Top Ten: World Series' Game Sevens (without 2011)

Game 7 of the 2011 World Series may not have made this list, but that's only because these ten stand apart. Take a break from the New Year chatter, and revel in the events of ten old years. Photo: AP

WASHINGTON, December 31, 2011 — Any list involving such a specific matter requires some basic ground rules. First, go back and read the title a couple of times. It says “Game 7” quite prominently. This list does not take into account some of the greatest seven-game series’ of all-time because their Game 7s were quite mundane. The ten included here are among the greatest single games in World Series history, as well. And finally, this list is completely subjective. I snubbed Game 7 of this year’s World Series because the real landmark game was number six. Also, a couple a not-so-famous games from famous matchups are included at the bottom of this list, because let’s face it, there were so many great games to choose from, and they shouldn’t be penalized by how boring their series’ other six games were. And on that note, I strongly encourage anyone to share their favorites, listed and unlisted, in the comments below.

10) 1982 – St. Louis Cardinals  6-3  Milwaukee Brewers (October 20, Busch Stadium, St. Louis)

I can hear the complaints starting already – “But you said that this list is only judging each Game 7 itself, not the entire series! Cardinals-Brewers was boring, I think number ten should have been [insert your choice here].” Tough luck. This is number ten. There are many, many choices for this spot, and each one has its own merits. My personal favorite happens to be this game, which started out as a pitching duel between St. Louis’ Joaquín Andujár and Milwaukee’s Pete Vuckovich, but turned into a back-and-forth affair that wasn’t settled until the bitter end. The Cardinals struck first on a Lonnie Smith single, taking a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth, but the Brewers battled back with RBI’s from Ben Oglivie and Cecil Cooper, two of the sluggers who helped the Brewers be dubbed “Harvey’s Hammers,” to take a 3-1 lead into the sixth inning. In the bottom of that same inning, Vuckovich fell apart, Keith Hernandez tied the game with a two-run single, and the Cardinals went up 6-3. Future Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter came on in the ninth and struck out American League homerun champion Gorman Thomas for the final out.

9) 1975 – Cincinnati Reds  4-3  Boston Red Sox (October 22, Fenway Park, Boston)

As all Red Sox fans know, this game wasn’t even the most dramatic of its series. But thanks to some late key hits from Cincinnati, this Game 7 cracks the list. After Carlton Fisk’s dramatic walk-off blast in Game 6, the Red Sox jumped out to an early 3-0 lead with a three-run third inning that included two bases-loaded walks by Reds ace Don Gullett. As evidenced by the final score, the Reds spent the rest of the game spent the rest of the game digging out of the hole created in that inning. “Spaceman” Bill Lee had spaced out six hits over 5.2 innings when Cincinnati first baseman Tony Perez came up with Johnny Bench on second. Lee went to his signature Eephus pitch, and Perez, waiting all the way, drove the trick pitch for a two-run homer. An inning later, Pete Rose tied the game at 3 with a single. Finally, with two outs in the ninth, Joe Morgan drove in Ken Griffey with the winning run, sending the Big Red Machine to a title.

8) 1968 – Detroit Tigers  4-1  St. Louis Cardinals (October 10, Busch Stadium, St. Louis)

“You’re breaking your own rule again! Sure, Mickey Lolich pitched one of the greatest Series’ in history, but Game 7 was downright boring!” I highly doubt that the late Curt Flood would think so. After all, it was Flood’s misjudgment of a flyball off the bat of Jim Northrup that changed this game from an epic pitching duel between Detroit’s Lolich and St. Louis’ Bob Gibson into a win for the Tigers. No scoring happened until that play with two outs in the top of the seventh. After that, though, it was all Detroit’s game. They took a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth, and Lolich held on for the complete game win despite a last-ditch solo homerun from Cardinals’ third baseman Mike Shannon.

