A tie-breaker was required in Major League Baseball (MLB) when two or more teams were tied at the end of the regular season for a postseason position such as a league pennant (prior to the introduction of the League Championship Series in 1969), a division title, or a wild card spot. Until 2022, both the American League (AL) and the National League (NL) used a one-game playoff format for tie-breakers, although the NL used a best-of-three series prior to 1969, when the leagues were split into divisions. As these tie-breaker games counted as part of the regular season and MLB teams have 162-game regular season schedules, the tie-breaker games were sometimes referred to as "Game 163". In 2022, as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, tiebreaker games were replaced with statistical tiebreakers.
Sixteen tie-breakers – 12 single-game and four series – have been played in MLB history. In baseball statistics, tie-breaker games counted as regular season games with all events in them counted towards regular season statistics. This had implications on statistical races, such as when Matt Holliday won the batting average and runs batted in titles thanks in part to his performance in the 2007 tie-breaker. Home-field advantage for tie-breakers was determined by a coin flip through the 2008 season, after which performance-based criteria, starting with head-to-head record of the tied teams, were put in place.
Although there have been no situations requiring a tie-breaker between more than two teams, it was possible. In 2007, for example, the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies, and Arizona Diamondbacks finished the season within two games of one another. The possibility existed for as many as four teams to be locked in a series of tie-breakers that year to decide the NL East, West, and Wild Card. Similarly, late in the 2012 season the possibility existed for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, and either the Texas Rangers or Oakland Athletics to all finish with the same record. This could have required the teams to play a complex set of multiple games to determine divisional and wild card winners, a situation which Jayson Stark described as potentially "baseball's worst scheduling nightmare."
The first tie-breaker, held in 1946, decided the winner of the NL pennant between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Brooklyn Dodgers, who had finished the season tied at 96–58. The Cardinals won the series in two games and went on to win the 1946 World Series, one of four tie-breaker winners who have gone on to win the World Series. Three tie-breaker games have gone into extra innings: the decisive second game of the 1959 series, the 2007 Wild Card tie-breaker, and the 2009 game. The 2008 tie-breaker, a 1–0 victory for the White Sox, was the lowest scoring game, while the 2007 match-up with 17 total runs was the highest scoring. The Dodgers franchise has participated in six tie-breakers, twice while the team was based in Brooklyn and four times in Los Angeles, the most for any team. Dodger Stadium, Ebbets Field, Fenway Park, the Polo Grounds and Wrigley Field are the only venues which have hosted multiple tie-breaker games. Both games at the Polo Grounds came in the 1951 series.
One of the most famous moments in MLB history came in the final game of the 1951 National League tie-breaker series. Entering the bottom of the ninth inning the New York Giants were trailing the Dodgers 4–1. Al Dark and Don Mueller each singled to put runners on first and third base. Whitey Lockman hit a double, scoring Dark to make the game 4–2. Finally, Bobby Thomson hit a walk-off home run which has come to be known as the "Shot Heard 'Round the World" to give the Giants the 5–4 victory and the National League pennant. ESPN's SportsCentury ranked it as the second greatest game of the 20th century.
The 2000s saw three years of consecutive one-run tiebreaker games. The Rockies stormed back from a 2-run deficit in the 13th in 2007, winning 9–8 in a surprising run to the World Series that year. In 2008, a Jim Thome home run and a stellar performance by John Danks helped the White Sox edge out the Twins 1–0. The Twins ended up on the winning side the following year, tying the game in the 10th after going down a run and then walking off in the 12th inning to defeat the Tigers 6–5.
In 2018, two tiebreakers were played to conclude the season for the first time in MLB history. The NL West was decided between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Colorado Rockies, while the NL Central was decided between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs. The Dodgers and Brewers, the winners of these games, advanced to the NLDS, while the losers played in the Wild Card game.
Despite one team playing on their home field, tie-breakers have not favored the home team statistically, with the home team having gone 11–11 since the first tie-breaker game was played.
Starting with the 2022 season, the tiebreaker game format was abolished. Ties will only be broken statistically. This was done to compensate for the expanded postseason.
