Posted By Jeff Fletcher on May 9, 2011 1:00 am
Just watched MLB Network’s latest in the 20 Greatest Games series, Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, which was No. 2. (No. 1 will be Game 6 of the 1975 Series, on later this month.) I … freakin … love … these … shows. At the risk of sounding like a shill for the house organ, which MLB Network is, I have to admit that these programs are exceptionally well-done and quite entertaining.
Inspired by this program, I decided to come up with my list of the top 10 games that I’ve covered in my career, which dates back to 1997. Putting them all in one post doesn’t give me the ability to be suspenseful with a countdown, so I’ll start at the top.
The Marlins won, 7-6, to win the series, with J.T. Snow getting thrown out at the plate to end the game. It’s easy to start here. In fact, this was No. 19 on the MLB Network list.I didn’t get a chance to see the MLB Network show on this game, so I’m hoping the series will eventually be available on iTunes or I can catch it when they show it again. You can see a brief synopsis here.
A lot of stuff was going on here before the game even began. The Giants lost a heart-breaker in Game 3, thanks to Jose Cruz Jr. (who won the Gold Glove that year) dropping a fly ball. That set up a debate as to whether the Giants should bring back Jason Schmidt on three days rest to start a do-or-die Game 4, or if rookie Jerome Williams should go, saving Schmidt for Game 5. In one of the defining moments of Felipe Alou as a manager, he flat-out told the media that “Schmitty said he couldn’t go.” Ouch. Jason, meet the bottom of the bus. Alou never cared much about babying his players or looking out for their feelings. He was old school, in that way.
What we found out later was that Schmidt had been dealing with a sore shoulder down the stretch, which is why he was reluctant to pitch on three days rest. It’s also why the Giants kept an extra pitcher on the roster. They needed someone (Dustin Hermanson, I believe) in case Schmidt came up lame in the first inning one day. That meant that they didn’t have room for Eric Young, a speedy pinch-runner who would certainly have come in handy in the ninth inning.
The Marlins took a 5-1 lead and knocked out Jerome Williams. The Giants rallied to tie, then fell behind 7-5 in the bottom of the eighth. The Giants got a quick run on a double and a single and they had definite action on the tying run. Problem was, Snow represented the tying run, and the Giants had no one to pinch-run for him. Of course, with Snow at second and two outs, Jeffrey Hammonds singled to left fielder Jeff Conine — not known for his defense — and Conine made an absolutely perfect throw to get Snow at the plate. Snow bowled over Pudge Rodriguez, but the catcher held on to the ball. It is the only time in baseball history a playoff series has ended with a runner getting thrown out at the plate. I remember Pudge holding up the ball like a warrior holding the skull of his victim.
From my personal perspective, there’s a little extra to this. Back then there was no off day between Games 4 and 5 of the division series, even though there was travel between the games. Since the series would have gone from Florida all the way back to San Francisco for a Game 5 the next day if the Giants had won, I had booked an early evening flight home. I figured I’d have no trouble making it because the game started at noon ET, if I remember correctly. Well, it was obviously a wild game and it took 3 hours 19 minutes. After an elimination game, there is always a long time in the clubhouse getting the post-mortem. Because I had to hustle to make my flight, I sent my story much more quickly than I would have normally with a three-hour time difference back home. However, as soon as I got on my flight out of Miami, I spent the whole first leg of my flight (to Denver, probably) re-writing my story, and I sent a new one on my layover. So my first version was probably the fastest gamer I ever wrote, followed by a re-write that was my slowest.
Don’t worry, the rest won’t be so long. The order of some of these is debatable, but they were all great…
A ton of stuff happened in this one. Jonathan Sanchez was awful early, and it looked like the Giants were going to wilt and face a Game 7 in Philadelphia, perhaps leading to a disastrous collapse, blowing a 3-1 lead. No Giants fans could have felt great down 2-0 in the first inning. But, the Giants somehow strung together a heroic relief effort, starting with Jeremy Affeldt and including starters Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum. I love the way Bruce Bochy managed this game as if it were the do-or-die game, not as if they still could fall back on Game 7. Then, there was the bottom of the ninth, when Brian Wilson walked two guys to get Ryan Howard to the plate with the winning run on base. Wilson struck him out. Looking. Incredible. Oh, and don’t forget that bench-clearing incident with Chase Utley.
This game was really the beginning of the Giants’ run of success from ’97 to ’03. This one, on Sept. 18, 1997 really pushed them over the top to beat out the Dodgers for their worst-to-first division title. What I’ll remember about this game is how both teams kept having great scoring opportunities late and into extra-innings. I’ll never forget that Rod Beck, whose arm was hanging by a thread that whole month, pitched three innings. He escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the 10th, getting Eddie Murray to ground into a DP. After Johnson’s 12th-inning homer cleared the fence, the Giants were tied for first. The Dodgers, who had been to the postseason the previous two years, began a seven-year drought.