7) 1912 – Boston Red Sox  3-2  New York Giants (October 16, Fenway Park, Boston) 

Okay, so technically the concluding game of the 1912 World Series was Game 8, after Game 2 was tied when called on account of darkness. However, it counts under these criteria as a Game 7 because it was a winner-take-all game. For seven innings, legendary Giants right-hander Christy Mathewson dueled with less-legendary rookie Hugh Bedient to the tune of a 1-1 draw. With Mathewson well on his way to another extra-inning complete game, and ace Smoky Joe Wood on in relief for Boston, Game 8 looked headed for another late-night tie. But in the top of the tenth, the Giants quickly positioned themselves for a world title, taking a 2-1 lead on an RBI single from first baseman Fred Merkle. All John McGraw’s Giants needed were three outs from a man who would be one of the first six players inducted into the Hall of Fame. Pinch-hitter Clyde Engle led off with an easy flyball to centerfield, where the sure-handed Fred Snodgrass dropped it, allowing Engle to reach second easily. A couple batters later, Red Sox star Tris Speaker came up with runners at the corners and one away. He gave the Giants another chance to record an easy out, but Mathewson, Merkle, and catcher Chief Myers let a foul pop fall between them. Speaker proceeded to drive Engle in with a single, and after an intentional walk to Duffy Lewis, Larry Gardner drove in the winning run, cementing Snodgrass’ legacy as the man who made the “30,000-dollar muff.”

6) 1946 – St. Louis Cardinals  4-3  Boston Red Sox (October 15, Sportsman’s Park, St. Louis) 

To most fans, Game 7 of the 1946 World Series can be summed up in three words: “The Mad Dash.” But that was merely the last important play of a fairly dramatic game. It all started with a stellar pitching performance from Cardinals starter Murry Dickson. Through seven innings, he gave up only one run, on a Dom DiMaggio sacrifice fly. Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ offense staked Dickson to a 3-1 lead, or more accurately he staked himself to that lead, driving in one run on his own, with a double that scored Harry Walker. But the fates were not content with making such a mundane game. Hence, in the eighth, DiMaggio tied the game up at 3-all by lacing a two-run double off Harry Brecheen. Clearly, the contributions of DiMaggio were all that the Red Sox had going for them. Ignoring this, Red Sox manager Joe Cronin yanked the “Little Professor” in favor of pinch-runner Leon Culberson. In the bottom of the eighth, Enos Slaughter led off with a single, but Bob Klinger quickly recorded two outs. On the next play, Walker lined a hit into centerfield, where Culberson, who had stayed in the game for DiMaggio, bobbled the ball before throwing it in to shortstop Johnny Pesky. Pesky hesitated momentarily, and made a weak throw home as Slaughter charged around third and scored on the afore-mentioned famous “Mad Dash.” Brecheen held on for the 4-3 win, and the Curse of the Bambino continued for Boston. 

5) 1924 – Washington Senators  4-3  New York Giants (October 10, Griffith Stadium, Washington, DC)

The 1924 World Series became well-known as the only World Series won by legendary Senators pitcher Walter Johnson, but it should be just as famous for the comical series of events that took Game 7 from a sure-victory for the Giants, to a walk-off win for the Senators. With Johnson on the bench after losing two games during the series, including Game 5 two days earlier, Washington took an early 1-0 lead on a solo-homerun from player/manager Bucky Harris. But in the sixth-inning, the Senators came unglued in the fielding department, and the Giants scored a pair of runs thanks to errors by first baseman Joe Judge and shortstop Ossie Bluege, plus an extra on a sacrifice fly, to take a 3-1 lead. By the time New York ace Virgil Barnes had retired two batters in the bottom of the eighth, all looked lost for the Senators. But Harris bailed out his players again, lacing a two-run single to tie the game back up. The stage was set for the 36-year-old Johnson to come out of the bullpen on one day of rest. He was at nowhere near his best, but he managed to hold New York scoreless for four innings. In the bottom of the twelfth, the Senators found some life. With Muddy Ruel batting with one out and the bases empty, Giants catcher Hank Gowdy tripped over his own mask while trying to catch a foul popup, and Ruel lined the next pitch into left for a double. Johnson proceeded to reach on an error, and center fielder Earl McNeely crushed a double down the left-field line, bringing Ruel home, and giving the Big Train his only championship.

