Best and Worst of the Recent World Series Finales

The last travel day of the season is behind us, and regardless of what lies ahead, we can be sure that a champion will be crowned in Kansas City. It’s been an entertaining, largely well-played series to date, with both teams’ respective strengths and weaknesses on display. I’m not here today to predict how this matchup is going to turn out — I picked the Giants in five last week — instead, let’s take this opportunity to look at the best and worst Game 6 and Game 7 tandems among the 25 World Series of that length since the advent of divisional play in 1969.

For the purposes of this column, let’s define “best” as some combination of significant entertainment value, high caliber of play and a degree of historical significance. Series that went seven games have an inherent advantage — I’m guessing most people reading this would agree that more baseball is better. All 10 of the best Game 6s and 7s were seven-game series, and all five of the worst were six-gamers. From the bottom to the top, here are the somewhat unscientifically selected top 10:

10. 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates (98-64) 4, Baltimore Orioles (102-57) 3

After 5: Orioles 3, Pirates 2, headed back to Baltimore

After winning their first two road games in Pittsburgh, the Orioles led the series 3-1 and appeared to be in total control. Even after an easy 7-1 Game 5 win behind future Hall-of-Famer Bert Blyleven, the die appeared to be cast.

This series makes the list because it marks the only time since 1969 that a club won the last two games of a seven-game series on the road. It ranks this low on the list because Games 6 and 7 were relatively boring. The Orioles managed only one run in 18 innings in 4-0 and 4-1 losses, with Pirates’ closer Kent Tekulve the unlikely hero. He notched a three-inning save in Game 6, and got the last five outs in Game 7, entering with the score 2-1. Four Hall-of-Famers — Blyleven, Willie Stargell, Eddie Murray and Jim Palmer — suited up, and all were core players for their respective clubs.

9. 1997 Florida Marlins (92-70) 4, Cleveland Indians (86-75) 3

After 5 : Marlins 3, Indians 2, headed back to Florida

In a high-scoring series — 44-37 Indians, overall — the teams alternated wins in the first five games, and the Marlins headed home one win away from the title after withstanding a furious 9th-inning Tribe rally in Game 5.

Game 6: A 4-1 Indian win wasn’t terribly exciting, but it had some interesting quirks. Chad Ogea got the win, going five workmanlike innings, but it was his offensive exploits that saved the day. He went 2-for-2 with a two-run single before turning the game over to his pen. Indians’ fans will remember Game 7 as the “Jose Mesa Game.” They led 2-0 through six, and after a Bobby Bonilla solo homer, it was 2-1 into the ninth. Mesa allowed the tying run on a Craig Counsell sacrifice fly in the ninth, and unlikely hero Counsell scored the series-winning run on Edgar Renteria’s RBI single off of Charles Nagy in the 11th. No Hall-of-Famers have yet emerged from these two clubs, but I think Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome should be automatic, and Gary Sheffield and Omar Vizquel both have a chance.

8. 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks (92-70) 4, New York Yankees (95-65) 3

After 5: Yankees 3, Diamondbacks 2, headed back to Arizona

This was the Byung-Hyun Kim World Series. After the D’backs won the first two at home, they carried two-run leads into the ninth in both Games 4 and 5, only for Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter and Scott Brosius all to hit homers off of Kim, giving the Yanks a 3-2 lead heading back to Arizona.

Game 7 was a legendary one. In the ultimate irony, it was Mariano Rivera’s turn to blow a save, as he made a key throwing error and allowed a series-winning broken-bat single to Luis Gonzalez. Randy Johnson heroically earned the Game 7 save on zero days rest. Why then, doesn’t this series rank higher? Well, Game 6 was a 15-2 D-backs’ blowout, featuring Jay Witasick allowing nine runs in relief. Hey, Randy Choate pitched in this series! No Hall-of-Famers yet from this series, though Johnson, Rivera, Jeter, Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina should all get there eventually.

7. 1985 Kansas City Royals (91-71) 4, St. Louis Cardinals (101-61) 3

After 5: Cards 3, Royals 2, headed back to KC

This one appeared to be a walkover early, with the Cards mounting a 3-1 lead. Danny Jackson’s complete-game 6-1 win in Game 5 in St. Louis sent the Royals back home with a sliver of hope.

