15 Greatest Pennant-Chase Moments in MLB History

Ely SussmanCorrespondent ISeptember 10, 2012

15 Greatest Pennant-Chase Moments in MLB History

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    The MLB pennant races captivate us every fall.

    Great, fleeting moments that we would ordinarily forget are instead preserved indefinitely through highlights, photographs and oral history. Players responsible for late-season and postseason victories are elevated to hero status.

    Crazy and clutch plays from the days and weeks prior to the World Series are more memorable than gradual collapses or out-of-the-blue hot streaks.

    As a result, many of the following events have famous nicknames and books written about them.

    Trimming the list down to 15 ensured that only the most notable ones gained inclusion.

15. Orel Hershiser Congratulated on Setting Scorless Innings Record (1988)

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    The Los Angeles Dodgers wrapped up the NL West division with more than a week to spare in 1988, but only because of Bulldog's brilliance. Since the early stages of an August 30 start, he had not conceded a run or failed to complete a game.

    Orel Hershiser treated his final start of that regular season as seriously as any other. He even pitched into extra innings to give his club its best chance to win.

    His teammates showed their appreciation as he retired to the dugout (clip courtesy of MLB.com).

    Though he would exit with a no-decision, Hershiser's determination to enter October with momentum—and an all-time record—was admirable.

    He also remained focus throughout L.A.'s World Series run.

14. Lenny Dykstra Launches a Go-Ahead Blast in Game 5 (1993)

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    Lenny Dykstra was at his best in 1993, setting career-highs in nearly every offensive category. He outplayed most of his peers, too, and finished runner-up to Barry Bonds in the NL MVP race.

    However, competition for the league pennant meant more to Dykstra than regular-season success.

    Bleacher Report's own Ray Tannock describes his extra-inning solo home run off Mark Wohlers in the Championship Series as a "true nail-biting experience."

    It proved to be a game-winner.

13. Bucky Dent Hits One over the Green Monster (1978)

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    Bucky Dent couldn't have picked a better moment to break out of a six-and-a-half week homerless streak.

    The 1978 New York Yankees had minimal room for error down the stretch as they attempted to recover from a midsummer slump. A 40-14 stretch over the season's final third was just enough to force a 163rd game versus the rival Boston Red Sox.

    Dent's clutch blast ensured that their inspired run wouldn't go for naught.

12. CC Sabathia Goes the Distance on Three Days' Rest (2008)

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    Lacking confidence in the back end of his starting rotation, Milwaukee Brewers interim manager Dale Sveum made the throwback decision of using CC Sabathia on three days' rest.

    The southpaw was shaky during a defeat on Sept. 20, then superb on the 24th.

    But the NL Wild Card had yet to be decided entering Game 162 of the 2008 regular season, which meant Sabathia got the early call for a third straight time.

    He took the mound in front of a sell-out crowd and didn't step off of it until a playoff berth was clinched.

    The great moment here was Sabathia's final pitch. It induced a double play (courtesy of MLB.com) and triggered an insane celebration at Miller Park.

11. Matt Holliday Slides in Safely (2007)

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    A winner-take-all contest was held at Coors Field to determine the National League's fourth postseason representative.

    The San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies had been going back and forth for 13 innings when Matt Holliday smashed a run-scoring, game-tying triple.

    After more than four-and-a-half hours of play, the slugger was understandably anxious to get some sleep (or at least go to the bathroom). That led him to make the ill-advised decision to tag and come home on a low line drive.

    Holliday lost his helmet, but sealed the team's playoff berth. Not a bad trade-off.

10. Albert Pujols Tees off on Brad Lidge, Silences Minute Maid Park (2005)

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    The St. Louis Cardinals were one out from NLCS elimination when All-Star slugger Albert Pujols stepped to the plate as the go-ahead run.

    With Brad Lidge on the mound, it was a classic matchup of power against power.

    But just as fans were getting their popcorn ready, Pujols pulverized the first-pitch offering into the Earth's mesosphere. That's how you shut up a crowd (watch via MLB.com).

