Ranking Bucky Dent's Homer and 30 Greatest All-Time MLB Playoff-Race Moments

Doug MeadCorrespondent ISeptember 8, 2012

Ranking Bucky Dent's Homer and 30 Greatest All-Time MLB Playoff-Race Moments

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    Now a full week into the final month of the season, several pennant races are taking shape in Major League Baseball.

    As of Friday morning, half of the teams in MLB were still within 3.5 games of either a division title or a Wild Card slot, giving the promise of exciting play over the final few weeks.

    Pennant races throughout the history of baseball have produced moments which are indelibly etched in the minds of its fans. Many can recall verbatim exactly how those plays transpired and the events leading up to those moments.

    Bleacher Report will jog your memory and recall the 30 top MLB pennant-race moments in history.

30. Mike Piazza: Los Angeles Dodgers, Oct. 3, 1993

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    In 1993, the Los Angeles Dodgers were playing out the string in the final week of the season, as the Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants furiously battled it out for the NL West Division title.

    The Giants needed to beat the Dodgers to force a playoff with the Braves on the final day of the season. However, on this day, the Dodgers had the last laugh.

    On the strength of a 14-hit attack that included four home runs, two by catcher Mike Piazza, the Dodgers destroyed the Giants 12-1, and in the process destroyed their playoff hopes as well.

    The Giants finished the season at 103-59—not since the 1954 New York Yankees had a team won that many games and not qualified for the playoffs.

29. Mike Schmidt: Philadelphia Phillies, Oct. 4, 1980

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    In 1980, the Philadelphia Phillies were locked in a tight battle with the surprising Montreal Expos at the top of the NL East Division. Entering play in the final weekend of the regular season, the Phillies and Expos had identical 89-70 records, and were facing off against each other in a do-or-die matchup.

    The Phillies captured the first game of the series and needed to win only one of the two remaining contests to clinch the division.

    On Oct. 4, the two teams battled it out to a 4-4 tie at the end of regulation.

    In the top of the 11th inning, Phillies first baseman Pete Rose led off with a single to right field. After center fielder Bake McBride popped up to the catcher for the first out of the inning, third baseman Mike Schimidt strode to the plate, facing Expos reliever Stan Bahnsen.

    Schmidt crushed a Bahnsen offering, depositing it into the seats for a dramatic two-run homer, giving the Phillies a 6-4 lead. Reliever Tug McGraw stymied the Expos in the bottom of the 11th inning, giving the Phillies the NL East title.

28. Early Wynn: Chicago White Sox, Sept. 22, 1959

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    In late September 1959, the Chicago White Sox were on the verge of doing something the franchise hadn't achieved in 40 years—win an American League pennant.

    On Sept. 22, the White Sox were facing the team directly below them in the standings—the Cleveland Indians.

    Taking the hill for the White Sox that day was Early Wynn, seeking his 21st win of the season.

    The 39-year-old right-hander didn't have his best stuff, but he took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning before tiring and allowing a sacrifice fly to Rocky Colavito to get the Indians within two, 4-2.

    Bob Shaw and Gerry Staley finished off the Indians over the final 3.1 innings, giving the White Sox their first AL pennant since 1919.

27. Bob Gibson: St. Louis Cardinals, Oct. 4, 1964

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    Entering the final day of the regular season in 1964, the St. Louis Cardinals had dropped the first two games of their series with the lowly New York Mets, allowing the Cincinnati Reds to catch them at the top of the National League.

    The Cards and Reds entered play on Sunday, Oct. 4 with identical 92-69 records. Cards manager Johnny Keane sent Curt Simmons to the hill to face the Mets. Simmons faltered in the top of the fifth, allowing a two-run double to shortstop Roy McMillan to give the Mets a 3-2 lead.

    Keane then called on Bob Gibson to replace Simmons. Gibson had just thrown eight innings two nights earlier in the opening game of the series.

    Gibson was clearly not on top of his game pitching on just one day's rest, but he was able to hold on for four innings, allowing only two runs on two hits and working around five walks to pick up the victory over the Mets.

    Gibson's performance, combined with the Reds' loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, gave the Cardinals their first National League pennant in 18 seasons.

26. Jim Kaat: Minnesota Twins, Sept. 26, 1965

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    In 1933, the Washington Senators captured the American League pennant for only the third time in franchise history—it would be their last in the nation's capital before moving to Minnesota in 1961.

    In 1965, just their fifth season representing the Twin Cities area, the Twins put it all together, dominating play in the American League. On Sept. 26, southpaw pitcher Jim Kaat took to the hill to face the new Washington Senators, the expansion team that replaced the old franchise in D.C. five years earlier.

