Process of Elimination: Giants Make Postseason History, Live to Fight Another Day

(The following was originally published at The Captain’s Blog; follow me on Twitter at@williamnyy23).

Not even the rain could dampen the Giants' comeback spirit. (Photo: Getty Images)

Move over St. Louis. The cardiac kids of the postseason now reside in San Francisco.

Entering last night’s sudden death NLCS showdown, the Cardinals were riding a six game winning streak in winner-take-all postseason match-ups dating back to last October. Meanwhile, the Giants, who have been on life support for most of the postseason, were busy building their own reputation for being at their best in a must-win situation. Something had to give. It was the Cardinals.

Not only did the Giants match the Cardinals’ streak of six straight victories with their backs against the wall, but they also became only the second team in postseason history to stare down the barrel of elimination six times and live to tell about it. In fact, only five other teams managed at least four stays of elimination in the same postseason, including last year’s World Series champion Cardinals. Granted, the increased number of October series has provided more opportunities for comebacks, but the Giants never say die march to the Fall Classic stands out as one of the most improbable pennant drives in postseason history.

Teams With 4 or More Elimination Game Wins in the Postseason, Since 1901

Source: baseball-reference.com

With six elimination game victories in the same postseason, the Giants matched the heroics of the 1985 Kansas City Royals, who rallied to win the last three games of the ALCS and World Series. In the decade leading up to that postseason, the Royals had become an October staple, but in six previous playoff appearances, the franchise succumbed to eventual elimination. So, when Dick Howser’s crew fell behind 3-1 to the Toronto Blue Jays, it looked like another winter of “waiting ‘til next year” in Kansas City.

If not for a rule change that expanded the LCS from five to seven games before the 1985 season, the Royals’ championship hopes would have been dashed when the team coughed up a 1-0 lead in the ninth inning of game four. Instead, the Royals took advantage of the new format. Not only did Kansas City win the next three games, but they never trailed again in the series. Maybe karma was finally on the Royals’ side?

After staving off elimination in the ALCS, the Royals quickly fell back into a 3-1 hole against their cross-state rivals from St. Louis. In game 5 of the World Series, the team once again avoided elimination, but in the ninth inning of game six, it looked like their luck was about to run out. Once again, however, fate lent a hand. Aided by what remains one of the most infamous missed calls by an umpire in baseball history, the Royals staged a furious comeback, not only winning the game, but building a wave of momentum that crashed over the Cardinals (who had more than their fair share of bad breaks that postseason) in a lopsided game seven victory.

With the World Series still on the horizon, the Giants have a chance to stand alone as the postseason’s all-time comeback team. Of course, that’s a distinction the franchise could live without. Surviving sudden death makes for great theater, but a World Series sweep would work just fine. After all, there’s only so much karma to go around. Just ask the Royals, who haven’t been back to the postseason since 1985.