Postseason Classics: The most unforgettable games

— -- These are the games that never stop playing in that DVR in our heads. These are the moments that get frozen in baseball time, always there, always ready to roar back to life any time our memory banks call upon them.

These are the October baseball games that still send shivers up and down our spines, all these years and sometimes even decades later. And these are the men who were there to give us baseball's eternal postseason classics: Griffey ... Larsen ... Gibson ... Carter ... even Steve Bartman. Here they all come again, one more time. -- Jayson Stark

JUMP TO ... Wild card | LDS | LCS | World Series


Royals 9, Athletics 8 (Sept. 30, 2014)

The Royals crammed 29 years of drama into one night of baseball with goats turned into heroes in every direction and a brand of small ball that was cringe-worthy at times. They laid down four sacrifice bunts and recorded seven stolen bases during a most improbable victory that took 12 innings to turn back the Oakland Athletics. Manager Ned Yost was getting torched for turning a rookie starter into a reliever in the sixth inning, leading to a five-run uprising that gave the A's a commanding 7-3 lead with just three innings to play. The Royals overcame it all with the kind of clutch hitting that comes from a team so blindly confident it had no idea of the magnitude of the moment.
-- Doug Padilla


GAME 1: Phillies 4, Reds 0 (Oct. 6, 2010)

He'd waited 13 years to pitch this game, wondering what it felt like to hold the baseball in his hands on an October afternoon. And when his chance finally came, Roy Halladay rose to meet the moment. He pitched the second postseason no-hitter in history. He no-hit a Reds team that hadn't been no-hit since 1971. And he came within one full-count walk of a perfect game.

Not everything in this world is worth the wait. But the first postseason start of Roy Halladay's career was a day when one man's lifelong dream turned into the most unforgettable game of his lifetime.
-- Jayson Stark

GAME 2: Yankees 7, Mariners 5 (Oct. 4, 1995)

After waiting 18 years for a postseason, Seattle was nearly eliminated before the checks had even cleared for their AL West Champions series T-shirts. Seattle lost Game 1 in New York despite two homers by Ken Griffey Jr., then lost a Game 2 heartbreaker when they squandered another Griffey homer, blew a lead in the 12th and lost on Jim Leyritz's homer in the 15th. (The 15th inning!) It was one of baseball's great postseason games, but what I remember most is Yankees fans pelting Jay Buhner with garbage and trying to steal the TV monitors in the auxiliary press box. Ahhh, but M's fans got sweet revenge in the Kingdome ...
-- Jim Caple

GAME 3: Yankees 3, Orioles 2 (Oct. 10, 2012)

Alex Rodriguez, the designated hitter-turned-designated sitter, was on the dugout rail in the ninth inning when Mariano Rivera turned to him and predicted Raul Ibanez would go deep, and when his replacement made Mo a prophet and sent Jim Johnson's 1-0 pitch screaming into a forever corner of Yankees lore, A-Rod celebrated as if he had delivered the epic shot himself. Three innings later, Rodriguez was back in the middle of someone else's fairy tale. Ibanez launched Brian Matusz's first pitch high into the Bronx night, and suddenly it was official: The 40-year-old DH needed two at-bats and three pitches to summon the memories of the 2001 World Series in the old place across the street. -- Ian O'Connor

GAME 4: Astros 7, Braves 6 (Oct. 9, 2005)

A delightful aspect of baseball is that anybody can become a postseason hero. Just ask Astros fans. They'll always remember utility infielder Chris Burke's dramatic home run that ended the longest postseason game ever played. The game lasted 18 innings and nearly six hours, saw the Astros rally from a 6-1 deficit and light-hitting catcher Brad Ausmus tie it with a two-out homer in the ninth. A 43-year-old legend named Roger Clemens made his first relief appearance in 21 years, pitching three scoreless innings. And then Burke, one of 23 players used by the Astros, hit the 553rd pitch of the game, off the Braves' Joey Devine, over the left-field wall for a walkoff homer.
-- David Schoenfield

GAME 5: Mariners 6, Yankees 5 (Oct. 8, 1995)

In Seattle, it's simply called "The Double." Edgar Martinez's liner down the left-field line won a playoff series for the miracle Mariners, a team that was 12½ games out of first place in late August. Some say the double even saved baseball in Seattle. This team had adopted the slogan "Refuse to Lose," and it did just that. Joey Cora reached on a bunt single. Ken Griffey Jr. singled. And the beloved Martinez hit his double. As Cora scored the tying run, Mariners announcer Dave Niehaus didn't shout, "Here comes Joey." He said, "Here comes Joy." Never were more apropos words spoken.
-- David Schoenfield


GAME 1: Yankees 5, Orioles 4 (Oct. 9, 1996)

