Here's a game-by-game look back at how 10 World Series hopefuls have been narrowed down to four
Catch your breath yet? No? That's OK. The way the postseason has unfolded so far has afforded the baseball world two days off to mentally prepare before play resumes Friday with the American League Championship Series in Baltimore.
There have been 16 games over the last eight days, shaving down the number of hopeful teams from 10 to the final four: Royals, Orioles, Giants, Cardinals. Here's a game-by-game look at the action through the end of the division series:
Before the Royals walked off with a 9-8, extra-inning win after two runs in the bottom of the 12th, they had to stage season-saving rallies in the eighth and ninth. KC started the former trailing by four, facing one of the best pitchers in the league (Jon Lester) when they started to run wild, stealing four bases to inch toward a tie.
This one was never all that close. San Francisco plated four runs in the fourth, and with the way left-hander Madison Bumgarner was pitching -- en route to an 8-0 shutout -- that was more than enough.
ALDS 1: Royals vs. Angels
Game 1. After missing out on postseason baseball 29 years in a row, the Royals seemed to be making up for lost time, needing extra innings for what became the second of three straight games. This time, Mike Moustakas' homer in the top of the 11th gave them a 3-2 lead and 1-0 series lead against LA.
Game 2. Another Royals game, another extra-innings bout. Rookie starters Yordano Ventura and Matt Shoemaker dueled before giving way to the bullpens, which kept it tight until Eric Hosmer's game-winning blast in the top of the 11th. KC won, 4-1, to draw within a win of a sweep.
Game 3. The game that might forever be known as "That time Billy Butler stole a base" is also notable for when Butler scored from first, representing the third of three runs on Alex Gordon's bases-clearing, tone-setting double in the first. James Shields pitched well, and KC tacked on relentlessly in an 8-3 win to clinch a spot in the ALCS.
ALDS 2: Tigers vs. Orioles
Game 1. This 12-3 O's win was competitive until four Detroit pitchers gave up eight runs in the eighth. The Baltimore relief corps, meanwhile, tossed four innings while allowing one run, highlighted by Andrew Miller's 1 2/3 scoreless.
Game 2. Another day, another game, another Tiger bullpen implosion. This one also came in the eighth, with the Orioles' four-run rally enough to take a 7-6 victory and 2-0 series lead. The big blow was Delmon Young's three-RBI double to left.
Game 3. The most significant difference between David Price's eight innings of two-run ball and Bud Norris' 6 1/3 shutout frames was one flick of Nelson Cruz's wrists. The drive was just fair enough and just long enough to put the O's up and stand as the difference in the 2-1 win to clinch the series.
NLDS 1: Giants vs. Nationals
Game 1. Ryan Vogelsong noted after Game 4 that the Giants wouldn't be headed to the National League Championship Series if not for Joe Panik's efforts, and that was true from the start. The rookie second baseman tripled and scored the eventual game-winning run in the seventh to help impressive outings from Jake Peavy and the San Francisco bullpen stand up in the 3-2 win.
Game 2. This was the longest playoff game (timewise) ever. Brandon Belt ended a 1-1 stalemate six-plus hours after first pitch with a homer to right field in the top of the 18th inning. Yes, the 18th inning. The Giants won, 2-1, for a two-games-to-none series lead.
Game 3. The Nationals extended their season, for a day, with a 4-1 win made possible by Bumgarner's seventh-inning throwing error. Bunts, man. Doug Fister threw seven scoreless innings to lower his career postseason ERA to 2.60.
Game 4. The Giants offense was pretty unspectacular -- runs scored on a bases-loaded walk, groundout and a wild pitch -- but five pitchers made it count. Bryce Harper's homer into McCovey Cove wasn't enough, and Washington manager Matt Williams declined to use Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Stephen Strasburg. San Fran won, 3-2, to head to the NLCS.
NLDS 2: Cardinals vs. Dodgers
Game 1. When Clayton Kershaw accepts his certain Cy Young Award and his potential MVP honor next month, the memory of this game might make it a bit less enjoyable. The Cardinals ripped Kershaw for eight runs total and six during their eight-run seventh inning. The final three all scored on one swing -- Matt Holliday's three-run homer to left -- in the 10-9 slugfest of a win.
Game 2. St. Louis was threatening to take a commanding 2-0 series lead when Matt Kemp stepped in. The right fielder hit one high and deep and far and into a section of frenzied LA fans in left field. Zack Greinke didn't get the win, but his seven shutout innings -- plus a 2-for-3 effort at the plate -- were instrumental in Los Angeles' 3-2 win, allowing the Dodgers to pull even in the series.
Game 3. Sometime between ending a regular season in which they hit the fewest home runs of any NL team and the NLDS, the Cardinals figured out, "Hey, this trot-around-the-bases thing is pretty easy." Two more long balls, one from Matt Carpenter and one from Kolten Wong, paved the way for a 3-1 win and 2-1 series lead.
Game 4. Shelby Miller mostly matched Kershaw inning-for-inning, buying St. Louis enough time until it finally reached the talented lefty in the seventh. Matt Adams' three-run homer -- plus his spectacular off-the-bat, arms-in-the-air reaction -- accounted for the entirety of the Cardinal offense. St. Louis won, 3-2, to clinch their fourth consecutive NLCS appearance.
The Nationals didn't advance -- this time -- but if there is a silver lining in their first-round exit, it is Harper's reminder that he can be good. And he's still only 21. His four career postseason homers tie Mickey Mantle, Andruw Jones and Miguel Cabrera for the most ever by a player before age 22.
It may seem like an eternity ago, but remember the NL Wild Card game between the Giants and Pirates? It wasn't quite the nail biter that the AL Wild Card was, but it did feature one of the stranger moments of the postseason thus far: the woman who had apparently wandered into the Giants dugout. It was just a quiet mishap, but the subsequent reaction from the security guard is priceless:
The Angels were swept right into the offseason, but after a couple of 0-fers, Mike Trout finally collected his first postseason hit in Game 3. It was, of course, a home run. The shot landed in the Kansas City fountains.
One of the signature games of the postseason so far -- the Giants and Nationals 18-inning marathon -- was made possible by Pablo Sandoval's ninth-inning double. That knotted the game at 1, the way it remained for three more hours.
The Cardinals' already-deep pitching staff received a big boost when John Lackey -- who suffered from a dead arm for part of September -- rounded into his typical playoff form in Game 3 against the Dodgers. He struck out eight during his seven innings of one-run ball.
In one of those everything-is-going-the-Royals-way moments, Lorenzo Cain single-handedly stomped out an Angels rally in Game 3 with back-to-back web-gem catches. First he ranged into left-center to rob Albert Pujols, then he ran in on Howie Kendrick's sinking liner in shallow center to end the inning.
And, finally, a postseason roundup wouldn't be complete without the best dugout reaction to a home run. Thank you, Matt Carpenter.
More joy. That's what's next. The Orioles host the Royals at Camden Yards on Friday -- James Shields will get the ball against a currently unnamed Baltimore hurler -- before the Giants visit Busch Stadium and the Cardinals to open the NLCS on Saturday.
It could be well over a week until we know who claims the league crowns, but one thing is certain. The LCS is guaranteed to yield a certain kind of World Series matchup: a perennial NL contender vs. an AL team that hasn't been to the Series since the mid-80s.