4) 2001 – Arizona Diamondbacks  3-2  New York Yankees (November 4, Bank One Ballpark, Phoenix)

The 2001 World Series came to be defined by two moments: Derek Jeter driving a walk-off, Series-tying homerun off Byung-Hyun Kim just after Game 4 rolled over into November, and Arizona’s dramatic ninth-inning comeback off Mariano Rivera in Game 7. But the magic of Game 7 started way before that, when two legendary pitchers took the mound: Roger Clemens, at 39, the oldest pitcher ever to start a World Series Game 7, for New York; and Curt Schilling, on three days of rest, for Arizona. Clemens and Schilling matched each other for seven innings of one-run ball. But Schilling’s luck ran out in the top of the eight, when Alfonso Soriano smacked a solo-shot to put the Yankees up 2-1. As soon as Mariano Rivera took the mound for a two-inning save, the game looked lost for the Diamondbacks, and that feeling only increased as he caught sluggers Luis Gonzalez, Matt Williams, and Danny Bautista with swinging strikeouts in the bottom of the eighth. But it was the bottom of the ninth that became baseball legend. Mark Grace led off with a single, and pinch-runner David Delluci was safe at second on Damien Miller’s bunt, thanks to an untimely throwing error by Rivera. Dellucci was nailed at third on pinch-hitter Jay Bell’s groundout, but Midre Cummings, who had come in for Miller, scored on Tony Womack’s double to knot the score at 2-2. A batter later, Gonzalez laced a soft fly-ball to the edge of the grass behind the shortstop position. Jeter, playing in at the edge of the infield grass, didn’t have a chance, and Bell came home with the winning run.

3) 1925 – Pittsburgh Pirates  9-7  Washington Senators (October 15, Forbes Field, Pittsburgh) 

Just a year after number 7 on this list, the tables were turned on Walter Johnson. But any story about the 1925 World Series must start off with a discussion about Roger Peckinpaugh. You see, Roger Peckinpaugh was a pretty darn good shortstop for his day. In fact, in 1925 he won the American League MVP award, beating out such luminaries as Al Simmons, Harry Heilmann, and Mickey Cochrane. But he was a really crummy fielder. His year-by-year error totals include such delightful numbers as 39, 47, 43, 54, 43, 42, 41, and 45. That should enough material to give an idea of what occurred in the 1925 World Series, and in Game 7 specifically. 

Game 7 started off as well it possibly could have for the Senators, as they jumped out to stake Johnson to a 4-0 lead in the first inning. That lead stood up until the bottom of the third, when the Pirates scored three runs of their own on key hits by second baseman Eddie Moore and center fielder Max Carey. Even so, Washington scored a pair of runs in the next inning to take a seemingly stable 6-3 lead. However, in the seventh, with weather conditions disintegrating to the point where Washington right fielder Goose Goslin couldn’t see the infield, Peckinpaugh slipped on the wet ground while trying to field a grounder from Moore. Four batters later, Pittsburgh third baseman Pie Traynor drove a game-tying triple. The Senators did manage to avoid complete disaster when, as Traynor headed for a inside-the-park homerun, player/manager Bucky Harris relayed home a throw from right fielder Joe Harris (no relation), in time for the third out. In the top of the eighth, with the game tied, 6-6, who stepped up to the plate but Peckinpaugh. For a moment, he looked worthy of the MVP award, smashing a fastball from Ray Kremer over the left field wall, giving Washington a 7-6 lead. But he wasn’t done. In the bottom of the eighth, after the Pirates tied the game on a double, he smoothly fielded a tailor-made double play grounder from Carey, and promptly tossed the ball past Bucky Harris, who was covering second-base. The next batter, Kiki Cuyler, drove a double to right, and the Pirates held on to win, 9-7.

Or did they? Visibility was incredibly poor in wet, foggy, conditions that many said were the worst ever for a World Series game. Goslin would claim for the remainder of his life that Cuyler’s hit “was foul by two feet. I know because the ball hit in the mud and stuck there.”

2) 1991 – Minnesota Twins  1-0  Atlanta Braves (October 27, HHH Metrodome, Minneapolis)

Only one bad thing can be said about the 1991 World Series: its good name is continually tarnished as Murray Chass and Jon Heyman perpetually invoke it as reason enough to put Jack Morris in the Hall of Fame. My thoughts about Chass and Heyman have been well-documented, but their attitudes certainly don’t take anything away from the fact that Morris pitched one of the finest games in Series history on the night of October 27. The same goes for John Smoltz, who, even though he left after seven-plus innings, also turned in a performance to remember. For seven innings, Morris and Smoltz traded outs, the former blanking the Braves, and the latter doing the same to the Twins. In the top of the eighth, Morris appeared to finally crack a bit, giving up a leadoff single to designated hitter Lonnie Smith, and a double to third baseman Terry Pendleton. On any other double, the speedy Smith – his lasting nickname was “Skates” – would have scored. Making the odds even greater, the play was a hit-and-run. But with nothing left in their arsenal, Minnesota shortstop Greg Gagne and second baseman Chuck Knoblauch pretended to start a double play when Pendleton hit his liner towards third. Fooled, Smith hesitated and had to hold up at third. Even so, the Braves had runners at second and third with no outs. After Ron Gant was thrown out on a weak grounder, slugger David Justice was intentionally walked so that Morris could pitch to the slow-footed first baseman Sid Bream. Bream hit a grounder, and Smith was forced out at home as part of a double play, getting the Twins out of a jam. 

