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The Yankees in Double-Elimination: A Brief History

Three of the greatest moments in the last half-century of Yankee baseball came in double-elimination playoff games. Left to right: Chris Chambliss in 1976, Bucky Dent in 1978, Aaron Boone in 2003. (AP)

The Yankees as a franchise are no stranger to double-elimination games such as tonight's decisive Game 5 of the ALDS against the Tigers, though there's more than a few of them they'd rather forget. Among that regrettable group are their two most recent such contests, Game 5 of the 2005 ALDS against the Angels and Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS against the Red Sox. In fact, chances are half of you just stopped reading right there.

The Yankees' double-elimination games range from some of the most famous in baseball history--Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, the one-game playoff in 1978, Game 7 of the 2001 World Series--to some even Yankee fans have likely forgotten about. (Game 5 of the strike-created ALDS against the Brewers in 1981, anyone?) Overall, the Yankees are 12-10 in double-elimination games, including a 5-6 record in the World Series, 3-1 record in the ALCS, and 3-3 record in Division Series play, not counting the one-game playoff in 1978. Here's a quick look at the 12 double-elimination games the Yankees have participated in since the inception of divisional play in 1969:

2005 ALDS, Game 5: Angels 5, Yankees 3

Bartolo Colon blew out his shoulder in the first inning of this one, but Mike Mussina couldn't take advantage, failing to make it out of the third himself. This game is best remembered for a collision in the outfield, or should I say misremembered. Light-hitting Yankee center fielder Bubba Crosby is widely regarded as the goat of this game, but as this excerpt from my Bronx Banter recapillustrates, Adam Kennedy's game-breaking triple would have been an out if Gary Sheffield hadn't gotten in Crosby's way:

That infamous collision: note how Sheffield's wrist is blocking the ball from going into Crosby's glove. (AP)

After striking out Darin Erstad and getting Juan Rivera to pop out, Mussina issued a full-count walk to Steve Finely, putting runners on first and second and setting up the key play in the game.

Adam Kennedy ripped the first pitch he saw from Mussina to the warning track in the gap in right center. As the runners rounded the bases, the Yankee center fielder, Bubba Crosby, and right fielder, Gary Sheffield, converged on the fly. Crosby was approaching the ball head-on, slowing up his pace as he set up beneath it to catch the ball with two hands at the wall. Sheffield was chasing the ball while watching it over his shoulder, eventually making a leaping backhanded stab. As Sheffield lept into the air, he cut in front of Crosby and the ball, as it approached Crosby’s glove deflected off of the wrist of Sheffield’s glove hand.

As the ball rolled away, the two outfielders collided. Fortunately the ball didn’t roll that far away and Crosby, the first to his feet, was able to get the ball back in to hold Kennedy to what was generously ruled a triple, but the two runners had scored, giving the Angels a 3-2 lead they would never relinquish.

Crosby's mistake was not calling for the ball.

Trailing 5-3 in the ninth, Derek Jeter led off with a single off Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez, but Alex Rodriguez followed with a double-play ball that helped seal his reputation as a postseason choker, at least until 2009 rolled around.

2004 ALCS, Game 7: Red Sox 10, Yankees 3

I didn't even have the heart to recap this at my original blog, offering only this rationalization the next day. For those who have forgotten or repressed it, the Red Sox became the first team in baseball history to come back from a 0-3 deficit in a best-of-seven series with this game. Kevin Brown lied to Joe Torre about his health to get the start, was pulled down 2-0 in the second with one out and the bases loaded. Torre inexplicably brought "Home Run" Javy Vazquez in to that situation and the hirsute Johnny Damon sent Vazquez's first pitch into the right-field seats for a game-breaking grand slam. It all goes black after that. I do recall Pedro Martinez asking into the game in the seventh and the Yankees responding to that insult by pushing two runs across in the course of Martinez's first four batters, but that's it. I've already said to much.

2003 ALCS, Game 7: Yankees 6, Red Sox 5 (11 innings)

Calling this "the Aaron Boone Game" omits many great performances. To start, I'm stunned to realize this only went 11 innings. It felt like at least 16, though perhaps that was my visceral reaction to Mariano Rivera throwing three innings and 48 pitches of shutout baseball to get the win (word at the time was he would have kept going if not for Boone's walk-off homer). The much-hyped pitching matchup of Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez went bust with Clemens, but Mike Mussina's Houdini act in the fourth inning followed by two more scoreless innings in the first relief appearance of his career kept the Yankees in the game, and Jason Giambi's two solo home runs off Martinez brought them within striking distance. David Wells gave one back in the eighth, but then came the eighth, Pedro's 100th pitch, the mound visit that cost Grady Little his job, and the three-run Yankee rally that tied the game at 5-5. Then came Mo. Then, three innings later, Boone, a postseason goat up to that point (and again thereafter), who sent Tim Wakefield's first knuckler of the 11th inning in to the left-field seats and the Yankees to the World series.

