The 10 greatest Game Sevens in World Series historyby Chris Jaffe
January 21, 2008
Let's finish up this series of articles.
Game Seven is the ultimate in drama. There is no Game Eight. (Well, not since the early 1920s). Any close game has a chance to become a classic. Only 39 of the 103 Series went this far. Excluding best-of-nines, there are 35 real Game Sevens. They tend to be exceptionally tightly contested affairs. In the 35 games where teams entered knotted up three-all:
- 13 were one-run decisions
- Seven were two-run games
- Seven more were three-run games
This was going to be a Top 15 list, but it went on too long. The runners-up, from 15 to 11, were: 1972, 1940, 1946, 1968 and 1975.
The main event: top 10
10. 1926: Cards 3, Yanks 2. The Cards had a 3-2 lead against the Yanks in the seventh inning. Starter Jesse Haines was spent. In relief came the great Grover Cleveland Alexander.
Lore has it that drinking man Alexander was sleeping off last night’s bender. Lore is wrong. He’d been told the day before that he might be called on. Still, many remembered his only previous trip to the Series, in 1915, when rumor had it Alexander was too drunk to pitch in that year’s final game.
Out he came to face mighty Tony Lazzeri. The second baseman hit a towering blast that nearly won it for the Yanks, only to become baseball’s most famous foul. Undisturbed, Alexander struck him out, and proceeded to hold on for two more innings, giving St Louis the victory.
9. 1925: Pirates 9, Senators 7. Other Game Sevens have been closer, but there’s never been another like this.
Washington manager Bucky Harris blew his team’s chances by sticking with Big Train Walter Johnson far too long.
One of the greatest pitchers of all time, the 37-year-old Johnson entered the game with a sore leg, and Pittsburgh tried to bunt him into ineffectiveness. It worked, as Johnson not only allowed 15 hits, but nine were for extra bases.
Still, the Pirates also didn’t have much pitching, allowing the Senators to lead 6-4 at the seventh-inning stretch. At this point Johnson completely ran out of gas. He blew the lead in the seventh, but Washington rallied in the top of the eighth. So Harris brought him back out to blow it again in the bottom half. In those final two frames, Pittsburgh hit four doubles and a triple.
Making the problem more painful, Harris let the game’s best relief pitcher, Firpo Marberry rust in the bullpen the entire time. Commissioner Landis blasted Harris, saying he’d allowed sentimentality to rule his decisions.
8. 1955: Dodgers 2, Yankees 0. As of 1940, of the 1901-setup 16 major league teams, only the Dodgers and the sad-sack Browns and Phillies hadn’t won the Series.
Things looked like they were turning around for the Brooklyn franchise, as it won its third pennant in 1941, only to lose in the Series to the Yankees. Six years later they lost in seven games to the Yanks. Again in 1949, and 1952, they fell to those same damn Bronx Bombers. In 1953, with a fearsome 105-49 club, the Dodgers still couldn’t top their October rivals.
So you can just imagine what was going through the minds of the Flatbush faithful when Yogi Berra clubbed a Johnny Podres offering in the bottom of the sixth.
The Dodgers led 2-0, but the Yanks had two on with none out. The lefty-swinging Berra, normally a pull hitter, surprised everyone with a scorching shot down the left field line; it looked like certain extra bases that would put the Yanks in the driver’s seat. Good God, it was happening again.
However, left fielder Sandy Amoros, who had just entered the game this inning, sprinted over to the Yankee Stadium corner just shy of the wall, thrust out his glove in dramatic fashion and snared the liner on the fly. He then spun around and threw the ball back to the infield, doubling off a stunned Yankee runner.
The rally was over. Dodger fans thought this really would finally be their year. And so it was.
7. 1997: Marlins 3, Indians 2 (11). Heading into the bottom of the ninth, the Indians led 2-1, on the verge of their first title in 49 years. Instead, two singles and a line out to deep right tied it up.
