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A tradition of marathon playoff thrillers

A tradition of marathon playoff thrillers

In 1907, Game 1 of the World Series between the Cubs and Tigers resulted in a 3-3 tie. It was called due to darkness after 12 innings. Today, thankfully, there are stadium lights and opportunities to go to the refrigerator between innings, because there are days like Sunday when the good times never seem to end.

The Houston Astros won the latest epic, beating the Atlanta Braves in 18 innings at Minute Maid Park to advance to the National League Championship Series. By the time Roger Clemens had done his work in relief and Chris Burke hit the newest "shot heard 'round the world," this one had gone five hours and 50 minutes, making it the longest game in Major League postseason history, both in hours and innings.

Here's a look at some other epic thrillers from Octobers past:

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2004: In Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, the Red Sox avoided a sweep by the Yankees when David Ortiz hit a walk-off home run in the 12th inning at Fenway Park. The game lasted five hours and two minutes, past midnight for local fans. It was hard to imagine how anything could top that for drama.

The wait lasted less than 24 hours. Game 5 was even longer: five hours, 49 minutes. Ortiz won this one with a single in the bottom of the 14th, continuing what would become the greatest comeback in playoff history by the eventual world champions. One instant epic classic followed immediately by another, something unheard of in baseball. Game 5 was just one minute shorter in duration than Sunday's game in Houston.

"It might be the greatest game ever played," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said after that Game 5. "I'd like to hear other nominations. We were just joking around, that might have been one of the greatest at-bats ever, to end the greatest game ever played."

There will continue to be more nominations, as Sunday just proved.

2003: The Red Sox were five outs away from reaching the World Series when Aaron Boone delivered what proved to be the final straw in the long "Curse of the Bambino." It was a walk-off homer off Tim Wakefield in the 11th inning, giving the Yankees an electrifying 6-5 victory over their rivals. It also was the last straw for Sox manager Grady Little, who was criticized for leaving Pedro Martinez in just long enough for the game to get away from Boston. "Just to have the opportunity, to be in that spot, get that chance, it's humbling," said Boone, who was just 2-for-16 in the ALCS before the home run. "This game humbles you all the time in good and bad ways. It's been humbling a little bit lately in a bad way, and this is just the same. It's humbling."

2000: Benny Agbayani's home run in the 13th inning gave the Mets a 3-2 victory over the Giants in the NLDS, allowing New York to take a 2-1 lead in that series. For the Mets, it marked the fifth consecutive postseason victory attained in their last at-bat.

1999: The Mets edged the Braves in a 15-inning thriller, 4-3, to move within one game of Atlanta in the NLCS. Brian Jordan was playing for Atlanta, so when you saw him enter the 2005 classic in Houston on Sunday, you knew he'd been through this before. Robin Ventura's grand slam in the bottom half of the 15th won the game for New York, but his Mets teammates mobbed him before he could even reach second base. He never finished his round of the bases and got credit for a single instead of a grand slam. The Braves left a postseason-record 19 runners on base that game. The Mets used nine pitchers, with rookie Octavio Dotel getting the decision.

1997: Here's one for Marlins fans. Oct. 26, Game 7, World Series. Cleveland jumped out to a 2-0 early lead, but Florida clawed its way back and tied the score in the bottom of the ninth on a sacrifice fly by Craig Counsell. In the bottom of the 11th, shortstop Edgar Renteria stroked his third hit of the game, driving home Counsell with the winning run and giving the Marlins their first world championship.

1996: Sure, you remember Jeffrey Maier. He was the 12-year-old who reached over the wall in the eighth inning and interfered with a ball hit by Derek Jeter. It was ruled a home run, and allowed the Yankees tie the score at 4 against Baltimore. That gave New York the opportunity it needed, and Bernie Williams hit a walk-off homer to win it in the 11th for a 5-4 final -- en route to the Yanks' first world championship in 18 years.

1995: Although Edgar Martinez would win the clinching Game 5 for Seattle in the 11th inning, this AL Division Series is remembered by many for what happened in Game 2. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Don Mattingly gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead with a home run. Seattle scored twice in the seventh to regain the lead, and Paul O'Neill tied it with a homer in the bottom of the inning.

