Ranking the 12 Most Epic Home Runs in Division Series History
One swing can change a team's fortunes, and it's never more evident than in the playoffs, where everything is on the line.
Whether it be a solo shot that wins a series or a blast with runners on base that keeps a team's World Series aspirations alive for another day, the long ball has played a predominant role in the history of MLB's postseason.
With the 2012 division series getting underway last night, now seems like the perfect time to re-visit the 12 most epic home runs in division series history: home runs hit by players ranging from All-Time greats to the easily forgettable—were it not for this one swing.
12. Don Mattingly: New York Yankees (1995 ALDS, Game 2)
Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images
Don Mattingly never got to experience the last Yankees' dynasty, being forced to retire at the age of 34, betrayed by his back.
But after years of being one of the best players in baseball on mediocre Yankees' teams, 57,000 fans lost their minds in Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS between the Yankees and Seattle Mariners.
With the game tied at two, Mattingly sent a blast deep to right field, sending the 57,000 New Yorkers into a frenzy. Not only did Mattingly's home run give the Yankees the lead in the game, but it was the first—and only—postseason home run of the Yankee captain's career.
Gary Thorne was calling the game and did a masterful job, unleashing his classic "Hang on to the roof!" as soon as Mattingly made contact with Mariner's starter Andy Benes' pitch.
11. Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees (2009 ALDS, Game 2)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
The Twins had a sinking feeling in their guts after watching All-Star closer Joe Nathan blow a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning.
A scoreless 10th by both the Twins and Yankees was followed by the Twins loading the bases with no outs in the top of the 11th, only to line out, ground out and fly out against Yankees' reliever David Robertson, setting the stage for the Yankees to end things in the bottom half of the inning.
That's exactly what Mark Teixeira did, taking the fourth pitch he'd see from Twins reliever Jose Mijares out of the park and giving the Yankees a 2-0 series lead en route to the 27th World Series title in team history.
10. Manny Ramirez, Boston Red Sox (2007 ALDS, Game 2)
With the game tied at three, Angels reliever Justin Speier took to the mound for his second inning of work in the bottom of the ninth inning.
A leadoff single by Julio Lugo found him on second base with one out when Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez entered the game. He promptly struck out Kevin Youkilis and then, in a bit of a head-scratching move, intentionally walked David Ortiz to get to Manny Ramirez.
Manny didn't take kindly to the gesture, and he sent K-Rod's offering deep into the night over the Green Monster.
9. Rafael Furcal, Atlanta Braves (2004 NLDS, Game 2)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
With the game tied at two, the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros battled into the 11th inning, when Braves left fielder Charles Thomas would hit a seemingly harmless ground ball single to right field.
After Braves catcher Eli Marrero popped out to the catcher, shortstop Rafael Furcal stepped into the batter's box against Astros' reliever Dan Miceli.
Thomas would steal second base, and Miceli threw a pitch to Furcal that he turned on and sent deep to right field, into the stands for a two-run, game-winning, series-tying home run.
8. Benny Agbayani: New York Mets (2000, NLDS, Game 3)
Al Bello/Getty Images
After needing extra innings to win Game 2, the Mets returned home to Shea Stadium looking to take the lead in the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants.
They would find themselves involved in another extra-inning affair, this one not decided until left fielder Benny Agbayani took Giants' reliever Aaron Fultz deep to left field with one out in the bottom of the 13th inning, giving the Mets the 3-2 win and, more importantly, a 2-1 lead in the series.
Bobby Valentine's Mets club would win Game 4 against the Giants and advance to the World Series, where they lost to their cross-town rivals, the New York Yankees.
7. Jim Leyritz, New York Yankees (1995 ALDS, Game 2)
Another epic moment from the 15-inning marathon between the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees that was Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS.
After Don Mattingly gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, the two teams traded runs—including in the 12th inning, when Ken Griffey Jr.'s solo home run was answered in the bottom half of the inning by Ruben Sierra with a RBI double.
The game remained tied at five until the bottom of the 15th inning, when Yankees' catcher Jim Leyritz took advantage of the short porch in right field, sending Mariners' pitcher Tim Belcher's offering into the stands for a game-winning, two-run home run.
It was an epic moment, but one that would be trumped in Game 5, when Seattle's Edgar Martinez would hit a double that won the series for Seattle.
