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Wild-card scramble: Looking at one pivotal win for each contender

Think positive. That’s what you have to do at this time of year if you’re a postseason hopeful whose season fate remains undecided. It’s a challenging thing to do, but we’re here to help.

Our colleague Tim Kurkjian likes to tell of how he’s able to recall the most notable victories for a team during its pennant push because he circles the games in his baseball ledger. A typical playoff team probably will have a dozen circles over the course of a season.

The circles are the games you'll remember forever and cherish always. They come in all forms and sizes. They lead you to wander around asking "Isn't baseball wonderful?" That's the game. The fun lasts. Take it from someone who still remembers every key moment from the 1986 Mets' season.

But let's take it a step further. Ask yourself this question: If your team makes the postseason, what’s the one game that was the definitive reason for being there? Last week, we looked at each wild-card contender's worst loss. Let's come full circle and pick their best win.

National League

New York Mets -- The game: Mets 9, Phillies 8 (Sept. 22)

This article was made for games like the epic one on Thursday night, in which the Mets (for the first time in their history, per Elias) rallied from multiple-run deficits in the ninth inning and extra innings to win a vital game, washing away some of the stench from a sweep earlier in the week by the Braves. This win was as important as it was unpredictable. Just like baseball -- a game in which walk-off homer-hitting hero Asdrubal Cabrera can carry a team with a month's worth of the best slugging in the National League.

Ya gotta believe: The win that put the Mets in position to be in this position was a late-August victory at AT&T Park on Sunday Night baseball. At the time, the Mets were 61-62, 4 ½ games behind the Cardinals for the second wild card (not to mention seven games behind the Giants). The Mets were no-hit for six innings by Jeff Samardzija but won on a Cespedes home run. This started a run in which the Mets went 20-7

San Francisco Giants -- The game: Giants 4, Dodgers 3 (June 11)

The game has to come from before the All-Star break, since the second half of the season has been disastrous. In this one, the Giants’ lead on the Dodgers was three games after losing to Clayton Kershaw in the series opener. The Giants led 2-0 and 3-2, but couldn’t hold it either time. The Dodgers tied the game in the seventh on a bases-loaded walk and went ahead in the 10th on Adrian Gonzalez’s home run.

But what might have been a “Charlie Brown loss” (see last week's piece) turned into a great win. The Giants rallied with four straight hits in the home 10th against invincible closer Kenley Jansen. Joe Panik's single tied it. Buster Posey's single won it.

Ya gotta believe: There may be no such thing as momentum in baseball, but this win would contradict that. It started a stretch in which the Giants won eight in a row and 13 of 15 overall, building their NL West lead to a season-high eight games.

St. Louis Cardinals -- The game: Cardinals 6, Padres 5 (July 21)

This is the story of two games as much as it is one. In the one we’re citing, the Cardinals trailed 5-1 in the eighth inning, their win probability plummeting to as low as 3 percent. But 3 percent still means hope, and the Cardinals found it in the form of a rally in which Jedd Gyorko singled in one run and Stephen Piscotty homered in three. It didn’t take long to win it. In the bottom of the ninth, Tommy Pham’s double set the Cardinals up, and Aledmys Diaz finished it with a walk-off hit.

The next day, the Cardinals were 95 percent done, down a run with two outs in the ninth inning. But Gyorko tied it with a homer off the Dodgers' Jansen. It took 16 innings to decide this one. Matt Adams did it with a walk-off homer.

Ya gotta believe: Depending on how things play out, we may have to shift the answer to Sept. 17. The Cardinals had lost three in a row and trailed the Giants 2-1 in the ninth inning. A loss would have dropped them three back, but a two-run rally produced a lead, and Seung Hwan Oh escaped trouble in the ninth inning for a pivotal win that began a four-game winning streak.

American League

Toronto Blue Jays -- The game: Blue Jays 12, Yankees 6 (Aug. 16)

This was a rare instance in which Marco Estrada pitched poorly, as he spotted the Yankees a 6-0 lead. But then came a rain delay, forcing Michael Pineda’s departure after five scoreless innings, and the Blue Jays went to work. They scored 12 runs against the Yankees' bullpen, four in the sixth inning thanks to back-to-back homers from Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin, and eight in the eighth, with Martin’s second homer being a key hit.