|Title||The pennant, division, or Wild Card which the tie-breaker decided. Links to the tie-breaker game or series.|
|Winning/Losing team||The winning and losing team for the tie-breaker (for the overall series in the case of a three-game series)|
|Score(s)||Score of the game, extra innings noted in parentheses|
|Postseason result (winner)||Fate of team winning the tie-breaker in the subsequent postseason|
|Postseason result (loser)||Fate of team losing the tie-breaker in the subsequent postseason (if qualified)|
|*||Team contesting the tie-breaker won the World Series|
|#||Team contesting the tie-breaker lost the World Series|
|^||Tie-breaker was contested in a three-game series rather than a one-game playoff|
|Title||Winning team||Score(s)||Losing team||Site(s)||Postseason result||Head-to-head||Ref.|
|1946 NL pennant||St. Louis Cardinals||4–2, 8–4^||Brooklyn Dodgers||Sportsman's Park (Game 1)
Ebbets Field (Game 2)
|Won WS 4–3 (Red Sox)*||Did not qualify||14–8, .636|||
|1948 AL pennant||Cleveland Indians||8–3||Boston Red Sox||Fenway Park||Won WS 4–2 (Braves)*||Did not qualify||11–11, .500|||
|1951 NL pennant||New York Giants||3–1, 0–10, 5–4^||Brooklyn Dodgers||Ebbets Field (Game 1)
Polo Grounds (Games 2, 3)
|Lost WS 4–2 (Yankees)#||Did not qualify||9–13, .409|||
|1959 NL pennant||Los Angeles Dodgers||3–2, 6–5 (12)^||Milwaukee Braves||County Stadium (Game 1)
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Game 2)
|Won WS 4–2 (White Sox)*||Did not qualify||12–10, .545|||
|1962 NL pennant||San Francisco Giants||8–0, 7–8, 6–4^||Los Angeles Dodgers||Candlestick Park (Game 1)
Dodger Stadium (Games 2, 3)
|Lost WS 4–3 (Yankees)#||Did not qualify||9–9, .500|||
|1978 AL East||New York Yankees||5–4||Boston Red Sox||Fenway Park||Won ALCS 3–1 (Royals),
Won WS 4–2 (Dodgers)*
|Did not qualify||8–7, .533|||
|1980 NL West||Houston Astros||7–1||Los Angeles Dodgers||Dodger Stadium||Lost NLCS 3–2 (Phillies)||Did not qualify||8–10, .444|||
|1995 AL West||Seattle Mariners||9–1||California Angels||Kingdome||Won ALDS 3–2 (Yankees),
Lost ALCS 4–2 (Indians)
|Did not qualify||5–7, .417|||
|1998 NL Wild Card||Chicago Cubs||5–3||San Francisco Giants||Wrigley Field||Lost NLDS 3–0 (Braves)||Did not qualify||6–3, .667|||
|1999 NL Wild Card||New York Mets||5–0||Cincinnati Reds||Cinergy Field||Won NLDS 3–1 (Diamondbacks),
Lost NLCS 4–2 (Braves)
|Did not qualify||4–5, .444|||
|2007 NL Wild Card||Colorado Rockies||9–8 (13)||San Diego Padres||Coors Field||Won NLDS 3–0 (Phillies),
Won NLCS 4–0 (Diamondbacks),
Lost WS 4–0 (Red Sox)#
|Did not qualify||10–8, .556|||
|2008 AL Central||Chicago White Sox||1–0||Minnesota Twins||U.S. Cellular Field||Lost ALDS 3–1 (Rays)||Did not qualify||8–10, .444|||
|2009 AL Central||Minnesota Twins||6–5 (12)||Detroit Tigers||Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome||Lost ALDS 3–0 (Yankees)||Did not qualify||11–7, .611|||
|2013 AL Wild Card||Tampa Bay Rays||5–2||Texas Rangers||Rangers Ballpark in Arlington||Won ALWC (Indians),
Lost ALDS 3–1 (Red Sox)
|Did not qualify||3–4, .429|||
|2018 NL Central||Milwaukee Brewers||3–1||Chicago Cubs||Wrigley Field||Won NLDS 3–0 (Rockies),
Lost NLCS 4–3 (Dodgers)
|Lost NLWC (Rockies)||8–11, .421|||
|2018 NL West||Los Angeles Dodgers||5–2||Colorado Rockies||Dodger Stadium||Won NLDS 3–1 (Braves),
Won NLCS 4–3 (Brewers),
Lost WS 4–1 (Red Sox)#
|Won NLWC (Cubs),
Lost NLDS 3-0 (Brewers)
Head-head-record of the winning team vs. losing team during the regular season, prior to playing the tie-breaker (wins–losses, winning percentage); column is sortable by winning percentage
|Boston Red Sox||0–2||2|
|Chicago White Sox||1–0||1|
|Los Angeles Angels||0–1||1|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||2–4||6|
|New York Mets||1–0||1|
|New York Yankees||1–0||1|
|San Diego Padres||0–1||1|
|San Francisco Giants||2–1||3|
|St. Louis Cardinals||1–0||1|
|Tampa Bay Rays||1–0||1|
In cases where a series was played, win–loss total reflects outcome of the series, not individual games.
Tiebreakers involving three teams or more sometimes required those teams to choose their designations. There had never been tiebreakers involving at least three teams. However, it did come close enough that teams were required to make choices for their tiebreaker designations.
While such a tie had never occurred, teams within range were requested to choose between designations A, B, and C in case. Team A hosted Team B. The winner would then host Team C, with the winner of that game getting the wild card spot.
|Year||Teams involved||1st Team's choice||2nd Team's choice||3rd Team's designation|
|2021||Red Sox, Mariners, Blue Jays||Red Sox chose C||Mariners chose A||Blue Jays given B|
|Blue Jays, Yankees, Mariners||Blue Jays chose C||Yankees chose A||Mariners given B|
While such a tie had never occurred, teams within range were requested to choose between designations A, B, and C in case. Team A hosted Team B, with the winner awarded one spot. Team C would host the loser of the first game, with the winner getting the other spot.
|Year||Teams involved||1st Team's choice||2nd Team's choice||3rd Team's designation|
|2013||Indians, Rays, Rangers||Indians chose A||Rays chose B||Rangers given C|
|2016||Blue Jays, Orioles, Tigers||Blue Jays chose A||Orioles chose C||Tigers given B|
|2021||Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees||Red Sox chose A||Blue Jays chose B||Yankees given C|
|Red Sox, Yankees, Mariners||Red Sox chose A||Yankees chose B||Mariners given C|
While such a tie had never occurred, teams within range were requested to choose between designations A, B, C, and D in case. Team A hosted Team B. Team C hosted Team D. The winners of each game would've been awarded a wild-card spot.
|Year||Teams within range||1st Team's choice||2nd Team's choice||3rd Team's choice||4th Team's designation|
|2021||Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees, Mariners||Red Sox chose A||Blue Jays chose C||Yankees chose B||Mariners given D|