2001 World Series, Game 7: Diamondbacks 3, Yankees 2

This time the pitching matchup did live up to the hype. Roger Clemens and a pre-Red Sox Curt Schilling held a scoreless tie for five and a half innings before the Diamondbacks broke through with one run in the bottom of the sixth, but the Yankees got that one right back on singles by Jeter, Paul O'Neill, and Tino Martinez in the top of the seventh. Then, in the top of the eight, Alfonso Soriano hit a lead-off home run of Schilling that gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Rivera came on in the bottom of the inning and worked around a two-out single to strikeout the side, but things started to go wrong in the bottom of the ninth. Mark Grace singled. Rivera, trying to strike down pinch-runner Devid Dellucci, bounced his throw past Jeter on Damion Miller's subsequent bunt. Rivera did get Dellucci at third on Jay Bell's subsequent bunt, but Scott Brosius failed to throw to first for a possible double play. Tony Womack followed with a game-tying double that would later secure him a contract to play second base for the 2005 Yankees. Rivera then hit Craig Counsell to put runners on the corners, but rather than play his middle infielders back in the hope of a double play, Joe Torre played his entire infield in and Luis Gonzalez hit a broken bat flair over Jeter's head to score Bell and win the World Series for Arizona.

2001 ALDS, Game 5: Yankees 5, A's 3

Another dud Clemens start in a double-elimination game gave the A's an early 2-0 lead, but the Yankees rallied against Mark Mulder to tie it up in the bottom of the second on a two-run Alfonso Soriano single (people forget how important Soriano was that postseason, he also had a big home run against the 116-win Mariners in the ALCS). The Yankees took the lead on an Eric Chavez error in the bottom of the third, that footage now immortalized in the opening sequence to the film Moneyball, and never looked back. Somewhere in there, Derek Jeter caught a foul ball while falling backwards into the camera well along the third base line of Yankee Stadium, a play I saw live from my single seat in the upper deck over first base. Rivera threw two scoreless innings to nail this one down.

2000 ALDS, Game 5: Yankee 7, A's 5

The Yankees jumped out to a six-run lead on A's starter Gil Heredia in the top of the first inning of this one, aided by Terrence Long's struggles with the late afternoon sun in the Oakland Coliseum's center field, but the A's chipped away against Andy Pettitte, while Kevin Appier helped hold the Yankees in check. Still, Oakland got no closer than the final score, which was set in the fourth inning as Mike Stanton, Jeff, Nelson, Orlando Hernandez, and Mariano Rivera (for five outs), held the A's scoreless for 5 1/3 innings after Pettitte's departure.

1997 ALDS, Game 5: Indians 4, Yankees 3

The Yankees won a tie-breaking Game 3 in this series, but lost Game 4 after Sandy Alomar Jr. hit a game-tying home run off Rivera in the eighth and and Omar Vizquel drove in the winning run against Ramiro Mendoza in the bottom of the ninth. In Game 5, the Indians jumped out to an early lead on Pettitte starting with Manny Ramirez's two-run double in the bottom of the third, and the Yankees never caught up despite bouncing Cleveland's rookie starter Jaret Wright in the sixth. For Yankee fans, this game is perhaps best remembered for Paul O'Neill's frantic dash to second on a two-out double in the ninth. O'Neill was barely safe and nearly overslid the bag, swinging his body around and holding on to the bag with his hands, an easy visual metaphor for the Yankees clinging to their playoff life. Unfortunately Bernie Williams flied out against Jose Mesa on the very next pitch to end the game, series, and season for the Yankees.

1995 ALDS, Game 5: Mariners 6, Yankees 5 (11 innings)

This was the game that saved the Mariners' franchise and built Safeco Field. In their first postseason action since 1981, the Yankees took a 2-0 lead in this series at home, but lost to Randy Johnson in Game 3 and, four batters into the eighth inning of Game 4, lost a 6-6 tie to an Edgar Martinez grand slam off Yankee closer John Wetteland. Game 5, which pit David Cone against Seattle's deadline addition Andy Benes, was a see-saw affair with the Mariners taking a 1-0 lead on a Joey Cora home run in the bottom of the third, the Yankees taking a lead on a two-run O'Neill homer in the top of the fourth, and the Mariners tying it up when former Yankee Jay Buhner drove in future Yankee Tino Martinez in the bottom of the fourth. The Yankees took the lead back in the sixth on a Don Mattingly ground-rule double that would prove to be the last hit of his career, but Cone, his pitch count soaring rapidly, gave those two runs back in the eighth on a Ken Griffey Jr. solo homer, a Buhner single, and a trio of walks, the last of which, to Doug Strange, forced in the tying run on Cone's 147th pitch while Buck Showalter fiddled in the dugout. Mariano Rivera got the last out of that inning before the game was put in the hands of Game 3 loser Jack McDowell. Randy Johnson came on for the Mariners, but the Yankees miraculously pushed across a run against him in the top of the 11th on a Mike Stanley walk, a Tony Fernandez bunt, and a Randy Velarde single. Unfortunately, Showalter, afraid to go back to Wetteland with Martinez due up third in the bottom of the inning, stuck with McDowell. Cora and Griffey singled, and Martinez doubled, scoring both runners and giving the Mariners the game and the series. The first Mariner to pile on Griffey at home plate was a rookie shortstop named Alex Rodriguez.

