A few weeks ago, I wrote a column here at the mighty THT looking at the greatest Game Ones in the history of baseball’s league championship series. The notion was to do an entire series of the greatest LCS games, similar to a series of pieces I did on the World Series here several years ago.
Well, now that the best Game Ones are out of the way, it’s time to move on to Game Two. What are the best Game Twos of them all? These ones.
10. 2006 NLCS: St. Louis’ late rally: St. Louis 9, New York 6
The Cardinals had already lost the first game of this series, and so really could use a win here to avoid falling in a big hole.
Early on, things looked bleak as the Mets took a 3-0 lead in the first inning. But the Cards kept chipping it away and tied it, 4-4, a few innings later. When the Mets bolted out to a 6-4 lead, St. Louis knotted things up again on a Scott Spiezio triple in the seventh.
It was still 6-6 entering the ninth when a So Taguchi homer led off the inning for the first Cardinals lead of the game. Two doubles and a single later, St. Louis led 9-6, and that’s how it ended.
9. 1980 NLCS: This series is beginning to get good: Houston 7, Philadelphia 4 (10).
The 1980 NLCS is, at the very least, the greatest best-of-five LCS ever. There was an enormous amount of drama and excitement, with each game seemingly topping the one that came before.
This was a really nice game, but it was just a precursor for the fun that was to come. Philadelphia had won the first game and took an early 2-1 lead here, but Houston tied it in the seventh and gained the advantage in the top of the eighth, 3-2. They didn’t enjoy the lead for long, as the Phillies tied it in the bottom half of the frame.
The contest entered overtime, and Houston broke it open with four in the 10th. They held on to win, 7-4, but it wasn’t quite as easy as the score shows. The game ended with the tying run at the plate—in the person of 1980 NL MVP Mike Schmidt. Instead of homering, he flew out to end the game, though.
8. 2000 NLCS: Late drama: New York 6, St. Louis 5.
Those Cards and Mets just have the knack for nice Game Twos when they meet in the NLCS.
This was 3-3 after seven innings, and it looked like the Mets were going to put it away in the top of the eighth when they turned three singles and an intentional walk into two runs. In fact, for a little bit, it looked like the Mets could get even more, but in a bad baserunning blunder, star catcher Mike Piazza was thrown out at third trying to advance from first on a single to left. (Clearly, he didn’t respect the arm of Ray Lankford.)
The Mets soon missed that lost opportunity, as St. Louis scored two runs to tie it in the bottom of the eighth. It was an ugly inning for the Mets, with two walks (one intentional) and a run scoring on a wild pitch.
But before you knew it, the Cardinals immediately responded with an ugly inning of their own. In the top of the ninth, St. Louis first baseman Will Clark made an error that let the lead batter on. After a sacrifice bunt by Benny Agbayani advanced the go-ahead runner to second, Jay Payton singled him home for a 6-5 Mets lead—and victory.
Oh, this game is notable for another reason. Cardinals phenom pitcher Rick Ankiel began the game on the mound but couldn’t get out of the first due to massive control problems. In 33 pitches, he walked three batters and unleashed two wild pitches. Something had gone wrong with his head, and the 2000 NLCS would mark his downfall as a pitcher. He’d never be effective on a big league mound again.
As it happens, that ranks as the best NLCS Game Two ever. Incredibly, the top seven all hail from the Junior Circuit.
7. 2009 ALCS: Damn Yankees: New York 4, Anaheim 3 (13)
This game featured something very cool and very rare: a comeback in extra innings.
The game entered extra frames tied, 2-2. In the 11th, the Angels manufactured a run on a walk, sacrifice bunt, and single for a 3-2 lead. But they knew a one-run lead wouldn’t be a lock. The Yankees had put runners in scoring position in both of the last two innings and were always a threat to do so again.
And boy, did they ever. Leading off the 11th, Alex Rodriguez made sure the key tying run wouldn’t be stranded when he hit a solo home run. Two innings later, the Yankees won on a walk-off error by Angels second baseman Maicer Izturis.
6. 2011 ALCS: Walk-off grand slam: Texas 7, Detroit 3 (11)
This game is primarily noteworthy for just one swing, but what a swing it was! Actually, that isn’t entirely fair, as this game had at least one memorable moment of drama before the big finish.
We’ll get to the big finish in a second; first, the earlier action. Entering the bottom of the ninth, Detroit and Texas were evened up, 3-3. However, Texas staged a dangerous rally in the last part of regulation play. Adrian Beltre led off with a double, and then after an intentional walk, Nelson Cruz reached on a hit by pitch.