That sliver is all that was left as the Royals came to bat down 1-0 in the home ninth of Game 6, to be known forever as “The Denkinger Game.” No, this call didn’t end the game, as many forget. Jorge Orta was leading off the inning when he hit the chopper that went down as an infield single instead of an out. The Cards lost their collective cool for the rest of the series, with Jack Clark missing a catchable Steve Balboni popup (he singled) and Darrell Porter committing a passed ball, setting up Dane Iorg‘s game-winning two-run single in that fateful ninth inning. Why doesn’t this series rate higher? Well, Game 7 was an 11-0 debacle, with only the entertainment value of Joaquin Andujar’s insertion into the game in the fifth inning, and his ensuing meltdown. George Brett and Ozzie Smith are the only Hall-of-Famers from the ’85 Series.

6. 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates (97-65) 4, Baltimore Orioles (101-57) 3

After 5: Pirates 3, Orioles 2, headed back to Baltimore

This is an underrated, somewhat forgotten World Series, with the Pirates overcoming the Orioles and their historically great pitching staff and its four 20-game winners: Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson.

The O’s Big Four pitched 51.3 of their 61 innings for the series. The Bucs, on the other hand, used six different starting pitchers in the first six games, taking their first series lead in Game 5 on Nelson Briles‘ complete-game two-hitter.

This was the Roberto Clemente series. This is also the first World Series I vividly remember watching every inning of every game. Clemente was amazing in all facets, batting .414/.452/.759, running the bases with abandon, playing incredible defense and showcasing his howitzer arm. Both Games 6 and 7 were ultra-competitive. The O’s used three of their big four, Palmer, Dobson and McNally to prevail 3-2 in 10 innings of Game 6, despite a Clemente homer. He homered again in Game 7, as Steve Blass hurled his second complete game win of the series. This would be Clemente’s last post-season appearance. Lots of Hall-of-Famers here: Clemente, Stargell, Palmer, Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson.

5. 2002 Anaheim Angels (99-63) 4, San Francisco Giant (95-66) 3

After 5: Angels 3, Giants 2, headed back to Anaheim

Talk about underrated World Series. This was the Barry Bonds series — the closest he would ever come to a championship. No one ever dominated a Fall Classic — not even Reggie Jackson — as Bonds did this one. He hit .471/.700/1.294 despite being pitched around constantly, walking 13 times.

Game 6 was the classic here. It was Hollywood stuff. Shawon Dunston‘s last career hit, a fifth-inning homer, was capped by a hug at home plate with his son, the Giants’ bat boy. Going into the home seventh, it was 5-0 Giants, and the champagne was on ice. Scott Spiezio’s three-run homer that inning made it 5-3, and the Angels then jumped all over Tim Worrell and Nen in the eighth, with Troy Glaus‘ double putting them over the top. This was Game 6, but it might as well have been Game 7. The Angels won an uneventful Game 7, 4-1, behind John Lackey, with all of the scoring occurring in the first three innings. No Hall-of-Famers yet from this Series, but Bonds and possibly Jeff Kent are deserving.

4. 2011 St. Louis Cardinals (90-72) 4, Texas Rangers (96-66) 3

After 5: Rangers 3, Cards 2, headed back to St. Louis

Talk about a series that was defined by its Game 6. This was a fairly innocuous, but competitive, affair through five, with Albert Pujols‘ three-homer outburst in Game 3 its most notable event.

Game 6 was absolutely insane. Fifteen pitchers toed the rubber, and only nine of the 22 half-innings were scoreless. The Rangers were in fine shape, up 9-6 going into the home eighth, and 9-7 into the home ninth. Neftali Feliz sandwiched a couple of strikeouts around a Pujols double and a Lance Berkman walk, and faced David Freese. Down to his last strike, Freese launched a hard but catchable liner in the direction of Nelson Cruz, who couldn’t make the play, allowing the tying runs to score. The resilient Rangers restored their two-run lead in the 10th on a Josh Hamilton homer. But back came the Cards again, when Berkman, also down to his last strike with two out, lined a game-tying single. Freese put the bow on it in the 11th, homering off of Mark Lowe. This also might as well have been Game 7, as the Cards overcame a 1st inning 2-0 deficit in Game 7 and cruised to an easy 6-2 win. Future Hall-of-Famers from this series should include Pujols and Adrian Beltre.

3. 1991 Minnesota Twins (95-67) 4, Atlanta Braves (94-68) 3

After 5: Braves 3, Twins 2, headed back to Minnesota

A great series. When Minnesota makes the Series, apparently the home team must win every game. Games 2, 3 and 4 were all one-run affairs, but they merely set the stages for Games 6 and 7 in the Metrodome.