6. Tony Pena, Cleveland Indians (1995 ALDS, Game 1)
Photo courtesy of theclevelandfan.com.
This wasn't a series clinching moment, but it was huge nonetheless.
With the game tied 3-3 after nine innings, the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians were headed for extra innings. They'd trade runs in the 11th inning, sending the game towards the five-hour mark.
In the bottom of the 13th, Tony Pena, who had entered the game after starting catcher Sandy Alomar was lifted for a pinch-runner in the 11th, came through with a two-out home run to give the Indians the victory.
5. David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox (2004 ALDS, Game 3)
Everyone remembers the remarkable Red Sox comeback against the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, but they had to get past the Anaheim Angels in order to get to that point.
Up 2-0 in the series, the Red Sox came into Game 3 looking to slam the door on a series sweep of the Angels, and they came out hot, jumping out to a 6-1 lead after five innings.
But the Angels wouldn't quit, tying the game with a five-run seventh inning, keyed by a grand slam from Vladmir Guerrero.
To extra innings we went, and Angels skipper Mike Scioscia turned to starter Jarrod Washburn to relieve closer Francisco Rodriguez with one on and two out to face the left-handed David Ortiz in the bottom of the 10th inning.
Big Papi only needed one pitch to send the Fenway faithful into a frenzy.
4. George Vuckovich, Philadelphia Phillies (Game 4, 1981 NLDS)
Photo courtesy of ebay.com.
In the first NLDS in history, the Philadelphia Phillies trailed the Montreal Expos 2-1 and faced elimination heading into Game 4.
The Phillies would take an early 4-0 lead, only to squander it. By the end of the seventh inning, the game was tied at five.
Both teams went to their closers in the eighth, and Tug McGraw sent the Expos down 1-2-3 in the eighth and ninth, while the Expos closer Jeff Reardon did the same to the Phillies.
McGraw was perfect again in the top of the 10th, but the first man Reardon faced in the bottom of the inning was pinch hitter George Vukovich, who had made just 26 at-bats during the regular season.
Vuckovich would drive the first pitch he'd see from Reardon deep into the night, forcing a pivotal Game 5, which the Expos wound up winning.
3. Trot Nixon, Boston Red Sox (2003 ALDS, Game 3)
Fenway Park exploded, both in the stands and in the Red Sox dugout, when Nixon went yard.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
After dropping the first two games of the 2003 ALDS to the Oakland A's, the Boston Red Sox faced a win-or-go-home situation in Game 3, the first of the series to be held at Fenway Park.
With the game tied 1-1, Red Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli on first base and one out, manager Grady Little sent Trot Nixon up to the plate in place of right fielder Gabe Kapler, who was hitless in four at-bats.
Nixon crushed the third pitch that he saw from A's rookie Rich Harden, giving the Red Sox a 3-1 victory in the game and spurring them on to win the series, 3-2.
2. Todd Pratt, New York Mets (1999 NLDS, Game 4)
The Mets mobbed Pratt at home plate after his blast.
Al Bello/Getty Images
In the playoffs for the first time in 11 years, the New York Mets held a 2-1 series lead as they took the field at Shea Stadium against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 4 of the 1999 NLDS.
Superstar catcher Mike Piazza was out due to injury, forcing backup Todd Pratt into action.
Through his first nine at-bats of the series, Diamondbacks pitching held Pratt without a hit—including his first four at-bats in Game 4.
So nobody expected Pratt to make contact against Diamondbacks' reliever Matt Mantei, much less drive the ball more than 400 feet to straight-away center field, over the wall and the outstretched glove of center fielder Steve Finley, a shot that sent the Mets into the NLCS against their division rivals, the Atlanta Braves.
1. Chris Burke, Houston Astros (2005 NLDS, Game 4)
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
It would take nearly six hours and 14 different pitchers before the 2005 NLDS between the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves would be decided.
In what was the longest playoff game in history, the Astros rallied from a 6-1 eighth inning deficit to tie the game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth on a home run by catcher Brad Ausmus.
The two teams would then play nine more innings until Chris Burke, who entered the game in the 11th inning as a pinch-runner—but still manged to pick up three at-bats—became the most unlikely hero in Astros history, sending the team into the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Astros defeated the Cardinals 4-2 before being swept by the Chicago White Sox in the World Series.