Once upon a time, the chance to go to Great American Ball Park and watch the Reds play a win-or-go-home game in the playoffs would have been the chance of a lifetime for fans in Cincinnati. The franchise hadn't played one since 1975, and that was at Fenway Park.
There are baby boomers across North America who can tell you where they watched those games, even if they weren't fans of the Reds, A's or Red Sox. It was baseball with unbridled urgency, and it was to be treasured because it didn't come along that often.
But don't try telling that to one of baseball's newer fans. It's raining win-or-go-home games in the playoffs, and only partly because Major League Baseball added two one-game wild-card games this season.
Beginning with those two games Oct. 5, there were six win-or-go-home games in a span of eight days, ending with late-night theater Friday at Nationals Park. This year marked the first time that all four division series went five games, and it followed an intense postseason in 2011. The World Series went seven games, and three of the four division series were decided in Game 5.
Roll the two years together, and you have eight of the last 11 postseason series going the distance (10 of 13 if you count the one-game wild-card affairs as series). Pretty crazy, given that 13 of 24 division series were sweeps in a seven-year stretch from 2005-10.
What does it mean?
"There are no dominant teams,'' Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Anybody can beat anybody on any given day, and I think that makes for good baseball. I don't think baseball likes a bunch of sweeps. I think baseball likes four or five games (in a best-of-five series), you know what I mean?"
While it was only baseball's quarterfinals, the Reds' Jay Bruce had a chance to put his name on the long list of October heroes Thursday, when he faced the Giants' Sergio Romo in a 12-pitch, ninth-inning at-bat. The stakes weren't as high, of course, but the atmosphere was supercharged, not that unlike St. Louis when the Cardinals rallied in Game 6 of the World Series last year, forcing a seventh game.
Bruce failed to take advantage of his David Freese moment, but not unlike Carl Yastzemski in Game 7 at Fenway Park in 1975.
Bruce won't go down alongside Yastrzemski, of course. There weren't nearly as many people watching, and there wasn't a championship on the line. But the drama was thick, as it has been throughout this postseason. That's the beauty of either this particular period of parity or this playoff format.
In the first three years of this decade, there have been more win-or-go-home playoff games (11) than there were in the 1970s (10) or '90s (nine). We're guaranteed two a year until further notice, so it seems we'll see at least three or four times as many of these dramatic games as in any previous decade.
October never has been such a roller-coaster ride for so many.
Leading men: Halfway home to the World Series, here's a look at October All-Stars.
SP — Justin Verlander: His postseason domination has started, as he worked 16 of a possible 18 innings, including a Game 5 complete game. He has 22 strikeouts and seven hits allowed in 16 innings, overshadowing excellence from Joe Saunders, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Chris Carpenter.
RP — Tim Lincecum: He had one big league relief appearance before the NLDS, in 2008, but gave the Giants 61/3 tough innings over two outings as a long guy, getting the victory in Game 4 behind Barry Zito. He seems likely to get an NLCS start, but he might have more value in the bullpen. Other guys with maximum playoff value were Darren O'Day, Sean Marshall, Drew Storen, Rafael Soriano, Jim Johnson (despite the Game 3 pounding) and Sergio Romo.