Thoughts, lists and other compulsive bits about baseball from comedian filmmaker television producer/Red Sox fan Paul Francis Sullivan....
feel free to call him “Sully.”
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Rating the 20 Game 7’s that I remember
Original post Date: Monday, October 23, 2006
Last Thursday's game 7 between the Cardinals and Mets, to the shock of probably every baseball fan on the planet Earth, was a terrific game.
Even though the end result wasn't what I was hoping for as I was rooting for the Mets, it had the twists, turns, unpredictablity and a genuine "Holy Cow! Did you see that!" moment that game 7 showdowns should have.
That got me thinking about game 7s from my recollection and trying to see how many of them were great, how many were good and how many were completely unmemorable.
Like Mark McGwire not talking about the past, I am not going to bring up game 7s from before my baseball watching days.
Grover Cleveland coming out of the pen to strike out Tony Lazzeri in 1926, Johnny Podres shut out of the Yankees in 1955, Bill Mazeroski's homer in 1960, Bobby Richardson catching Willie McCovey's line drive in 1962... all great to be sure.
But they were before my time and I didn't experience the moment of "What is going to happen next?" that comes from watching the game live.
The first World Series I remember watching was the 1979 World Series. I remember Pops Stargell and Dave Parker in those ungodly yellow uniforms and hats covered with stars. I remember the crowd singing "We Are Family" and I remember Kent Tekulve's glasses.
So using 1979 as a starting point... there have been 20 game 7s. (I am not including game 5s in this post... that will be a future one)
Some game 7s were great, some were good, some were completely forgettable and anticlimactic and 4 I am too emotionally attached to and therefore can not analyze with any sense of objectivity.
here are how I rank the game 7s that I watched live.
The 5 great ones –
1. 1991 World Series TWINS 1 BRAVES 0 (10 innings)
Undoubtedly the greatest World Series I ever saw. If that series featured the Red Sox or Yankees vs the Dodgers, Cubs or Mets and the games unfolded in the same way, people would be talking about it still as a turning point in baseball history... maybe American history.
Each game got better and better with extra inning collisions at the plate, unlikely heroes (Mark Lemke? Jerry Willard? Gene Larkin?) and Kirby Puckett winning game 6 with his glove and a walk off homer. I remember being exhausted after game 6 (the 3rd extra inning game) and thinking "They can't top that!"
They did. Jack Morris and John Smoltz exchanging shut out innings. Lonnie Smith, a veteran of three World Series, being faked out by a decoy play that would have scored the potential title clinching tun. Both teams exchanging unlikely inning ending double plays. Little used Gene Larkin winning it all with a base hit to left... and Jack Morris throwing ten (TEN!) shutout innings. Best World Series I ever saw... Best game 7 I ever saw.
2. 2003 American League Championship Series YANKEES 6 RED SOX 5 (11 innings)
I can write about this without cutting my wrists now, thanks to 2004. And while I hemmed and hawed about putting this in the "Not emotionally qualified to talk about it" category. But I can admit, this was an amazing game. Pedro's early dominance and Clemens flopping made it feel like the foot that Yankees had been putting on the Red Sox throat was finally lifting. And then the 8th inning happened. 1 out, nobody on, Jeter doubled, Williams singled, Matsui hit a ground rule double... the Yankees couldn't hit Embree, Timlin or Williamson all series... Pedro was a 7 inning pitcher... and Grady leaves him in.
Posada dunks a double. Rivera shuts down the Sox for 3 innings and Aaron Boone sees one knuckleball... and Grady Little gets a well deserved pinkslip and the Curse lives for just one more year.
And my wife (who had married me just 2 weeks before) thinks I am an idiot for following this team. Tough game to stomach. But a great one nonetheless.