Making it all the more frustrating, in the top of the ninth, the Indians had a man on third with one out get thrown out at the plate on a fielder’s choice. Moments later a deep fly ball that would’ve scored him ended the inning. As if Cleveland wasn’t cursed enough.
In the 11th, the Marlins won it on a single, error, intentional walk, and another single off of Charles Nagy. Cleveland should've had "Wild Thing" Vaughn pitch instead.
6. 2001: D-backs 3, Yankees 2. As he began his routine stretching in the bullpen during the top of the eighth, Mariano Rivera was already a legend.
He’d made as big an impact on postseason play as anyone in history, pitching 77.7 innings in 51 postseason games, a full season’s worth of pitches.
He’d been as close to perfect as a person could possibly be, allowing as many base runners, 60, as he had strikeouts. His ERA was an impossibly low 0.81. To put that in perspective, in baseball history, only once has a pitcher thrown over 70 innings with an ERA under 0.85 for a full season.
That understates Rivera’s dominance. He’d done it against playoff squads who had an average OPS+ of 106.
The hearts of Arizona’s faithful must have sunk when he walked onto the mound in the bottom of the eighth, with the Yanks leading 2-1. They had tied it in the seventh as Curt Schilling’s arm wore out and took the lead earlier in the eighth. Now the Super Closer needed to hold.
Rivera was still Rivera. Though he allowed a two-out single, he struck out the side. New York was one inning away from the game’s first four-peat in almost half a century.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to destiny: in the ninth inning, Rivera blew it.
After a leadoff single by Mark Grace, Rivera made a throwing error, trying to force Grace on a sac bunt.
Shortly afterwards, Tony Womack (of all people!) smashed an RBI double to tie the game. It’s like Superman getting overpowered by your neighborhood bouncer. Sure he’s tough, but isn’t he way out of his league? I mean, come on, Tony Womack?
Then Luis Gonzalez’s dying quail found the gap behind the drawn-in infield to win it.
5. 1912: Red Sox 3, Giants 2 (10). OK, fine. Technically it was Game Eight, as Game Two had ended in a called-for-darkness tie.
The Giants cruised 1-0 behind Christy Mathewson, who retired 12 straight in the mid-innings. However, he wore down as time was running out on Boston’s season, and allowed them to tie it in the seventh. It stayed tied through nine, and for the first time ever, Game Seven entered extra innings.
The Giants took a 2-1 lead in the top of the 10th to set up one of the most extraordinary finishes any Series game ever had.
The first Red Sox batter hit a fly ball to the sure-handed Fred Snodgrass in center. Inexplicably, he muffed it, putting the tying runner on. The next batter hit what looked like an extra-base hit, only to see Snodgrass make a great play. He’d redeemed himself but the team was still shaky.
Mathewson walked the next batter, putting the winning run on. Let’s pause for a second. Mathewson didn’t have his stuff at this moment. He’d had a lone one-two-three inning since the fifth, the last out he'd recorded should’ve been a double, and his superlative control had just departed. He needed to be relieved.
Manager John McGraw was at the forefront of bullpen usage. In his 'pen lurked Doc Crandall, whom McGraw had made baseball’s first true relief specialist. Crandall was excellent, well-rested, and the season was on the line. But McGraw didn’t call for him. For any other pitcher, maybe, but this was Matty. The Giants would live or die with their star.
Tris Speaker strode to the plate. In this most clutch of moments, two inner circle immortals faced each other. For a second, it looked like a crisis had been averted when Speaker popped up foul between first and catcher. But everyone failed to cover it, and it touched down, giving The Grey Eagle a second chance.
Given new life, Speaker singled in the tying run. A few seconds later, the winning run scored on a sac fly, finishing Boston’s comeback.
4. 1962: Yankees 1, Giants 0: This is baseball’s most underrated game in the past, oh, 80 years. I'm pretty sure it's also the last great October game of which we don't have surviving footage. If so, that explains its overlooked status.
