The World Series’ Top 10 Game Threes

In my last pair of pieces, I looked at the best first and second games in World Series history. Now for Game 3. Much like the first two, people rarely remember these games.

A theme emerged in the best Game 3s. The most exciting contests were not the best played ones. Some of these had more than their share of errors, walks and blunders. One might prefer to put the more immaculately played games on the list, but the back-and-forth drama of the ballgame creates the most riveting action. Besides, two pennant-winning teams playing a bit off still are fantastic.

Best Game 3s

Without further ado:

10) 1995: Indians 7, Braves 6 (11). As a fan, I have to admit I took the 1990s off, barely watching the games then. This game’s box score looks just like a contest I’d love. The Braves battled back from 4-1 and 5-3 deficits to take a late lead. But the Indians stormed back, winning it in extra innings.

But it might not have been as exciting to watch as I’m assuming. Until the seventh it wasn’t that close. The teams made three errors. The pitchers walked a dozen and hit a pair. See what I mean when I say some of these games weren’t especially well played?

Still, there was some very real drama. The Indians, down two games zip, couldn’t lose this one. That made the eighth inning, where they tied it, but couldn’t take the lead despite having the bases loaded with only one out, all the more compelling.

Atlanta kept the pressure with leadoff singles in the ninth, 10th, and 11th innings. After the Indians defused those rallies, Cleveland got the winning run in the 11th.

9) 1975: Reds 6, Red Sox 5 (10). The Reds leapt to a quick 5-1 lead, but the Red Sox wouldn’t stay down. Foreshadowing Game 6, Bernie Carbo hit a pinch-hit homer to get them back in the game. A ninth-inning homer by Dewey Evans sent it into extra innings.

The batters got the glory, but Boston’s bullpen deserves the credit. From the fifth to ninth innings, the greatest lineup of all time couldn’t do squat against them. After the first Red facing a reliever walked, the next 14 batters resulted in 14 outs. The bullpen kept Boston in the game.

But the Reds could only be held at bay so long. Aided by a Carlton Fisk error (Boston’s second of the game), Cincinnati scored the winning run in the 10th.

8) TIE 1950: Yankees 3, Phillies 2. 1992: Blue Jays 3, Braves 2. Both of these closely fought contests came in the midst of fantastic World Series.

The Phillies had dropped the first two contests (both by one run) and needed this one.

They trailed 1-0, but rallied with a score in the sixth and seventh. Then, in the eighth, starter Ken Heintzelman lost his control, walking the bases loaded. A muffed grounder, one of two Philly errors in the game, tied it. In the bottom of the ninth, the Yanks rattled off a trio of two-out singles to win the game. The Series would be a Yankee sweep, but a hard-fought one.

1992 not only shared the same score, but had the winning team score in both the bottom of the eighth and ninth innings. This time the losing team scored an unearned run.

The highlight came in the ninth. After a single and stolen base, Atlanta intentionally walked Joe Carter, hoping the aged Dave Winfield would hit into a double play. It was a reasonable guess. “Mr. April,” as George Steinbrenner once derisively called him, hit 319 in his career, #4 all-time.

Instead, he did something he only did 19 times in 22 seasons: he laid down a sacrifice hit. He had only one all year. Shortly afterwards, Toronto won on a two-out single.

7) TIE 1915: Red Sox 2, Phillies 1. 1964: Yankees 2, Cardinals 1. Both games had 1-1 ties for a while before the home team won it in the ninth.

1915 and 1950 were the Phillies’ only World Series appearances prior to 1980. Sadly, both had heartbreaking losses for their fans in Game 3.

Pete Alexander pitched great. Only two times all game did a Red Sox make it past first base. Damned if they didn’t score each time.

Opposing him, Dutch Leonard looked shaky initially. The first batter he faced punched out a double and in the third the NL squad put men on second and third with only one out. Showing the stuff that gave him a 0.96 ERA in 1914, he retired the next 20 batters.

With only one error (by Boston), and no UER, it was one of the best-played games here.

In 1964, the Yanks made two errors, leading to an unearned run for pitcher Jim Bouton (who set a record for most times having his hat fall off his head in a postseason game). This one may have lacked the brilliance of Dutch Leonard, but it ended in a perfectly appropriate World Series manner—with Mickey Mantle crushing a walk-off homer deep to center field.