The Twins had their own scoring chance in the bottom of the eighth, but the threat ended when Atlanta second baseman Mark Lemke caught a Kent Hrbek liner and doubled his counterpart Knoblauch off second for the second and third outs. Even as the game went into extra innings, Morris came back out for the top of the tenth, after throwing 118 pitches through the first nine innings. He set the Braves down in order on just eight more. In the bottom of the tenth, the Twins, who had been surging for the past two innings, finally reached their goal. Dan Gladden led off with a double, and advanced to third on Knoblauch’s bunt. After a pair of intentional walks, pinch-hitter Gene Larkin lofted a single into center, plating Gladden for a 1-0 walkoff win. 

1)    1960 – Pittsburgh Pirates  10-9  New York Yankees (October 13, Forbes Field, Pittsburgh)

Number one had everything that the other nine games on the list had, except a pitching duel. It did feature some good pitching on one side, however, courtesy of Pittsburgh ace Vern Law, who held the powerful Yankees lineup to one run over five innings. As Law continued to prove that he was the only Pirates’ pitcher who could stop the Yankees from scoring – New York had scored a combined 43 runs in the four games during which Law hadn’t appeared – Pittsburgh jumped out to a 4-1 lead, with half coming on a homerun by first baseman Rocky Nelson. As soon as Law was out of the game in favor of all-purpose reliever ElRoy Face, though, the Yankees started to close in for the kill. The third batter that Face faced, left fielder Yogi Berra, deposited a three-run homer in the right-field seats, and the Yankees took a 5-4 lead. But the dramatics were far from over. New York continued to extend their lead against Face, plating two more runs in the top of the eighth. With a three-run lead, and a lineup rivaling any in firepower to back it up, conventional wisdom would have said that the Series was over. But the fateful bottom of the eight would put those thoughts to rest.

Gino Cimoli led off the bottom of the eighth by pinch-hitting for Face, and he lofted a single into rightfield. The next play came out of nowhere. Pittsburgh center fielder Bill Virdon hit a routine grounder towards short. The ball took a bad ricochet off a pebble, bounced up, and struck Yankee shortstop Tony Kubek in the throat, sending him to the ground, bleeding. After Kubek left the field, Pittsburgh shortstop Dick Groat cut the lead to 7-5 by scoring Cimoli with a single. Still, the Pirates appeared destined for defeat after Jim Coates came on to pitch and quickly recorded two outs. The next batter, Roberto Clemente, bounced a slow roller that both Coates and first baseman Moose Skowron reached for, leaving no one covering first base. It was scored as a single, and it cut the lead further to 7-6. Then the tide seemingly turned for good, with Pirates’ backup catcher Hal Smith crushing a three-run homer to put Pittsburgh up 9-7. Unwilling to go down so easily, New York tied the score at 9 in the top of the ninth after Nelson failed to record the final out by making a mental lapse in an unassisted double play situation. But all that ceased to matter two pitches into the bottom of the inning. A young pitcher named Ralph Terry stepped onto the mound to face an even younger second baseman named Bill Mazeroski. The latter crushed the former’s second pitch over the left field fence, and the most dramatic Game 7 in World Series’ history came to a close.

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Arjuna Subramanian

Arjuna Subramanian is an aspiring baseball writer living in the Washington D.C. area.  He started his writing  with his blog Painting The Black on MLBlogs in May of 2009.  He fell in love with the sabermetric movement during the 2008-2009 offseason, and strives to provide balanced articles from both sides of the statistics/scouting divide.  

When not writing, watching/listening to baseball, over-analyzing his Chicago Cubs, staring in disbelief at the writing of Thomas Boswell, or keeping tabs on the latest Milton Bradley blowup, he can usually be found at the DC Fencers Club, where he is a competitive epee fencer.

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