So in the bottom of the ninth in a tied playoff game, Texas had the bases loaded with no outs. Things looked rather bleak for Detroit. But closer Jose Valverde dug down inside himself and dug the team out of the hole. David Murphy flew out, but not deep enough to risk sending Beltre home. One out, with the game still tied.
Next up, Mitch Moreland bounced a weak grounder to first, where Miguel Cabrera snagged the ball and threw home for one out, and catcher Alex Avila whipped the ball back to first for the inning-ending double play. Detroit had done it, surviving an incredibly dangerous rally.
That memory was fresh in mind two innings later when the Rangers again loaded the bases again with no one out. The batter at the plate was Cruz. This time it wasn’t a shallow fly out or weak grounder. No, Cruz didn’t give Detroit’s defense a chance, smashing one out of the park for the rare walk-off grand slam.
5. 2008 ALCS: Five comebacks and three lead changes: Tampa 9, Boston 8 (11).
Teams just couldn’t keep leads at all in this game. Boston jumped out to a 2-0 advantage in the top of the first, but it was 2-2 by the end of the inning. A 3-2 Boston lead midway through the third became a 4-3 Tampa lead by the end of the inning.
In the fifth frame Boston took its third lead, 6-5, but again didn’t enjoy it very long, as Tampa scored three in that same inning for an 8-5 advantage. But, true to the nature of this game, Tampa couldn’t hold the lead, either. In the eighth inning it was tied, 8-8.
Tampa won it in the 11th, or perhaps its more accurate to say Boston lost it, as Tampa scored a run without getting a hit. Mike Timlin walked the first two batters he faced, and after a grounder advanced the runners, he issued an intentional walk to load them. At least he didn’t walk in a run. Instead, a sacrifice fly brought home the Rays’ winning score.
4. 2005 ALCS: The A.J. Pierzynski game: Chicago 2, Anaheim 1.
This is probably the most famous game on the list. After all, it’s both recent and controversial.
The Angels had topped the White Sox in Game One in Chicago and hoped to go back to California ahead two games to none. Entering the bottom of the ninth, it was all knotted up, 1-1.
Angels reliever Kelvim Escobar appeared to send the game into extra innings when he quickly retired the first two batters of the inning and then got Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski to swing and miss for a strike three that was in the dirt.
After the apparent inning-ending punchout, the Angels began trotting off the field, and Anaheim catcher Josh Paul flipped the ball back to the mound. Likewise, Pierzynski knew it was strike three, and took a step or two back to the Chicago dugout—but then he suddenly stopped.
Hey, wait! That was a swinging strike three in the dirt. That can be a wild pitch, right? So Pierzynski decided to take off for first. The Angels weren’t in position to stop him, and the umpires called him safe at first. Instead of a strikeout that began extra innings, the Sox were still alive. After pinch runner Pablo Ozuna stole second, a Joe Crede double brought him home for the unlikely 2-1 Sox win.
3. 1969 ALCS: McNally’s gem: Baltimore 1,Minnesota 0 (11)
This is arguably the greatest pitching performance in the history of the postseason. By Game Score, it’s tied for second, behind only a 15-whiff one-hitter by Roger Clemens in Game Four of the 2000 ALCS.
In this game, Orioles workhorse Dave McNally owned the Twins bats. He went the distance, throwing 11 shutout innings, allowing just three hits—all singles—while fanning 11.
It’s no wonder Baltimore manager Earl Weaver kept McNally in all game, as his pitcher got better the longer the game went on. Minnesota’s last hit led off the fourth inning. From the fifth to the tenth, only one batter reached base at all. McNally tired a bit in the final frame, walking a pair, but Baltimore finally scored a few minutes later to end the game.
2. 1985 ALCS: Dick Howser’s lament: Toronto 6, Kansas City 5 (10)
Ten times Dick Howser had managed a team in a postseason game, and 10 times they had lost. His 1980 Yankees, 1981 Royals, and 1984 Royals all had been swept three games to none, and the 1985 Royals had just lost the first game to Toronto the day before.
Early on, it looked like this would finally be Howser’s day, as KC jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead. Yeah, but those Blue Jays could play, and a two-run single by Jesse Barfield tied it, 3-3, in the sixth. Two innings later, Toronto manufactured a run against Kansas City fireman Dan Quisenberry for its first lead of the day, 4-3.
But Howser’s boys weren’t going to give up that easily. Moments after Toronto took the lead, Pat Sheridan belted a pinch-hit home run to lead off the top of the ninth. Now it was 4-4, and that was the score heading into extra innings.