Ya gotta believe: Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ started the Blue Jays’ third and fourth games of the season. The two of them are a combined 33-6, and the Blue Jays are 39-19 in their starts this season.

Baltimore Orioles -- The game: Orioles 8, Giants 7 (Aug. 14)

The Orioles trailed 7-1 on the road entering the seventh inning, a combination of scenarios that produces a 1 percent chance of victory. But when you can belt balls out of ballparks like the Orioles can, no lead is safe.

The Orioles cut the deficit to 7-3 after seven innings and 7-5 after eight (helped by a Mark Trumbo homer). In the ninth inning, the Giants got within one out of winning. Trumbo walked to give the Orioles two runners on base, and with an 0-1 count, Jonathan Schoop homered off Giants reliever Santiago Casilla. The bottom of the ninth got a little hairy. With a runner on second and two out, the Orioles elected to intentionally walk Posey, putting the winning run on base. Zach Britton then ran the count to 3-2 on Denard Span before coaxing a game-ending groundout.

Ya gotta believe: To illustrate how everyone is contributing: Four Orioles have hit three go-ahead or game-tying home runs in the seventh inning or later –- Nolan Reimold (who has only six home runs this season), Matt Wieters, Chris Davis and Schoop. Home run leader Trumbo has only two.

Detroit Tigers -- The game: Tigers 7, Royals 6 (Sept. 3)

This could have been a terrible loss. The Tigers blew leads of 4-0 and 5-3, with full deflation coming when Paulo Orlando singled in two runs against Francisco Rodriguez in the bottom of the eighth. But when the Royals went to closer Wade Davis, who had just come off the disabled list, the Tigers rallied. A two-run single by Miguel Cabrera (the Royals pitched to him with first base open) gave the Tigers the lead back. Rodriguez struck out two and got a groundout to finish the game in the bottom of the ninth.

Ya gotta believe: This was part of a stretch in which the Tigers won six out of seven games. In five of those wins, they scored the go-ahead run in the eighth inning or later.

Seattle Mariners -- The game: Mariners 5, Red Sox 4 (Aug. 2)

How do you choose between miracles? The Mariners' season has been predicated on improbable wins and improbable losses. But the most impactful of the former was one that followed two abominable instances of the latter. The Mariners lost back-to-back games in which they blew a three-run lead in the eighth and a one-run lead in the ninth, resulting in Steve Cishek losing his closer job.

Then, the Mariners trailed 4-0 in the eighth against David Price in a situation in which a loss would have put them under .500. The Red Sox's win probability was 96 percent. And then it wasn't. A homer and three singles plated two runs and brought Robinson Cano up in exactly the spot the Mariners wanted him in. His three-run home run put them ahead. The bottom of the ninth was important. Phenom Edwin Diaz closed with three strikeouts to earn his first save and provide the Mariners the end-game security they needed.

Ya gotta believe: Probably the best unpicked win among all these teams is the Mariners’ July 18 victory over the White Sox. Chris Sale (pre-jersey incident) pitched eight scoreless innings, allowing one hit, but was hooked at 100 pitches for David Robertson. With two on and two out, Kyle Seager singled to keep the game alive, and pinch hitter Adam Lind followed with a three-run walk-off home run.

Houston Astros -- The game: Astros 3, Orioles 2, 13 innings (May 24)

The Astros were 17-28 entering the first game of a three-game series with the 26-16 Orioles. This was a point in the season in which the Astros looked hopeless, having totaled five runs during a four-game losing streak. This one would take 13 innings and a herculean effort from the Astros' bullpen (16 strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings pitched). Carlos Correa’s bases-loaded single won it in the 13th.

There were more fun victories for the Astros than this one (a comeback from two down in the ninth in July against the Athletics or a recent homer-to-tie, homer-to win victory over the Rays), but this was the most impactful. It started a run of 11 wins in 13 games that got the Astros back to respectability.

Ya gotta believe: Correa has been huge in these spots. He has four walk-off hits this season. That matches a team record for a single season. Bob Aspromonte had four in 1963, and Hall of Famer Nellie Fox had four in 1964.