Posts tagged ‘World Series’

December 28, 2015

#104) Remembering Hendu

Why couldn’t he have just struck out?

On October 12th, 1986 in Anaheim, Dave Henderson was batting with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, 2-2 count, one runner on base, the Red Sox trailing the Angels, 5-4. It was the fifth game of the American League Championship Series with the Angels leading the best-of-seven set, three games to one. All Henderson had to do was swing at Donnie Moore’s next pitch and miss it, or perhaps tap a grounder to third baseman Doug DeCinces or shortstop Dick Schofield for an easy out.

The man responsible for one of baseball’s most famous home runs died from a heart attack yesterday at age 57. Henderson’s home run not only made the 1986 A.L.C.S. historic but it paved the way for an equally famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) 1986 World Series against the New York Mets. In the sixth game, Henderson’s home run gave the Red Sox a short-lived lead in the 10th inning.

As a Red Sox fan and an admitted baseball geek, I can’t help but find the circumstances leading up to and following Henderson’s at-bat against Moore to be fascinating. Henderson, who had arrived in a quiet mid-season trade with Seattle, was a replacement in Game 5 for veteran Tony Armas, who’d been injured. With the Red Sox leading 2-1, Henderson tipped a Bobby Grich fly ball over the fence for a home run, appearing to be the latest victim of the “Curse of the Bambino.” In the ninth inning, Henderson came to the plate with a chance to redeem himself–Boston’s last chance.

Sadly, for Angels pitcher Donnie Moore, the loss proved to be the beginning of the end of his career. Worse still, Moore battled alcoholism and depression and following his release from baseball in 1989, shot his wife before turning the gun on himself. Unfortunately for Boston, the victory would merely prove the adage that if the Red Sox win today, that’s because it will hurt more for them to lose tomorrow. Boston scapegoat Bill Buckner would endure years of ridicule and harassment by fans,  causing him and his family to move to Idaho.

All that trouble because Henderson didn’t strike out.

But it’s another example of how America’s Pastime can teach us–even those who don’t care about the game. We’ve all had our backs to the wall, perhaps burdened as Hendu was by the memory of a recent mistake, surrounded by people just waiting for us to fail. No, the act of swinging at a ball and hitting it out of a stadium doesn’t change humanity, but it did galvanize a city and still inspires memories almost thirty years later.

Henderson would continue his post season success in Oakland, leading the Athletics to three consecutive World Series appearances, including a championship in 1989, before retiring in 1994. He later became a color commentator for the Seattle Mariners and continued to make his home in the Seattle area until his death.

While Henderson is most famous for his post season heroics, he’s also remembered as a positive team player who enjoyed interacting with the fans. Former Oakland teammate Terry Steinbach said, “People talk about all the big hits and the World Series, but to me, it was that great attitude he brought every day. He would instantly pick you up, put you in the right frame of mind, get you going.” Rich Gedman, the Boston catcher who was on base when Henderson hit the homer off Moore, said, “Go back and look at every picture of him. He always had a smile on his face.”

 

 

February 26, 2014

#73) The best baseball game you’ve never heard of

We already know that Game 6 of the 2011 World Series was the greatest game of baseball ever played, but in this post – with a fresh new season of America’s Pastime about to get underway – we’ll look at a game played more than 50 years ago that, despite the winning team’s dramatic comeback, has been surprisingly overlooked in Greatest Game Ever Played discussions.

I speak of the second playoff game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Milwaukee Braves to decide the 1959 National League Pennant.  Until recently I wasn’t aware that there had even been a best-of-three playoff to decide the ’59 NL race, much less that the Dodgers won the second game and the pennant with a three-run ninth inning rally and another run in the twelfth.   I’m not the only baseball fan who’s been unaware of or has overlooked this game: in Bert Randolph Sugar’s “Baseball’s 50 Greatest Games”, the book to which I attribute more than any other my baseball history geekery, he passes this one over.  The game is also not mentioned on the Baseball Moments page of Major League Baseball’s official website.

Why has this game languished in obscurity?

The biggest reason may be that it wasn’t a decisive game, unlike the playoff games the Dodgers lost to the Giants in 1951 and 1962, or the famous American League East one-game playoff in 1978.  The Dodgers had beaten the Braves in Milwaukee and were not in a must-win situation when they faced Lew Burdette in the L.A. Coliseum for the second game.  The Dodgers’ comeback in the bottom of the 9th lacked a dramatic home run; they scored three runs on four singles and a sacrifice fly, and their winning tally in the 12th was the result of a throwing error.

