One-run games keep piling up this October

One-run games keep piling up this October

For six months and then some, no one knew exactly what it would take to reach the American League Championship Series. On the first Sunday of October, this is what it took: a swing of a black-and-orange Boomstick for one club, and a big, blue wave of momentum washing over the heartland for another.

  Date Time Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   SF 2, WAS 1 (18 inn.) video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   WAS 4, SF 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Of course, the real answer to what it takes to advance in the postseason is you have to score one more run than your opponent, one game at a time. As a stunning 2014 postseason of close calls and crazy conclusions continues, one-run games are stacking up at a record pace as the thrill ride has hit a crescendo in two cities Sunday.

Congratulations go out to the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals, both coming off sweeps of their AL Division Series opponents Sunday and now poised to square off in the ALCS.

"This is one step," Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy said. "It's going to get more fun."

The Orioles eked out the eighth one-run victory of this pressure-packed postseason by holding off the Tigers for a 2-1 clincher in Detroit, Nelson Cruz's two-run home run providing all the offense they would need. The Royals just kept showing the hunger that can come from a 29-season absence from the October party list, beating the Angels 8-3 for the franchise's seventh straight postseason victory, dating back to the 1985 World Series.

A postseason session that has been chock full of thrills for all nine innings -- and sometimes a whole lot more than that -- is heading into historic territory when it comes to the smallest winning margin you can have in baseball, or just about anything else: one.

  Date   Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   STL 10, LAD 9 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   LAD 3, STL 2 video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   STL 3, LAD 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   STL 3, LAD 2 video
Through 12 games, there already have been eight games decided by one run, putting us well on our way to the most in a single postseason in the Wild Card era, dating back to 1995. Here's the top five, according to Elias Sports Bureau:

2011 - 13
2013 - 13
1995 - 12
1997 - 12
2003 - 12

After Sunday's sweep day in the AL, the National League will return to action Monday with a doubleheader that could continue the trend of tight contests. After all, the NL is 4-for-4 in delivering one-run games in the Division Series, the Nationals-Giants series doing it with a dearth of runs and Dodgers-Cardinals doing it with a downpour of them in Game 1. It'll be on to Game 3 for both series on Monday, with one sweep in play and the other series knotted up at one game apiece.

In San Francisco, the Giants will send ace left-hander Madison Bumgarner to the mound in hopes he can lead them to a sweep and a spot in the National League Championship Series. In a 5 p.m. ET start on MLB Network, he'll meet the Nationals' Doug Fister in a rematch from the 2012 World Series, when Fister pitched for the Tigers. The Giants carry a 10-game postseason winning streak into Game 3, and Pablo Sandoval has hit in 13 consecutive postseason games.

With the Nationals facing a 2-0 deficit and needing to win three straight, Sunday's results couldn't have been too encouraging. But they can just look across the field for proof that having your back against the wall doesn't mean you're out the door. The 2012 Giants rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the Division Series vs. the Reds, and from a 3-1 deficit in the NLCS vs. the Cardinals.

Said Nats manager Matt Williams: "It can be done. It can certainly be done. But you have to start with the first one."

After two thrillers in L.A., the Dodgers and Cardinals are headed to St. Louis for Game 3 at Busch Stadium. It will be right-hander John Lackey meeting Dodgers left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu in a 9 p.m. ET start on Fox Sports 1, and the winner will have a handle on the only Division Series currently guaranteed a Game 4.

Following a stunning hitting display against aces Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright in Game 1, it was another tight one in Game 2, with the Cardinals tying the game in the top of the eighth and Matt Kemp's solo homer in the bottom half making it another one-run affair.

With the series tied 1-1, there's no reason to think the outcome will be anything other than what it has been so far, by the slimmest of winning margins: one.

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnSchlegelMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.