflate the A's, who went on to lose the next two games, sending the Yankees to the ALCS once again.

20. 2001 ALDS: Seattle Mariners vs. Cleveland Indians

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    The 2001 postseason was certainly a thrilling year for divisional playoff series. Three of four LDS matchups went to a fifth and deciding game, including the Seattle Mariners-Cleveland Indians series.

    After an embarrassing 17-2 loss in Game 3, the Mariners found themselves in a deep hole, down 2-1 in the series with Game 4 at Jacobs Field.

    However, the Mariners dug down deep. Freddy Garcia gave the Mariners a solid effort, allowing only two runs on four hits in 6.2 innings. The Mariners mounted a rally in the bottom of the seventh inning to take the lead for good and even the series up at two games apiece.

    Game 5 saw Jamie Moyer on the mound for Seattle. Moyer gave up only one run in six innings, and the Mariners got a key two-run single from Mark McLemore in the bottom of the second inning. The bullpen made those runs stand up, giving Seattle a hard-fought 3-2 series victory and a berth in the ALCS against the New York Yankees.

21. 2007 ALDS: Cleveland Indians vs. New York Yankees

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    The 2007 ALDS between the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees became memorable because of a swarm of bugs that invaded Progressive Field in Game 2.

    The Indians took care of business early in Game 1, pummeling Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang for eight runs on nine hits on their way to an easy 12-3 victory.

    Game 2 became a classic pitcher's duel between the Indians' Fausto Carmona and the Yankees' Andy Pettitte.

    With the Yankees clinging to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the eighth, Joba Chamberlain came on in relief of Pettitte. At the same time, a swarm of insects descended upon the field, especially the area around the pitcher's mound. Chamberlain, clearly bothered by the distracting little pests, threw two wild pitches in the inning, the second one allowing Grady Sizemore to score the tying run, sending the game intro extra innings.

    Travis Hafner finally ended the game in the bottom of the 11th, singling to right field to send Kenny Lofton home with the winning run.

    The Yankees took Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, but the Indians again got to Wang in Game 4, building a 6-1 lead by the fourth inning and coasting to a 6-4 win.

    It was the last game that Joe Torre would manage for the Yankees, moving on the Los Angeles Dodgers the following year.

22. 2003 ALDS: Boston Red Sox vs. Oakland Athletics

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    In 2003, the Boston Red Sox captured the Wild Card and matched up against the AL West Division champion Oakland Athletics.

    The A's made it look like the Red Sox would have a short postseason shelf life, taking the first two games in Oakland.

    However, the Red Sox decided that their shelf expiration was ready to expire quite yet.

    Heading back to Fenway Park, the Red Sox took Games 3 and 4, with right fielder Trot Nixon delivering a key two-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning in Game 3. Game 4 marked the beginning of many clutch postseason hits to be delivered by Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, hitting a key two-run double in the bottom of the eighth inning to give the Sox a 5-4 win.

    In the fifth and deciding game at Network Associates Coliseum, the Red Sox were held scoreless by Barry Zito as the A's took a 1-0 lead into the sixth inning.

    Zito gave up a leadoff homer to catcher Jason Varitek to put the Sox on the board. He then walked Johnny Damon and hit Todd Walker with a pitch, putting runners on first and second with one out. Manny Ramirez then ripped a 2-2 pitch into the seats for a three-run home run, putting the Sox up 4-1.

    The Sox would make the lead stand up, coming all the way back from a 2-0 series deficit and moving on to face the New York Yankees in the ALCS.

23. 2000 ALDS: New York Yankees vs. Oakland Athletics

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    In 2000, the New York Yankees defeated the Oakland Athletics in a thrilling five-game series—and they completed the feat despite one of their best starters losing two games.

    Roger Clemens, 13-8 with a 3.70 ERA during the regular season, lost both Games 1 and 4, giving up 10 runs in 11 innings. Fortunately for Clemens, Andy Pettite and Orlando Hernandez saved the day.

    Pettitte was masterful in Game 2, working into the eighth inning and allowing only five hits. Mariano Rivera recorded a four-out save to preserve the 4-0 victory.

    Game 3 at Yankee Stadium saw Hernandez put forth a solid effort as well, allowing just two runs on four hits in seven innings. Rivera preserved the win once again, this time with a two-inning save.

    After Clemens lost Game 4, the Yankees again turned to Pettitte for Game 5. The Yankees tagged A's starter Gil Heredia and reliever Jeff Tam for six runs in the top of the first inning, giving Pettitte a nice cushion.

    However, Pettitte was not nearly as sharp as he was in Game 2, giving up five runs on 10 hits in just 3.2 innings. But Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson, Hernandez and Rivera combined for 5.1 scoreless innings in relief, giving the Yankees a 7-5 victory and a berth in the ALCS against the Seattle Mariners.

24. 2011 NLDS: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Phillies

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    In 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals won 23 of their last 32 games to overtake the Atlanta Braves for the National League Wild Card.

    The Philadelphia Phillies coasted to their fifth straight NL East Division title by 13 games over the Braves.

    The two teams traded victories through the first four games, leading to an epic pitchers' duel in Game 5 featuring Chris Carpenter for the Cardinals and Roy Halladay for the Phillies.

    Carpenter's two-hit shutout on the final day of the regular season over the Houston Astros had delivered the Cardinals into the postseason—he was more than ready for the challenge.

    The game was absolutely as advertised. Halladay was his typical stubborn self, allowing only one run on six hits through eight innings. But Carpenter was even better, throwing a three-hit, complete-game shutout to eliminate the Phillies. It was the first time in NLDS history a pitcher had thrown a shutout in a deciding game.

25. 1995 ALDS: Seattle Mariners vs. New York Yankees

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    One of the very first League Division Series turned out to be one of the best of all-time.

    The Seattle Mariners needed an extra game just to qualify for the playoffs, beating the then-California Angels 9-1 in a one-game playoff to capture the AL West Division.

    The Mariners then faced the New York Yankees, back in the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.

    The Yankees struck quickly, winning the first two games, the second in a thrilling 15-inning affair.

    With the series headed back to the Kingdome, the Mariners were up against it. They battled back to take Games 3 and 4, setting up a deciding fifth game in Seattle.

    And in Game 5, nine innings wasn't enough to decide things—bonus baseball was needed to decide this one.

    The Yankees capitalized in the top of the 11th inning, with Randy Velarde delivering a run-scoring single to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead.

    But the Mariners struck right back. Joey Cora laid down a perfect drag bunt for a base hit, and Ken Griffey Jr. followed with a single, putting runners on first and second with no one out.

    Designated hitter Edgar Martinez then delivered the biggest hit in franchise history, ripping a double down the left field line. Cora scored easily on the play, and Griffey tore around the bases, scoring on a close play at the plate all the way from first, giving the Mariners a 6-5 win and their first-ever playoff series win.

     

    Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.