The introduction of the Wild Card in 1995 gave one non-division winner from each league the hope of keeping its World Series dream alive.
In 2012, Major League Baseball expanded the postseason to include two Wild Card teams in each league with one caveat -- they would have to play one another in a winner-take-all game to begin the playoffs. While that may have made the path a bit tougher for Wild Card clubs, it hasn't stopped them from making the occasional run to the Fall Classic.
Here are the 13 Wild Card teams to reach the World Series, including the three to do so since 2012 and seven to win the World Series, marked with an asterisk.
It was a long journey for the Nationals, who scuffled their way to a 19-31 start before turning things around. Washington went 74-38 the rest of the way, tied for the second-best record in the Majors from May 24 onward. That left the Nats with 93 wins, good enough to earn home-field advantage in their National League Wild Card Game matchup against the Brewers.
Overcoming slow starts proved to be a theme for the 2019 Nationals, as they battled back from a 3-0 deficit in the winner-take-all Wild Card Game to pull out a dramatic 4-3 victory over Milwaukee. Things didn't get any easier in the NLDS, where the Nats fell behind 2-1 in the series against the top-seeded Dodgers. After winning to force a Game 5, Washington found itself trailing, 3-1, entering the eighth inning, only to have Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto hit back-to-back homers off Clayton Kershaw to tie the game. Howie Kendrick later hit a go-ahead grand slam in the 10th inning to send the Nats to the NL Championship Series.
It was much smoother sailing in the NLCS. The Nationals did not trail for a single moment en route to sweeping the Cardinals in dominant fashion. Aníbal Sánchez took a no-hit bid into the eighth inning in Game 1 and Max Scherzer took one of his own into the seventh inning the following night. The Nats outscored the Cards, 13-2, in the first three games before closing out the series with a 7-4 victory in Game 4.
The comebacks continued in the World Series, as the Nationals became the first team to win five games that they trailed in when facing elimination in a single postseason, adding World Series Games 6 and 7 to the list. They became the first team to win a World Series without winning a home game.
After winning World Series titles in 2010 and '12 -- and missing the postseason altogether in '11 and '13 -- the Giants kept the pattern alive by sneaking into the '14 postseason as the second NL Wild Card team. Though the Giants had to travel to Pittsburgh for the winner-take-all showdown, Madison Bumgarner silenced the Pirates' bats -- and, in the process, the home crowd -- with a 10-strikeout shutout in an 8-0 victory.
San Francisco continued its postseason run with a tightly contested NLDS against the Nationals. After a one-run victory in Game 1, the Giants outlasted the Nats for an 18-inning win in Game 2. San Francisco missed out on its first chance to punch its ticket to the NLCS, but it bounced back with another one-run win in Game 4 to end the series.
The Giants then defeated the Cardinals in five games in the NLCS before Bumgarner took over the Fall Classic. The Giants' ace earned victories in Games 1 and 4 against the Royals, then locked down the save with five scoreless innings to close out Game 7. Bumgarner, who earned the World Series Most Valuable Player Award, finished with a 0.43 ERA over 21 innings across his three appearances.
The Royals ended a 28-season playoff drought in 2014 by earning the top American League Wild Card spot. Kansas City appeared destined for a short stay in the postseason, falling behind the Athletics, 7-3, in the sixth inning of the Wild Card Game. The Royals, however, rallied to force extra innings before ultimately advancing to the ALDS with a walk-off 12-inning victory.
Kansas City also needed extras in each of the first two games of the ALDS, but won both on its way to sweeping the Angels. The upstart Royals then swept the Orioles in the ALCS to improve to 8-0 to start the 2014 postseason. They were finally handed their first loss in Game 1 of the World Series, dropping a 7-1 decision to the Giants. Still, Kansas City bounced back with a pair of wins in Games 2 and 3, before dropping two straight to fall behind in the series, 3-2. The Royals cruised to a 10-0 victory in Game 6, but the magic finally ran out in a dramatic 3-2 loss in the winner-take-all Game 7.
After coming up one win short in 2014, Kansas City notched a division title in '15 on its way to winning the franchise's first World Series title since 1985.
