For the first time, all four Division Series matchups are going the distance, with two already wrapped up in five and two more going to a decisive Game 5 on Friday. And all this is coming off the inaugural won-and-done Wild Card one-game playoffs that started all this craziness in the first place.As of Thursday, two teams have advanced: The Giants clawed back in Cincinnati to become the first team to rally from a 2-0 deficit in a five-game series with three straight road wins, earning them a ticket to the National League Championship Series, and the Tigers finally shook the A's to take their place in the American League Championship Series. Indeed, the journey to the World Series has only taken its first steps.
Said the Giants' Sergio Romo, fresh off his nerve-rattling four-out save in Cincinnati: "We still have plenty of work to do."A second four-game day of unpredictable and utterly thrilling baseball Thursday gives way to another day of Game 5 fun Friday -- again, twice the fun with a pair of deciders, Orioles-Yankees at 5 p.m. ET and Cardinals-Nationals at 8:30 p.m., both on TBS. On Thursday, a day of postseason baseball that began about 12 hours earlier with a first pitch in Cincinnati ended with a glorious display of appreciation and support from A's fans, one that Tigers manager Jim Leyland couldn't help but admire.
"As we were celebrating, they were applauding their players," Leyland said. "It was a great gesture on the fans' part. It was a magical season for Oakland."That's the postseason for you -- even the losing clubs had magical seasons. And that was the postseason playing out in so many ways Friday. It's the Reds' Jay Bruce, the potential winning run, standing in for 12 pitches against Romo, the latter winning the battle with a flyout for the second out of the ninth. It's the Nationals' Jayson Werth, working the Cardinals' Lance Lynn to a 13th pitch before blasting his walk-off solo shot to the left-field bleachers.
It's Nate McLouth, released by the Pirates in May, smacking a homer and making a leaping catch for the Orioles.It's Verlander and the Tigers returning to the ALCS, ending one of the season's great stories by dispatching the A's to the offseason. Considered as one long game, Thursday's four-fer played out just like the postseason -- tight, too close to call, nail-bitingly TBD. Example A: Just as the Giants closed out their 6-4 victory over the Reds, the Cardinals and Nationals were tied, 1-1, in the fourth. Example B: Just as the Tigers and A's started up their Game 5 battle, the Orioles were in the sixth inning in the Bronx -- you guessed it, all tied, 1-1. The opening frames of Thursday's four-fer included a Buster Posey grand slam for the Giants, a methodically frustrating comeback for the Reds that fell short and a series comeback by the Giants that simply never had been done before. Only four teams previously had come back from a 2-0 Division Series deficit in the Wild Card era, none in the National League and none needing to win all three on the road. "It was intense," said Giants center fielder Angel Pagan. "But that's what the playoffs are like. You have to stay in the game and stay positive and believe." The Giants soon found out that they'd be staying in Cincinnati for at least another day, with the Nationals forcing a Game 5. If the Nats win Friday, they're hosting the first two games of the NLCS, starting Sunday. If the Cards win, they're heading to San Francisco for the opening games. That scenario emerged after another tense outing, this one a battle that took an early 1-1 tie all the way to the ninth. That's when Werth battled Lynn before sending D.C. into a tizzy with a 2-1 win, the first postseason victory in Washington since 1933. "I don't even remember it," Werth said of the battle afterward. "It's almost like I blacked out, for sure. It was a Will Ferrell moment. I remember bits and pieces." Shortly after Werth's blast, the O's and Yankees started up their Game 4 matchup in the Bronx, and it was McLouth who set the tone early. His solo homer got the Orioles on the board, and his catch of a Jayson Nix drive turned into a double play that helped keep the Yankees off of it. But it was J.J. Hardy's double to the left-field fence in the 13th inning that scored Manny Machado from third for a 2-1 victory, setting up Game 5. "All game I was trying to get myself not to do too much," Hardy said. "That wasn't working, so at that at-bat I told myself to do a bit more." The nightcap of Thursday's quadruple-header had the A's in their familiar underdog role, facing elimination and perhaps an even more imposing foe: Verlander. A two-run deficit, which the A's had erased in the ninth inning of Game 4, sat there for several innings Friday night, but as long as Verlander was on the mound, it was going to be a steeper climb back. With four more runs added to his side in the seventh, Verlander was on the way to a 122-pitch shutout. When he arrived in the clubhouse afterward, a thorough champagne dousing by all of his teammates chanting "Cy Young! Cy Young!" was his reward. "It was awesome and horrible at the same time because you can't see a thing," Verlander said. Once he rubbed his eyes and woke up to the reality that the Tigers are headed back to the ALCS, it was all awesome. "Having your teammates around you and dump champagne on you is a feeling I'll never forget and something I'll take with me forever," Verlander said. Now, that's the postseason for you, right there.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.