Another factor may have been timing.  The 1959 Dodgers were a team in transition, posting a rather forgettable 86-68 record.  They still had a few mainstays from their glory years in Brooklyn – Duke Snider, Gil Hodges and Carl Furillo to name a few – but PeeWee Reese, Roy Campanella and Jackie Robinson were gone and it would be a few years before Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax would reach their primes, leading the team to two championships in the ’60s.

It’s possible too that the baseball world didn’t yet take the Los Angeles Dodgers fully seriously; perhaps the team was still dealing with the backlash from having moved to L.A. the year before.  While the franchise would go on to win a total of five titles in L.A. with Koufax, Drysdale, Steve Garvey, Kirk Gibson and Tommy Lasorda all becoming household names along the way, in 1959, baseball in So Cal might have felt like the proverbial round peg in a square hole.  The L.A. Memorial Coliseum, where the team played through the 1961 season, wasn’t meant for baseball, as evidenced by the awkward playing field dimensions.

Still, one would think that a game that so perfectly illustrates what everyone loves about baseball – the unpredictability, the lack of a clock – would be better known.  If anything, the Braves, then two-time defending NL champs and boasting the bats of Hank Aaron and Eddie Matthews and the arms of Warren Spahn (who won more games than any other lefty in baseball history) and 20-game winner Lew Burdette, should have given this game some cache.

Baseball fans can be guilty of selective memory.  Why did the Red Sox lose the 1986 World Series?  Because they blew two leads in Game 6, allowing the Mets to force extra innings, then after scoring two more gave up three runs in the bottom of the 10th.  They also blew a three run lead in Game 7. Bill Buckner.  When you Google search for George Brett, what comes up in the search bar?  Why, his .390 average in 1980 and his championship with the Royals in 1985, of course.  Just kidding; pine tar.  It’s ironic that in a sport that cherishes history perhaps more than any other, great moments remain overlooked.  Perhaps comparing this game to legendary contests such as the ’51 Giants/Dodgers playoff or Game 6 of the 1975 (or 1986 or 2011) World Series is a stretch, but there have been plenty of less dramatic games that have gotten more attention.

The Dodgers would go on to beat the “Go Go” White Sox in a six-game World Series.  The playoff proved to be the end of an era for the Braves, who would move to Atlanta in 1966.

October 29, 2011

#28) Baseball’s greatest game

The debate is officially over.

Game 6 of the 2011 World Series is, by any reasonable measurement, the greatest game in the history of baseball.  Of course, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and proclaim a recently played game to be the greatest ever, but as a baseball historian and long-time Red Sox fan myself, I here present an air-tight argument for my case.

I’ll start by comparing this Game 6 to MLB’s panel-voted top five games of the last fifty years.

#1) 1975 World Series, Game 6: as a Bostonian, I was taught to revere this as one of the greatest moments in sports history.  Certainly it was a classic, but the closest the Sox ever were to being eliminated was four outs.  The Cardinals were down to their last strike TWICE.

#2) 1991 World Series, Game 7: as a seventh game, perhaps this one does have an advantage over this year’s game 6, and it was certainly a tense, tight battle.  But for pure entertainment value, one has to place a 10-9 win with many ties and lead changes above a 1-0 shutout.

#3) 1986 World Series, Game 6: until last night, only the New York Mets had ever come back to win a World Series after being down to the last strike.  The Mets, however, only did it once in this game.  This year’s game 6 ended with a home run, which is a little more aesthetically appealing than a ground ball through the first baseman’s legs.

#4) 1992 N.L.C.S., game 7: never had a seventh game been decided with one swing of the bat, as Atlanta pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera singled in two runs to beat the Pirates.  However, this game only decided the pennant.

#5) 1986 N.L.C.S., game 6: another classic; the Mets tied the score with three runs in the ninth inning and went onto win in 16, making it the then-longest post season game ever.  Still, this was pennant-clinching, not World Series-clinching game, and the Mets were never down to their last strike.  In fact, had the Mets lost, they would have had another chance in Game 7, albeit against Astros pitcher Mike Scott, who’d been dominant in his last two starts against them.

Since MLB’s list only covered the last 50 years, I’ve dug a little deeper and come up with five historic games that rival – but do not beat – Thursday’s game.

