While plenty of mesmerizing Games 1 through 3 occurred, few remained in the public consciousness. Looking at this list, any student of baseball history worth his or her salt should know about four or five of these battles.
Best Game Fours
10. 1910: Cubs 4, A’s 3 (10). This had potential as a drama on the virtues of never giving up.
The Cubs dropped the first three games of the series and fell behind Philly 3-1 in the middle of the fourth inning. They had every reason to fold it in. Hell, they hadn’t even lost the first trio of games competitively, getting outscored by 16 runs in them. However, this squad had just pulled off the winningest five-year stretch of any team in history. You don’t achieve that without having some fight in you.
They prevented Philly from scoring in the next five innings, causing the A’s to strand eight runners in the process. The Cubs—still trailing in the ninth inning and on the verge of complete elimination—tied it on a triple. In extra innings, they won on a two-out single.
Yup, all the makings for a lesson in perseverance. But these are the Cubs in October. They lost Game 5. Baseball would have to wait 94 years before a team came back from a three-game deficit.
People don’t realize how good Carl Hubbell was in 1933. With his 23-12 record and 1.66 ERA, he carried the Giants to October. In his final 15 starts, opponents scored 26 runs. Nine times they scored one or fewer.
Washington’s Monte Weaver was determined to give his team a chance against Hubbell. The two starters combined to retire the game’s first 19 batters before New York’s player-manager Bill Terry homered in the fourth. After that, Weaver mastered the art of bending without breaking, putting runners on in each frame after frame without yielding another run.
All hell broke loose in the sixth. With one out and a runner on first, the first base ump called out Heine Manush on a close play. Livid, Washington protested. After all, you can’t afford to lose rare chances against Hubbell. Predictably the ump stood by his call.
After Hubbell put them down, Manush muttered something to the ump on his way to his position in the outfield, garnering the World Series’ first ejection in 20+ years. He had to be restrained from throttling the official.
When the Senators tied it in the seventh, things began to look up for them. Extra innings loomed.
In the 11th, the Giants parlayed a trio of singles into a run. The Senators wouldn’t go down quietly though. They loaded the bases with only one out. A well-placed, poorly hit flare would give them the game. Instead, a horribly placed grounder turned into a game-ending double play.
The 1978 game began innocently enough. The Dodgers led 3-0 before it also had a controversial sixth inning. The Yanks scored a run and had Thurman Munson and Reggie Jackson on second and first with one out.
If so, what happened next was poetic justice. After he stepped on second for one out, Jackson deliberately ran into Russell’s throw to first, which ricocheted away. Munson scored. Tommy Lasorda raised cain, but the umps didn’t call interference.
Naturally, two innings later the Yanks tied it up and won in extra innings. Equally naturally, right after the Yanks tied it, the Dodgers plunked Reggie Jackson. I’m sure it just got away from the pitcher. Riiiiiight.
8. 1993: Blue Jays 15, Phillies 14. Recapping all the scoring would take the entire column. Among the highlights: more runs scored than over a dozen entire World Series, four lead changes, and at least one team scored in each of the first eight innings.
Normally I like slugfests an awful lot, and this is the biggest and bloodiest of them all. Yet even for me slugfests can get a little too bloated at some point. Maybe if the big six-run inning came in the ninth inning, it would excite me more. As is, it has to settle for being the first company softball game broadcast on national primetime TV.
My favorite factoid from the day: Toronto retired the last eight Phillies. Only one hit the ball out of the infield.
7. 1972: A’s 3, Reds 2. Maybe the best game from the most underrated World Series ever.
The A’s, underdogs at the beginning of the Series, led two games to one heading into this contest. It looked like another day for them, as they led 1-0 through seven frames. However, a double off a shaky Vida Blue drove in a pair with two outs in the eighth.
There it stood entering the bottom of the ninth. With one out, the A’s rattled off four straight singles to pull out the upset finish. Added bonus: three of the four singles were by pinch hitters.
I’m not sure what’s more amazing: that the A’s would have three consecutive pinch hitters succeed at this most vital moment, or that in the ninth inning of a World Series game they had three out of four hitters in their starting batting order that they didn’t trust with the bat. I know all lineups have weak spots, but man!
6. 1969: Mets 2, Orioles 1 (10). Entering the game, the Mets led two games to one. They scored early to lead 1-0.
