We have the rarest of gifts the next two days. On Wednesday, there are two decisive Game 5s in the National League Division Series, one right after the other. And on Thursday, there will be a third, in the American League.
It’s as close as MLB can get to March Madness, and to be honest, our left leg has been hopping up and down for about 30 hours now in anticipation. It’s baseball nirvana. It’s win or go home.
Not only is it rare to have two Division Series have decisive Game 5s on the same day, it’s actually sort of rare to have even two an entire postseason. The last time we had two in the same year was 2015, when we also had three. We must enjoy them while we have them.
Game 5s can be almost unbearably tense, even if they’re not close. But when they are close … you’ll be out of nerves by the end. So we look back at some of the best Game 5s in Division Series history. We’ll be fortunate if any this week's games make this list, but if they do, we’ll never forget them.
1) 1995 ALDS: Mariners 6, Yankees 5
Trivia question: Who gave the Yankees the lead in the top of the 11th in this famous -- maybe the most famous Division Series game ever -- Game 5? Randy Velarde, who singled off Randy Johnson to give the Yanks a 5-4 lead. But the first year for the Division Series since the strike season of 1981 had quite a trick up its sleeve. Jack McDowell gave up a bunt single to Joey Cora, then a single to Ken Griffey Jr. Then Edgar Martinez came to the plate, and we all know what happened next.
2) 2015 ALDS: Blue Jays 6, Rangers 3
A crazy, crazy game. Remember, this was the game that the Rangers scored when the catcher hit Shin-Soo Choo when he was trying to throw the ball back to the pitcher. But everything that had happened before was obliterated from memory when Jose Bautista did this in the seventh:
3) 2011 NLDS: Cardinals 1, Phillies 0
The heavily favored Phillies had a wild home crowd, a proud championship core and Roy Halladay on the hill. But the Cardinals had Chris Carpenter. Halladay gave up a first-inning run and then shut down the Cards, but that one run was enough for Carpenter, who threw a shutout, getting Ryan Howard out as he limped down the first-base line and St. Louis ripped Carpenter’s jersey to shreds.
4) 2012 NLDS: Cardinals 9, Nationals 7
This was the original Nationals' torture chamber. Washington jumped out to a 6-0 lead against Adam Wainwright -- including a monster Bryce Harper homer -- and watched as the lead slowly … melted … away. Still, the Nats had a two-run lead in the top of the ninth, with two outs, when Yaider Molina and David Freese walked and Daniel Descalso lined a single up the middle to tie it. Rather than an intentional walk that would have brought up the pitcher’s spot, the Nationals pitched to Pete Kozma, who smacked a two-run single into right field. This is not the last time you will see the Nats on this list.
5) 2016 NLDS: Dodgers 4, Nationals 3
Yep, another Nationals heartbreaker. Max Scherzer was terrific, the Nats scored a run in the second and held on to a 1-0 lead until it fell apart in the seventh inning, with a Joc Pederson homer, a Carlos Ruiz RBI single and a two-run Justin Turner triple giving the Dodgers a 4-1 lead. But the Nationals, as they tend to do in these spots, fought their way back into it on a two-run homer by Chris Heisey in the bottom of the seventh, cutting the lead to one. A clearly exhausted Kenley Jensen put two Nats on via walk in the ninth, which led to Clayton Kershaw, who had just won the previous game, getting Daniel Murphy and Wilmer Difo to crush Washington's soul again.
6) 2001 NLDS: D-backs 2, Cardinals 1
A fantastic series culminated in a fantastic pitchers' duel between Arizona’s Curt Schilling and St. Louis’ Matt Morris. The Cardinals finally broke through against Schilling in the top of the eight with a solo homer from J.D. Drew, but Tony Womack, who would be in the World Series for the Cards just three years later, slapped a walk-off single off Steve Kline to set up what would turn out to be an incredible D-backs run.
7) 2003 ALDS: Red Sox 4, A’s 3
A classic pitching duel between Pedro Martinez and Barry Zito opened up when the Red Sox broke through in the sixth with a leadoff homer from Jason Varitek and a three-run bomb from Manny Ramirez. But the A’s fought back, and, down one run in the ninth, earned leadoff walks from Scott Hatteberg and Jose Guillen. Derek Lowe came in the game, got two quick outs, walked the bases loaded … and then got Terrence Long to strike out looking. Imagine how different history might be if Long had singled up to the middle to win the series and send the A’s to the 2003 AL Championship Series against the Yankees.
8) 2002 ALDS: Twins 5, A’s 4
A tight game, Twins up 2-1, until the ninth inning, when Minnesota broke through with three runs, the final one on a double off Billy Koch by a young DH/1B type named David Ortiz. But the A’s came right back in the bottom half, thanks to a three-run homer by Mark Ellis off Eddie Guardado. Guardado settled down after that, though, and got Ray Durham to foul out to end the series. It was Ortiz’s last at-bat for the Twins; they released him two months later.
9) 2017 NLDS: Cubs 9, Nationals 8
Yep: Yet another Nationals heartbreaker. The year after the Cubs’ World Series victory, they found themselves in a dogfight with the Nats, who of course had never won an NLDS before. A Stephen Strasburg Game 4 shutout set the stage, and the Nationals felt terrific after taking a three-run lead with a four-run second inning. But the Cubs kept chipping away, breaking through with a four-run fifth inning against reliever Max Scherzer, all scored with two outs. Washington fought back, though, and got within one on a Michael A. Taylor RBI single in the bottom of the eighth. But Wade Davis set down the Nats 1-2-3 in the ninth, ending with a strikeout of Bryce Harper, to advance to the NLCS.
10) 2015 NLDS: Mets 3, Dodgers 2
This whole series was still reeling from the ramifications from the Chase Utley-Rubén Tejada play in Game 2, and when the Dodgers scored two runs off Jacob deGrom in the first inning, the Mets had to feel like the bad guys were gonna win. But a Daniel Murphy homer in the sixth gave them the lead (this was the postseason he dominated), and Noah Syndergaard and Jeurys Familia shut the Dodgers down the rest of the way. And Utley even made the first out in the bottom of the ninth.