The 12 most bizarre endings to World Series gamesby Chris Jaffe
October 28, 2013
So apparently there was a memorable baseball game on Saturday night, with an ending that still has people talking.
There have been greater postseason games, and there have been more legendary postseason games, but has there ever been a postseason game with such a bizarre ending? That’s the question of the hour.
That’s one I’m here to answer. I’m a baseball history nerd, so putting Saturday’s bizarreness is right up my alley.
There are two tricky parts to this list, though. One tricky part is obvious: how do you define “bizarre?” The second one is less obvious: how exactly do you define the ending when looking for a bizarre ending?
Let’s start with bizarre. Obviously, this is up to the eye of the beholder. Even in these sabermetric times, I’ve never heard of any “bizarreness" metric. Diving into the dictionary, bizarreness is defined as, “extremely unconventional or far-fetched.” We’re not looking for greatest or most impressive, just most far-fetched. Defining that is arbitrary, and how you define it may be different than me, but hey, that’s life.
The second question seems odd—how do you define ending?—but it’s key. Is a bizarre ending just what happens on the very last play? At first I figured that’s what I’d look at, but what if something really bizarre happens earlier in the last half-inning? Shouldn’t that get a mention? For instance, I know of one game in which a bizarre play in the top of the ninth could’ve/should’ve ended the game if it was a normal play, but because it was a bizarre play, the game kept going on. Does that count?
Ultimately, I decided to include a few games that didn’t end on their bizarre play, but I gave priority to games that did. Ultimately, I ended up with 12 games I wanted to include. So here they are, ranked by the unscientific method of “it’s how they feel to me.”
12. Denkinger: Oct 26, 1985: Game Six: Royals 2, Cardinals 1.
Maybe you’ve heard of this one. Yeah, first base umpire Don Denkinger blew a call at first base, turning a routine ground out into an infield single by Jorge Orta. That sparked an unlikely two-run Royals rally that moved the Cardinals from clinching a world title to having to play in a Game Seven.
One reason this game makes the list is because it’s very odd for umpires to blow obvious ground outs at first. Second, it makes the list because the Cardinals had a great bullpen that didn’t blow leads in the ninth in 1985. So this one qualifies as an extremely unconventional ending.
But umpires do blow calls. And the blown call began the ending of the game, but there were still a few at-bats left before the game actually ended.
11. That other weird Red Sox loss on a controversial call: Oct. 14, 1975: Game Three: Reds 6, Red Sox 5 (10).
This is the Armbrister game. It’s a reverse of this weekend’s game. With a runner on first and no outs in the bottom of the 10th, Reds pinch hitter Ed Armbrister laid down a sacrifice bunt and then rather clearly interfered with Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk as he tried to field it.
However, the umpire didn’t call interference, and Fisk made an error on the throw. The run later came around to score a few minutes later for a walk-off Reds win.
It certainly was bizarre. A game with a controversial non-interference call certainly qualifies as extremely unconventional, but it wasn’t the last play of the game, and so it ends up here.
10. It’s Sultan of Swat, not Sultan of Steal: Oct. 10, 1926: Cardinals 3, Yankees 2
This is a very famous game. It has maybe the most famous strikeout in World Series history, when Pete Alexander came out of the bullpen to fan Yankees slugger Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded. Yeah, but that happened way back in the seventh. That had nothing to do with the game’s end.
In the bottom of the ninth, with two outs and the Yankees trailing, 3-2, the ultimate man you’d want up came to the plate: Babe Ruth. Alexander opted to pitch around Ruth, sending him to first on a walk. But that just brought up outfielder Bob Meusel, also a fearsome bat.
Could Alexander get Meusel out? We’ll never know. Ruth decided that this was just the right moment to make a break for second base. Wait, what? It’s one thing if you’re Rickey Henderson or Otis Nixon or someone with speed and you decide to steal. But Ruth?
He had more speed that you might expect. He stole 11 bases on the year. But then again, he also had nine caught stealings on the year. In the previous two years, Ruth had a total 11 steals and was caught 17 times. Simply put, he was a bad bet to nab the base, and this was hardly the time to do it.
Ruth ran on his own and got nailed easily. It’s not the only World Series game to end on a caught stealing (it happened in Game Three of 1911, as well), but this wasn’t just any game. It was a Game Seven decided by one run with the heart of the order due up. It was a bizarrely bad baserunning decision by the game’s preeminent player.
(Obviously, this article was written before Sunday night's game, which had the first ever game-ending pick-off. I reckon that goes around the Ruth caught stealing. A pick-off is certainly more bizarre than a caught stealing, but then again, the 1926 caught stealing ended the entire World Series and featured Babe Ruth. Still, if I had to, I'd wedge in Sunday's walk-off pick-off at No. 10 and push the others back one space.)
9. The comeback that wasn’t: Oct. 7, 1916: Game One: Red Sox 6, Dodgers 5.
This one isn’t about just the last play, but the entire sequence of plays at the end.