3. 2001 World Series DIAMONDBACKS 3 YANKEES 2
The first moment of Yankee hater glee came in the 9th inning of game 7 of the 2001 World Series. The Yankees were winning thanks to Soriano's homer off of Schilling and despite Big Unit's solid relief, the Yankees had Rivera on the mound. Ergo the series was over. The idea of Rivera not being able to seal the deal was impossible to comprehend.
And then it happened. Single. Error. Fielder's choice. And Tony Womack's double ties it up. By the time Luis Gonzalez blooped that single over Jeter's head, the D'Backs celebrated not only a World Championship, but a victory that seemed physically impossible, because Rivera was invincible until that moment.
4. 1997 World Series MARLINS 3 INDIANS 2 (11 Innings)
Widely considered to be one of the least interesting World Series ever played, the spectacular finale redeemed it. I was rooting for the Indians and hoping the city of Cleveland would get a well deserved championship parade. It has been since 1948 for the Tribe and since the mid 1960s since ANY Cleveland team has won a title.
And with Jaret Wright cruising with a 2-0 lead in the 7th it looked good. BAM! Bonilla homers. Then Mesa allows a 1 out sac fly to tie it in the 9th, sure handed infielder Tony Fernandez makes an error in the 11th and Edgar Renteria wins it to ease the suffering of the Marlins fans. I had the good fortune of watching that game with my friend Steve who was from Miami and rooting for the Marlins, whose fans would have to wait only 6 more years for another title.
Poor Cleveland still waits.
5. 1992 National League Championship Series BRAVES 3 PIRATES 2
I really was rooting for the Pirates in 1992. The Red Sox were stuck in last place and in the post season I adopted Jim Leyland, Barry Bonds et al. Everyone knew the team was going to be broken up because of free agency so this was the Pirates last chance to make it to the World Series. And if the Pirates won, a buddy of mine (a Blue Jays fan) and I were going to go to Pittsburgh for game 1 of the World Series. We had our tickets reserved.
It looked bleak when the Braves took a 3-1 series lead, but Bonds woke up and helped the Pirates force a game 7. Drabek and Smoltz dueled but Drabek took a 2-0 lead to the 9th. A few hits and an unlikely Jose Lind error later and the lead was 2-1, but 2 outs and the Braves turned to Francisco Cabrera.
All series I made fun of Cabrera, who was on the roster only because they needed a 25th player and catcher Greg Olsen was hurt. He only played in 10 games during the season and whenever there was a key situation, I would nudge my friend and say “They should bring in Cabrera.”
Well here he was… in the biggest situation imaginable… and he slams a hit that ties the game and sends Sid Bream, running as if he was carrying a safe, home for the winning run.
Cabrera had the last laugh… and I got a refund for my World Series tickets.
The Four Good Ones
1. 2006 National League Championship Series CARDINALS 3 METS 1
Now this was a game for the overachievers. Oliver Perez, who got less respect than Charlie Brown as a big game pitcher, throws the game of his life… as does maligned Jeff Suppan. Endy Chavez makes possibly the best catch I have ever seen, Yadier Molina makes his claim to NOT be the Zeppo of the Molina brothers, Adam Wainright shows the world his amazing curve ball and the Mets try their best to replicate the 1986 come back.
If Beltran swung the bat, it would be included among the great ones
2. 1979 World Series PIRATES 4 ORIOLES 1
I was seven years old, watching this game in the upstairs of Mrs. Bianchi’s house in Weston Massachusetts. It was the first World Series clinching I ever saw. And the first time I watched a game 7 thinking “Man! What’s going to happen next?”
I remember Stargell hitting a two run homer over Ken Singleton’s head in the 6th and then Earl Weaver using what seemed like 100 pitchers in the 9th until finally Tekulve and those thick glasses looking like one of the Hansen brothers.
And then when the Pirates won, the magnificent celebration. Needless to say, it made a big impact on me.
3. 1987 World Series TWINS 4 CARDINALS 2
I remember watching this game while I was in the school play. Every time there was a scene in “The Diviners” that I wasn’t in, I’d rush back to watch the game. The Twins came back from behind and with Viola’s strong performance clinched the World Series.