In the ninth, it looked like the Orioles were going to put the upstarts in their place. With one out and two on, Brooks Robinson launched a shot into right-center for an apparent extra-base hit. However, Ron Swoboda, nobody’s idea of an excellent defensiveman, made the play of his life catching it. The tying run scored, but the Orioles could not take the lead. In the 10th, the Mets scored to put themselves one game away from their miracle.
As a general rule of thumb, when you’re depending on Ron Swoboda to play like a Gold Glove winner to take the game, you have no chance. But that’s why they called them the Miracle Mets.
Every game in the 1905 Series was a shutout. This was the best of the bunch. Joe McGinnity walked a tightrope, allowing no runs despite not having a 1-2-3 inning until the sixth. Opposing him, Eddie Plank actually pitched a better game but was let down by his defense. Lave Cross, one of the best gloves of his generation, muffed a grounder, allowing an unearned run to score.
The next year, the 116-36 Cubs entered down two games to one, needing Mordecai Brown to bail them out. Their hitters didn’t help him much, not scoring until the seventh. The pressure didn’t faze Brown, who twirled a no-hitter for 5 2/3 innings.
The Sox threatened in the ninth. With a man on second and two outs, Frank Isbell hit a blistering bounder up the middle that knocked Brown off his feet. Down, but not out, he held on to the ball and tossed out Isbell to end the game. It was their last win of the year.
Given how 1906’s Game Four went, it’s fitting that 99 years later the Sox won an extremely tight one of their own. The Sox didn’t score here until the eighth inning, making the game filled with tension. Adding to the excitement, Houston got a baserunner on against Mark Buehrle in seven different innings. In five frames the runner made it to scoring position. They never could get one home, though.
The ninth inning exemplified the game. With one out, the Astros had a man on second. All it took was one seeing-eye grounder or dying quail to tie it. Instead, shortstop Juan Uribe made back-to-back dynamite defensive plays to thwart Houston’s last hopes and end the game and the most exciting World Series sweep ever.
It was perfect symmetry for Chicago, who began the year with a 1-0 win by Buehrle.
4. TIE 2001: Yankees 4, Diamondbacks 3 (10). 2003: Marlins 4, Yankees 3 (12). These games bookend the decline of Joe Torre’s Yanks . The former was one of their last great victories, and the latter was one of the last gasps under his watch.
In ’01, the D-backs had legendary big-game pitcher Curt Schilling starting on three days’ rest. He shut down the Yankees through seven innings. When Arizona went up 3-1 after a two-run eighth, manager Bob Brenly brought in Byung-Hyun Kim for a two-inning save. He struck out the side on 18 pitches in his first inning.
In the ninth, things went haywire. With one out, Paul O’Neill fought him in a seven-pitch at-bat for a single. After whiffing the next batter, Clutch God Tino Martinez homered on the first pitch he saw to tie the game.
Brenly figured the kid was still his best bet, leaving him in even though he allowed a walk and single after the homer. He escaped the ninth after that, but he had thrown 49 pitches in relief, and Kim hadn’t thrown more than 42 since early June. Next inning, pitch #61 became a walk-off homer.
In 2003, New York again fell behind early. Trailing 3-1 in the ninth, Ruben Sierra hit a two-out pinch-hit triple to tie it. The old moxie of 2001 looked like it was alive and well.
Entering extra innings, the game became a bullpen endurance test. In the top of the 11th, it looked like the Yanks would win it. They loaded the bases with one out and ALCS hero Aaron Boone up. His heroics had been used up, though, and after fouling off a series of pitches, he whiffed. The next batter popped up.
In the bottom of the inning, Joe Torre had a crucial decision. The only pitchers he had left were either ones he didn’t trust or who were tired. He turned to Jeff Weaver, his worst pitcher, instead of old warhorse Mariano Riveria, who had tossed two innings (though only 23 pitches) the night before.
Whatever the rationale, Weaver made his first appearance in 28 days and gave the second guessers something to talk about by allowing a walk-off homer in the 12th.
The Yankees haven’t won a World Series game since.
3. 1941: Yankees 7, Dodgers 4. Down two games to one, the Dodgers needed this one. You didn’t want to fall down further to any team, especially not a Yankees squad that had won 30 of their last 34 World Series games.
Legend has it that he threw a spitter next, though some (including Heinrich) maintain it was the best curveball of Casey’s life. Either way, Heinrich swung and missed for the third strike. Three outs. Game over.