Without the luxury of a second Wild Card team in each league -- a format change that took place following the 2011 season -- the '11 Cardinals were in a precarious position in the final week of the season. St. Louis sat three games back of the Braves for the NL's final playoff spot with just five to play. Atlanta, however, dropped four straight and the Cards won three of their next four to move the clubs into a tie for the Wild Card spot entering the season's final day. The Braves dropped a fifth straight game to close the season, while St. Louis cruised to an 8-0 victory to cap off its improbable run to the postseason.
The Cardinals stayed hot, knocking off the top-seeded Phillies in a winner-take-all Game 5 in the NLDS. St. Louis then defeated the Brewers in six games behind NLCS MVP David Freese, whose postseason heroics were just getting started.
With the Cardinals facing elimination and down to their final out in Game 6 of the World Series against the Rangers, Freese delivered a game-tying two-run triple to right field. After the teams exchanged a pair of runs in the 10th, Freese led off the bottom of the 11th with a walk-off home run to send the series to a Game 7. The Cards earned a 6-2 win to clinch their second World Series title in six seasons.
The Rockies finished the 2007 season on one of the most incredible runs in Major League history. Trailing by 4 1/2 games in the NL Wild Card race entering play on Sept. 16, Colorado rattled off 11 straight victories and won 13 of its final 14 games to set up a one-game tiebreaker against the Padres. The magical run seemed poised to come to an end after the Padres took an 8-6 lead in the top of the 13th, but the Rockies put together one last rally, capped off by a walk-off sacrifice fly to send them to the postseason.
The Rockies' dominant run continued into the postseason, where they swept the Phillies in the NLDS before doing the same to the D-backs in the NLCS. Colorado entered the World Series having won 21 of its last 22 games, but finally hit a wall in a four-game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox.
The Tigers were in line to not only win the AL Central late in the 2006 season, but they were actually tied for the best record in the Majors with only five games to play. Instead of locking up potential home-field advantage, however, Detroit dropped its final five games to fall one game behind the Twins in the Central, leaving the Tigers with the AL Wild Card berth.
Despite the late-season stumble, the Tigers -- playing in their first season under manager Jim Leyland -- still finished with a 24-win improvement from the previous season. They also made the Wild Card draw a moot point by knocking off the top-seeded Yankees in four games in the ALDS. Detroit then made quick work of the Athletics in the ALCS, sweeping its way into the World Series. The impressive run would come up short, however, with the Tigers falling in five games against the Cardinals.
The 2004 Astros came up one game shy of a World Series berth, losing in Game 7 of the NLCS after initially finding their way into the postseason as the NL Wild Card team. Looking to avenge that loss, the '05 club worked its way back into the postseason, though it came down to the season's final day. The Astros won each of their final two games to hold off the Phillies by a single game in the NL Wild Card race.
Despite being the Wild Card, Houston avoided the NL's top seed in the NLDS, thanks to the fact that the 100-win Cardinals played in the same division. The Astros instead started with the 90-win Braves, a series that produced one of the most remarkable games in postseason history. With Houston trying to clinch the series in Game 4, Atlanta held a 6-1 lead in the eighth inning. The Astros rallied for four runs in the eighth and another in the ninth to tie the game at 6 apiece, which is how it would stay until Chris Burke hit a walk-off home run -- in the 18th inning.
That set up an NLCS rematch with the Cardinals, the same team that had ended Houston's season one year earlier. The Astros got the better of their division rival this time around, winning the series in six games before being swept by the White Sox in the World Series.
2004 Red Sox*
The 2003 Red Sox earned a Wild Card berth and came within one game of reaching the World Series, only to drop Game 7 of the ALCS against the rival Yankees. One year later, Boston finished with the second best record in the AL at 98-64, but again had to settle for the Wild Card spot due to the Yankees finishing 101-61.
That didn't stop the Red Sox from quickly sweeping the Angels in the ALDS, setting up another ALCS showdown with the Yankees in Boston's quest for its first World Series title since 1918. That drought seemed likely to continue after the Red Sox dropped the first three games of the series, but they instead became the first team in MLB history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit.
After winning four straight to cap off the historic comeback in the ALCS, the Red Sox kept it going in the World Series. They won four straight to sweep the Cardinals, bringing Boston its first World Series title in 86 years.
