Every single Wild Card Game, ranked
Just seven short years ago, Major League Baseball introduced an idea that would change October forever: the Wild Card Game, compressing all the nail-biting, jaw-dropping, puppy-adopting drama of the postseason into nine bonkers innings.
Anything can happen. Anything definitely has. So, in preparation for this year's edition of win-or-go-home madness, we've assembled the ultimate Wild Card ranking: all 13 games, ranked in ascending order of awesomeness and backed by infallible science.
13. 2013: Rays defeat Indians, 4-0
Tampa Bay had to scratch and claw just to get to the postseason -- the Rays and Rangers both finished the year with 91-71 records, tied for the second Wild Card spot. We needed a Game 163 to settle things, where an
And once the team officially got to October,
12. 2015: Astros defeat Yankees, 3-0
What's the perfect way to cap a regular season in which you posted a 2.48 ERA, went undefeated at home and won the AL Cy Young Award? How about six shutout innings at Yankee Stadium in October:
11. 2015: Cubs defeat Pirates, 4-0
Speaking of breakout Cy Young Award winners catching fire on the biggest stage, the 2015 NL Wild Card game served as the cherry on top of
10. 2014: Giants defeat Pirates, 8-0
Before the eight strong innings to send the Giants to the World Series; before the shutout in a pivotal Game 5 in Kansas City; before five dominant innings of relief on two days' rest in Game 7; before
9. 2017: Yankees defeat Twins, 8-4
It was a stunning turn, a season's worth of good vibes and great performances wiped out in about 15 minutes. But as quickly as Minnesota took the air out of Yankee Stadium,
New York's bullpen gave up just one run on five hits over the next 8 2/3 innings, while
8. 2012: Orioles defeat Rangers, 5-1
Baltimore hadn't made the postseason since 1997, but took the American League by storm en route to a 93-69 finish and a date with the Rangers in the Wild Card Game. And that's when Joe Saunders outdueled
Saunders -- traded to the O's in late August with a career 4.37 ERA -- put up 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball, while an
8. 2018: Yankees defeat Athletics, 7-2
The Yankees set a single-season record for homers in a season with 267. The A's weren't far behind, placing third in MLB with 227 despite playing their home games in a pitcher's park. It did not take long for the baseballs to start flying -- and Yankee Stadium to start rocking:
Aaron Judge staked New York to an early lead, and despite a game effort from the A's, the Legend of
7. 2012: Cardinals defeat Braves, 6-3
This game was a fan's dream on paper:
Atlanta got on the board first thanks to a two-run homer by
Simmons lifted a sky-high popup to shallow left. Cardinals shortstop
The umpiring crew had called the infield fly rule, meaning that Simmons had been called automatically out while the ball was still in the air. The Braves' rally fizzled, and they wouldn't threaten again.
6. 2017: D-backs defeat Rockies, 11-8
Arizona jumped on Rockies starter
Colorado knocked out Greinke with a four-run fourth, and the D-backs' lead was down to just one by the bottom of the seventh. With two on and two outs, Arizona was on the verge having to face the heart of the Rockies lineup with the game in the balance. Even worse: Managerial shenanigans forced D-backs skipper Torey Lovullo to let
Bradley came through with a two-run triple, the first extra-base hit of his career and the first triple by a reliever in postseason history. And his team would need it:
5. 2016: Giants defeat Mets, 3-0
Two years after his record-breaking October, Bumgarner put together the best season of his career, striking out 251 batters over 226 2/3 innings and posting the fourth-lowest ERA in the Majors. The man who posted the third-lowest, though, just happened to be his opponent in the 2016 NL Wild Card Game:
On paper, it was the sort of matchup dreams are made of -- the grizzled postseason veteran, already with two World Series rings to his name, against the 24-year-old upstart with the hair of a god and a powerful fastball. And the game itself didn't disappoint: Bumgarner didn't allow a hit until the sixth and Syndergaard struck out 10 over seven shutout innings. The teams went to the ninth tied, 0-0.
With Thor out of the game, the Giants looked to break through against Mets closer
Naturally, he went yard:
Gillaspie's homer gave San Francisco all the offense it would need, as Bumgarner came back out for the ninth to finish what he started -- and send the Giants to the NLDS.
4. 2013: Pirates defeat Reds, 6-2
Twenty-one years. It had been 21 years since Pittsburgh experienced postseason baseball. So, when the Reds rolled into town for a do-or-die showdown, the crowd at PNC Park was ready. Like, really ready.
Maybe it was coincidence. Maybe a 40,000+ blackout rattles even the coolest pitchers. All we know is that, just a few moments later, Cueto dropped the ball -- literally:
Then, on the very next pitch, this happened:
Martin's homer and "The Drop Heard 'Round the World" sent the Steel City into delirium, and behind seven strong innings from
3. 2018: Rockies defeat Cubs, 2-1
After a season that saw two Game 163's to decided the NL Central and NL West, the losers of those division races had to turn around and play a winner-takes-all Wild Card game the very next day. When a ball disappeared into the Wrigley Field ivy in the first inning, it was a hint of what was to come.
And as the game carried on into extra innings -- and the teams slowly depleted their benches -- they had to turn to unexpected places of offense. That led to baserunning specialist
2. 2016: Blue Jays defeat Orioles, 5-2
Zach Britton's 2016 season was among the greatest by a reliever ever. The lefty converted all 47 of his save opportunities, striking out 74 over 67 innings with a tidy 0.54 ERA. But when Baltimore's season came to an end in the AL Wild Card Game, Britton was still in the bullpen.
The game was electric from the jump.
Toronto scratched across a run to tie the game at 2, and that's when things got weird. The two bullpens went back and forth into extra innings, escaping jams and putting up zeroes as the tension ratcheted up. Baltimore, boasting one of the very best 'pens in baseball, provided manager Buck Showalter with plenty of quality options -- and he used just about all of them.
All of them, that is, except for Britton. Since the Orioles were on the road, Showalter wanted to have his closer available in case Baltimore took the lead. So, after
1. 2014: Royals defeat Athletics, 9-8
Everything was going so well for the A's. After going all in at the non-waiver Trade Deadline with deals to acquire Jon Lester and
Oakland still headed to the ninth with a lead, just three outs away from survival. Alas, a one-run lead is nothing when no man alive could possibly catch
Dyson almost single-handedly manufactured the tying run: After coming on as a pinch-runner for Josh Willingham, he swiped second and third, then came home to score on a Nori Aoki sac fly. The game would head to extra innings -- and that's when
Just three months before the Wild Card Game, Finnegan wasn't even in the Majors -- he was in college at TCU, pitching in the College World Series. But Ned Yost gave him the ball to start the 10th, and he did not disappoint. The lefty tossed 2 1/3 strong innings of work to keep the Royals in the game, all while demonstrating an 80-grade fist pump:
Somehow, though, the A's still would not go away. After Jason Frasor replaced Finnegan,
That number was sliced to two after Cain led off with a groundout in the bottom of the 12th. But Hosmer followed with a triple off the left-field wall, and a
The party was on in Kansas City, and there was much rejoicing -- including from George Brett, who also happened to provide a neat summation of every Wild Card Game emotion:
A version of this post originally ran on Oct. 3, 2016.