6) 1911: A’s 3, Giants 2 (11). The Giants made five errors in this one. Even back then that sucked. The A’s made one.

The Giants went up 1-0 early and cruised behind Christy Mathewson. However, with one out in the ninth, John Franklin Baker changed his first and middle names to Home Run by becoming the first man to ever go deep in consecutive World Series games. 1-1.

Two innings later, the A’s scored a pair of unearned runs. They could’ve scored more but the inning ended on a caught steal. 3-1.

The Giants didn’t give up. With two outs and a man on second, John McGraw reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out a doozy—his team gave fielding tips to Philly. Sure enough, a misplayed grounder later, a run was in and the tying runner was on first. 3-2.

Connie Mack wouldn’t be outfoxed—he gave base running tips to the Giants. The game ended with a Giant tossed trying to steal. Yikes.

5) 1972: Reds 1, A’s 0. They combined for one run, on seven hits, and four errors. But they also had maybe the most famous moment in any post-WWII Game 3.

Cincy needed this one, having dropped the first two. But for six innings, neither squad could draw first blood. Oakland appeared to have the upper hand though, as starting pitcher Blue Moon Odom struck out seven Reds in the middle innings, including five of six at one point. Meanwhile, Oakland’s hitters staged the night’s biggest threat in the bottom of the sixth by loading the bases with one out, only to see Sal Bando hit into a double play.

Yet the Reds scored in the seventh and threatened to put the game out of reach in the eighth. With one out, they had runners on the corner and MVP Johnny Bench batting against Rollie Fingers. With one strike, the runner on first stole second.

When Fingers threw another pitch (strike two) to Bench, Oakland manager Dick Williams stormed out of the dugout. Visibly irate, while walking to the mound Williams motioned to the open first base, clearly indicating he wanted the bat taken out of Bench’s hands. After a brief meeting on the mound with Fingers and the catcher, the always-ornery Williams stomped off.

Everyone knew what was coming. Catcher Gene Tenace motioned for the intentional walk. Bench relaxed. Then . . . as the pitch was thrown, Tenace jumped behind the plate to catch a beauty of a breaking ball from Fingers. Bench, mouth agape, was caught flat-footed. Strike three. All over America, people turned to their friends and burst out laughing.

Dick Williams was a good enough manager to garner serious consideration as a Hall of Fame candidate but not enough to get in. His supporters always bring up this story.

Great move in a heckuva game, but the A’s lost, 1-0.

4) Tigers 6, Cubs 5 (11). A nice game with late-inning comebacks on both sides. It’s almost enough to make one overlook the five errors at Wrigley.

The Cubs led most of the way, but in the eighth the Tigers converted three singles, a double and a walk into a 5-3 lead. Now the Tigers looked to have things under control, but with one out in the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs rattled out three singles and a sacrifice fly to tie it, 5-5.

Detroit didn’t score in the tenth. However, the bottom frame and the ensuing top of the 11th would be moments to brood about for Cubs fans for the entire offseason, maybe much longer.

Fred Lindstrom led off the bottom of the 10th with a double, and went to third on a sacrifice. Just 90 feet from victory, the Cubs couldn’t plate him.

In the 11th, with one out and a man on second, Lindstrom made what would be a crucial error at third. He had been moved to the hot corner only an inning earlier. The lead runner didn’t advance, but there was still only one away. A strikeout (which would’ve ended the inning) merely set the stage for the inevitable: a game-winning RBI single.

The Cubs have played in six World Series since Tinker, Evers and Chance left. 1935 was the one they should’ve won. They faced historically great squads in 1929, 1932, and 1938. Though they had a better record than their opponents in 1918 and 1945, the former took place in a stretch where the AL won nine out of 11 contests (and threw a 10th), and in the latter the opposition (Detroit) had Hank Greenberg come back from WWII midseason, and he was great in October.

In 1935, the Cubs were a better team with a better record. As an added bonus they peaked with a 21-game winning streak in September. This Series was theirs for the taking. Instead, they lost three games by one run.