The Red Sox entered the ninth comfortably ahead, 6-1. This game was over. Even when Brooklyn began the ninth with a walk and single, it was hard to care. When a force out took out the lead runner, the Dodgers had a one percent chance of winning, with two on and one out in their last inning while down by five.
Then a hit batsmen loaded the bases. A grounder to second looked like it could be a game-ending double play, except infielder Hal Janvrin muffed it. Now it was 6-3 with two on. A single again loaded the bases.
Annoying, but still nothing to worry about, especially since the next batter popped up, putting the Dodgers down to their last out. But instead of getting that out, the Red Sox gave up a bases-loaded walk. Now it was 6-4, with the winning run in scoring position.
The next Dodgers batter couldn’t hit the ball out of the infield, but he didn’t have to. It was an infield single that made the game a one-run contest, and the bases were still loaded. Suddenly, this insurmountable Red Sox lead looked all too meager. Oh, and the next batter—the same guy who led off the frame with a walk—was maybe Brooklyn’s most dangerous weapon, first baseman and two-time batting champion Jake Daubert.
But it was all for nothing, as Daubert grounded out. Incredibly, of the 10 Dodgers who came to the plate that inning, only one hit the ball out of the infield. I know it’s the deadball era, but that is amazing.
8. Walk-off double play: Oct. 20, 1972: Game Five: Reds 5, A’s 4
This wasn’t just a walk-off double play; this was an incredible walk-off double play. Folks, this wasn’t a ground out, but a double play that ended with a play at the plate.
The A’s held a three-games-to-one edge and could win it all with a victory here. However, the Reds had rallied to tie it in the eighth and take a 5-4 lead in the ninth. But it was just a one-run lead, and the Mustache Gang was known for producing some timely hits. Why, just the night before, Oakland had a walk-off win in a wild bottom of the ninth featuring two runs courtesy of three pinch hitters (all of whom scored) and two pinch runners. So they felt they could win it again here.
Early on, it looked like Oakland was going to do just that. They put runners on the corners with one out. They had a pinch runner on third (pitcher Blue Moon Odom) so it shouldn’t take much to score him.
At the plate was star shortstop Bert Campaneris. He hit one into foul territory in right. Second baseman Joe Morgan ran out to make the play and caught it for the second out.
Then Morgan promptly fell down.
That was all it took. He was way over in foul territory and on the ground, so Oakland sent Odom home. It must’ve been an electrifying moment. The hometown crowd felt that, at worst, their club would tie the game here and probably had the edge in extra innings. The A’s dugout was similarly excited. Their scouting report said that Morgan’s arm wasn’t that good.
That scouting report was wrong. Morgan threw a strike to the plate and nailed Odom. The game that looked like it was about to be tied up was instead all over. In a few seconds, people went from thrilled to deflated.
I might be missing something, but I think this is the only World Series game to end with a guy thrown out at the plate.
7. The 1924 Giants and the pebble of doom: Oct. 10, 1924: Game Seven: Senators 4, Giants 3 (12)
This is one of the greatest games in baseball history. No one talks about it, because it predates all remaining footage of World Series contests, but it was something. And it’s ending sure was something.
It had an ending unlike any other. It ended on a bad hop, a truly fluke hop. Well, it was a fluke hop, except that it was the second fluke hop of the game.
In the bottom of the 12th in a tie game, Washington had runners on first and second with one out when Earl McNeely hit a grounder to Giants third baseman Freddie Lindstrom. It looked like an easy out as it bounced to him ... before it hit that tale-tell pebble.
It hit something—something with springs apparently, because the ball took a weird hop that skyrocketed well over Lindstrom’s head and into left. He had no play, and the runner came around to score the winning run. Far fetched, indeed.
Added bonus: the only reason the game was in extra innings was due to a similar bizarre hop in the bottom of the ninth that let the tying run come home. Yeah, a bizarre ending to a bizarre game.
6. All or nothing: Oct. 15, 1988: Game One: Dodgers 5, A’s 4.
Yeah, it’s the Kirk Gibson game. This one is so famous it seems pointless to recount it.
From a purely literal level, it doesn’t seem to belong. A slugger hits a game-winning home run? Yeah, that happens. But of course, what happened here was so much more than a literal description.
It was an all-or-nothing moment. Hampered by injuries in both legs, Gibson could barely walk. He came to the plate for one reason and one reason only: hit a home run. Slugger or not, that’s a tall order. And he had to do it against one of the greatest relievers ever in his prime: Dennis Eckersley.
Obviously, Gibson did it. Any game that ends with the announcer screaming, “I do not believe what I just saw!” certainly deserves a place on a list of games with bizarre endings. If it were a Hollywood script, the studio would reject it as too far-fetched.
5. The Duane Kupiers of the world have their moment: Oct. 23, 2005: Game Two: White Sox 7, Astros 6
In the bottom of the ninth of a 6-6 tie, with one out and none on, White Sox outfielder Scott Podsednik faced Astros uber-closer Brad Lidge and promptly launched the most unlikely walk-off home run in postseason history.
