A Brief History Of Winner-Take-All Postseason Games

Members of the Arizona Diamondbacks celebrate defeating the New York Yankees to win game 7 to capture the World Series at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks defeated the Yankees 3-2. (Jeff Gross/ALLSPORT)

We are in rare territory.

This is only the second time in the wild-card era that three series have gone the distance and will be decided by a winner-take-all game. The other time was in 2001, when the Cardinals and Diamondbacks, Mariners and Indians, and Yankees and Athletics all went to a Game 5. The home team won all three of those games. Does that bode well for the Yankees Thursday night?

* Yes, I know there were "Division Series" in 1981, courtesy of the strike. Three series that year went the distance, but since that was a special case, I'm going to ignore it -- except to tell you that the Yankees won theirs that year, at the old Yankee Stadium.

Thanks to our estimable friends at Baseball-Reference.com, we have today a complete list of postseason winner-take-all games. There have been 76 in all, and despite the proliferation of postseason series in the wild-card era, there have been just 14 such games in 64 division series from 1995-2010.

Overall, the odds of winning a Game 5 or Game 7 are just about equal for the home and visiting teams. Home teams have won 41 of these games, away clubs 35. That breaks down this way by series:

Division Series: Home 8, Away 9
League Championship Series: Home 15, Away 9
World Series: Home 18, Away 17

Apart from the somewhat anomalous numbers for the LCS, you can't get much closer than that. And which team has played the most such games? The Yankees, as you might imagine; they've been involved in 21 of the 76 games. Their record? 11-10 in winner-take-all postseason games (5-6 at home and 6-4 on the road); the last one they won was the Aaron Boone game, Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. A year later, Boston would take their revenge in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, the last such game the Yankees have participated in, until tonight's matchup against the Tigers. The Yankees won another walkoff winner-take-all game in the 1976 ALCS, but have lost two such games: Game 7 of the 1960 World Series and Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.

The Cardinals, who will play one of these games Friday, are 7-8 overall, but just 1-4 on the road, which could favor the Phillies in their seven winner-take-all games; they won their last such game in 2004, in the NLCS against the Astros, but that game was in St. Louis. As for the other teams involved in the upcoming Game 5s, the Phillies are 0-1 and the Brewers 1-2, both of those losses coming on the road.

Does home field matter? Just ask last year's Rays, who lost a Division Series in which the visiting team won all five game. If history is our guide, the Yankees and Brewers should be celebrating in the next two days, while the Cardinals should be favored over the Phillies. But with the nearly even numbers in these games, in reality, these are anyone's games.

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