The Derek Jeter flip game. It was a great game even before the Jeter play. Barry Zito and Mike Mussina had been in a beautful duel, the only nick being Jorge Posada’s solo homer in the fifth. The defining play in the seventh inning was fascinating not just because of Jeter’s incredible awareness to be where he was and to do what he did, but because it opened up a great strategic debate. Why wasn’t anyone pinch-running for Jeremy Giambi? There were two outs, Giambi was at first and it was the seventh inning. I’ll bet if there had been one less out, if it had been one inning later, or if Giambi had been one base closer to home, Art Howe would have lifted Giambi. It may be disappointing for A’s fans, but just think of what we wouldn’t have gotten if the A’s had won that game. We wouldn’t have gotten one of the greatest World Series ever, between the Diamondbacks and Yankees. (Two of MLB Network’s top 20 games came from that series.) Frankly, it was also kinda cool to have a World Series in New York just after 9/11.
I kinda feel like this game has been forgotten, amid all the playoff craziness from last year, but this was an awesome game. Think about what would have happened if the Giants lost this game. The series would have been tied going into a game against Roy Halladay, and then going to Philadelphia for two games. I think the Phillies would have become pretty decent favorites in the series if they’d won, and the Giants huge favorites if they won. The Giants blew a 2-0 lead and fell behind 4-2. Then they retook the lead, 5-4, (thanks to Pablo Sandoval’s last big hit of the year) only to blow that too, when the Phillies tied it against Sergio Romo. Look at how the “win probability chart” goes up and down for this one. They finally won it — against Roy Oswalt in relief! — on Juan Uribe’s sac fly. It was the Giants’ only walk-off win of the postseason.
It seems like this should be higher. Any team overcoming a five-run deficit to win a World Series elimination game should be a pretty big deal, but if you really boil it down, there wasn’t that much going on in this game outside of those two innings, the seventh and eighth. I’ll never forget Scott Spiezio fouling a bunch of really tough pitches before hitting the three-run homer. The other element from this game that often gets overlooked is how Dusty Baker sort of blew it by allowing Barry Bonds to play left field in the games in Anaheim, instead of DHing. Bonds, you’ll recall, made an error that contributed to the Angels’ three runs in the eighth. I had a really good lead written for this game that I had to delete, by the way. Last game Robb Nen ever pitched.
I really feel for J.T. Snow, because he’s been a great postseason performer. He’s got a .327 postseason average, including .407 in the 2002 World Series, but he’s best-known for scooping up little Darren Baker. In the ’03 Marlins series, he’s best-known for getting thrown out at the plate. It’s not his fault the Giants didn’t have anyone to run for him. And here, he gets the biggest postseason hit of his life, a three-run, game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth, and the Giants lose the game in extra innings. Do you also remember Shawn Estes injuring himself on a horrible slide attempt in the third inning? That forced Kirk Rueter to enter in an emergency and give a heroic 4 1/3 scoreless innings of relief to keep the Giants in the game. Game 3 of this series was also awesome, by the way. It was a 13-inning marathon in New York that ended on Benny Agbayani’s homer. Tons of scoring chances for both teams in that one. It almost made my list, but there wasn’t really a stick-in-your mind signature moment, like this Snow homer.
Wait, no Giants or A’s? Remember, I spent two years as a national writer for AOL FanHouse. This game was a real thriller. The Yankees had a chance to close out the series in Anaheim, and when the Angels blew a 4-0 lead and fell behind 6-4 in the seventh, they sure seemed to be dead. But they bounced right back and scored three runs and held on for the win, sending the series back to New York. What I liked best about this game was it was chock full of great strategic decisions to second-guess, which you don’t get often in the AL.
There were zero playoff implications for this one, back on May 29, 2001, or even any long-term significance, but how often do you see a game go to the 18th scoreless? Never. That’s how often. I don’t actually remember a lot of the details from within this game other than the fact that Benito Santiago caught all 18 innings, and that Ryan Vogelsong hit a triple. To be honest, I didn’t even remember who won. The DBacks won, 1-0. I’ll never forget that game, even though I don’t remember exactly what happened, if that makes sense. Eighteen innings!
10. Run, Jason, run
On Aug. 11, 2005, Jason Kendall scored the winning run for the A’s against the Angels when Francisco Rodriguez missed a throw back from the catcher. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime ending, but it was also a pretty darn exciting game up to that point. The A’s overcame a 4-0 deficit against one of the best bullpens in baseball to tie the game. When this game ended, the A’s had a one-game lead over the Angels, after having trailed in the division by as many as 8 1/2 games just three weeks earlier. Unfortuantely for the A’s, they didn’t finish it off. They collapsed in the final two weeks, going from tied to seven games back of the Angels. This game also holds a special place in my heart because my game story won an award.
So that’s my list. What are the best games you’ve seen?