The Fall Classic. No other team sport has anything like it. The Super Bowl? Started in 1967. Basketball? The NBA didn’t have a championship until 1950. The first World Cup? 1930. While I admit that the Stanley Cup can trace its roots back to the 1890s, the format for determining the championship of professional hockey didn’t take its current form until 1927, after the last rival league to the NHL folded. Baseball’s World Series debuted in 1903 (and if you’re going to be picky about the beginnings of the Stanley Cup, the first baseball “Championship of the United States” was in 1884). There’s well over a century of legends and lore.
The World Series magnifies everything. The great players are greater. Bob Gibson strikes out seventeen Red Sox. Reggie Jackson hits home runs on three straight pitches. The fielding is more amazing: Wille Mays. Ron Swoboda. Al Gionfriddo. Unheralded players turn into heroes: Howard Ehmke. Dusty Rhodes. Edgar Renteria. And the errors and mistakes (Fred Snodgrass, Bill Buckner) are more painful.
There’s been a heck of a lot of drama in the hundreds of World Series games. I’ve got a list of the eight most exciting (in my opinion) games; and it’s not your ordinary list…
GAME 1: 2000 – New York Mets vs. New York Yankees
The first “Subway Series” in 44 years had the hype machine going into overdrive. New York City was looking forwards to an exciting series; the first game did not disappoint. After five innings, the game was scoreless. The top of the sixth saw the Mets’ Timo Perez on second with two out when Todd Zeile hit a fly ball to deep left field. Thinking it was going out, Perez slowed down as he rounded third. But the ball hit off the very top of the wall and came back into play, and a fast relay nailed Perez at the plate.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Yankees scored twice to take the lead. The Mets countered with three runs in the top of the seventh.
The score stayed at 3-2 in favor of the Mets to the bottom of the ninth. The Yankees loaded the bases with one out, but could only tie the score on Chuck Knoblauch’s sacrifice fly. In the bottom of the tenth, two walks and a wild pitch put runners on second and third with no outs. But a flyout and then, after an intentional walk, a double play ended the threat. In the bottom of the eleventh, the Yankees got runners on second and third again, but with two outs. Once more, they couldn’t score.
In the bottom of the twelfth, with the score still tied at 3, two hits with one out put runners at second and third again. Hoping for a double play, Paul O’Neil was walked intentionally to load the bases. After Luis Sojo fouled out, it looked like the Mets would escape another jam. But Jose Vizcaino singled, giving the Yankees a 4-3 win. They would win the Series in five games.
GAME 2: 1916 – Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers) vs. Boston Red Sox
Fans filling Braves Field (it could fit more fans then Fenway Park) had no clue that they were in for a classic pitcher’s duel. Sure, Babe Ruth was the best lefty in the game, but the Robin’s Sherry Smith was nothing to speak of.
In the top of the first, Hy Myers legged out an inside-the-park home run to put Brooklyn on top. Ruth himself tied it up on a groundout in the bottom of the third.
And that was it for the scoring. Zero after zero after zero went up on the scoreboard. After nine innings, it was still locked at 1-1, and neither Ruth nor Smith were showing signs of tiring. On and on they went. After thirteen innings, they had each allowed only one run and six hits.
Brooklyn went down quietly in the top of the fourteenth. Dick Hoblitzell led off the bottom of the fourteenth with his fourth walk of the game. After being sacrificed to second, he was replaced by pinch-runner Mike McNally. Del Gainer pinch hit, and banged a single into left. McNally raced around to score, giving Boston the win. Boston would take the Series in five games.
The game started Ruth’s streak of 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless World Series innings pitched, a record which stood until the 1960s. Ruth still has one of the lowest ever ERA’s (minimum of 30 innings pitched) for the World Series.
GAME 3: 1978 – Los Angeles Dodgers vs. New York Yankees
The Yankees had lost the first two games at Dodger Stadium, and seemed headed for defeat.