    Kaat delivered, going the distance and giving up just one run and striking out 10 batters to defeat the Senators 2-1, giving the Twins their first AL pennant in Minnesota and the first for the franchise in 32 years.

25. Randy Lerch: Philadelphia Phillies, Sept. 30, 1978

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    On the second-to-last day of the regular season in 1978, the Philadelphia Phillies held a slim 1.5-game lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates and were looking for their straight NL East Division title.

    Facing the Pirates on that day was starting pitcher Randy Lerch, but it wasn't so much his pitching that ruled the day.

    While the Phillies were guided by the bats of Greg Luzinski and Richie Hebner who combined for seven RBI, Lerch helped his own cause by hitting two solo home runs in the division-clinching 10-8 victory.

24. Wilson Alvarez: San Francisco Giants, Sept. 27, 1997

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    On the second-to-last day of the regular season in 1997, the San Francisco Giants held a slim two-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    The Giants were on the verge of doing something never before achieved in major league history. No team had ever qualified for the postseason when finishing in last place the previous two seasons.

    The Giants sent Wilson Alvarez to the mound to face San Diego Padres starter Sterling Hitchcock. Alvarez had been picked up by the Giants from the Chicago White Sox on the final day before the end of the non-waiver trade deadline.

    Alvarez was brilliant on this day, allowing just two hits and three walks while striking out 10, facing only 23 batters along the way. The Giants gave Alvarez all the support he needed as they cruised to a 6-1 victory over the Padres to capture the NL West Division title.

23. Joe Niekro: Houston Astros, Oct. 6, 1980

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    Up until the 1980 season, the Houston Astros had suffered through 18 years without a taste of postseason play.

    Veteran right-hander Joe Niekro and first baseman Art Howe changed all that.

    On the final day of the regular season in 1980, the Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers were tied atop the standings in the NL West Division with identical records of 92-70, forcing a one-game playoff at Dodger Stadium.

    Taking the ball for the Astros was 19-game winner Joe Niekro. Niekro silenced the Dodger bats, allowing only one run on six hits while Howe contributed three hits and four RBI in a 9-1 shellacking of the Dodgers, giving the Astros their first-ever title.

22. Hank Aaron: Milwaukee Braves, Sept. 23, 1957

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    In 1957, the Milwaukee Braves were putting together a special season, led by 23-year-old outfielder Hank Aaron, who had won his first batting title the year before and was putting together an MVP season.

    Entering play on Monday, Sept. 23, the Braves held a five-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. A win on Monday over the Cardinals would give the Braves their first pennant as a franchise in Milwaukee and only their third pennant overall.

    The Braves and Cards battled to a 2-2 tie at the end of regulation to force extra innings. The two teams continued battling into the bottom of the 11th inning.

    Cardinals pitcher Billy Muffett, working his third inning in relief, gave up a one-out single to shortstop Johnny Logan. After third baseman Eddie Mathews flew out to center for the second out, Aaron strode to the plate.

    Aaron crushed a Muffett offering way over the fence in center field for a two-run home run, giving the Braves a 4-2 victory to clinch the National League pennant.

21. Floyd Giebell: Detroit Tigers, Sept. 27, 1940

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    On Sept. 27, 1940, the Detroit Tigers were hanging on to a slim two-game lead over the Cleveland Indians in the American League, and were facing the Indians in the final three games of the regular season to decide the pennant.

    The Tigers gave the ball to 30-year-old Floyd Giebell, a little-known pitcher who made his major league debut just the prior year. Giebell was given a monumental task, matching up against the great Bob Feller, who was looking for his 28th win of the season.

    Giebell was brilliant, throwing a six-hit shutout against Feller and the Indians to pick up a 2-0 victory and clinch the American League for the Tigers.

    Ironically, it was the last game that Giebell would ever win in the majors.

20. Don Sutton/Robin Yount: Milwaukee Brewers, Oct. 3, 1982

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    On the final day of the regular season in 1982, the Milwaukee Brewers and Baltimore Orioles had identical records of 94-67, tied at the top of the AL East Division standings.

    The two teams were facing each other at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore on that final Sunday, with the Brewers sending 16-game winner Don Sutton to the mound to face three-time Cy Young Award winner Jim Palmer. Palmer was having another special season of his own, entering the contest with a 15-4 record.

    This day, however, belonged to Sutton and Brewers shortstop Robin Yount.

    Yount hit two home runs on the day off Palmer, the second proving to be the game winner, and Sutton held the O's to just two runs in eight innings, giving the Brewers a 10-2 victory and their first-ever full season AL East title.