9. Derek Jeter's Flip Play (2001)

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    There are downright peculiar plays that cannot be anticipated. In the absence of precedent, instincts take over.

    Derek Jeter had the foresight to intercept this offline relay throw as it dribbled down the first-base line. Then, with all his momentum carrying him toward the dugout, the shortstop made a strong, accurate, back-handed toss to nail Jason Giambi at home plate.

    The Oakland Athletics would have otherwise tied the game and had an opportunity to sweep the 2001 ALDS.

8. Endy Chavez Reaches over the Fence, Brings Backs a Home Run (2006)

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    Before Mike Trout set the new standard for high-flying, wall-scaling, homer-robbing heroics, Endy Chavez was extolled for this snow-cone grab.

    Moreover, he showed great alertness in completing the double play at first base.

    Considering that Chavez executed the web gem with the NL pennant hanging in the balance, I'd say this feat trumps anything that "Wonderboy" has accomplished thus far.

7. Roy Halladay Joins Don Larsen in Exclusive Postseason No-No Club (2010)

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    After a decade of regular-season excellence, Roy Halladay finally got a chance to pitch in the postseason.

    There were sky-high expectations for his playoff debut, but he would exceed all of them.

    The 33-year-old right-hander baffled the 2010 Cincinnati Reds—an offensive juggernaut—and finished with a goose egg in the hits column. It ended with a harmless dribbler (via MLB.com).

    Move over, Don Larsen.

6. Evan Longoria's Pennant-Clinching Walk-off Home Run (2011)

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    The deafening combination of clapping and cowbells could only mean one thing—the Tampa Bay Rays were victorious.

    Coming into that late September evening, they knew qualification for October baseball hinged on them coupling a win with a Boston Red Sox choke job.

    Minutes prior to this Evan Longoria plate appearance, the club learned that the latter had come to fruition.

    Tropicana Field, hang on to your roof.

5. Magglio Ordonez Finishes off an ALCS Sweep (2006)

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    Magglio Ordonez circled the bases in 2006—his long, curly locks following in the wind—as the Detroit Tigers realized they were World Series-bound for the first time in a generation.

    The All-Star outfielder had been so pivotal to his club's success that summer, so it was fitting that he delivered the walk-off blow.

4. Edgar Martinez Scores Griffey, Completes ALDS Comeback (1995)

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    This extra-base hit capped off the most memorable game in Seattle Mariners history.

    It completed an improbable comeback from a 2-0 American League Division Series deficit.

    "The Double"—clubbed by Edgar Martinez—enthused the M's fanbase and may have saved ownership from relocating the franchise.

3. Aaron Boone's Pennant-Clinching, Walk-off Home Run (2003)

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    Take the aforementioned Magglio Ordonez home run and put it in a Game 7. Switch out the batter and insert Aaron Boone, who was only in his third month as the New York Yankees' third baseman. Push back the plate appearance from the ninth inning to the 11th. Then, as if they hadn't suffered enough during the preceding 85 years, use the "cursed" Boston Red Sox as the opposing team.

    You know the rest (thanks, MLB.com).

2. Chris Chambliss Ends New York's World Series Drought (1976)

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    The New York Yankees had grown accustomed to appearing in the Fall Classic earlier in the 20th century, but times had changed.

    An AL pennant would've meant everything to their fans in 1976, as they were suffering through a 12-year World Series drought.

    The response to Chris Chambliss' walk-off home run was utter pandemonium.

1. 'The Shot Heard 'Round the World' (1951)

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    Because of this epic round-tripper, Bobby Thomson always claims the No. 1 spot in pennant-race articles like mine.

    And rightfully so.

    Back in his day, only one team from each league continued playing into the postseason.

    The New York Giants were seemingly out of the hunt in August. At one point, they trailed the crosstown Brooklyn Dodgers in the NL standings by more than a dozen games.

    Thomson's dramatic home run was a microcosm of New York's resilient 1951 campaign.