1) The Bobby Thompson “Shot Heard Round the World” is baseball legend, but Thompson’s home run to give the Giants a 5-4 win over the Dodgers came with one, not two outs; it also only decided the pennant.

2) Bill Mazeroski’s home run in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series was one of only two times a Fall Classic has ended with a jack.  The game, with multiple lead changes, was very entertaining, and the Pirates’ upset over the Yankees should not be underestimated, but for the sake of this argument,  Maz’s shot came with the score tied.

3) The seventh game in 1946 saw the Cardinals’ Enos Slaughter score from first base on a double (not a single, as is often said), making a goat out of Johnny Pesky and turning the Red Sox into World Series losers for the first time.  Slaughter scored in the eighth inning, however.

4) Who was the only team to lose game 7 of a best-of-seven series and win the World Series?  Why, the Boston Red Sox, of course.  The 1912 World Series actually went eight games (game 2 was called due to darkness).  In the eighth and decisive game, the Sox became the first team to win a Series after being an inning away from elimination (this wouldn’t happen again until 1985).   But it comes up short against Thursday’s game, in that the Sox tied the score with one out before winning on a sacrifice fly.

5) The Washington Senators – not the second version of the team which became the Rangers, but the first, which moved to Minnesota in 1960 – won the 1924 World Series.  In the seventh game, they scored the winning run in the bottom of the twelfth, after tying the score with two runs in the eighth.  A Game 7 wouldn’t go extra innings again until 1991.

The journey of the 2011 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals is not unlike that of the very sport they play.  Over the last few decades, America’s pastime has been written off as irrelevant; languishing in its own history while losing market shares to basketball and football.  But baseball has a way of coming back–providing great games perfectly timed to revitalize interest in the sport.  Just as 10 years ago, the great 2001 World Series gave fans a much-needed escape a few weeks after the terrorist attacks, this one, the first to see a seventh game since 2002, will undoubtedly provide a great boost for baseball.  With a basketball strike threatening the upcoming NBA season, perhaps fans, inspired by the great World Series that just finished, will rediscover America’s pastime.

September 30, 2011

#27) The top ten Yankees losses of all time

Ken Griffey, Jr. slides across home plate with the winning run vs. the Yankees

Son of a bitch, it happened again: the Red Sox blew it.

Of course, it would have been a lot worse if not for their recent World Series wins (not to mention the three Patriots Super Bowls, Bruins’ Stanley Cup and Celtics championship win in the last decade), but any time the Yankees are in the playoffs and the Red Sox are not, it’s a drag, especially when it could have easily been avoided.

But while their team is no longer a contender, at least the members of Red Sox Nation can live on the hope that this October will bring a great Yankees collapse.  After all, the biggest fall the hardest.  To help get in the mood, here are ten of the greatest games in baseball – all of which found the Yankees on the short end of the score.

October 10, 1926 (World Series game 7) at New York: Cardinals 3, Yankees 2

The 1926 Series was the only one to date to end with a runner being caught stealing.  Ironically, the would-be thief was Babe Ruth, who represented the tying run.  The game is also noted for Cards’ pitcher Grover Alexander’s clutch strike out of Tony Lazerri with the bases loaded in the seventh.

October 3, 1947 (World Series game 4) at Brooklyn: Dodgers 3, Yankees 2

Even die-hard Sox fans have to have a little sympathy for Bill Bevens, a Yankees pitcher who came one out away from throwing the first no-hitter in post-season history.  Bevens lost both the no-hitter and the game with one swing of the bat, as Dodgers third baseman Cookie Lavagetto doubled with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.  It was the Dodgers’ first hit of the game, and it drove in the tying and winning runs.

October 4, 1955 (World Series Game 7) at New York: Dodgers 2, Yankees 0

The Red Sox were not the first team to finally avenge years of torment at the hands of the Yankees.  After years of losing to their crosstown rivals, the Dodgers finally turned the tables in 1955, helped by a great catch by Sandy Amoros and shutout pitching by Johnny Podres.  Here’s a video of Jackie Robinson stealing home in the first game of the series.  (He had better luck than Babe Ruth).