Ralph Terry pitched the game of his life for the Yanks. Though his team didn’t score off Jack Sanford until the fifth, Terry didn’t allow a hit to the heavy-hitting Giants until the sixth. Heading into the ninth, the only well-struck ball against him had been Willie McCovey’s seventh-inning triple.
In the bottom of the ninth at Candlestick Park, with the Yanks up 1-0, Matty Alou led off with a pinch-hit drag-bunt single. Terry responded with two straight strikeouts, putting the Giants down to their last man.
Fortunately for them, that man was Willie Mays. He launched a shot into the right field corner that could’ve scored Alou, except that Yankee right fielder Roger Maris made an outstanding play to cut it off before it reached the fence. Runners on second and third, two outs.
Next up: triple-hitter McCovey. New York manager Ralph Houk had a dilemma. Do you walk McCovey? If so, get ready to face Orlando Cepeda, who over 1961-62 had hit .308 with 81 homers and driven in 256 runs. He was a better player than McCovey. Then again, McCovey was the man who’d tripled. In this game Cepeda had a pop-up and two strikeouts.
It’s decisions like these that drive so many managers to alcoholism; except that few have to face it in the bottom of the ninth of Game Seven, with the tying run on third and the series-losing run on second.
Houk trusted Terry and had him pitch to McCovey. Mind you, just two years earlier this very same pitcher had allowed a World Series-ending home run in a Game Seven. Whatever the merits of Houk’s decision, McCovey drilled Terry’s offering right on the nose, a searing line drive.
Let’s pause at this moment. For a fraction of an instant, every hair in the baseball world stood on end. One of two things could possibly happen. A 97% chance existed that the ball would bring home Alou and Mays, giving the Giants their first title in California.
A minute possibility existed that the blow would go right toward a fielder, who would catch it in self defense. Either way, the Series would end in spectacularly dramatic fashion. Baseball doesn’t get any more breathtaking that in that brief flash when McCovey’s shot was airborne.
The blow went straight to second baseman Bobby Richardson, who nabbed it. The ball had so much velocity that it nearly bowled over the unimposing infielder.
The Yanks wouldn’t win another title for 15 years. San Francisco, 45 years on, has yet to win one.
3. 1991: Twins 1, Braves 0 (10). There’s just something so intrinsically cool about a game tied 0-0 after nine innings. From memory, there have only been three such games in World Series history—Game Two of 1913, Game Six of 1956 and this one. As the only Game Seven, it’s automatically the coolest game of all time to end regulation without a score.
It was a 0-0 tie where teams threatened to score. At one point, a runner made it into scoring position in five consecutive half-innings.
Most dramatically, both teams loaded the bases in the eighth inning with one out. Both teams pulled off a double play to keep the suspenseful double shutout going. It became the first extra-inning Game Seven in decades.
Jack Morris, still pitching for Minnesota, put down the Braves in the top of the tenth. In their half of the inning, Minnesota got a runner on third with only one out. The Braves elected to intentionally walk the bases loaded again, in hopes of another double play. Instead, pinch hitter Gene Larkin singled, winning the series for the Twins.
2. 1960: Pirates 10, Yankees 9. 1960 in second? Sacrilege. Heading into Game Seven, the Yanks won their three by a combined score of 38-3. Somehow, heading into the final round Bambi vs. Godzilla was a draw.
The Pirates jumped out to an early 4-0 lead, only to see the Yankees blast their way back, scoring seven unanswered runs heading into the bottom of the eighth.
That’s when the game became great. After a leadoff single, Bill Virdon hit what appeared to be a double-play grounder. However, a bad hop sent it smacking into shortstop Tony Kubek’s throat. Everyone’s safe. Taking advantage of good fortune, the Pirates pulled off a five-run rally, leading 9-7 with just one inning left.
Damn shame for them that men like Maris, Mantle, and Berra had a chance to hit that inning. The see-saw leaned the other way, and the Yankees tied the game.