No, Podsednik wasn’t badly hobbled like Gibson was. And no, Lidge wasn’t Eckersley in his prime. (That said, Lidge was absolutely fantastic, just not Eck-level excellent.) But Podsednik had one factor here really amping up the bizarreness meter: in 568 plate appearances in the regular season, he’d belted exactly zero home runs.
So now he did it in a the World Series for a walk-off win against one of the best closers of the game. Sure, Podsednik actually hit a homer in the ALDS, but that just means he had one homer in 614 plate appearances in 2005. He was actually the least likely guy to belt a homer, and he didit to win the game.
The Gibson walk-off home run was unquestionably a greater baseball moment than this one, but I don’t see how you can say it was more bizarre.
4. How to lose a game after recording the last out: Oct. 5, 1941: Game Four: Yankees 7, Dodgers 4
Now hold on, ranking this game so high seems to go completely against my own criteria laid out up top. This game’s bizarreness didn’t come from the last play. In fact, this game’s bizarreness had nothing to do with its entire last half-inning.
True, but for a few seconds there, it looked like there would be no bottom of the ninth. For an instant, the game was over in the top of the ninth as a 4-3 Dodgers triumph. Instead, their apparent win proved fleeting, and they lost, 7-4.
Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it?
Here is what happened. The Yankees had none on and two out in the top of the ninth, trailing Brooklyn by a run. Outfielder Tommy Henrich came up to the plate representing New York’s last chance. And he promptly struck out.
That’s out No. 27, ending the game, right? Well, not quite. That swinging strike three squirted away from catcher Mickey Owen. Given new life, Henrich scampered to first to stay alive.
And the Yankees made Brooklyn pay. Single. Double. Walk. Double. It was 7-4 before that 28th out finally ended the inning.
Wild pitches happen. Sometimes they happen with two outs and extend the inning. But this one totally changed the game’s results. Yeah, I’d say it’s extremely unlikely that a team scores four runs after making the 27th out of the game.
3. Buckner. You know the rest: Oct. 25, 1986: Game Six: Mets 6, Red Sox 5
Do you really need a description of this one? Are people out there in reader-land unaware of what happened? The short version: trailing by two and down to their last out with no one on, the Mets hit three straight singles, benefit from a game-tying wild pitch, and then have the game end on Bill Buckner’s error.
It wasn’t just the Buckner play, though I still remember being shocked when the ball trickled through his legs. It was the entire sequence. The Mets had no margin for error, but they somehow turned a one-percent chance of victory into a walk-off win.
2. Bill Bevens: from no-no to just no: Oct. 3, 1947: Game Four: Dodgers 3, Yankees 2
From 1916 to 2013, there have been 1,101 regular-season and 13 postseason one-hitters. The team throwing the one-hitter has lost just 53 of those games.
But in those 53 losses among those 1,114 one-hitters, just once—only once—has a team lost the game on a walk-off hit. Only once has a team had the only hit against it cost the game in the bottom of the ninth. And it happened in the World Series.
Yeah, that’s something, isn’t it? Oh, and let’s add to just how incredible it was. The hit came with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and the team being no-hit was losing by one run. So if the batter makes an out, it ends the game as a World Series no-hitter.
Bill Bevens was the man on the mound, and he was actually having a rough time of it. The Dodgers couldn’t get a hit off him, but he couldn’t find the strike zone, as he issued a record 10 walks in one Fall Classic contest. Those free passes let Brooklyn score a run in the fifth and are why they had two runners on in the bottom of the ninth. At that time, pinch hitter Cookie Lavagetto hit one to the wall in right, bringing home both runners for the unprecedented victory.
1. Yeah, the one you already know about: Oct. 26, 2013: Game Three: Cardinals 5, Red Sox 4
I didn’t want to put this one in first. I really dislike the present-ism of many lists that claim to be all-time lists. My original thought was that the Bevens game would be in first. After all, that was the no-hitter turned loss in one pitch.
But I just can’t deny this one. That Bevens game was incredible, but the last play was ultimately another walk-off hit. We’ve seen plenty of those. No, they’ve never come in that circumstance, but we’ve seen plenty of walk-off hits.
But a walk-off obstruction call? Hell, obstruction calls themselves are mighty rare by any measure. How many get called in a year? A dozen or so in 4,860 regular-season games? Maybe that's low, but it's safe to say they are so rare that it's difficult to remember a game ever ending on an obstruction call. I know of two regular-season games that ended on catcher’s interference (described in this column, tied for ninth place on its list), and that is it.
Maybe I’m missing something else, but for a play we almost never see at all to end a game—and a World Series game of all things—that wins my vote for the most bizarre.
If I had to re-order the list 10 times, I’d have 10 different lists, and I’m sure the Bevens game would be No. 1 for some of them. But this is how I see it now.
(Obviously, this article was written before Sunday night's game, which had the first ever game-ending pick-off. I reckon that goes around the Ruth caught steal. A pick-off is certainly more bizarre than a caught steal—but then again the 1926 caught steal ended the entire World Series, and featured Babe Ruth. Still, if I had to, I'd wedge in Sunday's walk-off pick-off at No. 10 and push the others back one space).
References and Resources
Baseball-Reference.com came in handy for looking this stuff up.
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.