In each of the top three combined Games 6 and 7, both games had classic elements. Game 6 was a taut extra-inning battle, settled by Kirby Puckett‘s iconic solo blast in the 11th off of Charlie Leibrandt. Game 7 was arguably one of the best single World Series games of all time. Jack Morris and John Smoltz settled into a classic duel. One of my favorite baseball sequences of all time occurred in the eighth when Lonnie Smith singled, and would have had a chance to score from first on Terry Pendleton‘s double — but Chuck Knoblauch deked Smith, inducing him to slide to break up a phantom double play while the ball was rolling in the outfield. It was still second and third, no outs, but Morris worked his way through the inning unscathed. The Twins got into the Braves’ bullpen, and won it in the 10th on Gene Larkin’s pinch-single. Puckett and Tom Glavine are Hall-of-Famers from this series, and John Smoltz should be soon.

2. 1986 New York Mets (108-54) 4, Boston Red Sox (95-66) 3

After 5: Boston 3, New York 2, headed back to New York

A classic on many levels. The 1986 Mets are one of the best teams of the divisional era, but immediately had their backs put to the wall by the Red Sox, which won the first two games in New York and clung to a 3-2 lead going back to Shea Stadium.

Game 6 was, obviously, “The Buckner Game,” but it had so much more. It was pretty compelling even before extra innings, with a young Roger Clemens leading the Sox to a 3-2 lead headed into the home eighth. Enter former Met prospect Calvin Schiraldi, who for the previous few weeks had been untouchable for what would turn out to be the only time in his major league career. He allowed the tying run on a Gary Carter sacrifice fly in the eighth, but was given a two-run cushion in the 10th by Dave Henderson‘s solo homer and Marty Barrett‘s RBI single. You know the rest: Two outs, none on, Mrs. Yawkey, the champagne, Kevin Mitchell getting a pinch-single with no underwear on, Dave Stapleton not coming in for defense with a late-inning lead for the first time in the Series so Buckner could be in the dogpile, Bob Stanley’s wild pitch. And then: Buckner.

Sox’ fans torture was not over. There was a rainout the next night to let Game 6 soak in a bit more, and a 3-0 lead into the home sisth of Game 7 the following night, before the heavens again opened on Schiraldi in the form of a Ray Knight homer. Carter, Wade Boggs and Jim Rice are already in the Hall from this series, and Clemens should join them.

1. 1975 Cincinnati Reds (108-54) 4, Boston Red Sox (95-65) 3

After 5: Reds 3, Red Sox 2, headed back to Boston

It was a mismatch on paper, with the vaunted Big Red Machine expected to roll easily. Instead, the Reds had to claw to avoid being quickly run out of the series, winning tight one-run battles in Games 2 and 3 sandwiched between Luis Tiant complete game victories for the Sox. The Reds seemingly took control with an easy 6-2 win in Game 5, and it was back to Fenway.

And it rained. For three days. It rained enough that Tiant could come back and pitch again, but he had little left and the Red Sox faced a 6-3 deficit in the home eighth, staring at elimination. Enter former Red Bernie Carbo, whose three-run homer off of Rawly Eastwick in the eighth tied it, setting the stage for arguably the most iconic image of modern World Series’ history: Carlton Fisk‘s game-winning homer off of the foul pole in the 12th. Game 7 wasn’t too bad, either. The Red Sox quickly jumped ahead 3-0, but Tony Perez‘ two-run shot off of Bill Lee‘s eephus pitch made it a game in the sixth. Want to talk about historical significance? Pete Rose‘s RBI single in the seventh tied it, and Joe Morgan’s bloop single in the ninth won it. HOF’ers galore in this series: Morgan, Perez, Johnny Bench for the Reds, Fisk, Carl Yastrzemski for the Sox. Pete Rose may someday join this group, and Jim Rice was injured and did not play.

Now, very quickly, the five “worst” Game 6-7 combos, from least-bad up:

5. 2003 Florida Marlins (91-71) 4, New York Yankees (101-61) 2

After 5: Marlins 3, Yankees 2, headed back to New York

Only one game was left to be played, and it was a fairly uneventful one, though it did feature a historic complete-game shutout pitching performance by Josh Beckett, the last such WS effort until Madison Bumgarner’s on Sunday night.

4. 1978 New York Yankees (100-63) 4, Los Angeles Dodgers (95-67) 2

After 5: Yankees 3, Dodgers 2, headed back to LA

Quick and painless, a 7-2 Game 6 Yankee victory that capped the Series. Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, added some historical significance, crushing a two-run shot off of Bob Welch in the seventh inning to put the game away.