But instead of extra innings, what came next was probably the most famous homer in Series history, as Bill Mazeroski bopped his way into immortality. It’s still the only Game Seven walk-off homer ever hit.
The great lost fact of this game: it contained zero strikeouts.
1. 1924: Senators 4, Giants 3 (12). You know why the Maz game is always brought up as the best Game Seven, and not this one?
1) 1960 was televised,
2) it happened in the Baby Boomer generation’s memory, and
3) we still have that footage of Mazeroski circling the bases, forever keeping it in the game’s consciousness.
But folks, if this game happened in 1960, and Maz hit his homer in the 1920s, this would be the Game Seven everyone talks about.
This was not only a great game but a great extra-inning game, a game with a classic managerial chess match, a game with perhaps the best pitcher of all time gaining his first October victory, and a game containing not one but two improbable moments when the Fates deigned to intervene.
In the final game of the Washington’s first World Series, player-manager Bucky Harris made a surprising decision, calling on Curly Ogden as his starting pitcher, a completely forgettable right-hander who hadn’t yet appeared in the Series. Everyone had expected the team’s number-two hurler, southpaw George Mogridge. Huh?
There was a method to Harris’s madness. Everything hinged on young first baseman Bill Terry. He was already a robust hitter for the Giants, but John McGraw liked to hide him against southpaws. If Harris started Mogridge, Terry would be available for pinch hitting duty later in the game; that was menacing as he matched up quite well against Harris’s relief ace, right-handed Firpo Marberry.
But start Ogden, and you ensure Terry starts the game. Once McGraw had submitted his lineup card, and Ogden began the game, Harris planned on bringing in Mogridge. However, when Ogden struck out the first batter, Harris left him in: maybe it’s his day.
No. After he walked the second batter, Ogden’s day was done. Mogridge came in. McGraw, aware that was he being played to set up Marberry, refused to blink.
The battle of minds peaked in the sixth. With runners on the corners and no outs, the Giants, down 1-0, had Terry due up. McGraw yanked him for a pinch hitter. Harris immediately summoned the game’s best reliever.
Harris had managed well, but boy did the Senators then play bad. Thanks to back-to-back errors, the Giants scored three runs. Now with a two-run lead, all the Giants had to do was get 12 more outs.
In the eighth, the Senators threatened, loading the bases with one out. After a shallow fly ball provided the second out without a run scoring, the inning looked to be over when Harris hit an easy grounder to third baseman Fred Lindstrom. Incredibly, the ball hit a pebble and took a bizarre hop over Lindstrom's head. The flukerific bounce tied the game.
Bucky Harris, ratcheting up the storybook factor as high as possible, brought in Walter Johnson, playing in his 18th season and 0-2 so far this Series. After allowing a one-out triple in the ninth, he survived in his favorite manner: a timely strikeout.
The game went into the 12th, still the longest Game Seven ever. With one out, Senator’s Muddy Ruel hit an easy pop fly behind the plate. However, Giants' catcher Hank Gowdy got his foot tangled on his mask going for the ball, allowing it to fall. Given a second chance, Ruel doubled.
After the next batter reached on an error, the Giants needed a double play to quell the threat. It looked like they might have gotten just that, as the next batter hit an easy grounder right at Lindstrom.
And then, for the second time at a crucial juncture, the damn ball hit a pebble, and shot up weirdly out of anyone’s reach. Before anyone could get it, the Senators had won their only title. A play like that happens once in a while. But twice in one game? Something that so bizarre would not be believed if it had not actually happened.
Other Game Sevens are great, but there was something mythic about this one. It’s like the Gods and Fates up above decreed that the Senators shall win this, and that Walter Johnson will be the winning pitcher. I mean, twice in one game? If Homer wrote about baseball games, it would’ve looked like this.
I hope you enjoyed reading this series half as much as I enjoyed researching and writing them.
References and Resources
Enders, Eric, 100 Years of the World Series, 1903-2003. New York City: Barnes & Noble, 2004. Liked the column? Get the book.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.