     

    Note: The Brewers were the second-half AL East Division winners in 1981, with a strike splitting the season into two halves.

19. San Francisco Giants: Oct. 3, 1962

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    The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants had already developed a fierce rivalry long before the 1962 season.

    Both teams fought each other for decades while representing different boroughs in New York City before both teams moved to California for the start of the 1958 season. So it was almost like poetic justice that the two storied franchises would finish the 1962 season with identical records of 101-61.

    A three-game playoff would decide the NL pennant, and the two teams traded victories in the first two. In a do-or-die matchup on Oct. 3 at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers were three outs away from a pennant, holding a 4-2 lead entering the top of the ninth innings.

    However, the Giants stormed back, battering three different Giants pitchers for four runs to take a 6-4 lead. Reliever Billy Pierce retired the Dodgers in order in the bottom of the ninth, sending the Giants to the 1962 World Series.

18. Dizzy Dean: St. Louis Cardinals, Sept. 30, 1934

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    On the final day of the regular season in 1934, the St. Louis Cardinals held just a one-game lead over the New York Giants.

    The Cardinals sent ace pitcher Dizzy Dean to the hill that afternoon. Dean was working on only one day's rest, having thrown a complete-game seven-hit shutout just two days earlier against the Cincinnati Reds.

    Facing the Reds once again, Dean showed no signs of wear, defeating the Reds on a complete-game seven-hit shutout, picking up his 30th victory of the year and clinching the 1934 NL pennant for the Cardinals.

17. Hank Greenberg: Detroit Tigers, Sept. 30, 1945

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    In 1945, the Detroit Tigers held a slim one-game lead over the Washington Senators heading into their final game with the St. Louis Browns.

    Virgil Trucks, who had just been released from the army three days earlier, started the game for the Tigers, giving up just one run before tiring in the sixth and giving way to Hal Newhouser.

    The Browns held a 3-2 lead heading into the top of the ninth. The Tigers loaded the bases and Hank Greenberg delivered, hitting a grand-slam home run to put the Tigers ahead 6-3.

    Al Benton pitched a scoreless bottom of the ninth to give the Tigers the American League pennant.

16. Sandy Koufax: Los Angeles Dodgers, Oct. 2, 1965

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    Entering the final weekend of the regular season in 1965, the Los Angeles Dodgers needed to win just one of two games to clinch the National League pennant for the second time in three seasons.

    Facing the Milwaukee Braves, the Dodgers sent ace Sandy Koufax to the mound to face 24-game winner Tony Cloninger. Koufax himself had already won 25 games on the season as well.

    Koufax was dominant on this day, going the distance against the Braves, allowing only one run on four hits, walking four and striking out 13. His 13 strikeouts on the day extended his season total to 382, a new MLB record. The Dodgers defeated the Braves 3-1 to capture the NL pennant.

15. Sandy Koufax: Los Angeles Dodgers, Oct. 2, 1966

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    Exactly one year to the day after clinching the pennant for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1965, southpaw pitcher Sandy Koufax was being asked to do the same exact thing, this time against the Philadelphia Phillies.

    With a slim lead over the San Francisco Giants once again, the Dodgers lost the first game of a season-ending doubleheader to the Phillies. Koufax, working on two days' rest, was pitching the second game.

    Koufax again got the job done, holding the Phillies to just three runs on seven hits as the Dodgers defeated Philadelphia 6-3 to capture their third pennant in four years.

    It would be the last regular-season game Koufax would ever pitch.

14. Gary Gentry: New York Mets, Sept. 24, 1969

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    In 1969, much of the focus for the New York Mets had been on pitchers Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman. But on Sept. 24, Gary Gentry took center stage.

    Holding a six-game lead over the Chicago Cubs in the newly-formed NL East Division, the Mets gave the ball to Gentry to try to clinch the division title.

    Gentry matched up against 17-game winner Steve Carlton and the St. Louis Cardinals, and he was more than up for the task.

    Gentry pitched a gem, giving up just four hits and striking out five in a complete-game, 6-0 shutout, giving the Mets their first-ever trip to the postseason in their eighth year of existence.

13. Rick Sutcliffe: Chicago Cubs, Sept. 24, 1984

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    The Chicago Cubs had a good ballclub entering the 1984 season, but in mid-June they made a trade that made them even better.

    The Cubs acquired Rick Sutcliffe from the Cleveland Indians on June 13. Sutcliffe had been struggling with the Indians, posting a 4-5 record and 5.15 ERA at the time of the trade. However, with the Cubs, Sutcliffe was nearly unhittable.