I remember thinking it was funny to say “World Champion Minnesota Twins.”
The Twins didn’t seem like a team that COULD win it. But there was something so likable about that team, which resembled a slow pitch softball team and had only 3 good pitchers. They were the living argument AGAINST the axiom “pitching beats hitting.”
4. 2004 National League Championship Series CARDINALS 5 ASTROS 2
Someday the 2004 NLCS will get its due credit for being a great series. Everyone (including yours truly) was transfixed on the Red Sox comeback against the Yankees... and I bet they missed back to back games ending with walk off homers. Great pitching and a showcase for Albert Pujols and Carlos Beltran.
Roger Clemens had a lead in the 6th inning of game 7, setting up the possibility of an Astros/Red Sox World Series. But Scott Rolen's home run high lighted the comeback and the Cardinals won the pennan.
The 7 forgettable ones
1. 1985 World Series ROYALS 11 CARDINALS 0
I know Don Denkinger screwed up that call in game 6. I know the Cardinals got hosed and it possibly cost them the World Series title. But there was still a game 7 to be played! If the Cardinals won game 7, then the Denkinger call would have been an obscure memory.
Besides they had John Tudor pitching who had a chance to go 3-0. I remember being so excited for this game after coming home from school.
By the 4th inning I was doing home work
The Cardinals didn’t even show up.
Sports Illustrated had a picture of Cardinals’ catcher Darrell Porter laughing after letting an easy pop up drop. What was going to be a war between two proud franchises turned into the biggest anti climax and worst game 7 I have ever seen.
2. 1996 National League Championship Series BRAVES 15 CARDINALS 0
The 1996 Cardinals had a 3-1 lead over the defending champion Braves and LaRussa’s first season in St. Louis looked like a miracle season. Then the Braves forced a game 7…
Any hopes for a showdown ended when Tom Glavine, the freaking pitcher!, tripled home 3 runs in a ridiculous, remote control grabbing 6 run 1st inning. And later, LaRussa ended Ozzie Smith career by sending him out as a pinch hitter instead of letting him play the field one more time. Both teams emptied their bench as game 7’s box score resembled a split squad spring training game.
3. 1987 National League Championship Series CARDINALS 6 GIANTS 0
What is it with the Cardinals playing lousy game 7s? The 1987 NLCS was underatedly exciting. It was my first year of living in the Bay Area and hard not to get swept up in the excitement for Roger Craig’s Hum Babies. The Cardinals and Giants swapped hard fought victories, including a heart breaking 1-0 Cardinals win in game 6. A showdown seemed evident for the finale… but instead Danny Cox shut out the Giants (who didn’t score the final two games) and reserve second basemen Jose Oquendo homered.
Worst of all, the scoring all happened early, so the Cardinals took a big lead and the rest was a dull waiting game.
This series deserved better.
4. 1988 National League Championship Series DODGERS 6 METS 0
Series rarely have the unexpected drama as the Dodgers/Mets series, which had the Mets have two improbable come from behind wins in games started by Hershiser and the Dodgers’ top reliever suspended for putting pine tar in his glove. Then Mike Scioscia and Kirk Gibson homer in game 4 and Hershiser comes out of the pen to stunningly tie the series. When the Mets forced a game 7 and a Hershiser-Darling finale, it seemed like there was one more great moment up this series’ sleeve.
There wasn’t. The Mets made a bunch of errors, the Dodgers took a big lead early and neither team scored again, taking any drama out of the game in the second.
5. 1991 National League Championship Series BRAVES 4 PIRATES 0
Like the Giants/Cardinals series in 1987, the first Braves/Pirates match up was a terrific and underrated match up. Unfortunately, the finale was snooze.
