MLB's 10 Most Incredible Comebacks in Playoff History
With October baseball well underway and history already being made, this is a good time to look at some of the greatest comebacks of all time.
A couple of this year’s comebacks even make the list.
The list is not comprehensive, and many didn't make the cut. The teams that made the the list, however, strongly deserve to be there. Either little was expected of these teams, or they had to climb to improbable (nearly impossible) heights to bring a struggling team back to life.
By mere coincidence, nine of the top 10 on this list involve—as either winners or losers—the four teams that remain in their respective Championship Series. The New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers—four of the most storied franchises in all of baseball—have been on the giving or receiving end of many of baseball's most monumental moments.
Before we find out if there will be more history made in October, let's take a look back.
Follow the break for the 10 greatest comebacks in MLB playoff history.
10. Florida Marlins vs. Chicago Cubs (2003 NLCS)
As the Chicago Cubs and Florida Marlins moved through the National League Championship Series in 2003, it looked like the Cubs actually could see a change in their long-standing fate—until Steve Bartman got involved.
Bartman and several other fans attempted to catch a foul ball off the bat of Florida's Luis Castillo that would have been the second out of the eighth inning. Following that play, the Marlins caught fire and scored eight runs in the inning.
The Cubs could have been four outs from a trip to the World Series, but instead the collapse resulted in the Marlins making an impressive run to win it all.
9. Kansas City Royals vs. St. Louis Carindals (1985 World Series)
With the St. Louis Cardinals on top of the Kansas City Royals three games to two in the 1985 World Series, Cardinals fans were ready to celebrate another championship.
However, fate dealt them a different hand.
The famous Don Denkinger call moved all of the momentum to the Royals dugout, and they rallied to win that game as well as the decisive Game 7.
To this day, Denkinger signs autographs with members of the 1985 Cardinals in the St. Louis area. The hatchet was buried for the players, but the call is still shown on television to this day.
In the end, the fact is the Royals hung in and rallied from a great deficit to become the 1985 world champions.
8. Detroit Tigers vs. St. Louis Cardinals (1968 World Series)
The 1968 World Series once again has the Cardinals on the wrong end of history.
With the Cardinals leading the series 3-1 in Detroit, the Tigers rallied to turn around and win the final three games—two of them in St. Louis.
The Tigers were carried by their starting pitchers in the series; Mickey Lolich pitched (and won) three complete games on his way to winning the World Series MVP award.
The Tigers have returned to the World Series only twice since their historic run against the Cardinals.
7. San Francisco Giants vs. Cincinnati Reds (2012 NLDS)
The Giants' run through the 2012 NLDS might be one of the two most recent on the list, but its significance should not be understated.
In a year where the NLDS schedule was shifted to account for the new wild-card playoff game, the Giants lost their only two home games to the Cincinnati Reds. As they traveled to Cincinnati, the hopes were grim for the Giants.
Never before has a National League team rallied from being down two games to win three and clinch an NLCS berth. What they accomplished was nothing short of amazing.
Is the Giants' story over for 2012, or will there be another chapter?
6. St. Louis Cardinals vs. Washington Nationals (2012 NLDS)
Another historic comeback happened in the NLDS this year when the St. Louis Cardinals defied the odds once again.
When the team's ace starter Adam Wainwright took the mound, he dug a three-run hole before the first out. By the third inning that hole was 6-0, and Cardinals fans deflated while they watched the Washington Nationals do a little premature celebrating.
As bubblegum flew through the air in celebration, the Cardinals stayed determined and chiseled away at the Nationals' lead. In the top of the ninth, they scored four runs for one of the greatest postseason come-from-behind victories of all time.
The Cardinals are meeting up with the Giants in the NLCS, and one of these two teams has a real chance to extend their legacy even farther.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Baltimore Orioles (1979 World Series)
The "We Are Family" Pittsburgh Pirates faced off against the Baltimore Orioles in the 1979 World Series.
The Orioles won Game 1, but the Pirates rallied for Game 2 before they dropped two more games to the Orioles. The Pirates were all but done for.
They eventually tied the series up, forcing a decisive Game 7 where Willie Stargell—the eventual World Series MVP—smacked a two-run home run to give Pittsburgh the lead and guide them to their second world championship of the decade.
4. Seattle Mariners vs. New York Yankees (1995 ALDS)
The Seattle Mariners were down two games to none in the 1995 ALDS when something finally clicked.
The Mariners pushed forward to win Games 3 and 4, forcing an all-or-nothing fifth game.
The game remained tied at four well into extra innings before the Yankees scored a run off Randy Johnson to take the lead in the 11th inning. The Mariners weren't ready to call it a season, though.
In the bottom of the 11th, the Mariners had two on with no one out, and Ken Griffey, Jr. showed some of the greatest baserunning in World Series history. He scored from first, and the once-all-but-gone Mariners put the Yankees' season to bed.
3. New York Giants vs. Brooklyn Dodgers (1951 NL Tiebreaker Series)
The New York Giants had a rough season in 1951. Much like the 2011 Cardinals, they overcame a nearly insurmountable deficit just to make it to the playoffs.
As a reward, they had to play a best-of-three series against the crosstown rival Brooklyn Dodgers. The series was tied at one game a piece, and when Bobby Thomson stepped to the plate, the world stopped to listen.
Thomson jacked an 0-1 pitch from Ralph Branca over the left field wall and went crazy as he rounded the bases. The Giants would go on to the World Series and eventually would lose to the New York Yankees.
This home run resulted in one of the most famed radio calls in all of sports history from Russ Hodges (h/t The New York Times):
There's a long drive ... it’s gonna be ... I believe — the Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!
2. St. Louis Cardinals vs. Texas Rangers (2011 World Series)
There was little hope for the 2011 Cardinals on Aug. 28; they lost a game to the Los Angeles Dodgers that left them 11.5 games out of the National League Wild Card.
Whatever clicked on that day, the team came to life and pushed its way into the wild card the last game of the season.
When they reached the NLDS they defied the odds by taking down the Philadelphia Philles in five games. Advancing to the NLCS, the Cardinals then worked their way past the NL Central champion Milwaukee Brewers in six games.
The World Series was going to be a tough hill to climb with the Texas Rangers standing in their way. The Cardinals didn't let that stand in their way, though. With one strike to go twice in Game 6, David Freese stepped in and eventually forced a Game 7.
At Game 7 the Rangers looked deflated. The Cardinals played a solid game with their ace pitcher, Chris Carpenter, and hoisted the World Series trophy before the night was over.
In the end, it was one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history.
1. Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees (2004 ALCS)
In the 2004 ALCS the Yankees began the series up 3-0. At the start of Game 4, the general consensus was that the Yankees would wrap up the series that very night.
Then the Boston Red Sox came to life.
In Game 4, a Boston walk-off hit in the bottom of the ninth inning turned the entire series around.
The Red Sox rallied their way past the Yankees over the next three games to take another shot at breaking the Curse of the Bambino. Well, the time was right.
The Red Sox stayed alive and swept the Cardinals in the World Series to change a century's worth of history for one of the most storied teams in baseball.
Great comebacks like this are what make October baseball the magical experience that it is. So sit back, and enjoy the playoffs and the hope of what may come.