    On Sept. 24, with the Cubs holding a 6.5-game lead in the National League East Division, the Cubs gave Sutcliffe the ball, facing the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    Sutcliffe was again dominant, holding the Pirates to just one run on two hits to pick up his 14th consecutive victory, giving the Cubs a 4-1 victory and clinching the National League East title. It was the Cubs' first postseason appearance in 39 years.

12. Doyle Alexander: Detroit Tigers, 1987

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    On Aug. 12, 1987, the Detroit Tigers were locked in a fierce battle with the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees at the top of the American League East Division.

    They would turn the tide with one trade.

    The Tigers acquired starter Doyle Alexander from the Atlanta Braves for prospect John Smoltz, and Alexander was nothing short of incredible down the stretch.

    In 11 starts for the Tigers, Alexander was 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA, including his last win on the third-to-last day of the regular season that kept the Tigers tied at the top of the AL East with the Blue Jays.

    Alexander's win led to a season-ending sweep of the Jays, giving the Tigers the division title.

11. Grover Cleveland Alexander: Philadelphia Phillies, Sept. 29, 1915

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    In 1915, Grover Cleveland Alexander was easily one of the dominant pitchers in the National League, and it turns out his Philadelphia Phillies were the class of the league that year as well.

    With Alexander leading the way with a one-hit shutout, the Phillies defeated the Boston Braves 5-0 to capture their-first ever National League pennant. Alexander's 31 wins and sparkling 1.22 ERA paved the way for the Phillies, who would eventually lose the World Series to the Boston Red Sox.

10. Juan Marichal: San Francisco Giants, Sept. 30, 1971

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    On Aug. 29, 1971, the San Francisco Giants held what looked to be a commanding 8.5-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West Division.

    Looks can often be deceiving.

    The Dodgers came storming back over the final month of the season while the Giants faltered, losing 15 of their next 27 games headed into the final game of the season.

    Facing the San Diego Padres on that final day, the Giants needed a victory to avoid a playoff with the Dodgers.

    Turning to veteran right-hander Juan Marichal, the Giants avoided an embarrassing collapse as Marichal spun a five-hitter to lead the Giants to a 5-1 victory to capture the NL West title.

9. Randy Johnson: Seattle Mariners, Oct. 2, 1995

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    On Sept. 11, 1995, the California Angels held a 6.5-game lead over the Seattle Mariners in the NL West Division and seemed primed to take the title.

    The Mariners, however, had other plans.

    The Mariners won 13 of their final 17 games to end up in a tie with the Angels at the end of the regular season, forcing a one-game playoff in the Kingdome in Seattle.

    Randy Johnson took the hill for the Mariners, helping to finish off the great comeback by firing a three-hitter, striking out 12 batters, to lead the Mariners to an easy 9-1 victory and their first-ever trip to the postseason.

    For Johnson, it capped off an incredible season with an 18-2 record and first of five Cy Young awards.

8. Mike Scott: Houston Astros, Sept. 25, 1986

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    Entering the day on Sept. 25, 1986, the Houston Astros enjoyed a 10-game lead in the NL West Division over the Cincinnati Reds. A win that Saturday would clinch only the second title ever for the Astros.

    They not only won, but offered up a bit of history on the day as well.

    Astros starter Mike Scott stymied the San Francisco Giants at the Astrodome, throwing a no-hitter to clinch the NL West title. It was the first time in baseball history that a title of any kind had been decided by a no-hitter.

7. 1991 Atlanta Braves

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    From Aug. 10 until the end of the season in 1991, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves waged all-out war in the NL West Division. At no time did either team lead the division by more than 2.5 games for the rest of the season.

    Entering the final weekend of the season, the two teams were tied with identical records of 92-67. The Braves faced the Houston Astros while the Dodgers faced their arch-rivals, the San Francisco Giants.

    The Braves won their first game with the Astros while the Dodgers lost to the Giants. On the second-to-last day of the regular season, Braves starter John Smoltz delivered a complete-game eight-hitter as the Braves defeated the Astros again, 5-2.

    The Dodgers lost that night at Candlestick Park, 4-0, giving the Braves a hard-earned NL West Division title in one of the closest and fiercest pennant races in recent memory.

6. Carl Yastrzemski: Boston Red Sox, Oct. 1, 1967

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    The American League pennant race in 1967 became one of the closest races in MLB history, with four teams all having a shot at the pennant in the final week of the regular season.

    The Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox were locked in a heated battle, with the Twins holding a one-game edge over the Red Sox heading into the final two games of the season.

    The Twins came to Fenway Park to face the Sox on Sept. 30, with Red Sox coming out on top 6-4 to pull even with the Twins at the top of the standings entering the final game. The Sox were led by the bat of left fielder Carl Yastrzemski, who went 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBI.

