It’s time for another Fall Classic, kids.
This one suits up the pretty boys from St. Louis and the bearded boys from Boston. It is going to be a great World Series posing the Majors’ two best teams together — a first since 1999.
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Even though I don’t have a dog in this fight, I can’t wait. With this wonderful time of the year nigh upon us, it got me thinking about another edition to ‘The Hit List‘: What have been the top World Series matches ever?
Through my enjoyable due diligence, I derived seven. What are your thoughts?
7. Washington Senators vs. New York Giants (1924). Just to prove that I do my homework, this World Series is actually a mandatory inclusion on this Hit List. If you are a stats junkie, then you will adore this game. I understand everyone reading Through The Fence Baseball was arguably not at this game; nonetheless, this had to make the list. First, it includes the iconic Walter Johnson. It was his first World Series matchup, at age 36 … and he lost both of his games. Need more numbers? Two extra-inning games, including the aforementioned game seven, 12-inning ballyhoo pictured here. A third game ended in a walk-off double in the ninth. And prior to 1975 (see No. 2 below), it was the only World Series with two walk-off victories. Need another reason? The guy who doubled after a foul pop-up to knock in Earl McNeely was named Muddy Ruel. Muddy? Come on. Thanks to him, Walter Johnson got a ring. Only in baseball.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates vs. New York Yankees (1960). One game — a historic game seven — made this entire World Series the stuff of legend. Most baseball historians, stat geeks and baseball aficionados know this is the only game seven walk-off homerun in World Series history, crushed by the great Bill Mazeroski. Let’s talk about that game in a skosh. This series featured seven MVPs — Dickie Groat, Roberto Clemente, Yogi Berra, Bobby Shantz, Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard and Roger Maris. The three games the Yankees had won before game seven were by scores of 16-3, 10-0 and 12-0. It looked like another guaranteed ring for the Bronx Bombers. Why? The Pirates won their three 6-4, 3-2 and 5-2. Meh wins at best. And then game seven where the undeniable Yankees (we’ll call “Goliath”) was knocked smooth out by the lowly underdog Pirates (um, “David”). Now the game with everything. Game seven was a seesaw match. Pittsburgh led 4-0 after two innings, but began choking and trailed 7-4 going into the bottom of the eighth. Then, the Bucs scored five runs, capped by a three-run pinch-hit home run by Hal Smith. Their 9-7 lead lasted about five minutes when the Yankees scored a pair off two Pirates pitchers. And then…the most memorable home run in World Series history, Bill Mazeroski’s walkoff, the only walkoff homer in a World Series game seven. Boom!
5. Arizona Diamondbacks vs. New York Yankees (2001). Although I am tickled to write it, I’m not intentionally dogging the Yankees for World Series crushing defeats. Promise. This series was one of the best ever because of the drama, the storylines and the memories of 9/11. The two towers crumbling in painstaking tragedy was still fresh. Thoughts of nationalism and USA pride were at its highest and seemed to be the only thread holding this country together. New York was in the World Series (again). And they were battling a new team from Arizona? What the what? Yeah, and that bargain-shopping team had Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. The Diamondbacks gave the Yankees a 15-2 stomping in game six. And then game seven. The home team trailed 2-1 going into the bottom of the ninth of game seven against a closer — Mariano Rivera — who was acknowledged as the game’s (and the World Series’) best a mere 10 years earlier. The tying and winning runs were on base with New York two outs from victory. Then, the unbelievable happened, the great Sandman gave up a game-tying double and then hit Craig Counsell before Luis Gonzalez’s bouncer up the middle won it for Arizona. This game also featured shutdown relief in the late innings by Randy Johnson, just one day after he threw seven solid innings in game six. A real masterpiece for a country that so terribly needed it.
4. St. Louis Cardinals vs. Texas Rangers (2011). I, along with my TTFB compadre Todd Kaufmann, can claim “sports exemption” for bawling like newborn babies freshly spanked after delivery. This game ripped my Red-Shoe Rangers heart clean from my chest. And why? We had the World Series won … twice … in the same game! Of course, steroids didn’t help Nelson Cruz become a better fielder, so the “deep freese” hit North Texas (see what I did there). Twice in game six, the Cardinals were down to their last strike, putting the Rangers one strike from winning the first World Series title in franchise history. Both times, St. Louis never quit, never doubted and never stopped hitting. This had to be one of the most drama-filled game in baseball history. David Freese tripled off closer Neftali Feliz to tie the game in the ninth. After Josh Hamilton’s homer in the 10th gave Texas a two-run lead, Lance Berkman delivered another two-out, two-strike hit to knot the game. And then, the aforementioned nuclear winter hit his memorable solo home run to lead off the 11th sent the series to a seventh game, which the Cardinals won. *golf clap*
3. New York Mets vs. Boston Red Sox (1986). Many of these World Series matches are teeming with memorable plays — Maz’s and Carter’s dinger, Larsen’s perfecto and Luis’ bouncer up the middle. Then, there was Buckner. Pity that someone who had a serviceable MLB career on first base is known for this blunder, but there it is. The Red Sox went from the balcony to the basement with one play — one betwixt-the-legs-what-in-the-blue-hell-just-happened play. Boston had the 1986 World Series won. Then, all was lost when Mookie Wilson took the plate in the 10th inning of game six. Reliever Calvin Schiraldi had gotten the first two hitters out with the BoSox leading the New York Mets 5-3 that night and 3-2 in the series. Then, well, the Buckner play happened. Then a game-seven loss. Then another 17 years without a World Series title. But as time went by, things got a bit more positive for the beleaguered first baseman — complete with a key role in a 2011 “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode. I mean, what’s better than that? You know, except for a 1986 World Series ring.
