The current playoff format has been in effect since 1995, and the Yankees have made the postseason more than any other team during the wildcard era. They’ll play a winner-take-all Game Five against the Tigers tomorrow night after keeping their season alive last night, their sixth decisive Game Five since the current format was put in place. How did the Yankees fare in the previous five Game Fives? Let’s look back…
1995 vs. Mariners: Seattle wins 6-5 in 12 innings (box) (WPA)
This one will always and forever be the heart-breaker. I was just 13 years old at the time, about three weeks away from my 14th birthday. The Yankees had just made the postseason for the first time in my life, the first ever club to win a wildcard spot. New York won Game One thanks to five late-inning runs, then took Game Two in 15 innings thanks to Jim Leyritz’s two-run walk-off dinger. Up two games to zip in the best-of-five, I remember feeling pretty awesome about how things were going. We all know what happened next.
The Mariners scored six runs in the fifth and sixth innings of Game Three to extend their season, then evened up the series thanks to five eighth inning runs in Game Four. David Cone and Andy Benes squared off in Game Five, and the Yankees had a 4-2 lead going into the bottom of the eighth. Ken Griffey Jr. hit a solo homer, and Cone unraveled. Tino Martinez walked, Jay Buhner singled, and Alex Diaz walked to load the bases. Buck Showalter stuck with Cone at 141 pitches, who then walked Doug Strange to force in the tying run. The score remained tied until Randy Velarde singled in a run off Randy Johnson in the top of the 12th, but Jack McDowell could not make the run stand up. Joey Cora led off the bottom of the 12th inning with a bunt single, then Griffey singled on a ground ball back up the middle. Edgar Martinez, who went 12-for-21 with six walks in the series, doubled into left, scoring both runs for the series clinching walk-off win. It was my first taste of brutal, gut-wrenching defeat.
1997 vs. Indians: Cleveland wins 4-3 (box) (WPA)
A back-and-forth series, the Yankees and Indians alternated wins and losses for the first four games of the series before coming together in Cleveland for matchup of young hurlers in Game Five: Andy Pettitte and Jaret Wright. The Tribe jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third inning thanks to a Manny Ramirez double and a Matt Williams single, and they tacked on another run in the fourth. The Yankees did rally back to make it 4-2 in fifth courtesy of a Bernie Williams single and a Manny error, then Wade Boggs made it 4-3 with a single in the sixth. The score would remain unchanged for the rest of the game though, which ended when Bernie flew out to deep center with the tying run on second against Jose Mesa.
2000 vs. Athletics: Yankees win 7-5 (box) (WPA)
Clearly the worse team of the late-90’s dynasty, the Yankees dropped the opener before winning the next two games. Oakland completely wrecked the Yankees in Game Four to force Game Five, another Pettitte start. Gil Heredia was on the bump for the A’s, and this one was over before it started. New York scored four runs before making an out in the first inning, and ended the frame up 6-0. The Athletics chipped away with solo homers and sac flies, but ultimately it was just too big of a hole to climb out of. Eric Chavez, representing the tying run, popped out in foul territory against Mariano Rivera to end the game and the A’s season. For the first time in the wildcard era, the Yankees had won a deciding Game Five in the ALDS.
2001 vs. Athletics: Yankees win 5-3 (box) (WPA)
Seven years after the Mariners made that huge comeback, it was time for the Yankees to make a comeback of their own. The A’s took the first game on the strength of solo homers from Jason Giambi and Terrence Long against Sterling Hitchcock. Tim Hudson completely stifled the Yankees in Game Two, and Oakland had a commanding two games to none series lead.
The comeback started in Game Three, a thrilling 1-0 win that featured Derek Jeter’s famous flip play and seven shutout innings from Mike Mussina. The Yankees blew the doors off Game Four early, forcing a Game Five with a 9-2 win. The A’s did not go quietly in the deciding game, far from it. They scored a run in the first and a run in the second off Roger Clemens, but Alfonso Soriano knotted things up with a two-run single in the bottom of the second. Scott Brosius drove in a run on error the next inning, then Jeter tacked on another run with a sac fly the next inning. David Justice tacked on a homer off Hudson in relief, and the Yankees cruised to a 5-3 thanks to 4.2 scoreless, two-hit innings from their bullpen.
2005 vs. Angels: Anaheim wins 5-3 (box) (WPA)
This one was just painful. Not rip your heart out painful like 1995, just ugly. Ugly to watch. Mussina outdueled Bartolo Colon in a Game One win, but the Halos rebounded with a win behind John Lackey in Game Two. The Randy Johnson-Paul Byrd matchup in Game Three did not go planned, with the Angels winning a wild, 11-7 contest. Shawn Chacon (Shawn Chacon!) stood on his head with 6.1 shutout innings in Game Four to force the deciding game. Game Five was just awful. Moose didn’t get out of the third, outfielders were running into each other … just an unwatchable game. Francisco Rodriguez closed the game out, getting Hideki Matsui to ground out to first with the tying run on base.
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So that’s five Game Fives in 16 postseasons, with two losses and three wins. The two wins came in back-to-back years against the Athletics, and of course the Yankees haven’t won an ALDS against a non-Twins team since that 2001 series against Oakland. Scary stat, but it’s meaningless. Different team, different manager, different opponents, yadda yadda yadda. What happened six years ago doesn’t matter now. Tomorrow’s game will have it’s own script, one that will be dictated by Ivan Nova and Doug Fister.