3. 2009 New York Yankees (103-59) 4, Philadelphia Phillies (93-69) 2

After 5: Yankees 3, Phillies 2, headed back to NY

Not a lot to see here in the Yanks’ 7-3 Game 6 win, other than Hideki Matsui’s six RBI or Pedro Martinez‘ loss in the last appearance of his major league career.

2. 2013 Boston Red Sox (97-65) 4, St. Louis Cardinals (97-65) 2

After 5: Red Sox 3, Cards 2, headed back to Boston

Fairly hum-drum Game 6, an easy 6-1 win for the Sox. John Lackey was sharp in the second series-clinching win of his career, with the outcome no longer in much doubt after Shane Victorino’s third-inning three-run double.

1. 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers (63-47) 4, New York Yankees (59-48) 2

After 5: Dodgers 3, Yankees 2, headed back to NY

Nothing to see here. Strike year, blowout 9-2 Dodger victory in Game 6, please drive through.

The 2014 World Series has been fun in its own way, but at this point isn’t shaping up as an all-time great matchup. Two sub-90 win wild card teams, a relative paucity of historical talents — Buster Posey is the best bet for the Hall of Fame, though Madison Bumgarner’s portfolio is building, and Yordano Ventura has a puncher’s chance to do some Pedro-esque things — but Games 6 and 7 can change everything. Let’s sit back, hope that the stunning late-October Midwestern weather holds on for another night or two, and enjoy the last baseball we’ll see for a while.





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Stuck in a slump
Guest
Stuck in a slump

“No Hall-of-Famers yet from this series, though Johnson, Jeter, Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina should all get there eventually.”

You missed Schilling. If Mussina is going to be in the HoF, Schilling should be there before him.

witesoxfan
Guest
witesoxfan

Rivera too.

Stuck in a slump
Guest
Stuck in a slump

Good call! So many great players in that WS. Based on star talent alone I think it should be ranked a bit higher, but then factor in the drama and that it was at a time of healing for the country after the Sept 11th attacks, and this is easily my all time favorite WS.

David K
Guest
David K

The author used the excuse of a blowout game 6 to rank this series lower. But several of the other World Series ranked higher had an “uneventful” game late in the series. I would say that having almost every game being close, with all the late inning plot twists, would put this series in the top-3 of all-time EASY.

some dude
Guest
some dude

Look at the actual #3. Game 6 was a walk off home run victory in extra innings, hit by the star batter and game 7 feqtured a 10 inning shutout by the home team. You are never going to see that again, ever. I realize its cool to not like Jack Morris on FG, but you still have to admit that the theater of that game. In a sense, having such a medioce pitcher throw a 10 inning shutout should be even more amazing because it is a low probability event. A Walter Johnson shutout wouldn’t be that unusual, but Jack Morris?

Clayfield
Guest
Clayfield

Jack Morris has 52.2 career fWAR including a 4.8 mark from the 1991 season leading up to this world series. He was actually a good pitcher for a long time(3.5 WAR or more in 9 seasons). Just because he falls short of the hall doesn’t mean he’s “such a mediocre pitcher”. I mean the guy had 28 career shutouts, it’s not that mind blowing that he could manage one during the world series.

Blue
Guest
Blue

Not arguing for Morris, but according to Cameron Ichiro’s 55.3 WAR makes him a first ballot HOFer.

Stuck in a slump
Guest
Stuck in a slump

If Ichiro keeps getting the kind of playing time he did this year, and he can continue to get hits at about the same rate, then he’ll reach the 3k hit mark in a season and a half. He’s already eclipsed that mark in 2008 if you look back on his time in the NPB. Currently he’s sitting at 4300 hits between both leagues. That’s an incredible feat.

Having a set WAR standard helps us identify those who should obviously be in, but it shouldn’t be a hard and fast standard when you have a guy like Ichiro who clearly has enough benchmarks to be considered even though he’s at best a fringe HoF candidate.

Blue
Guest
Blue

Japan counts for zero. As meaningless as AAA stats.

Antonio Bananas
Guest

Ichiro was what? 27 when he was a rookie. You can say AAA/Japan stats mean nothing, but I’m willing to bet that he would have made it to the majors a lot sooner than 27. Setting single season records alone makes Ichiro a lot better than Morris.

Johan Santa
Guest
Johan Santa

That was my first exact reaction too… Schilling will get in on veterans committee if nothing else. Looks like Rivera was edited in, but not Schill… interesting.