Quick trivia: When was the first Division Series ever played in Major League Baseball? For those who said 1995, well, you’re wrong. The history of the Division Series actually began due to a player strike in 1981. The two teams with the best record in the first half played the teams with the best record in the second half, allowing eight total teams to have a shot at the World Series. It was played as a best-of-five, in the AL, the New York Yankees beat the Milwaukee Brewers in a 3-2 series and Oakland A’s defeated the Kansas City Royals in a sweep. The National League featured the Montreal Expos vs. Philadelphia Phillies and the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Houston Astros, both series ending in a fifth game. After 1981, the Division Series took a 14 year break until returning in 1995 mostly as a way to regain fans after the strike.
Since its reinvention, the NL Division Series has ended in a sweep 15 times and a game five only four times. In the AL, only seven sweeps and nine game fives. After seeing the St. Louis Cardinals be the first team to be swept in 2009, we take a look at the best of the Division Series since 1995.
1995 ALDS, Seattle Mariners vs. New York Yankees:
The first year may have been the best for the ALDS, especially the Seattle Mariners vs. New York Yankees series. The Yankees went up 2-0 in the series after a 15 inning 7-5 win, in a game which took over five hours to complete. The Yankees traveled to the Kingdome looking to close things out, but after Randy Johnson won game 3, Edgar Martinez took over game 4 hitting two home runs including a grand slam off Yankee closer John Wetteland in the 8th inning to seal victory for the Mariners. The final game of this series is one of the great games in playoff history. Don Mattingly hit a two-run double in the 6th to put the Yankees up 4-2, but Seattle came back in the 8th again off a Ken Griffey Jr. home run (his fifth of the series) and a bases-loaded walk by David Cone. The game went to 11, where Edgar Martinez had a walk-off, series-winning double.
2001 NLDS, St. Louis Cardinals vs. Arizona Diamondbacks:
In 2001, there was no stopping Curt Schilling. In game 1, both pitchers went the distance including a three-hit shutout by Schilling. The only run scored was a Steve Finley single to score catcher Damian Miller. Game two, Woody Williams outpitched Randy Johnson with help from then-rookie Albert Pujols’s first playoff home run. The series went back to St. Louis, where Craig Counsell played hero, hitting a three-run home run in the 7th inning to eventually put Arizona up 2-1 in the series. In game 4, Bud Smith dominated the D’backs in route to a 4-1 win. It came down to game five, Matt Morris vs. Curt Schilling. The two pitchers were dominating again, allowing just one run each through eight innings. In the 9th, soft-hitting second baseman Tony Womack came up with the walk-off single scoring Danny Bautista to win the game for Arizona.
2001 ALDS, New York Yankees vs. Oakland A’s:
After taking a 2-0 lead in the series, the A’s were going home with it all but wrapped up. But, to quote a great sports writer who will remain nameless (who is not a Yankee fan) “never bet against the Yankees.” Game 3 defined pitcher’s duel. Yankee ace Mike Mussina took on lefty Barry Zito in a game that would only see eight total hits, only two of which were by the Yankees. But, because of a Jorge Posada solo home run and Derek Jeter making “the flip,” one of the wildest plays in playoff history. The Yankees won game three 1-0 and had the momentum. Game 4 was a wash, 9-2 Yankee blowout, but game five featured three A’s errors, a David Justice home run and another wild play by Jeter. The game stood at 5-3 in the 6th, then the Yankee bullpen took over and Mariano Rivera got his second save of the series.
2003 NLDS, Chicago Cubs vs. Atlanta Braves:
Sure, the 2003 playoffs will always be remembered by Cubs fans as the “Steve Bartman Playoffs,” but they must not forget one of the greatest Division Series ever. In this five-game series, only one game was separated by more than two runs and no team scored more than six the entire series. The series opened with pitcher Kerry Wood doing as much damage with his fastball as he did to Russ Ortiz’s. Wood hit a two-run double with two outs in the 6th inning to put the Cubs ahead for good. Game 2 Braves closer John Smoltz got the win after Mark DeRosa hit a two-run double to put the Braves ahead for good in a 5-3 win. Game three, Mark Prior pitched a legendary game allowing just two hits as the Cubs took advantage of four Braves errors in their 3-1 win. Up 2-1 in the series, the bats awoke for two stars. Chipper Jones of the Braves and Eric Karros of the Cubs both hit two home runs, but Chipper’s were both two-run home runs as the Braves tied the series. Game 5 was Kerry Wood time again and there was no need for Wood’s bat this time, he shut down the Cubs allowing just one run. This victory was the first playoff series victory since 1908 for the Chicago Cubs.
OTHER NEWS FROM THE BUSINESS OF SPORTS NETWORK
(THE BIZ OF FOOTBALL)
(THE BIZ OF HOCKEY)
(THE BIZ OF BASKETBALL)
Matthew Coller is staff member of the Business of Sports Network and is a freelance writer. He can be followed on Twitter
Follow The Biz of Baseballl on Twitter
Follow the Business of Sports Network on Facebook