Division Play-in Series –
#3 Arizona Diamondbacks vs. #6 San Francisco Giants
This series was a match-up of NL West rivals, the three-time division champion Diamondbacks against the up and coming Giants, making their first playoff appearance. The Diamondbacks had a great second half as their pitching, which looked rather ordinary in the first half, led the way down the stretch and made this team look very potent for a potential playoff run. Meanwhile, the Giants came out strong out of the gate but took a bit of a tumble in the second half and were able to hang on to the final playoff spot despite a late season surge by the Pirates. Clearly, the Diamondbacks looked to be the favorites going into the series.
The Diamondbacks did not disappoint. Despite a rough game 1 start by Felipe Tejada (by his standards) in which he was out dueled by rookie sensation George Bush, the D’back bullpen saved the day by holding the Giants and allowing Pascual Martin to hit a walk-off sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth to win the game. They didn’t look back from there as they swept the Giants in 3 games with two excellent team pitching performances. Pascual Martin was named the series MVP as he hit .417 with 2 home runs and 5 runs batted in.
#4 Florida Marlins vs. #5 Montreal Expos
The Florida Marlins entered the playoffs as the only playoff team with a losing record as they won the weak AL South for a second consecutive season. Meanwhile, the Montreal Expos had a fine season earning their first playoff spot as they played very consistent throughout the season and lost their division purely on how red hot the Reds were in the second half. This looked to be a fairly even series as both teams came in well rested and ready to go.
It was a tight series that went the full five games with the Marlins taking the decisive game 5. The Marlins pitching was the difference as they held the Expos to 3 runs or less in four of the five games, including a shutout in game 5. Leading the way on offense was Marlin lead-off man and series MVP Bob McMahon who hit .317 with 2 homers and 5 runs batted in.
Division Championship Series –
#1 Philadelphia Phillies vs. #4 Florida Marlins
Did this series even need to be played? We are talking about the winningest franchise in league history, the Phillies, having just completed a record 112-win season. And their opponent, the 80-82 Florida Marlins who just narrowly escaped the first round would surely be outmatched in this series. The only intriguing factor was that 8 of the 80 Marlin regular season victories were against these Phillies as they had the best record of any team against them. But this was merely a fluke, and the dominant team with an entire starting lineup who hit 20+ homers would certainly prevail. Right?
The first two games held true to form as the Phillies escaped a near bullpen collapse in game 1 and had a dominant offensive performance in game 2. Up 2-0 in a best of 5 series, it was definitely over now, right? "David took a stone from the bag and slung it... knocking the Philistine to the ground." With 5 runs in the bottom of the ninth of game 3, punctuated by a walk-off grand slam by Nerio Arnold, the Marlins refused to go down without a fight. The Marlins pitching put the clamps on the Phillies high powered offense for the final two games, winning them by the narrow combined margin of 8-4. Despite only 7 plate appearances and not even playing in game 5, Nerio Arnold was named the series MVP for two of the biggest hits of his young career, the pinch hit grand slam to win game 3 and a pinch hit 2 run homer in the bottom of the eighth to win game 4.
#2 Cincinnati Reds vs. #3 Arizona Diamondbacks
The defending world champs were the hottest team in all of baseball in the second half as they seemed to put all of the pieces together following their big trade with the Orioles that brought Cliff Rivers. The D’backs looked to be almost as hot coming off a sweep of the Giants and an excellent second half performance that saw their pitching return to dominant form. This series could easily go either way as both teams possessed the weapons to win a title.
The series did not disappoint as it was pitching that ruled the day as both sides performed brilliantly, with the lone exception being a rough start by Arizona’s Bernie Delgado in game 3. In the decisive game 5, four pitchers for the Reds combined to shutout the D’backs and send them to their third straight NLCS. The Reds’ Bartolo Lopez was named series MVP after hitting .474 with 2 home runs.
League Championship Series
#2 Cincinnati Reds vs. #4 Florida Marlins
Were the Reds destined to repeat as champs? Or could the Marlins do the unthinkable and beat another 100-win team and become the first World Series team with a losing record? While the Reds look like the team to beat, any team that can win three elimination games in a row against the mighty Phillies is hard to ignore. This series was going to be interesting.The series had everything: pitching duels, blowouts, and dramatic come from behind heroics. It was a series for the ages and arguably the most dramatic in league history with a classic game 7 finale. It was the top of the 9th, 2 outs, and the Reds had their closer Phil Boyer on the mound. In a surprise managerial move, the Marlins pinch hit for their lead off man and first round playoff series MVP Bob McMahon to bring in slugger Phil McCarthy. In the hole 0-2, McCarthy made great contact against Boyer’s best pitch, a nasty slider, and drove the ball down the leftfield line. The ball hit the foul pole and the game was sent to extra innings. In the bottom of the 10th, the Reds loaded the bases with only one out and their 2-3 hitters due up. Marlin closer Carlos Solano bared down and got the next two outs by strikeout and popout. In the bottom of the 11th, the Reds had runners at first and third with two out and the next batter flied out to CF. Then in the top of the 13th, two solo homers were the difference as Vic Kolb completed the most important three innings of scoreless work in his life to send the Marlins to the World Series. For his 14 scoreless innings and wins in games 1 and 4, Homer Flanagan was named series MVP. The Marlins appear to be a team of destiny that can never be counted out. We’ll see if a World Championship is a part of that destiny.