In the top of the 10th, the speedy Willie Wilson gave the club a run with a single and stolen base before scoring from second on another single. Howser was three outs from his first postseason triumph.
It wasn’t to be. Quisenberry was a great reliever in his prime, and 1985 was his prime, but he just didn’t have it today. Pitching in his third inning of relief (it was a very different time), he couldn’t hold the lead. Tony Fernandez singled to lead off the inning, advanced to second on a groundout, then scored on a Lloyd Moseby single. So long lead; the game was now tied, 4-4.
Quisenberry tried to pick off Moseby, but an error by first baseman Steve Balboni allowed him to scamper to second instead, at which point Al Oliver came to the plate. Bill James once wrote that Oliver’s swing was a perfect match for Quisenberry’s sidearm delivery. Oliver had his number and was the last man any Royals fan wanted to see face Quiz. This at-bat would be Exhibit No. 1 in James’ argument. Sure enough, Oliver belted a clean single, and Moseby came home with the improbable winning run.
Howser was now 0-11 lifetime in the postseason, including 0-2 in this ALCS. However, instead of folding, his team came back to win the next game, and then after losing Game Four, triumphed in the final three games to claim the pennant. Then, in the World Series, the Royals against rallied from a three-games-to-one deficit to win the title. The manager who couldn’t win anything in the postseason would win it all, and to this day the Royals are still the only team to stage two different three-games-to-ones rallies in one postseason.
1. 1979 ALCS: The greatest comeback that never was: Baltimore 9, California 8.
It was nearly one of the greatest stories in the history of all October. Heck, it might still be. Certainly, there is no postseason game quite like this one.
Early on, it looked like anything but a memorable game. The Angels scored first on a Dan Ford solo homer in the top of the first, but then everything completely fell to ashes on them.
Baltimore scored four runs in the bottom of the first, then tallied another four in the second inning. In was a moral victory for the Angels that they held the Orioles to just one run in the third inning. The score was 9-1, and the game looked like an all-time snoozer.
Not much happened in the ensuing few innings to rouse anyone’s interest. Neither side scored in the fourth of fifth frames. Finally, California scored one run in the sixth, but no big deal, right? The score was 9-2, and California had just nine outs left with which to work. One run more in the seventh gave the Orioles a 9-3 edge with just two innings remaining. You could forgive Weaver if he was already thinking ahead to Game Three.
The Angels weren’t thinking of Game Three, though. In the eighth, the first three batters reached base on a walk, error, and single. That chased starting pitcher Mike Flanagan from the game, but reliever Don Stanhouse let both inherited runners scored before the inning was up.
Okay, so the Angels scored thrice. It was still 9-6 in favor of Baltimore with one inning left.
Stanhouse began the ninth still looking feeble, as he issued a leadoff walk to pinch-hitter Larry Harlow. A force play accounted for the first out, and now the Angels had two outs left with a runner on first and still down by three. According to WPA, California’s chances of winning the game were four percent.
The veteran Willie Davis then hit a pinch-hit double, putting two men in scoring position and the tying run at the plate. That tying run was Hall of Famer Rod Carew. Though not a home run threat, Carew had claimed seven batting titles in the last 11 years and should be a tough guy to get out.
Or not. Carew grounded out, but that play did bring home Harlow. Now it was 9-7. Up next was 22-year-old third baseman Carney Lansford, who hit 19 homers on the season. He singled in Davis, making the score 9-8. Now the tying run was on base.
Ford, the batter who homered in the first inning, now came to the plate. It wasn’t another homer, but it was a single. When Baltimore unsuccessfully tried to cut down Lansford at third, Ford advanced to second. Now the tying and winning runs were in scoring position with the heart of the order coming up.
Oh, did I mention that Stanhouse still was pitching for Baltimore? Yeah, as badly as he was doing, Weaver let him keep doing it. The times, they truly were different.
Next up was Don Baylor. In 1979, Baylor won the AL MVP thanks to his 36 homers and league-leading 139 RBIs. He wasn’t the man Baltimore wanted to face just now. So they didn’t. First base was open, so they walked him.
Now the bases were loaded with the Angels down by one run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. In 1979, Downing hit .326, third best in the league. Stanhouse (yes, still in the game) now had to get him out to preserve the win. And that’s just what he did, coaxing a grounder to third for the game-ending force out.
It was a great comeback, but all for naught. It’s still the greatest Game Two in LCS history, and one of the greatest postseason games of them all.
What about Game Three? We’ll cover the best of those games next time.
References & Resources
Information comes from Baseball-Reference.com