|List: Biggest baseball playoff upsets|
Page 2 staff
As it looks like we might have the first all-wild-card World Series, Page 2 has compiled our list of the 10 biggest upsets in baseball playoffs history.
Check out our top 10 list, and then send us your pick for the biggest baseball playoff upset. Later this week, we'll run our readers' top 10 list along with poll to crown the No. 1 upset in baseball playoffs history.
(1) Ruth's called shot
In the fifth, Ruth stepped into the box again. After the first pitch, a called strike, he pointed. People still argue about the angle of Ruth's arm -- was he pointing toward Root, or toward the center-field bleachers? A couple more pitches passed the plate. A couple more times, Ruth gestured. Then, with the count 2-2, Ruth slammed the ball over the center field wall for a homer. He broke into his home run trot, and also into laughter. The Yankees went on to win, 7-5, and the next day they completed their sweep of the Cubs.
But did he call it? Root said no. Gabby Hartnett, who was behind the plate, said yes. Lou Gehrig said yes. Charlie Grimm, the Cubs skipper, said no. Seventy years have passed, The Babe is long gone, as are most of the players and fans who were in Wrigley that day. But the argument lives on.
(2) Grover Cleveland Alexander strikes out Tony Lazzeri
Cards lead the Yankees, 3-2. Yankees have the bases loaded. Grover Cleveland Alexander, the 39-year-old pitcher picked up on waivers earlier in the season, is loaded, too -- and fast asleep in the bullpen. Tony Lazzeri at the plate. Alexander gets the call. He's the man -- he's already pitched two complete-game victories in the Series.
Alexander was in no position for a dramatic entrance, so he did the best he could, said teammate Flint Rhem. He "staggered a little, handed me the pint, hitched up his britches, and walked as straight as he could to the mound." (Alexander would later deny being either drunk or asleep.)
In any case, Alexander took his time as Lazzeri waited at the plate. "Well, I didn't see any reason why I should run," he said. "I thought he was just as anxious as I was, and then some."
First two pitches to Lazzeri are curves. One ball, one strike. Next pitch: fastball. Lazzeri tags one deep to left field -- woulda been a grand slam had it not tailed foul by a few feet. Alexander goes back to the curve, and gets Lazzeri swinging to end the inning. He then pitches a scoreless eighth and ninth for the save. Cardinals win the Series.
(3) Kirby Puckett homers
First inning: Puckett hits a ground-ball triple down the left-field line to drive home Chuck Knoblauch from first. Then he scores on a Shane Mack single. Nice.
Third inning: The Braves Ron Gant tags a Scott Erickson pitch 400 feet, in Puckett's direction. Kirby, up against the fence, leaps. Gloves it. Nice.
Fifth inning: Score tied 2-2. Man on third, Puckett at the plate. Drive deep to center. Sac fly. Twins lead 3-2. Nice.
Eighth inning: Score tied 3-3. One out. Puckett singles to right. Chili Davis flies to center. Two out. Puckett steals second. Scoring position. Nothing comes of it. But still, nice.
Bottom of the eleventh: Score tied 3-3. Puckett leads off against Braves lefty Charlie Leibrandt. Kirby watches and waits as the count goes to 2-1. Next pitch, changeup, high. Puckett swings, and lines the ball over the left-center field wall. Home run. Game over. Fantastic.
"I'm just glad it's over. I feel like I went 15 rounds with Evander Holyfield," Puckett says after. "This game, I'll never forget right here. It's pretty awesome. Our backs were against the wall. If we didn't win, we would have had to go home. I've never felt so drained in my life. But we've got to do it one more time."
Epilogue: They did.
(4) Frank Robinson becomes first black manager (1975)
Robinson, the Reds and Orioles great, was nearing the end of his playing days when he got the call he had been waiting for: the Indians wanted him to manage, and play, in Cleveland. The hiring of Robinson broke another big racial barrier, and made banner headline news. But Commissioner Bowie Kuhn tried to downplay the event. "I'm not going to get up and shout that this is something for baseball to be exceptionally proud of," he said, "because it is so long overdue."
Overdue, yes, but still a great moment: April 8, 1975. Opening Day, Cleveland. Jackie Robinson's widow, Rachel, throws out the first ball. Frank Robinson steps to the plate in the bottom of the first inning. Figuring that leading by example is as good as any other technique, he hit a home run. The Indians won his debut, 5-3, over the Yankees, and Robinson led the Indians to their first winning season since 1968.
(5) Miracle Mets win 1969 World Series
But after a few years, the losing became less tolerable, as the Mets struggled to ninth- and tenth-place finishes. Things didn't look like they'd get much better in 1969, when the Mets were listed as a 100-1 shot to win the World Series. Surprising everyone, New York beat out the Cubs to win the N.L. East, then defeated the Braves in the NLCS. You'd think they'd exhausted their one-year supply of luck. But Stengel showed up in the clubhouse after the NLCS win, and maybe sprinkled a little extra miracle dust. "Yes, yes, yes," he said. "It's taken eight years but now the people are beginning to know their names!"
In the World Series, they faced the powerful Orioles -- Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell, Paul Blair, Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cueller, and Co. And, as everyone expected, they lost Game 1. But then they won three in a row. And on Oct. 16, 1969, 57,397 fans packed Shea Stadium to see a couple of remarkable performances add up to the Miracle of Miracles.
With McNally on the mound, the O's look like they'll take the Series back to Baltimore. They carry a 3-0 lead going into the bottom of the sixth. Cleon Jones leads off the inning, and seems to elude a low inside breaking ball that somehow caroms into the Mets dugout. Home plate umpire Lou DiMuro calls it a ball. Gil Hodges, striding from the dugout, baseball in hand, demurs.