A rookie. A fly ball. A kid with a glove. So began the modern dynasty of the New York Yankees. The Orioles led 4-3 in the eighth when No. 9 hitter Derek Jeter, with the inside-out swing that would become so famous over the years, lofted a fly ball to right field. In most ballparks, it's a routine out. Not in Yankee Stadium, not with its short porch in right and not with a 12-year-old kid with quick reflexes standing at the railing. Tony Tarasco was camped under the ball. Jeffrey Maier reached over the fence to make the catch. Umpire Richie Garcia blew the call. Bernie Williams homered in the 11th to win the game. "They'll be talking about this one for a long time," Darryl Strawberry said.
-- David Schoenfield

GAME 2: Rangers 7, Tigers 3 (Oct. 10, 2011)

Nelson Cruz's 11th-inning bomb into the left-field seats -- his second home run of the game -- was the first walk-off grand slam in postseason history (Robin Ventura's game-winning blast in the 1999 NLCS was officially scored a single) and it ended a game so nerve-racking that Texas reliever Scott Feldman said, "When I got done watching that game I thought my beard was going to turn gray." The game took 4 hours and 25 minutes, required six Rangers pitchers and left most of the states of Texas and Michigan without cuticles and in need of defibrillators. "It was one of the most amazing games I've ever participated in," Texas pitcher C.J. Wilson said.
-- Jim Caple

GAME 3: Mets 6, Astros 5 (Oct. 11, 1986)

Mets manager Davey Johnson always thought Lenny Dykstra swung for the fences too much. He forgave him on this day. With the series tied and Mike Scott looming in Game 4, the Mets trailed the Astros 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth. Dykstra's club desperately needed this game. Houston closer Dave Smith was pitching. Wally Backman reached on a controversial bunt in which he appeared to run out of the baseline. Facing Dykstra, Smith threw his trusty forkball. It didn't fork. Dykstra swung for the fences and then delivered one of the great postseason quotes: "The last time I hit a home run to win a game in the bottom of the ninth was playing Stratomatic against my brother."
-- David Schoenfield

GAME 4: Red Sox 6, Yankees 4 (Oct. 17, 2004)

Before the game reporters asked Theo Epstein questions about the team's plans, under the assumption Boston would lose the series and undergo radical changes. Epstein answered as best he could before giving up and saying, "Hey, this series isn't over." Yeah, right. No ballclub had ever rallied from a 3-0 postseason deficit. And then Kevin Millar drew a walk against Mariano Rivera to lead off the ninth. And then pinch runner Dave Roberts stole second. And then Bill Mueller singled to tie it. And then it was the 12th inning and Big Papi's homer was soaring into the seats and a fan was shouting, "I'm going to dance in the streets and hug strangers!" And the series wasn't over.
-- Jim Caple

GAME 5: Cardinals 5, Astros 4 (Oct. 17, 2005)

"Don't try to be a hero," Albert Pujols told himself. "Don't try to hit a three-run home run." These were the words dancing through the head of the best hitter in baseball as he wriggled into the batter's box. His team was two runs down in the ninth and one out from going home. The most unhittable reliever in the National League, Brad Lidge, stood 60 feet away. And then Albert Pujols ignored his own words. He sent a hanging slider soaring through the night, soaring into history, soaring forever. He has hit many, many homers since. The difference is, this one is still traveling.
-- Jayson Stark

GAME 6: Marlins 8, Cubs 3 (Oct. 14, 2003)

It's amazing Cubs fans blamed Steve Bartman for this loss. The Cubs blew a 3-0 lead when they were just five outs from their first World Series since 1945 and yet it's Bartman's fault for trying to catch a foul ball that Moises Alou wasn't going to catch anyway? Shortstop Alex Gonzalez botched what should have been an inning-ending, double-play grounder, and it's Bartman's fault? Dusty Baker left Mark Prior in to throw 119 pitches, and it's Bartman's fault? The Cubs allowed eight runs in the eighth, and it's Bartman's fault? Ridiculous. Everyone knows none of this was Bartman's fault. It was that damn goat from 1945.
-- Jim Caple

GAME 7: Yankees 6, Red Sox 5 (Oct. 16, 2003)

You were screaming at Grady Little to take Pedro out. I was screaming at Grady to take Pedro out. We were all screaming at Grady to take Pedro out. And yet, inexplicably, Grady left Pedro in. Pedro was exhausted, the Yankees were ripping hits everywhere, Boston's three-run lead was unraveling, the season was disintegrating and Grady went to the mound ... and left Pedro in to pitch some more -- 123 pitches in all. You know the rest. The Yankees tied the game, Aaron Boone homered off Tim Wakefield and Boston fans spent another cold winter moaning and shaking their heads. Ah, those were the days.
-- Jim Caple


GAME 1: Dodgers 5, Athletics 4 (Oct. 15, 1988)

