We’ve all entered a new condition. I’ve gotten a lot of questions in the last few days from friends, who are self-isolating in response to COVID-19 and newly working from home, about how best to get through the day. Some have struggled to maintain their productivity (I try to edit and take calls from a designated place, separate and distinct from both my bed and my couch), while others have wondered whether it really matters if you get dressed in real pants before you start your work (perhaps, though I’ve found it to be much less important than remembering to drink water). Everyone has their tricks and tips, and of course work has to get done, but I think it is important to recognize just how unusual a circumstance this is, how overwhelming it can feel. Sometimes, we’re going to need to set aside our work, and our real pants, and take a break. That’s a little harder to do while baseball, our usual distraction, is taking its break. So to help you pass the time, the FanGraphs staff presents a few of our favorite games to rewatch from the relatively recent MLB archives. Today, one game with playoff implications and four more that peppered the postseason landscape. Enjoy, and stay safe. – Meg Rowley
2013 NL Wild Card: Cincinatti Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates
It’s been a tough couple years to be a Pirates fan. It’s been a tough couple decades, in fact, but the last years have been even worse: after three straight Wild Card appearances from 2013-2015, it’s been downhill in Pittsburgh. The front office leadership that put those teams together is gone now, and a new group is trying to find a new way to construct a winner in western Pennsylvania.
There won’t be much joy in Pittsburgh this year. There’s no reason to watch the recent, futile Pirates teams, and no reason even to watch the 2014 and 2015 editions, who were both bounced in a single game. Instead, watch the glorious day when Pittsburgh broke through; the first playoff game in the city since 1992.
Even years later, the atmosphere in the stadium is electric. Knowing what’s going to happen doesn’t change the excitement. Is that Francisco Liriano pitching in the most important game the franchise has played in 20 years? It sure is. But don’t focus on how much of a flash in the pan Pittsburgh-era Liriano was. Focus on peak Andrew McCutchen, on native son Neil Walker, on wait-he-was-on-that-team Marlon Byrd.
But most of all, just listen. Listen to the Cueto chants in the background, echoing ghostlike across the stadium. Watch Cueto slowly losing his nerve on the mound. Two innings in, watch him drop the baseball, then give up a home run on the next pitch. The resulting roar of the crowd is playoff baseball distilled into a single instant.
Watch the city of Pittsburgh collectively celebrate as the game rolls on. It’s a moment they haven’t gotten since, and one they won’t experience this year. That’s the kind of game I want to watch now, with no baseball and no public gatherings at all. That’s the spirit I want to remember. – Ben Clemens
2011 NLDS Game 5: St. Louis Cardinals at Philadelphia Phillies
The easy Cardinals pick is Game 6 of the World Series in 2011, but maybe you’ve already watched that one recently, so let’s go with a different pick from the same season. Roy Halladay in the best season of his career dueling against 36-year-old Chris Carpenter. Halladay arguably pitched better, but Carpenter and the Cardinals got the win, with a first-inning run holding up. It’s maybe the one game of recent vintage where I wish we had the Statcast numbers, so we could see the hit probabilities against Carpenter as the Phillies put 28 balls in play and managed just three hits.
Honorable Mention for last season: NLDS Game 5 between the Nationals and Dodgers, which featured one of the many close calls the Nationals would experience on their way to the title, Clayton Kershaw entering the game to save the day, doing it, and then not the next inning, as the Nationals stars homered to give Washington the lead. – Craig Edwards
Game 162, 2010: San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants
Just 40 days earlier, the San Francisco Giants had fallen to 6 1/2 games back in the NL West after a devastating extra-innings loss to the Cincinnati Reds. Down 10-1 in the fifth inning — 21-year-old rookie Madison Bumgarner was knocked out early after allowing eight runs — the Giants came all the way to take an 11-10 lead, only to allow the tying run in the ninth and the game-winning run in the 12th. Seemingly deflated, they appeared well on their way to a seventh consecutive season without a post-season appearance, four of which came with Bruce Bochy as the club’s manager.
