Until now, Major League Baseball's Division Series (established in 1995) had never produced more than one Game 5 in a single opening round of playoffs.
|Tony Womack (right) gets doused by teammate Reggie Sanders as they celebrate their Game 5 win over the Cardinals on Sunday night.
In fact, Game 5 of a DS had happened only four times total -- and not once in the National League. Contrast that with the 12 sweeps in division postseason history, counting this October's Atlanta ouster of Houston, and you see that something special indeed is unfolding.
As if you didn't know.
Three Game 5s, the first of which ended on a two-out, two-strike, ninth-inning hit? You've got to be kidding.
It's true, as the sports world now knows, and a Major League thank you is definitely in order.
Only this kind of reality TV, after all, could actually seem to increase interest after a season that delivered Barry Bonds' sensational 73 home runs, the graceful exits of All-Star MVP Cal Ripken and hitting machine Tony Gwynn, the almost-unthinkable 116 victories by the Seattle Mariners, the emergence of Ichiro and Albert Pujols, plus Rickey Henderson's 3,000th hit and career-record run total.
Step aside, Ty Cobb. Step aside, regular season.
Only this kind of reality TV could continue MLB's welcome reminder that patriotism and ballparks are a pretty powerful mix.
Monday, we follow a Sunday tripleheader in which the Mariners and Yankees rebounded on the road to force home-field rubber games in the American League. And we follow a prime-time clincher that showcased a pair of No. 1 starters, the Cardinals' Matt Morris and the Diamondbacks' Curt Schilling, who went toe to toe in a 1-1 test through eight innings. It was Arizona that advanced in the NL nail-biter, 2-1, after Tony Womack's RBI single, a soft liner that quickly erased an ill-conceived squeeze attempt in the bottom of the ninth.
On the heels of that breathless finish, at this rate, things just might keep getting better.
The Yankee pinstripers, for the record, are in position for an unprecedented recovery over the A's in Monday night's 8 Eastern game, preceded by action from Seattle beginning at 4. The Yankees' refusal to go away after opening with consecutive home defeats (a misstep previously too deep to overcome in any five-game series) would be headline fodder enough. But this postseason simply, as they say, is sick. That's a positive word now, by the way, like phat in the '90s and bad in the '80s.
Can we "Take 5" two more times if the next two are anything like the Cardinals-Diamondbacks duel that kept fans awake late Sunday night? You decide.
Truth is, the sports menu on this particular Monday offers an unfair fight between two of the greatest games on Earth. Either tune in as football's Cowboys or Redskins fall to 0-5. Or watch the Indians-Mariners and A's-Yankees Game 5s.
Hi, five. Game 5.
The fifth-game rundown since DS play began (with two of the four Game 5 winners reaching the World Series):
In 1995, in Seattle, the Mariners bounced the Wild Card Yankees, 6-5, with two runs in the bottom of the 11th, but lost in a six-game League Championship Series to the Indians.
In 1997, at Cleveland, the Indians eliminated the Yankees, again the Wild Card winners, 4-3. The Indians won the LCS as well but lost to the Marlins in a seven-game World Series.
In 1999, at Cleveland, the Wild Card Red Sox eliminated the Indians, 12-8, but fell to the Yankees in a five-game LCS.
In 2000, at Oakland, the Yankees KO'd Oakland, 7-5, then became the only first-round, five-game escapees to win it all.
As a footnote, three first-round series in 1981 (the year a work stoppage forced a split season) reached the best-of-five maximum. That year, the Dodgers defeated the Astros, the Yankees defeated the Brewers and the Expos defeated the Phillies. Los Angeles outlasted New York, 4-2, in the Fall Classic.
This DS history, as you see, is brief. Yet, right now it's unmistakably fun to witness.
Dinn Mann is Editor-in-Chief of MLB.com.