Or not. The pitch was elusive not only to Heinrich but also catcher Mickey Owen. The ball skirted away from him, letting Heinrich advance on a wild pitch. Given new life, Joe DiMaggio singled, putting the winning run on base. Powerful Charlie “King Kong” Keller fought Casey hard, fouling off several pitches in a row.
This was the game’s telltale moment. Get him out and no one remembers the ball clonking off Owen’s glove. Alas, this was the Yankees, though. Keller finally found a pitch he liked and bashed it for a double, scoring both runners. 5-4 Yanks. Casey collapsed. Walk. Double. Walk. The fourth out mercifully ended the inning, but the Yanks had triumphed. Incredibly, they came back to score four runs and win after making the 27th out.
2. 1929: A’s 10, Cubs 8. For a while, this wasn’t much of a game as Chicago broke it open with a five-run sixth inning. At the seventh inning stretch, the Cubs led 8-0, seemingly on their way to tying the series up two games each. Then came the bottom of the inning.
First, Al Simmons homered for a Bronx cheer from the home crowd. 8-1. Then four straight singles brought in two more runs. 8-3. Finally, the Cubs got the first out, a lazy pop fly.
Then came the game’s most famous moment. Mule Haas hit one to center where Hack Wilson, without sunglasses, couldn’t find it in the afternoon glare. It went passed him, rolling to the fence for an inside-the-park homer. Instead of two outs and a four-run lead, there was still only one away and a slender 8-7 lead.
The fans were alive, and the Cubs dazed. A walk, two singles, hit batsman and double made it 10-8. The fans ate it up and screamed for more, knowing full well that this was the greatest comeback in World Series history. Thirteen batters had come to the plate, and only one had made an out.
The Cubs struck out the next two batters, belatedly ending the debacle. They played the rest of the game with the enthusiasm of a child who has just been told Santa Claus died in a murder/suicide pact with the Easter Bunny. Only one Chicago batter could even hit the ball out of the infield the last two innings while four whiffed at the plate.
1. 1947: Dodgers 3, Yankees 2. One of the strangest games of all time. A middling pitcher, throwing what turned out to be the last game of his career, nearly makes the most remarkable performance to date in October history, despite not pitching particularly well.
Bill Bevens took the mound that day for the Yanks and wasn’t very effective. He walked two in the first, another in the second, and surrendered a free pass and wild pitch in the third. However, he did have one thing going for him: he hadn’t allowed a hit yet.
With a 2-0 lead in the fifth, his control nearly ruined him. Back-to-back leadoff walks allowed Brooklyn to score a run without a hit. Despite the tying run getting to third, Bevens ended the threat with a K.
He walked one batter in both the sixth and seventh frames, but as poor as his control was, the Dodgers had an even more difficult time getting good wood on the ball.
That’s where it stood, still 2-1 entering the bottom of the ninth. With the bottom of the Dodger order due up, he just might pull it out despite himself. Catcher Bruce Edwards launched a deep shot to center, but it was snagged for one done. Bevens was just two batters away from immortality.
A pinch runner stole second, putting the tying run in scoring position. However, the Yanks decided to take the bat from Reiser’s and intentionally walk him, causing Bevens to set a World Series record that still stands with 10 free passes in one game.
Veteran Cookie Lavagetto stepped up as another pinch hitter. Thus, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, all watching found themselves thinking two thoughts that very rarely go together: would Bevens get the no-hitter, and would Bevens blow the lead?
They didn’t have to wait long to find out. Lavagetto sent Bevens’ first offering to the wall in right. Both runners came around to score, giving Brooklyn a 3-2 win. Not only is it the only time a team scored 3 runs on 1 hit in a World Series game, but in the nearly 200,000 regular season starts since 1957, it’s only happened 7 times. None of those other games had the hit come with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Nor did they have the no-hitting team lose the game in the after recording 26 outs. Thus, even if you ignore that Bevens’ achievement came in the World Series, it’s arguably the most dramatic breaking of a no-hitter ever.
For Game Five, the herd thins a bit as not all Series go that long, but the ones that did sure had some beauties.
References & Resources
Dug into my local library for this column and found:
Enders, Eric, “100 Years of the World Series, 1903-2003.” New York City: Barnes & Noble, 2004. It aided this column immeasurably. Without it, the 1933 and 1978 games wouldn’t even have made the list.