Friday night is the debut of baseball's new wild card system, with a one-game-and-you're-out scenario. The New York Yankees have almost clinched the American League East, needing one more win or a Baltimore Orioles loss, but if things swing the wrong way for the Yankees, the two teams will meet in Baltimore on Thursday to decide the division --and then the loser would have to play on Friday in the wild card matchup. Previous to this year, of course, the one-game thrillers all took place due to ties. Before 1969, the National League went with a three-game series if the season ended with a tie for first place, while the AL always staged a one-game playoff. New York teams have been involved in four of these suspense-filled games/series, including the first one. The Dodgers have appeared five times total, the most of any team. These all counted as part of the regular season, so they technically weren't playoff games like Friday's games will be. Here's a look at the ones involving New York teams, with a bonus game thrown in for good measure.
The closest the majors came to an extra playoff before the first one in 1946 came in 1908. The New York Giants and Chicago Cubs were battling for first place on Sept. 23, when, at the Polo Grounds, with the game tied at one in the bottom of the ninth, the Giants staged a rally, seemingly winning the game when they managed to score on an Al Bridwell single. But Fred Merkle, the youngest player in the NL at 19, who was on first base, neglected to touch second on the hit, and heads-up Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers alerted the umpires, retrieved the ball (or a ball, as there are varying accounts of whether he had the actual ball or not) and touched second base for the force out, nullifying the run. With bedlam taking place on the field, as fans piled out of the stands, the game was ruled a tie. The two teams finished with identical records, and had to play a makeup game after the final game. On Oct. 8, the Cubs defeated the Giants, 4-2, to win the pennant, and went on to win their last-ever World Series, beating the Detroit Tigers. Fred Merkle received the nickname of "Bonehead," and the play was forever known as Merkle's Boner.
The first actual playoff came in 1946, when the Brooklyn Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals finished the season with 96-58 records. This was the first year when all the players were back from World War II and the last one before integration. There wasn't much drama, though, as the Cardinals won both games handily, by scores of 4-2 and 8-4. Ralph Branca lost the first game at Sportsman's Park, with Howie Pollet going the distance for St. Louis for his 21st win of the season. The offensive star was rookie catcher Joe Garagiola, who had three hits and two RBIs. Brooklyn jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the second game, at Ebbets Field, but the Cardinals scored the next eight runs before Brooklyn tacked on three in the bottom of the ninth. The Cards went on to defeat the Boston Red Sox in seven games to win the World Series.
Five years later, the Dodgers had to do it all over again, when the Giants won their final seven games and 12 of 13 to force a tie. The Dodgers, who had gone 6-7 down the stretch, won their last game over the Philadelphia Phillies, when Jackie Robinson homered in the 14th inning for the winning run. Both teams finished at 96-58, and it was truly a two-team race with the third-place Cardinals ending the season a distant 15 games behind them. Game 1, on Oct. 1 at Ebbets Field, featured a little foreshadowing in the Giants' 3-1 win. After Andy Pafko gave Brooklyn a 1-0 lead in the second with a home run, Bobby Thomson belted a two-run homer off Ralph Branca for all the runs the Giants would need. Hall of Famer Monte Irvin added a solo home run off Branca in the eighth to finish the scoring. The following day, at the Polo Grounds, the Dodgers recovered, and trounced the Giants, 10-0. Clem Labine threw a complete-game shutout while three Giant pitchers were shelled. Robinson and Pafko homered as did future Met manager Gil Hodges and his future pitching coach, Rube Walker, who had three hits in the game.
Game 3, played at the Polo Grounds, is, of course, one of the most famous games in baseball history. The Dodgers scored first on a first-inning RBI single by Robinson. The Giants tied the game in the seventh on Thomson's sacrifice fly before Brooklyn took a commanding 4-1 lead in the eighth. Shortstop Alvin Dark led off the bottom of the ninth with a single. Don Mueller followed with another single. Irvin popped out to first. Whitely Lockman then doubled, scoring Dark and moving Mueller to third (though he was injured sliding into third and had to leave the game). Branca, who had thrown eight innings just two days before, then replaced Don Newcombe (who was pitching on three days rest after going the distance in the win over the Phillies). Thomson came to the plate, and we know the rest -- "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" The Giants, though, lost to the Yankees in the World Series.
Though the Dodgers and Giants would appear in tiebreakers after moving to California (with the Giants again defeating the Dodgers, in 1962), it wasn't until 1978, when the Yankees and Red Sox had to play a sudden-death game, that a New York team made another appearance. The Yankees stormed back from a 14-game deficit to finish at 99-63. Largely forgotten, though, is the Red Sox own strong finish, winning their last eight games, including the season finale when Luis Tiant threw a complete-game shutout against the Toronto Blue Jays (the Yanks lost, 9-2, to the Cleveland Indians in their last game). On Oct. 2, 1978, Carl Yastrzemski opened up the scoring with a second-inning home run off of Ron Guidry. Jim Rice drove in Rick Burleson in the sixth to give the Sox a 2-0 lead. In the seventh inning, setting the stage for Bucky Dent's dramatics, Chris Chambliss singled with one out, Roy White followed with a single and Jim Spencer (batting for Brian Doyle) flied out to left. Dent came to the plate, and fouled a ball off his foot. While he was being attended to, Mickey Rivers slipped the shortstop another bat, and when he connected off former Yankee Mike Torrez, he became Bucky "Bleepin'" Dent. The Yankees added another run when Mickey Rivers singled and stole second before Thurman Munson doubled him home. Reggie Jackson actually drove in the winning run in the eighth with a solo shot, as the Red Sox scored two runs off Goose Gossage in the bottom of the ninth -- though Lou Piniella possibly saved the game with his sun-blinded stop of a Jerry Remy hit, holding it to a single and keeping Burleson from going to third or even scoring. Yaz made the final out by popping out to Graig Nettles. The Yankees kept on winning, of course, beating the Kansas City Royals and Dodgers for their second straight World Championship.
The New York Mets finally got involved in 1999. They beat the Pittsburgh Pirates on the last day of the season, when Melvin Mora scored on a Brad Clontz wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth. The Cincinnati Reds defeated the Milwaukee Brewers, 7-1, later that day to force a one-game playoff, at Cinergy Field, on Oct. 4. Rickey Henderson led off the game with a single, and Edgardo Alfonzo followed with a home run off of Steve Parris. The game was pretty much over right then and there. The Mets added three more runs, on a bases-loaded Robin Ventura walk, a Henderson home run and another RBI by Alfonzo when he plated Rey Ordonez with a double. Al Leiter took care of the rest, with a complete-game, two-hit shutout, striking out seven and walking four, in the 5-0 victory. The Mets defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS, thanks to Todd Pratt's dramatic home run, but they were foiled by the Atlanta Braves in the memorable NLCS.