He shows DiMuro a black smudge of shoe polish. Clearly, the ball hit Jones on the foot, Hodges says. DiMuro's convinced. Jones takes first. Then Donn Clendenon hits a two-run blast. Score: 3-2. Bottom of the seventh: Al Weis, the antithesis of a power hitter, slams a solo shot to tie the game. Bottom of the eighth: Jones sends one 395 feet off the center field wall for a double. Clendenon grounds out. Ron Swoboda doubles down the left-field line. Jones scores. Swoboda then scores on an error. The Mets are ahead 5-3. Then, the magic moment. Top of the ninth, one on, two outs. O's second baseman Davey Johnson at the plate. He drives a Jerry Koosman pitch deep to center, but not deep enough. Jones catches it with both hands above his head, holds tight.
"Some people still might not believe in us," says Jones after the game. "But then, some people still think the world is flat."
(6) Long-suffering Dodgers win 1955 World Series
The great moment came in the sixth inning. Brooklyn leads, 2-0. Sandy Amoros, in as a defensive replacement in left field, shades toward center with men on first and second and pull hitter Yogi Berra at the plate. Berra, though, has other ideas, and goes the other way. Amoros takes off. It seems sure to fall in safely. Podres watched. "I'll tell you, that's a helpless feeling, standing on the mound like that," he said. But Amoros isn't helpless. He makes a spectacular catch near the left-field line, then fires to Pee Wee Reese, who relays to Gil Hodges at first to complete a double play. That ended the Yanks' scoring threat. And insured the Dodgers destiny. They held on to their 2-0 lead and won the Series over their hated cross-town rivals.
It was the Brooklyn Dodgers first, and only, World Championship.
(7) Denny McClain wins 30th game (1968)
Why? Because in 1968, McLain compiled a 31-6 record. He's the only pitcher to have won more than 30 games since Dizzy Dean did it in 1934. And he didn't need a whole lot of luck, either -- he pitched 336 innings, 28 complete games, and finished with a 1.96 ERA.
Why else? Because there was a moment when it happened. Sept. 14, 1968. Tigers vs. Athletics at Tiger Stadium. "A mad day in Detroit," wrote Joe Falls. "The maestro was on the verge of creating history and it seemed half the country showed up for the event."
Reggie Jackson homers twice, and the A's lead, 4-3. Bottom of the ninth. Al Kaline pinch hits for McLain. He walks and scores. Mickey Stanley gets on base and scores on Willie Horton's single to win the game, and give McLain his 30th win.
(8) First night game played
Therefore, the only great baseball moment that involved a U.S. President. (W's trade of Sammy Sosa to the Cubs doesn't count -- he wasn't yet president, and we're not all Cubs fans.)
The Reds had been averaging about 2,000 fans a game at Crosley Field, but on the night of May 24, 1935 -- a weeknight -- they packed in 20,422 fans (the New York Times reported an overflow crowd of 25,000) to see the first Major League night game. At 8:30 p.m., FDR launched a "New Deal" for the National Pastime, pressing a telegraph key in the White House that turned on the banks of lights in Cincy. And it was good: The Reds beat the Phillies, 2-1, in an errorless, well-played game.
"No pun intended, but there was electricity in the air -- on the field, in the stands and in the dugout," said Reds first baseman Billy Sullivan. "Ballplayers did not get blasť. They got fired up, too."
(9) Harvey Haddix throws 12 perfect innings and loses
Laverne and Shirley sit nearby, shivering in the cold, wind and rain, but you're here for baseball and beer, and you ignore them.
You think about the game, expecting that today's master on the mound will be Lew Burdette, who's compiled a 56-29 record over the past three seasons.
You expect wrong. Burdette holds the Pirates scoreless, but scatters 12 hits. Meanwhile, Haddix is pitching a masterpiece.
In nine innings, the Pirate pitcher completes that rarest of pitching feats -- nine innings of perfection. No runs. No hits. No walks. No Brave reaches base.
Still, the score is tied, 0-0. Extra innings. Haddix continues to pitch. A perfect 10th. A perfect 11th. A perfect 12th. For the Braves: 36 up, 36 down.
Burdette continues to pitch: A scoreless 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th. Then, in the bottom of the 13th, Felix Mantilla reaches on an error. End of perfect game. Mathews bunts him to second. Hank Aaron comes to the plate. No sense facing him, with the perfecto history. He gets a free pass.
Haddix is in trouble. Listen to Pirates radio broadcaster Bob Prince make the call: "One out. Batter Adcock. Here's the pitch. There's a fly ball, deep right-center. That ball may be on through and over everything. It is gone! Home run! Absolutely fantastic!"
Haddix pitches the finest game in Major League History. And loses.
(10) Bucky Dent homers over Green Monster (1978)
It had been an exciting AL East pennant race -- first the Yankees made a remarkable comeback from 14 games behind to move 3 1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox with two weeks left in the season. Then the Red Sox won eight straight to end the season and tie the Yankees for first in the division.
Hence the playoff.
Top of the seventh. Red Sox lead, 2-0. Then The Curse woke up. The Yankees Chris Chambliss singled off of Boston pitcher Mike Torrez. Then Roy White singled. Two on. Two outs. Bucky Dent, .243 hitter, strides to the plate. Count goes to 1-1. Dent realizes his bat is cracked, so he gets a fresh piece of wood. Then he slams the next pitch over the Green Monster, a three-run blast to give the Yankees the lead.
Torrez peppered his analysis of Dent's homer with a few mild expletives: "I was so damn shocked. I thought maybe it was going to be off the wall. Damn, I did not think it was going to go out."
The Yanks extended their lead to 5-2, and the Red Sox tried, valiantly as always, to come back. They almost did, but lost the game, 5-4.