October 13, 1960 (World Series game 7) at Pittsburgh: Pirates 10, Yankees 9 

It may sound funny to hear the words “World Series” and “Pittsburgh Pirates” used in the same sentence, but that’s what was happening in 1960.  The Pirates hung in there, battling the Yankees through six games.  In the decisive contest, the lead went back and forth between the two teams, entering the bottom of the ninth tied.  Leading off, Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski became the first of only two men (along with Joe Carter) in baseball history to end a World Series with a home run.

October 10, 1980 (A.L.C.S. game 3) at New York: Royals 4, Yankees 2

As with the Pirates, it may seem weird to think of the Kansas City Royals in the World Series, but they got there in 1980 by beating the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, then a best-of-five.  They had lost three consecutive times to the Yanks in the A.L.C.S. but finally turned the tables in 1980, winning the first two games at home and taking the third on George Brett’s three-run homer off Goose Gossage.   The names of Brett and Gossage would be linked again a few years later.

July 24 and August 18, 1983 (“Pine Tar” game) at New York: Royals 5, Yankees 4 

George Brett won a World Series, had over 3,000 hits, batted .390 in 1980 and even battled hemorrhoids, but this Hall of Famer is remembered by most people for only one thing.   While the sight of an enraged Brett charging out of the dugout may be legendary, however, not as well known is the back-story behind what would now probably be called one of baseball’s best viral videos.  With the Yankees leading 4-3 in the top of the ninth inning, Brett was batting with one on and two out.  He hit a 2-run homer off Goose Gossage to give Kansas City a 5-4 lead.  As Brett crossed home, Yankees manager Billy Martin asked to see the bat.  The umpires conferred and called Brett out, sparking his famous eruption.  Ultimately the home-run was reinstated on the grounds that Martin should have asked to see the bat before Brett got to the plate.  The game was rescheduled for almost a month later and picked up in the top of the ninth with two outs and the Royals up, 5-4.  Martin told the umpires that Brett hadn’t touched all of the bases, but he was over-ruled.  After the Yankees went down in order in the bottom of the 9th, the Pine Tar game was over, almost a month after it began.

October 8, 1995 (A.L.D.S. game 5) at Seattle: Mariners 6, Yankees 5 (11 innings)

Back in the post season for the first time in 14 years, the Yankees faced an unlikely opponent in the first year of the American League Division Series: the Seattle Mariners.  The Mariners had pretty much been a joke since starting play in 1977, but in 1995, after a big comeback, they beat the California Angels (later to become the Anaheim Angels and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) in a one-game playoff to reach the post-season.  After dropping two games at Yankees Stadium, the Mariners won two in the Kingdome, pushing the best-of-five series to a decisive contest.  With the Yankees leading 5-4 in the bottom of the 11th, Edgar Martinez of the Mariners hit a game-winning double, described here by announcer Dave Niehaus.  MLB listed this game as #15 on their list of the all-time best list; highlights of the game can be seen here.

November 4, 2001 (World Series game 7) at Arizona: Diamondbacks 3, Yankees 2

Even if the 2001 World Series had been a clunker, it would still have been memorable in giving Americans a much-needed escape after the recent terrorist attacks.  As it turned out, 2001’s World Series was a down-to-the-wire classic.  Even many non-Yankees fans (although not the author) were rooting for them as they battled the Diamondbacks, National League champs in only their fourth season ever.  Extra-inning comebacks in games 4 and 5 put the Yankees up, 3 games to 2 as the teams headed back into the desert to decide things.  With the Yankees leading 2-1 in game 7, the Diamondbacks rallied in the bottom of the ninth, winning a Series quicker than any other expansion team in history.

August 31, 2004 at New York: Indians 22, Yankees 0

This nail-biter represented the biggest margin of loss in Yankees history; according to ESPN (see above link) even Jeter left the clubhouse before reporters could come in.

October 20, 2004 (A.L.C.S. game 7) at New York: Red Sox 10, Yankees 3

Of all of the teams that had lost the first three games of a baseball playoff series, only two had even gone as far as game 6.  The Sox were the first to force a game 7 after dropping the first three, and it seemed perfectly logical that they would find a way to blow it after getting the Nation’s hopes up.  But on the strength of Derek Lowe’s pitching and Johnny Damon’s grand slam, the Sox completed their comeback with a 10-3 win, going on to beat the Cardinals in the World Series for their first championship since 1918.  It’s too bad that no World Series trophy will be raised in Boston in 2011, but there’s always next year–and the hope that by opening day in 2012, the Yankees will have added more great losses to this list.