After winning the 1997 World Series as the NL Wild Card representative (see below), the Marlins immediately went into full rebuild mode. They won just 54 games in '98 and didn't have another winning season until 2003, when they went 91-71 to return to the postseason as the Wild Card team.
The Marlins knocked off the 100-win Giants in four games in the NLDS before going the distance against the Cubs in the dramatic 2003 NLCS. After falling behind 3-1 in the series, Florida rattled off three consecutive victories -- including the infamous fan interference play at Wrigley Field in Game 6 -- to find its way back to the Fall Classic.
Similar to the NLCS, the Marlins found themselves in a bit of a hole early in the series, dropping two of the first three against the Yankees. Starting with a 12-inning victory in Game 4, however, the Marlins again won three straight to close out the series and earn their second World Series title.
After missing the postseason despite winning 90 games in 2001, the Giants nabbed the Wild Card berth in '02 with a 95-win campaign. Led by eventual NL MVP Barry Bonds -- his second of four straight MVP Awards -- the Giants knocked off the top-seeded Braves in five games in the NLDS. San Francisco then eliminated the Cardinals in just five games to advance to the World Series.
With the Fall Classic tied at two games apiece, the Giants cruised to a commanding 16-4 victory in Game 5. They then seemed poised to close out the series in Game 6, taking a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning. San Francisco, however, allowed three runs in the seventh and three more in the eighth en route to a 6-5 defeat. The Giants dropped Game 7 to come up short in their bid for the franchise's first title since winning the 1954 World Series -- when they were still the New York Giants.
Like their World Series opponent, the Angels qualified for the 2002 postseason as the Wild Card team. That said, they were a 99-win team that season -- a 24-game improvement from the 2001 club that finished 41 games out of first place in the AL West.
Making their first postseason appearance since 1986, the Angels overcame a Game 1 loss in the ALDS by winning each of the next three to knock out the Yankees. Anaheim followed a similar path in the ALCS against the Twins, losing Game 1 before reeling off four consecutive victories to set up the World Series showdown with the Giants.
As noted above, the Angels were on the brink of elimination following a 16-4 loss in Game 5 -- and had moved even closer by the seventh inning of Game 6. They instead rallied from a 5-0 deficit over the final two and a half innings of Game 6 before rookie John Lackey pitched them to a victory in Game 7 for their first World Series title.
The 1999 Mets won 97 games, but they had to settle for the NL Wild Card berth, thanks to the Braves finishing 103-59 to win their fifth straight NL East title. Making matters even worse for the Mets, Atlanta ultimately ended New York's season in the '99 NLCS. The Mets returned to the postseason in 2000, but it was once again as the Wild Card team, as they finished one game behind Atlanta in the NL East.
The Mets defeated the Giants in the NLDS, but there would be no NLCS rematch this time around, as Atlanta was swept by the Cardinals in the other NLDS matchup. With the pesky Braves out of the way, New York cruised past St. Louis in five games to set up a Subway Series Fall Classic.
After losing in walk-off fashion in the 12th inning of Game 1 and dropping a one-run decision in Game 2, the Mets rebounded with a victory in Game 3. That would prove to be the Mets' only win in the series, however, with the Yankees earning another one-run victory in Game 4 before closing it out in Game 5.
After four straight losing seasons to start the Marlins franchise, they turned the reins over to skipper Jim Leyland. The managerial change paid immediate dividends, with the 1997 Marlins finishing with the second best record in the NL at 92-70. Unfortunately, they had to settle for a Wild Card berth, as the NL's top team -- the Braves (101-61) -- also belonged to the NL East.
With division opponents not allowed to play one another in the LDS at the time, the Marlins faced the 90-win Giants in the NLDS instead of top-seeded Atlanta. Leyland's club promptly swept San Francisco, while the Braves earned a sweep of their own against the Astros to set up an NL East clash in the NLCS.
The Marlins continued their surprising run by knocking off the division champion Braves in six games. Florida then won Game 1 of the World Series against the Indians, but proceeded to trade victories back and forth until a decisive Game 7. Trailing 2-0 late, the Marlins scored one run in the seventh and tied the game on a sacrifice fly in the ninth. Edgar Renteria eventually hit a walk-off single to give the Marlins their first World Series title in just their fifth season.
Paul Casella is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella.