The Greatest Championship Series Performances in MLB History
The 2013 playoffs have been an almost perfect representation of the regular season.
In the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals owned the best regular-season record (97-65), with the Los Angles Dodgers being the strongest second-half team (45-23). And in the American League, arguably the most talented squad on paper (Detroit Tigers) is battling the league’s other juggernaut (Boston Red Sox) for a coveted spot in the Fall Classic.
But regular-season greatness hardly guarantees success of historic proportion in the playoffs. Ever since the Championship Series debuted in 1969, teams have overcome ranging adversity to advance to the World Series.
Perhaps the most prime example is the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Despite a three-game deficit against the New York Yankees, the Red Sox continually found ways to come back, eventually winning the ALCS. The Red Sox would also later go on to take their first World Series ring in 86 years.
Read on to see the greatest Championship Series performances in MLB history.
All statistics sourced through Baseball-Reference.com.
1986 New York Mets
The 1986 playoffs are best known for the New York Mets' comeback in Game 6 of the World Series. Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson’s infamous slow roller cascaded through the legs of Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner, enabling Ray Knight to score—and opened the door for Game 7 (which the Mets won).
But before Wilson and Buckner had a chance to make baseball history, the Mets battled the Houston Astros in a grueling Championship Series.
The Mets were favored in the series given their regular-season accolades, but Astros starting pitcher Mike Scott almost prevented the Amazin’s from advancing. Scott bested Dwight Gooden in Game 1 with a sterling 14-strikeout shutout, surrendering just five hits (no extra-base hits) and one walk.
Scott wasn’t finished dominating, however. The former Met returned to the hill in Game 4 and tied the series 2-2 with a complete-game one-run masterpiece. The righty only allowed three hits, one earned run and zero walks with five strikeouts.
Even though the Mets went into Game 6 with a 3-2 series lead, the Astros didn’t just roll over. The two teams duked it out for 16 innings before reliever Jesse Orosco finally stopped the bleeding in the bottom half of the inning.
Despite his team getting bumped from the playoffs, Mike Scott was still handed the series MVP award for his incredible production.
Photo source: TheCrazyMetsFan.com
2008 Tampa Bay Rays
For the first 10 years of the Tampa Bay Rays' history, the organization finished above last place just once (in 2004). Contraction—not playoff success—seemed like the more probable fate for the poorly attended and run franchise.
In 2008, however, the Rays’ luck turned.
The team finished in first place with a sterling 97-65 record, advancing to the playoffs and eventually the ALCS. But the October-savvy Boston Red Sox stood in its way.
Despite the Rays taking an initial 3-1 lead in the ALCS, the Red Sox evened the series with consecutive Game 5 and 6 victories. Clinging onto a Matt Garza-provided two-run lead, the Rays put their World Series hopes on the shoulders of 22-year-old rookie David Price in Game 7.
Price recorded the last four outs behind an almost perfect (one walk) outing, sitting down three batters in the process.
2004 Boston Red Sox
Up until 2004, the Boston Red Sox had endured a lot of collective strife as an organization. Despite various playoff berths—and even World Series appearances—the franchise had not won a World Series since 1918.
And through the first three games of the 2004 ALCS, it appeared as though the series would mark the 87th-consecutive World Series-less year for the Red Sox.
But in the subsequent games, the Red Sox found miraculous ways to beat the New York Yankees.
In Game 4, David Ortiz swatted a walk-off home run off reliever Paul Quantrill in the bottom of the 12th inning to keep the series alive. And again, in Game 5, Ortiz came through in the clutch with a two-out single to trump the Bombers in the 14th inning.
Amid a sea of jaw-dropping moments, perhaps Curt Schilling’s “bloody sock” takes the cake. Despite a severely injured ankle, Schilling took the hill in Game 6 to tie the series. Even with an increasingly bloodied sock from his injury, Schilling was still able to toss seven one-run innings.
Behind four straight wins, the Red Sox advanced to the World Series and won a ring for the first time in 86 years. But in many ways, the team’s incredible performance in the Championship Series was more memorable than its sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Photo credit: Washington Post
1980 Philadelphia Phillies
With the organization’s success in recent years, many baseball fans forget how cursed the Philadelphia Phillies were prior to 1980. In fact, despite being around since 1883, it took the Phillies 97 years to finally win a World Series.
And given their opponent in the 1980 NLCS, it could have easily been another letdown for the City of Brotherly Love.
The Phillies went back and forth with the Houston Astros, including extra-inning games in Games 3 and 4. With the series tied, the Astros tabbed future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan to take the hill.
Ryan was his dominant self through seven innings, only allowing one earned run while striking out eight batters. But then the Phillies got to him in the eighth. With the bases loaded (from three consecutive singles), Ryan walked Pete Rose, allowing a runner to score.
The Astros yanked their ace and called on Joe Sambito and then Ken Forsch to stop the bleeding. But the Phillies rallied for five runs, highlighted by a Manny Trillo triple, to take a 7-5 lead.
After coughing up two runs in the bottom half of the inning, it would take a Gary Maddux RBI double in the 10th to finally put the nail in the coffin.
1992 Atlanta Braves
Often referred to as the “team of the 1990s,” the Atlanta Braves enjoyed eight playoff berths and five trips to the World Series in that decade. But even when winning is expected, that doesn’t mean it can’t be miraculous when it happens.
Just ask Francisco Cabrera.
After the Barry Bonds-led Pittsburgh Pirates evened the series at 3-3, the Braves found themselves in a tight spot. And down 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7, the Braves faced a very likely elimination.
But then Cabrera, pinch hitting for reliever Jeff Reardon, stepped to the plate with two runners on. Despite only accumulating 11 plate appearances in 1992—and owning a mere .257 career average—the backup catcher seemed unfazed.
With the swing of his bat, Cabrera changed the fate of the Atlanta Braves. The 25-year-old lined a single to left field, enabling both David Justice and Sid Bream to score. The pair of RBI instantly handed the NLCS to the Braves.