When the San Francisco Giants won the 2014 World Series as a Wild Card team, the club became the first to conquer the MLB postseason since the expanded format with the do-or-die game began in 2012. However, it was actually the sixth time a team won the World Series despite having the worst record among playoff teams in the league.
That same year, the Kansas City Royals affirmed that a team starting the postseason with an elimination game is no by no means out of the running for the World Series. In 2016, the Baltimore Orioles joined the Toronto Blue Jays as Wild Card teams of the American League; the New York Mets and those same Giants represent the National League in this year’s one-game playoff.
While the Chicago Cubs would ultimately come away with the 2016 World Series crown, fans of these ball clubs were right to go into the postseason with a significant measure of confidence. Here are 12 teams that made it to the World Series after starting the playoffs as a Wild Card.
1. 1997 Florida Marlins
A walk-off RBI single by Edgar Renteria decided the 1997 World Series in extra innings for the Florida Marlins, the first team to make go all the way after starting the playoffs as a Wild Card. Florida had no cakewalk to the Fall Classic. After beating the Braves of Smoltz, Glavine, and Maddux in the NLCS, the Marlins tangled with an Indians teams that featured Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, and Sandy Alomar, Jr. in their primes. Livan Hernandez won two games and took home the World Series MVP for Florida.
2. 2000 New York Mets
Both the Yankees and Mets were underdogs when they battled for Big Apple bragging rights and world supremacy in 2000. The Bronx Bombers won just 87 games in the regular season but took out the mighty Seattle Mariners (116 wins) in the ALCS. The Mets toppled the Cardinals in the NLCS after landing the Wild Card with a team led by Mike Piazza and Al Leiter. Led by World Series MVP Derek Jeter, the late-dynasty Yankees took down the Mets in five games. It was their third consecutive title and fourth in five years.
3. 2002 Anaheim Angels
The first American League team to win it all as a Wild Card team was the Anaheim Angels of 2002. Winners of 99 games in the regular season behind a dynamite Oakland A’s team, the Angels were no slouch team when they took out Barry Bonds’s San Francisco Giants in seven games. Troy Glaus (.385, 3 HR, 8 RBI) won MVP of the Series in which Bonds hit .471 with a .700 on-base percentage. Despite that monster showing, the Angels denied the team from up north through use of a certain Rally Monkey.
4. 2002 San Francisco Giants
Hell hath no fury like Barry Bonds in the 2002 World Series. The Giants’ slugger who (PEDs or not) was one of the premier hitters in baseball history, absolutely dominated Angels pitching with a 1.994 OPS, fifth best ever in the Series. For their part, the Angels wanted little to do with Bonds, intentionally walking him 13 times in the seven games, which is of course a record. Even with that, Bonds hit .471 and slugged 1.294 in the losing effort for San Francisco. The Giants lost in seven.
5. 2003 Florida Marlins
In the words of Yogi Berra, it was “deja vu all over again” for the Marlins in the 2003 World Series. After entering the postseason as the NL Wild Card, Florida eliminated the Chicago Cubs in an epic seven-game NLCS. The Yankees made it to the Series after the club’s own epic showdown with the Boston Red Sox, this one ending on a walk-off home run in extra innings of Game Seven by Aaron Boone. New York was no match for MVP Josh Beckett and the rest of Marlins pitching. Florida won in six games.
6. 2004 Boston Red Sox
It had been 86 years since the Boston Red Sox had won a World Series, and the 2004 club did so in a run that began with the AL Wild Card. Of course, the path to the championship had to go through New York, where the Red Sox broke their slump (or curse, as some would have it) against the Yankees after facing an 0-3 hole in the ALCS. Once the club got to the World Series, Boston made quick work of the St. Louis Cardinals in a four-game sweep. Manny Ramirez hit .412 and took home the MVP.
7. 2005 Houston Astros
After three straight wins by Wild Card winners, the 2005 Houston Astros tried to make it four but got swept by the Chicago White Sox in the World Series. That Astros team, which featured Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Jeff Bagwell, and Craig Biggio, had taken out the Cardinals in six games to win the National League Pennant. Riding into the postseason on the last day of the season with 89 wins, this Astros club (then in the NL) was far from a favorite to make it to the Series. The White Sox prevailed in four close games.
8. 2006 Detroit Tigers
The 2006 AL Wild Card Tigers knocked off the Yankees in the ALDS in five games and swept the Oakland A’s in the ALCS. Then the club ran into a St. Louis Cardinals team that won just 83 games yet found its groove when it mattered. Detroit lost in five games. Of the many unlikely heroes of World Series lore, David Eckstein may rank near the top with his MVP turn in that year’s Fall Classic. But the run began with a Tigers team that made it as a Wild Card after winning 95 games.
9. 2007 Colorado Rockies
Talk about a team on a roll. The 2007 Colorado Rockies won 21 of the club’s 22 last games with sweeps of Philadelphia ((NLDS) and Arizona (NLCS) leading up to its first appearance in the Fall Classic. Apparently, the Rockies had already peaked by the time it met the Red Sox in the Series, as Boston swept Colorado in four games. Mike Lowell took home MVP honors that year for the Red Sox.
10. 2011 St. Louis Cardinals
In 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals took advantage of the last year of the Wild Card before the one-game playoffs began. After beating the Phillies in five games in the NLDS and the Brewers in six in the NLCS, the Cardinals clipped the Rangers in seven games in the most exciting series in recent memory. David Freese won MVP for his Game Six heroics when Texas appeared to have the Series won.
11. 2014 Kansas City Royals
The 2014 Royals delivered an amazing underdog story for the postseason, riding their run to the seventh game of the World Series, where they lost to the Giants and Madison Bumgarner. It all began with 89 wins and a comeback win against the A’s in the elimination game. Kansas City next swept seven straight against the Angels (ALDS) and Orioles (ALCS) before running into MadBum’s postseason for the ages. This bitter memory was erased by the club’s 2015 championship.
12. 2014 San Francisco Giants
The Giants had an equally improbable run in 2014 en route to the club’s third title in six years. San Francisco bumped off Pittsburgh in the Wild Card game before vanquishing Washington in four games in the NLDS and St. Louis in the NLCS in five. Madison Bumgarner was the obvious MVP after he delivered his historic pitching performance. But the entire run began with 88 wins — the least in Major League Baseball among playoff teams — and a do-or-die Wild Card duel.