It went into extras, and Ken Griffey Jr. continued his emergence as a superstar with a 12th-inning dinger, but the Yankees answered with another rally, as Ruben Sierra drove in Jorge Posada with the tying run. Williams was cut down at the plate by the relay throw, so the game marched on behind electric rookie Mariano Rivera of the Yankees and Tim Belcher of the Mariners.

Then came Jim Leyritz. With a light rain falling and the score knotted at 5, the part-time catcher and first baseman came to bat with a runner at first. He launched an opposite-field homer that gave New York a 2-0 series lead. Three subsequent losses by the Bombers would end their season, but what followed was the makings of a dynasty.

That was the first year of baseball's third tier of playoffs, and the other ALDS also saw a long one. The Indians beat the Red Sox, 5-4, in 13 innings, to take Game 1 of their series. It was catcher Tony Pena's home run that beat his former teammates. At the time, it was the longest postseason game in MLB history at five hours and one minute.

1991: The Twins became World Champions with a 1-0 victory in 10 innings as Jack Morris won a phenomenal pitching duel with Atlanta's John Smoltz. Gene Larkin's single off Alejandro Pena scored Dan Gladden with the game's only run at the Metrodome. It was the first Game 7 to go into extra innings since the Washington Senators battled the New York Giants in 1924. Morris was named the Series MVP for the Twins. Four of the seven games in this series were decided on the final pitch, and the extra-inning finale only cemented this World Series' classic status.

1986: This was the one on everyone's mind during Sunday's thriller in Houston. On that Oct. 15, the Mets beat the Astros, 7-6, in 16 innings to earn their first trip to the World Series since 1973. New York scored three runs in the top of the ninth to force extra innings. The Mets scored three more runs in the top of the 16th, and Houston answered with two of its own before Jesse Orosco struck out Kevin Bass to end the game. That Mets team had won its way to the playoffs in one of the most dominant styles possible, but it took every ounce of energy to leg this one out.

That Game 6 had stood as the longest postseason game in terms of innings -- actual game time was 4:42 -- in Major League history. Until Sunday.

"I played in that [1986] game, and I wasn't nearly as tired in that game because I got taken out in the eighth inning," Astros manager Phil Garner said Sunday. "There was a book written on it, called 'The Greatest Game Ever Played,' and now there's gonna be a sequel."

1979: Willie Stargell hit a three-run homer in the 11th inning that gave Pittsburgh a 5-2 victory over the Reds in the opener of the NLCS. It was just a sign of things to come from "Pops." He went on to lead the Bucs to the world championship.

1975: This October marks the 30th anniversary of perhaps the most-replayed moment in televised baseball history. In Game 6 of that World Series at Fenway Park between Boston and Cincinnati, Carlton Fisk hit a home run off reliever Pat Darcy in the bottom of the 12th that clanged off the foul pole in left as he valiantly waved it fair while trotting toward first base.

"I knew it was gonna go out," Fisk said. "It was just a question of it being fair or foul. The wind must have carried it 15 feet toward the foul pole. I just stood there and watched. I didn't want to miss seeing it go out."

Cincinnati went on to win the championship in the following game, but this 7-6 thriller is the one people remember. Maybe because so many people watched it on TV, in an age when prime-time spectacles were becoming the rage. Announcer Curt Gowdy: "What a game! This is one of the greatest World Series games of all time!"

Although Fisk was the game's biggest hero, it never would have reached extra innings if not for Bernie Carbo. With the Red Sox down, 6-3, in the eighth, Carbo blasted a pinch-hit three-run homer off Rawly Eastwick to tie the score. It was Carbo's second pinch-homer of the Series, tying a Fall Classic record.

Boston missed a golden opportunity to win the game in the ninth. Second baseman Denny Doyle walked and Carl Yastrzemski singled to right, moving Doyle to third. Will McEnaney entered the game for Cincinnati and intentionally walked Fisk to load the bases. With the winning run only 90 feet away, Fred Lynn lifted a short, foul fly to left. George Foster threw out Doyle at home with a strong throw from left.