2. Cincinnati Reds vs. Boston Red Sox (1975). The curse of the Bambino was still looming. The Big Red Machine,” “The Great Eight,” or as the great Joe Morgan called them, “The Best Team Ever” was tops in the league. No one could beat a team with that many Hall of Famers on it (and yes, Pete Rose is included, you grumpy fans). Think about it if you were a lowly AL team. You have the privilege to face Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Dave Concepcion, George Foster, Ken Griffey, Cesar Geronimo. And then there’s Sparky warming the bench. Fortunately, the Red Sox had three days of rain delaying what many thought would be “the inevitable.” Then came game six when Boston takes a 3-0 lead in the first on Fred Lynn’s three-run homer. It didn’t last because the Reds earned a 6-3 lead. Bernie Carbo’s two-out, pinch-hit, three-run homer in the eighth tied it. Things were groovy heading into extra innings. In the 11th, Dwight Evans made a spectacular catch of Joe Morgan’s drive to right and doubled Ken Griffey Sr. off the first. Finally, Carlton Fisk famously waved the ball fair in the 12th. You would think destiny was on the side of Boston … until the Reds won game seven. Ah, well, 1986 was right around the corner to make us forget, right? Oh wait.
1. Minnesota Twins vs. Atlanta Braves (1991). I, like many of you, watched Nos. 4 and 5 on this austere list. However, nothing made me cause my baseball shorts to fly across the room quite like this amazing series. Arguably the greatest World Series ever played both statistically and emotionally speaking. Five of the seven games were decided by one run, four were decided in the game’s final at-bat (still a MLB World Series record) and three, including the deciding game seven, went into extra innings. And two unmistakable heroes in Kirby Puckett and Jack Morris.
First, there was Kirby in game six. He was always underrated as a fielder and a hitter; yet, his clutch performances doing both is what willed this team to a ring. Everyone knew his retina was acting up. It didn’t matter. Everyone knew Kirby was too short to play the outfield. Still didn’t matter. Was he clutch when it mattered most? That definitely mattered. This game six was a marathon. The Braves had top-tier talent on the mound from starting rotation to its bullpen. And then, for some extraterrestrial reason, Mr. Cox puts in Charlie Liebrandt. A career 3.71 ERA with not much to show for his now 14 years in the Majors. The move perplexed many and made Kirby giddy as he was archived forever smacking a hanging change-up to deep left center causing Jack Buck to echo those famous words, “And we’ll see you tomorrow night.” (A note to all fans: If you didn’t shed a tear or smile when his son paid homage during the No. 4 game on this list, you have no soul.)
Then, there was Black Jack Morris in game seven. A quick editorial: Cooperstown veterans and Hall-of-Fame writers, “You suck!” How this man is not in the Hall of Fame is a travesty. Come on, 254 games, nearly 2,500 Ks and more than 3,800 innings pitched? Oh yeah, three rings! Yeah, Jack Morris sucks out loud. Good call, Cooperstown. I digress …
Game seven of the 1991 World Series featured a battle of two aces: the young whippersnapper John Smoltz against the cagey veteran Jack Morris. What’s deftly ironic is both of these teams finished last in their divisions the year before (many blamed pitching), but that didn’t stop this classic. You know this game had to be something for the ages to top Kirby’s tater in game six (or his catch earlier that game), so how does that old man pitching all 10 innings of this game grab you. It was marvelous and I don’t know one person who saw it in a bar or on his couch who says that wasn’t the greatest World Series pitching effort ever (with apologies to a dirty, bloody red sox…sock. [see what I did there]). Even though the Twins left 12 on base, Morris threw a shutout and Gene Larkin capped it off with a single in the 10th inning. John Smoltz wasn’t shabby in this iconic game, but there was Black Jack mowing them down one after another.
For those scoring at home, honorable mentions would include:
- Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Oakland As (1988) because a divine home run by a near-dead Kirk Gibson was majestic in a somewhat forgettable series
- New York Yankees vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (1956) because although the series wasn’t, game five was absolutely perfect thanks to Don Larsen
- Toronto Blue Jays vs. Philadelphia Phillies (1993) because some of the best World Series montages includes the above pictures and one of Mr. Joe Carter skipping frenetically around the bases in the SkyDome after a Game 6 walk-off homer
There are other hit lists in there, such as the best games in World Series history or the best plays, but for now, this one will do nicely for what will be a possible classic to make this list next year.