    On Sunday, Oct. 1, Yaz once again delivered for the Sox. With the Twins leading 2-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Yastrzemski delivered a clutch two-run single to tie the game, propelling the Red Sox to a five-run inning and a commanding 5-2 lead.

    Cy Young Award winner Jim Lonborg made the lead hold up and the Sox hung on for a 5-3 victory. Yastrzemski was 4-for-4 on the day with two RBI. During the weekend, Yastrzemski was 7-for-8 with six RBI.

5. Gabby Hartnett: Chicago Cubs, Sept. 28, 1938

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    On Sept. 28, 1938, the Chicago Cubs were playing the second game of a three-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field. The Cubs entered the game with an eight-game winning streak and had pulled within a half-game of the Pirates at the top of the National League standings.

    With the game tied at 5-5 after eight innings and darkness descending quickly upon Wrigley, the umpires ruled that the ninth inning would be the last inning played, meaning the entire game would have to be replayed the following day.

    Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett came to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. With a count of 0-2, Hartnett hit the next pitch into the left field bleachers, giving the Cubs a 6-5 victory.

    The Cubs would hang on to capture the National League pennant, and Hartnett's winning blast would forever become known as the Homer in the Gloamin'.

4. Bucky Dent: New York Yankees, Oct. 2, 1978

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    Up until Oct. 2, 1978, New York Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent had hit just 22 home runs during his six-year career, and was not considered a threat with his bat.

    That all changed on one fateful pitch.

    Dent broke the hearts of Red Sox fans with his three-run home run into the net atop the left field wall at Fenway Park, leaving Sox left fielder Carl Yastrzemski slumping as he watched the ball land softly in the net up above.

    Dent's completely unexpected shot gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead at the time, a lead they would not relinquish as they vanquished the Red Sox 5-4 to capture the AL East Division title.

3. Evan Longoria: Tampa Bay Rays, Sept. 28, 2011

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    Just a few minutes after the Boston Red Sox lost to the Baltimore Orioles, the Tampa Bay Rays completed one of the most epic comebacks in MLB history.

    Facing a 7.5-game deficit in the Wild Card standings and a full nine games in back of the Boston Red Sox, the Rays staged a fierce comeback, winning 16 of their next 26 games while the Red Sox lost 19 of their next 26 games to pull into a tie in the Wild Card standings heading into the final day of the season.

    The Rays trailed the New York Yankees 7-0 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. However, a six-run inning, highlighted by a three-run homer by Longoria, put the Rays within one.

    In the bottom of the ninth, pinch-hitter Dan Johnson took a two-out, two-strike pitch and slammed it over the right field fence, dramatically tying the game at 7-7.

    Evan Longoria's game-winning solo home run in the bottom of the 12th inning not only knocked the Red Sox out of the playoffs, but also culminated one of the most remarkable comebacks in regular-season history.

2. Chris Carpenter: St. Louis Cardinals, Sept. 28, 2011

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    The St. Louis Cardinals, who on Sept. 5 were 8.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the race for the National League wild-card slot, had battled all the way back, finally catching the Braves on Tuesday, Sept. 27.

    On Wednesday, they sent ace Chris Carpenter out onto the hill, while the Houston Astros, losers of 105 games, sent Brett Myers out to face the Cardinals.

    The Cardinals jumped on Myers early, sending 10 men to the plate, scoring five runs on seven hits. Carpenter meanwhile retired the first 10 Astros he faced, and by the time Jose Altuve singled in the fourth, Houston was already facing a 6-0 deficit.

    Carpenter was on all night, and by the time the night was over, he had delivered a complete-game two-hit shutout, giving the Cardinals new life in their postseason hunt.

    They had to wait just a wee bit longer as the Braves took the Philadelphia Phillies into extra innings before finally losing 4-3, giving the Cardinals the Wild Card slot and another epic comeback on that same day.

1. Bobby Thomson: New York Giants, Oct. 3, 1951

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    The Brooklyn Dodgers were clinging to a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning on Oct. 3, 1951, in the very first live sporting event to be televised nationally. The Dodgers and New York Giants were tied at one game apiece in the three-game playoff to decide the National League pennant.

    With two runners on and one run in, Bobby Thomson strode to the plate to face Dodgers reliever Ralph Branca, who had already given up a homer to Thomson in Game 1 of the playoff series.

    Just minutes later, Thomson broke the hearts of Dodgers fans across the country, driving a Branca pitch into the left field seats for a game-winning three-run homer, giving the Giants a 6-5 victory and putting an end to a historic collapse by the Dodgers.

     

    Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.