A home run in the first, and a walk, single, and two groundouts in the second put the Yankees up 2-0. Though they would get more, that would be all the scoring the Yankees would need as third basemen Graig Nettles put on a dazzling defensive display.
A diving stop of a hard smash in the top of the third, and Reggie Smith was thrown out at first to end the inning. In the fifth, with two out and two on, another diving stab held Smith to an infield single. On the next play, with the bases loaded, another grab of a hard grounder by Steve Garvey and a quick throw to second for the force ended that threat.
Nettles performed a replay of that last one the next inning, turning a two-out, bases loaded smash by Davey Lopes into a forceout at second.
That took the fight out of the Dodgers. They could manage only two hits and a walk the rest of the way, while the Yankees piled on another three runs to win 5-1. Revitalized, the Yankees would win the next three games to take the Series 4-2.
Game 4 – 1947: New York Yankees vs. Brooklyn Dodgers
Floyd Bevens was wild. Through the first eight innings, he had walked eight Dodgers, which helped them to a run. But he was so wild, they hadn’t been able to get good wood on anything. Going into the bottom of the ninth with the Yankees up 2-1, the Dodgers had yet to register a base hit off Bevens.
Catcher Bruce Edwards flied out, then Carl Furillo drew Walk #9. Spider Jorgensen fouled out, putting Bevens one out away from the first no-hitter in World Series history. Al Gionfriddo was inserted as a pinch runner, and he promptly stole second. Pinch hitter Pete Reiser was walked intentionally despite being the potential winning run – perhaps Yankees manager Bucky Harris was hoping for the possibility of a force play at second base.
Eddie Miskis was put in to run for Reiser, and Cookie Lavagetto came up to pinch hit for Eddie Stanky. Lavagetto slammed the second pitch he saw into deep right where Tommy Heinrich could not catch up to it. Bevens lost the no-hitter (the ball banged off the wall for a double), and the game when both baserunners came around to score.
The loss tied the Series at two games each. The Yankees would win it in seven.
Game 5 – 1956: Brooklyn Dodgers vs. New York Yankees
Don Larsen’s Perfect Game. Need I say more?
Game 6 – 1975: Cincinnati Reds vs. Boston Red Sox
I could have gone with Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, won by the St Louis Cardinals in extra innings after the Texas Rangers were – twice – just one strike away from winning the Series. But that game “featured” a great deal of sloppy play early on, so I’d rather go with this one from 1975. But it is a very, very, close call.
Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine held a 3-2 lead in the Series when the teams went back to Fenway Park.
In the bottom of the first, Boston jumped out to a 3-0 lead thanks to a two-out home run by Fred Lynn. Luis Tiant held the Reds scoreless until the fifth, when the Reds tied it on a walk and three hits. They moved ahead in the seventh on a two-run double by George Foster, and Cesar Geronimo knocked Tiant out of the game in the eight with a leadoff home run.
Now things really got exciting.
In the bottom of the eighth, a single and a walk brought Reds’ relief ace Rawly Eastwick to the mound. A strikeout and a flyout to shallow left later, and it looked like the Reds would get out of the jam. But pinch-hitter Bernie Carbo sent the ball into the deep centerfield bleachers for a game-tying home run.
Dick Drago sent the Reds down in order in the top of the ninth. In the bottom of the frame, a walk and then a single sent Eastwick packing. Reliever Will McEnaney intentionally walked Carlton Fisk, loading the bases with no outs. Fred Lynn hit a fly ball to shallow left, where it was easily caught in foul territory. The Red Sox Denny Doyle tried to score from third on the play, but was handily thrown out. The Reds dodged a bullet when Rico Petrocelli grounded out to third to end the inning.
The tenth inning passed uneventfully (save for Dave Concepcion’s single in the top of the inning). In the top of the eleventh, leadoff batter Pete Rose was hit by a pitch. Ken Griffey then hit into a force play. Joe Morgan sent a drive towards the right field seats, but Dwight Evans made a leaping grab to catch it. Griffey was well past second base, and was easily doubled off.