1981 ALDS, Game 5: Yankees 7, Brewers 3

The first ever division series were played as a result of Major League Baseball's decision to bifurcate the 1981 season as a result of that year's mid-season players' strike. Thus, the first-half AL East champion Yankees took on the second-half AL East champion Brewers. The Yankees took the first two games in Milwaukee, but lost the next two at home. In Game 5, the Brewers took an early 2-0 lead on Ron Guidry, but the Yankees overtook them on back-to-back home runs off Moose Haas by Reggie Jackson and Oscar Gamble in the fourth, and slowly built on their lead from there as Dave Righetti (3 IP, 1 R, and the win in the first relief appearance of his major league career) and Goose Goosage (2 IP, 0 R) combined to nail down the series victory.

1978 AL East Playoff: Yankees 5, Red Sox 4

The Red Sox didn't collapse in 1978, the Yankees came back. Fourteen games out of first place in mid-July, the Yankees went 48-20 (.706) after Bob Lemon replaced Billy Martin as manager in late July, sweeping Boston in a four-game set at Fenway Park in early September by a combined score of 42-9, a series remembered as "The Boston Massacre," to pull in to a tie for first, and winning six of their final seven games. However, they couldn't shake the Sox, who rallied to win their last eight games to force this one-game playoff held at Fenway Park. The Sox scratched out single runs off Guidry in the second and sixth, the first on a Carl Yastrzemski homer, in the top of the seventh, with two on and two out, light-hitting Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent hit a wind-blown fly ball over the Green Monster off former Yankee Mike Torrez for a three-run home run that gave the Yankees the lead. An inning later, Reggie Jackson hit a solo homer off Bob Stanley that proved crucial as Gossage allowed a pair of runs in the eighth, one on a Yastrzemski single. Goose then put the tying run on base in the ninth via a walk, and the winning run on via single to right field by Jerry Remy that, if not for dumb luck, would have gotten by a sun-blinded Lou Piniella. However, Gossage got Jim Rice to fly out and Yaz to pop out to third to deliver the division and a playoff berth to New York.

1977 ALCS, Game 5: Yankees 5, Royals 3

If the Yankees win tonight, it will be just the second time in their history that they lost a tie-breaking Game 3 in a best-of-five series and came back to win the series. This rematch of the 1976 ALCS was the first. Like this year's series, the Yankees split two at home, then two on the road, but unlike this year, Game 5 was an away game for the Bombers. Keyed by a George Brett triple, the Royals took an early 2-0 lead on rookie starter Ron Guidry. Lefty Paul Splittorff held that lead into the the eighth, when a leadoff single by Willie Randolph bounced him and subsequent singles by Piniella and Jackson off reliever Doug Bird brought the Yankees to within 3-2. Buoyed by 5 1/3 scoreless innings from Mike Torrez, the Yankees staged a gentle rally in the top of the ninth with two singles, a walk, a sac fly, and a Brett error at third base giving New York a 5-3 lead that Sparky Lyle nailed down in the ninth to give the Yankees their second of three consecutive ALCS victories over Kansas City.

1976 ALCS, Game 5: Yankees 7, Royals 6

This series, the Yankees' first postseason appearance since Game 7 of the 1964 World Series and the first postseason action at the renovated Yankee Stadium, was the exact reverse of the 1977 ALCS through the first four games, with the first two games being split in Kansas City, and the second two being split in the Bronx. The Yankees took Game 3 behind a strong Doc Ellis start, and the Royals pounced on Catfish Hunter to take Game 4. Game 5 pit emerging Royals ace Dennis Leonard against the Yankees Ed Figueroa, who had been acquired from the Angels with Mickey Rivers the previous offseason. Neither hurler got off to a good start, and the Royals were up 3-2 after an inning and a half, despite the Yankees bouncing Leonard after just three batters (a Rivers triple, a Roy White single and stolen base, and a Thurman Munson single). The Yankees added two off Splittorff in the third as Figueroa settled in, then added two more off lefty Andy Hassler in the sixth, with another Brett error allowing the sixth Yankee run to score. Brett attonned for that error in the eighth, however, with a three-run homer off Yankee lefty Grant Jackson that tied the game at 6-6.

Cut to the bottom of the ninth. Kansas City's relief ace Mark Littell is on the mound having just worked a 1-2-3 eighth against the top third of the Yankee order. Yankee first baseman Chris Chambliss leads off. In his previous four trips to the plate, he drove in a run with a sac fly, another with a groundout, doubled, singled, stole second, and scored the Yankees sixth run. In this trip, he turns on a first-pitch inside fastball from Littell and sends it over the right field wall in front of the bleachers for a walk-off, pennant-clinching home run, the first since Bobby Thompson's in 1951. The crowd swarms the field, Chambliss, after being knocked down between second and third, flees for his life, leveling one fan with a forearm on the way to the dugout. He never touched home because when he came out after the Stadium emptied to do so, it was gone. No matter. The Yankees were back in the World Series.