As things turned out, it was far from over. The Giants did their part, finishing strong and winning 20 of their last 31 games. But it was Bochy’s former team, the San Diego Padres, whose late-season struggles really helped set the stage for the beginning of the Giants’ historic run of three World Championships in five years.
After extending their division lead to the aforementioned 6 1/2 games, a season-high, the Padres followed with 10 consecutive losses to allow the Giants to move within a game of first place on September 5. By the end of the month, the Giants had taken a three-game lead heading into the final series at home versus San Diego, who needed a sweep to force a one-game playoff for the division championship.
They were two-thirds of the way there, winning matchups against Matt Cain and Barry Zito to set up a Game 162 showdown between their ace, Mat Latos, and Jonathan Sanchez, who had thrown a no-hitter against them in 2009 and who had, for the most part, been very effective against them throughout his career.
Little did the Padres (or I, a lifelong Padres fan) know, it would be the last meaningful game — one with playoff implications, anyways — that they would play for the remainder of the decade. – Jason Martinez
2018 ALCS Game 4: Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros
I can understand if, with the benefit of what we know today, taking four hours of your otherwise precious day and watching the 2018 Astros — defending kings by virtue of cheating — take on the 2018 Red Sox — soon-to-be kings by virtue of yet-unknown-degrees of cheating — feels a bit slimy. There are villains on both sides; the twinge you get whenever the camera alights on Alexes Bregman or Cora is almost enough to ruin the spectacle that was Game 4 of that year’s ALCS.
And yet. And yet. It’s hard to deny that Houston, be it through means underhanded or on the level, had a knack for white-knuckle thrillers. Game 5 of the 2017 World Series is the masterpiece of that particular genre — a sweaty, rollicking high-speed chase over nine excruciating innings. But as much as I enjoyed that game at the time, this is the one I’ll recommend — in part because of my Red Sox fandom, but also because of the bits of wackiness intermixed with the sublime athleticism of players like Mookie Betts, who displays over the course of this game all the ways in which he’s a true superstar. And it builds, too, to a perfect high-wire ending: Craig Kimbrel, staggering through the ninth inning like a drunk trying to tiptoe through a minefield, saved at the last second by Andrew Benintendi’s sprawling catch in left to rob (who else?) Bregman of what might have been the game-tying hit.
Watching this live, I forgot how to breathe at least six or seven times in the last two or three minutes, watching Kimbrel bend to the point of breaking before somehow escaping. That may not happen to you, knowing how it ends. But if you can stomach the teams involved and know that one or both utilized some black arts to get there, ALCS Game 4 is a terrific time. There may have been no true heroes, but there was no shortage of drama either. – Jon Tayler
2016 World Series Game 7: Chicago Cubs at Cleveland Indians
November 3, 2016 was five days before Election Day and the last night I can remember crying real, unbidden tears of joy. My sense of historical perspective for this game is of course doubly warped; by growing up a Cubs fan just north of Chicago, and by having covered all four games in Chicago from the auxiliary press box down the left-field line. I’m still willing to wager that this was among the top 10 baseball games played in any of our lifetimes, certainly through that point in history and perhaps through this one.
Everything that is possible in baseball and nowhere else happened in this game, as a million stories played out in counterpoint through four hours and 28 minutes of exhilarating back-and-forth. Dexter Fowler started the game off by homering off of Corey Kluber. Three catchers entered the game for the Cubs, including current skipper David Ross, who homered off of Andrew freakin’ Miller in his final major league plate appearance after giving up a run on a wild pitch to the brilliant Francisco Lindor. Rajai Davis hit probably the biggest home run in Cleveland baseball history. Bryan Shaw pitched a spectacular top of the ninth before surrendering two runs — both of them, as it turned out, critical — in the 10th.
Nothing was settled until Mike Montgomery threw two consecutive “golden pitches” (pitches that could decide a championship) at nearly 12:30 in the morning Cleveland time. The second, an 0-1 offering to Michael Martinez, settled into Anthony Rizzo’s glove. Watch if you’re a Cubs fan, of course. Watch if you’re from Cleveland, and the masochistic sort. Watch if you’re a fan of baseball, and of feeling good again.
– Rian Watt
Tomorrow, Part II…