Pat Darcy retired the Red Sox in order in the bottom of the eleventh. Veteran starter Rick Wise came out of the bullpen for the top of the twelfth. He quickly got in trouble, giving up two singles. But Dave Concepcion flied out, and Cesar Geronimo struck out to end that threat.
Darcy stayed on for the bottom of the twelfth:
Unfortunately for Red Sox fans, they would blow a 3-0 lead in Game 7 and lose the Series.
Game 7 – 1924: New York Giants vs. Washington Senators
The usual call here is from the 1960 World Series, where Bill Mazeroski ended a wild game (and Series) with a home run in the bottom of the ninth. One should also note Jack Morris’ complete game, 10 inning win in 1991. But I choose to go back to the era before television, to one game you probably don’t recall.
A couple of unearned runs had the Giants ahead 3-1 going into the bottom of the eighth. The Senators loaded the bases with one out. After a flyout to shallow left, it looked like the Giants would emerge unscathed when Bucky Harris hit a grounder towards third baseman Fred Lindstrom. But the ball hit something and bounced past Lindstrom for a single into left field, allowing the tying runs to score.
Walter Johnson, who had the misfortune of losing both Game 1 (despite going all twelve innings) and Game 5, came on to pitch for the Senators in the ninth. Despite a triple and an intentional walk, the Giants didn’t score. Neither did the Senators in the bottom of the ninth. The tenth and eleventh innings saw a few hits and a few walks (some intentional), but no runs.
In the top of the twelfth, Johnson left Irish Meusel stranded after a leadoff single. Ralph Miller led off the bottom of the twelfth by grounding out to second. Muddy Ruel then popped one up behind the plate, but Giant’s catcher Hank Gowdy stumbled over his own mask and couldn’t hold on to the ball. Ruel took advantage of the error and slashed a double into left field. Walter Johnson then reached on another error, with Ruel holding at second. Earl McNeely hit a grounder to third, but instead of an easy inning-ending double play, it hit something and bounced past Lindstrom (again!) into left field. Ruel came around to score, making the Senators the World Champions.
Game 8 – 1912: New York Giants vs. Boston Red Sox
NOTE: From 1919 through 1921, the World Series was a best of nine contest. None of those Series went to 9 games, and none saw an “exiciting” Game 8. In the 1912 Series, there was a Game 8 because Game 2 was declared a tie when it became too dark to continue play after eleven innings.
The pitching matchup was a repeat of Game 5: Christy Mathewson for the Giants, and Hugh Bedient for the Red Sox. The teams were locked at one run each after nine innings.
In the top of the tenth, the Giants’ Red Murray hit a one out double off “Smoky” Joe Wood (who came on in relief after Bedient was pinch hit for in the seventh). Fred Merkle drove him in with a single. The way Mathewson was pitching, it looked like it was all over for Boston, even after Wood retired the next two batters.
Boston pinch-hitter Clyde Engle led off the bottom of the tenth by with an easy fly ball to center – which Fred Snodgrass dropped for a two-base error. He made up for it on the next play, with an amazing running grab of a long drive off the bat of Harry Hooper. Engle made it to third on the play. Possibly unnerved by the goings-on behind him, Mathewson walked Steve Yerkes, to bring up the ever-dangerous Tris Speaker.
Speaker hit a popup into foul ground off the first base side, but neither first baseman Fred Merkle or catcher Chief Meyers took command, and the ball landed between them (some baseball experts blame Mathewson for not calling for Merkle to make the catch). Reprieved, Speaker lashed a single into right field. Engle scored to tie the game, and Yerkes made it easily to third. Duffy Lewis was walked intentionally to make it possible to get a double play or a force out at home.
But the next batter, Larry Gardner, hit a fly ball to right field that was just deep enough to let Yerkes score and giving the Red Sox a 3-2 win, and their second World Championship.