If the Cubs had won this day, the Series would’ve lasted seven games. The Cubs would’ve had the upper hand in #7 as Detroit’s two best hurlers threw complete games in contests five and six. Had the 10th and 11th innings gone differently, the Cubs wouldn’t “celebrate” a century of utter futility next year.

3) 1991: Braves 5, Twins 4 (12). Great game from a great series. And “only” three errors made. Early on, it looked easy for Atlanta, as they took a 4-1 lead. Kirby Puckett and Chili Davis homered to tie it up.

Both teams threatened in the 10th, but neither could push another runner across. In the 12th, Minnesota loaded the bases with two outs.

However, they found themselves in an odd spot—their pitcher was due up, something that didn’t happen in their league. Worse yet, they had no position players left. So they brought up former NL pitcher Rick Aguilera to pinch-hit. Bizarre.

Even more bizarre, for a few seconds, it looked like it might work as he made solid contact sending the ball to center . . . for a fairly easy out. Atlanta made them pay, on a two-out Mark Lemke single to win.

2) 1914: Braves 5, A’s 4 (12). A pitchers’ duel—for a while anyway. Both squads manufactured a pair of runs early, but then they couldn’t touch the opposing pitchers. From the fifth to ninth, neither team made it to third, and both only got a runner on second once.

In the tenth, tied 2-2, Frank Baker singled in a pair. 4-2. The A’s needed that, as if they lost this game, they had virtually no chance to win the Series, as they lost the previous games.

At this point the Braves plunged the dagger in them. I can’t say for sure that this was the greatest extra-inning comeback in World Series history, but I can’t think of one that tops it. (Game 6 in 1986 had the Mets also overcome a two-run deficit, and admittedly, they not only tied it but won it in the bottom frame, something the Braves didn’t.) With a homer, walk, single and sac fly, the Braves pulled out the Miracle comeback.

It was almost an anti-climax when they scored an unearned run in the 12th. The sweep was still on.

If you’re curious, the clubs made three errors.

1) 2005: White Sox 7, Astros 5 (14). This was the ultimate Game 3: a game so compelling and dramatic, it was easy to forget all the shoddy performances.

After two straight close losses, the Astros were desperate. It looked like it was their night as they went up 4-0 early (thanks in part to 2 UER on one of the Sox’s three errors that night).

Instead, ace Roy Oswalt faltered, allowing five runs in the fifth. Worse, the Houston offense suddenly pulled up lame, unable to get a hit in the next three frames. However, in the eighth they finally connected, as a Jason Lane double tied it 5-5.

There it stood until the immortal Geoff Blum hit a two-run homer in the 14th. But that might not have been the most memorable part of the marathon.

The night’s story was Houston’s inability to capitalize on opportunities. After seven innings, Sox starter Jon Garland left. The Sox bullpen proceeded to throw exactly one 1-2-3 inning the rest of the way. They walked 10 batters and hit another. Hell, they even committed an error. Over half their pitches were balls.

Yet the Astros only managed one stinkin’ hit—the Lane double—the entire time. No wonder manager Phil Garner threw a stool against the wall when Blum hit his homer.

The game’s defining player was Orlando Hernandez. He threw 28 pitches—eight for strikes. Somehow he parlayed that into four outs, including two strikeouts (!?!?). With Houston unable to get a goddamn hit, walking the bases loaded in the ninth didn’t hurt.

Ever see an old cartoon where the character runs over the ledge, but doesn’t notice it and keeps walking in a straight line in the air? That was the White Sox bullpen. It was either the most horrible great relief pitching ever or the greatest horrible bullpen work.

Conclusion

Of these games, the only ones with any hold on the public consciousness are Frank Baker’s home run, and Dick Williams’ pysch job. Missing this list is one of the most legendary moments in all sports. October 1, 1932 in Wrigley Field, Babe Ruth hit his last postseason homer, the legendary “called shot” off of Charlie Root in Game Three.

I was tempted to put it on this list, but frankly, it wasn’t a great game. The Yanks led for almost the entire game. The only time they didn’t was right before the Shot, actually as the Cubs tied it the half-inning before. A legendary moment, but the other 82 plate appearances were rather mundane. It most resembled the games here by containing five errors and three unearned runs.

That might be the only Game 3 moment people remember, but Game 4s have a better hold on the imagination. That’s for another time.

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