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A look at all the tiebreaker games in the divisional play era

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There have been nine, and the Cubs were involved in one.

The Cubs celebrate winning the 1998 tiebreaker game against the Giants
Getty Images

The Cubs/Brewers and Dodgers/Rockies games Monday for the N.L. Central and N.L. West titles, respectively, will be the 10th and 11th single tiebreaker games played since MLB broke into divisions in 1969.

Of the nine previous games, five were for division titles, four for wild-card berths. The Cubs were involved in one of those games, more on that below. The two games today are the first tiebreakers in major-league history where the losers aren’t eliminated from the postseason, as both teams that lose Monday will head to the wild-card game.

Here are the nine previous tiebreaker games in the divisional-play era.

October 1, 1978: Yankees 5, Red Sox 4

The Red Sox had a seven-game lead going into September, and not only blew it but fell as much as 2½ games out of first place. They then won their last eight regular-season games to force the tie.

The Yankees trailed 2-0 going into the seventh, then scored four runs, three of them on this home run by Bucky Dent:

The Yankees would go on to win the World Series over the Dodgers.

October 6, 1980: Astros 7, Dodgers 1

The Astros led the Dodgers by three games with three to go, all three vs. L.A. at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers swept the series to force the tiebreaker game, also played at Dodger Stadium, but Joe Niekro stymied L.A. by throwing a complete game, allowing only six hits and an unearned run.

The Astros lost the NLCS to the Phillies.

October 2, 1995: Mariners 9, Angels 1

The Angels at one point led the A.L. West by 11 games, but then had a nine-game losing streak in mid-September putting them in second place. They had to win their last five regular-season games to tie the Mariners, but Seattle, behind a 12-strikeout performance from Randy Johnson, won the game to win the division for their first postseason appearance.

They won a division series against the Yankees before falling to the Indians in the ALCS.

September 28, 1998: Cubs 5, Giants 3

This is the only tiebreaker game in Cubs franchise history, and they won it thanks to some fine pitching from Steve Trachsel and a two-run homer by Gary Gaetti. The Cubs, pretty much gassed after having spent the final 45 days of the regular season no more than one game behind or ahead in the wild-card race, then got swept in the division series by the Braves.

Here’s the final out of that game (includes Pat Hughes’ radio call):

Joe Carter was the Giants hitter who popped up to Mark Grace to end that game. It was the last at-bat of Carter’s career.

October 4, 1999: Mets 5, Reds 0

This was for the N.L. wild card spot, and the Reds had to win the final regular-season game against the Brewers in Milwaukee to tie the Mets for the berth.

This was pre-Miller Park, and the October 3 Reds/Brewers game at old Milwaukee County Stadium was delayed several hours by rain on a cold, miserable Sunday. At one point they actually considered flying the Reds and Brewers to Cincinnati, playing that game there early Monday, and if the Reds won it, then have them play the Mets in the evening. (Yes, this actually happened, and I know this because I went to that game and that’s what they told fans who were at County Stadium that day.)

The game, a scheduled 1 p.m. start, finally began about 8:30 in the evening. The Reds won it, but exhausted, got shut out by the Mets in the tiebreaker.

The Mets won a division series over the Diamondbacks, but lost in the NLCS to the Braves.

October 1, 2007: Rockies 9, Padres 8 (13 innings)

The Rockies won 14 of their last 15 regular-season games to force the tie with the Padres for the N.L.’s then single wild-card spot.

This game went back-and-forth several times, and the Padres even took a two-run lead in the top of the 13th, but the Rockies came back with three in the bottom of the inning off future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman to win it.

The Padres are still waiting for Matt Holliday to touch the plate.

(Yes, I know Michael Barrett dropped the ball. Still.)

That play prompted the Rockies marketing department to create one of the greatest team promo spots I have ever seen:

The Rockies got to the World Series, where they lost to the Red Sox. That’s one reason this year’s Rockies tiebreaker game is so important to them; the franchise has been in four postseasons and one World Series, all as a wild card. They have never won the N.L. West.

September 30, 2008: White Sox 1, Twins 0

The White Sox had to win two straight games to even force this tie; a loss in either one would have eliminated them. First they had to beat the Indians on the last day of the regular season. Then they had to play a rainout makeup game vs. the Tigers, which they also won to tie the Twins for the A.L. Central title. For that tiebreaker with Minnesota, Sox management asked all fans to wear black in what they called the “blackout game.”

Jim Thome’s sixth-inning home run won the game and the division for the Sox.

The Sox lost their division series to Joe Maddon’s Rays, who eventually got to the World Series.

October 6, 2009: Twins 6, Tigers 5 (12 innings)

The Twins spent exactly seven days in first place in 2009 — three in April, one in May and three in October, after they won their last four regular-season games to force the tie. This game also went back-and-forth; both teams scored in the 10th inning.

The Twins won in the 12th on a single by Alexi Casilla, and eventually lost their division series to the Yankees.

September 30, 2013: Rays 5, Rangers 2

The Rangers won their final five regular-season games to force the tie with the Rays, and the game was in Texas, but Joe Maddon’s club was too much for the tired Rangers. They went out to an early 3-0 lead and coasted to the win, so Joe has experience with these sorts of games.

The Rays defeated the Indians in the A.L. wild-card game, but lost their division series to the Red Sox.

What sort of history will the Cubs, Brewers, Dodgers and Rockies write this afternoon?


Site note: For everyone’s info, today’s game preview will post at 10:30 a.m. CT.