Brian Hunter homered early and John Smoltz couldn’t be hit. The Pirates were held scoreless for 26 of their last 27 innings and there were 10,000 empty seats at a lifeless Three Rivers Stadium
6. 1985 American League Championship Series ROYALS 6 BLUE JAYS 2
I had to think real hard about what happened in this game, which is a problem for a game 7. I remember rooting for the Blue Jays and thinking it would be cool to see Canada in the World Series. Jim Sundberg tripled home 3 in the 6th and then the teams went through the motions through the end.
Not exactly a game to replay on ESPN classic.
7. 2003 National League Championship Series MARLINS 9 CUBS 6
This looked like it had “classic” written all over it. A day after the infamous game 6 (Steve Bartman’s excessive blame for this game will be addressed elsewhere) the Cubs, like the 1985 Cardinals, had a chance to wipe away any bad memories.
When Cabrera homered off of his shoe tops, it looked bad, but the Kerry Wood (!) homered himself to tie the game, Alou homered to give the Cubs the lead… Chicago goes crazy! Then Pudge Rodriguez leads the rally for the Marlins in the 5th.
5 innings in, this looked like it was going to be best game 7 ever. So what happened?
The Cubs seemed crushed after giving back the lead. Josh Beckett came out of the pen for 4 innings and save for a Troy O’Leary homer, couldn’t get anything started.
Wrigley Field was a morgue after that. A quiet, disbelieving morgue.
The 4 game 7s where personal emotions cloud my ability to judge them
1. 2004 American League Championship Series RED SOX 10 YANKEES 3
To a non Red Sox or Yankee fan this game would probably be thrown into the anti climax pile above. After the Red Sox jumped ahead to an 6-0 lead in the second and an 8-1 lead in the 4th, it felt strange for me as well.
Sure it was a big lead, but it was the smallest seven run lead imaginable. We kept waiting for the other shoe to fall. Not even Pedro’s bizarre and ill conceived cameo could bring the Yankees into striking distance.
So in truth it was kind of a lousy game. But maybe that was what made it feel so sweet. The Red Sox finally beat the Yankees… and it was so decisive that there wasn’t even one Boone/Bucky Dent moment to point to.
Either way, it’s the only 10-3 game that I have watched from beginning to end 5 times.
2. 1986 World Series METS 8 RED SOX 5
Was this a good game? It had big homers, the Red Sox winning by 3, the Mets tying it and taking the lead, the Red Sox coming back to cut it to one, the Mets pulling ahead…
It seemed like at least a good game. But it was so numbing to watch, especially when Schraldi was inexplicably brought in in the 7th inning instead of Oil Can Boyd, and to the surprise of nobody let up the series winning home run. An underratedly heartbreaking game.
3.1986 American League Championship Series RED SOX 8 ANGELS 1
This was NOT a good game. The Angels played a sloppy, despressed game and seemed to have phoned in the entire series starting in game 6. They were most dejected team up 3-2 in a series I have ever seen.
But I was jumping like it was Mardi Gras. It had never occurred to me as a kid that I would actually get a chance to see the Red Sox in the World Series. And seeing Jim Rice and Dwight Evans, two of the last remaining Red Sox of my youth, smack homers… Marty Barrett winning the MVP... it was a perfect boring game.
4. 2002 World Series ANGELS 4 GIANTS 1
This is the only game in this category not involving the Red Sox. But my dad is a die hard Giants fan and has been one since before Willie Mays played for them. I was rooting for the Giants in 2002 as hard as if they were my own team because of my dad.
And just a day after improbably blowing a late 5-0 lead, game 7 loomed as their last hope. And for some reason, even after they took a 1-0 lead, it seemed hopeless. By the time the Angels were up 4-1, the Giants looked hopeless and limped across the finish line.
Giants fans, especially my dad, deserved better.
So there you have it, all two of you who got this far. Let’s hope that St. Louis and Detroit will give us a game 7 worthy of the first category.
By the way, if you DID read all the way through, shoot me an e mail firstname.lastname@example.org