The story has been recounted hundreds of times, but it remains just as riveting in the retelling. During a ninth-inning, pinch-hit appearance against Dennis Eckersley, badly hobbled Kirk Gibson stepped out of the box and recalled some advice that scout Mel Didier had shared in a meeting before the World Series. "As sure as I'm standing here breathing, he's going to throw you a 3-2 backdoor slider," Didier told the Dodgers hitters. One improbable swing and a gimpy tour of the bases later, Gibson gave the Dodgers a stunning victory that catapulted them to a gargantuan upset. "I got to home plate and everybody started mobbing me," Gibson recalled. "I said, 'Leave me alone, I can barely stand up as it is.'"
-- Jerry Crasnick

GAME 2: Mets 10, Athletics 7 (Oct. 14, 1973)

This was the Fall Classic's version of the "Twilight Zone," a game marked by strange but true phenomena. The 12-inning marathon, which took a then-record 4 hours and 13 minutes to complete, featured several balls being lost in the afternoon sun -- two by 42-year-old Willie Mays, who got the final hit and RBI of his career; two blown umpire calls (one on a missed tag at home plate); a six-inning relief appearance by winning pitcher Tug McGraw; and five costly A's errors, including two by backup second baseman Mike Andrews, who was wrongfully fired by A's owner Charlie Finley after the game (he was later re-activated by commissioner Bowie Kuhn). While the game might get docked for style points, it certainly was memorable.
-- David Kull

GAME 3: White Sox 7, Astros 5 (Oct. 25, 2005)

Before playing hero in the longest game in World Series history, Geoff Blum was known as a versatile utility man with a wry sense of humor and a novel approach to hair. When he wasn't opting for the black-and-blue-spotted look, chances are Blum was bleaching his hair white just for the fun of it. Everything changed the night of Series Game 3 at Minute Maid Park, when Blum elevated his profile with a solo homer, a 14th-inning shot off Ezequiel Astacio to put the White Sox on the verge of their first title in 88 years. It was a surreal moment for a player so accustomed to a supporting role. "The roof was open," Blum said, "and the stars were aligned right tonight."
-- Jerry Crasnick

GAME 4: Blue Jays 15, Phillies 14 (Oct. 20, 1993)

We all remember Joe Carter's home run to win the series in Game 6, but this game was arguably the craziest, wackiest game in World Series history as the teams combined for a record 29 runs and record-tying 32 hits. Behind Lenny Dykstra's two home runs, the Phillies led 14-9 entering the top of the eighth. Larry Andersen was replaced with one out after a single, walk and double. Enter Mitch Williams, after which the Jays went single, walk, strikeout, single and, finally, a two-run triple by Devon White. And now you know why Phillies fans knew what was coming when Williams entered to protect another lead in Game 6.
-- David Schoenfield

GAME 5: Yankees 2, Dodgers 0 (Oct. 8, 1956)

Don Larsen wasn't a great major league pitcher. He would win 81 games in his career, lose 91, walk nearly as many batters as he struck out. Larsen wasn't expecting to start Game 5 against the Dodgers, not after getting knocked out in the second inning of Game 2. But Casey Stengel gave him the ball and, on a magical autumn day, Larsen had perfect control, his slider was moving and the baseball gods were on his side. In the second inning, Jackie Robinson's grounder bounced off third baseman Andy Carey right to shortstop Gil McDougald. Larsen would go to three balls on just one batter, throw just 97 pitches. His final pitch was a called strike on pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell. Yogi Berra leapt into his arms. Perfection.
-- David Schoenfield

GAME 6: Cardinals 10, Rangers 9 (Oct. 27, 2011)

This was how Game 6 of the 2011 World Series would end. With a man named David Freese hitting a home run that will never stop flying. With fireworks exploding in the night. With teammates sprinting toward home plate to meet the man who had saved their season. With many of the 47,325 lucky humans who made up the largest crowd in the history of Busch Stadium fighting back the tears. But this was merely the final freeze-frame in what we could easily argue was the greatest World Series game ever played. It might not matter how many October baseball games you've watched in your lifetime. You would have a very, very, very difficult time making a case that any of them were better than this one -- because an extra-inning, walk-off home run was almost a secondary plot line, to the sight of a team coming back from the dead. Twice.
-- Jayson Stark

GAME 7: Pirates 10, Yankees 9 (Oct. 13, 1960)

It was a game that saw the lead change hands four times, most dramatically, of course, with the only Game 7 walk-off home run in World Series history. It was a game between the underdog, blue-collar Pirates, from a blue-collar city still bursting with steel mills, and the glamorous Yankees of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford. It was a game that, oddly, featured not a single strikeout (the only time that has happened in World Series history). It did feature 19 runs and 24 hits and was played in a brisk 2 hours and 36 minutes. It was full of managerial decisions to second-guess, clutch hits and unlikely heroes, pitchers throwing through pain, and strange, quirky plays. That afternoon at old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, two determined teams played the game for the ages.
-- David Schoenfield