1973: Oakland was in the middle year of a three-year reign as world champions, but they had to get past an especially dubious note during a long World Series game against the Mets. It was Game 2, which the Mets won, 10-7, by scoring four runs in an 11th inning that featured the last Major League hit by Willie Mays and two errors by Oakland second baseman Mike Andrews. Andrews was subsequently put on the "disabled list" by owner Charlie Finley.

1954: There have been longer games, much longer, but no discussion of extra-inning wonders is complete without at least mentioning the Willie Mays Catch. His over-the-shoulder grab of Vic Wertz's deep drive to center at the Polo Grounds saved the game, allowing the Giants to win it in the bottom of the 10th on a three-run homer by Dusty Rhodes.

1952: The Dodgers led, 4-0, in Game 5 of the World Series on a three-run rally in the fifth, capped by Duke Snider's two-run homer to right-center field. But the Yankees came back with five runs in the bottom of the fifth, the last three coming on Johnny Mize's three-run homer, his third roundtripper in as many games. The Dodgers tied the game at five with a run in the seventh, and there the score remained after nine innings. In the top of the 11th, Snider knocked in his fourth run of the game, and Brooklyn starter Carl Erskine retired the Yanks in order to end the game, but the Bombers would win the next two games to take the World Series and prolong the Dodgers' titleless streak.

1945: The Cubs were leading Game 6 of that World Series, 7-3, but the Tigers tied the score at 7 with four runs in the eighth, and the game moved to extra innings. Finally, in the bottom of the 12th, Stan Hack -- already 2-for-4 with two RBIs -- dropped a two-out double into left field scoring pinch-runner Bill Schuster from first base with the winning run and forcing a decisive Game 7. The Cubs could not ride the momentum of that epic thriller, though; Detroit won the title.

1934: St. Louis' "Gashouse Gang" beat Detroit in seven games, but those Redbirds had to survive a Game 2 thriller that went to the Tigers. Pinch-hitter Gee Walker's RBI single in the bottom of the ninth tied the score at 2, and the contest moved into extra innings. In the bottom of the 12th, Goose Goslin's single to center scored Charlie Gehringer with the winning run.

1933: Game 4 of the World Series matched the Giants' Carl Hubbell against Washington's Monte Weaver, and both were excellent. After 10 innings, both Hubbell and Weaver were still in the game, with the score tied at one run apiece. The Giants finally broke through for a run in the top of the 11th, thanks to a leadoff bunt single from Travis Jackson, Gus Mancuso's sacrifice bunt and Blondy Ryan's RBI single. In the bottom of the 11th, Hubbell survived a one-out, bases-loaded jam to complete the Giants' 2-1 triumph.

1924: The story of the World Series was Walter Johnson, finally getting a chance to pitch in October after 18 seasons with the lowly Senators. Johnson started the opener against Art Nehf, and after 11 innings both starters remained, the score tied at 2. But the Giants scored two in the 12th against a tired Johnson, and the Senators could answer with only one run off Nehf in the bottom of the inning. Washington went on win the Series in Game 7, which also went 12 innings. With the score tied at 3 and the bases loaded with none out, Earl McNeely hit a grounder to third baseman Fred Lindstrom, who was victimized by his second bad hop of the game -- scoring Muddy Ruel with the Series-ending run.

1916: Game 2 of the World Series featured a matchup of left-handers, Boston's Babe Ruth against the Brooklyn Dodgers' Sherry Smith. Hi Myers hit an inside-the-park home run in the first when outfielders Harry Hooper and Tilly Walker both slipped, but the Red Sox tied the game in the third when Ruth's grounder plated Everett Scott, who had tripled. That's where the score remained, tied at 1 through nine innings, then 13, with both starters still in the game. Ruth retired the Brooklyns in the 14th, and in the bottom of the frame, Dick Hoblitzel led off with a walk, was bunted to second base, and scored the game-winning run when pinch-hitter Del Gainer singled to left field.

1914: Game 3 in Boston was a true thriller. The Philadelphia A's scored twice in the top of the 10th to take a 4-2 lead, but Boston -- the "Miracle Braves," who had come back from obscurity during the season -- came right back with two runs in the bottom of the frame. The contest finally ended in the bottom of the 12th, when Les Mann -- pinch-running for Hank Gowdy, who had led off with a double -- scored from second base when A's second baseman Donie Bush threw wildly past third.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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