Where Kirk Gibson's Epic Walk-off Ranks Among 25 Years of World Series Moments
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With Game 1 of the 2013 World Series taking place on Wednesday, it is unofficially the 25th anniversary of Kirk Gibson's legendary walk-off home run for the Los Angeles Dodgers against Dennis Eckersley and the Oakland Athletics.
I say unofficially because the home run was hit on October 15, 1988, but we can take some liberties with anniversaries to celebrate a great moment in baseball history and other memorable moments that have followed it.
The World Series is a time when legends are made. How many times do you think about Joe Carter or Luis Gonzalez around this time of year?
In an effort to put the past 25 years in perspective, we wanted to rank the 10 most memorable moments from the World Series. Since we are limiting this list to events since 1988, certain events that belong on an all-time Fall Classic list will not be here, like Bill Mazeroski's walk-off home run in 1960.
If you don't see your favorite moment on here, it's not because we forgot or hate your team. This is just our list of top 10 moments, which are subjective and may resonate with you differently. If you want to share another moment, feel free to talk about it in the comments section.
Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.
No. 10: Alex Gonzalez, 2003 World Series
The one thing most people will remember about the 2003 Florida Marlins championship is the coming-out party for a 23-year-old Josh Beckett, who was named the World Series MVP after throwing a complete game, five-hit shutout against New York in the clinching Game 6.
Yet it is also important to remember the contribution from Alex Gonzalez in Game 4. The Yankees had tied the game with two runs in the ninth inning off Marlins closer Ugueth Urbina and could have taken a 3-1 series lead with a victory.
Both bullpens settled in after that ninth inning, tossing up zeroes in the 10th and 11th. Braden Looper pitched a scoreless top half of the 12th inning before Gonzalez got to play the hero in the bottom of the inning. His walk-off home run ended the second-longest game, at the time, in World Series history.
The Marlins tied the series with that victory and won the next two games for their second championship in seven years. We will get to the first title later.
No. 9: Keith Foulke, 2004 Boston Red Sox
"Red Sox fans have longed to hear it: The Boston Red Sox are world champions," said Joe Buck when he called the final out of the 2004 World Series.
With the Red Sox and Cardinals engaging in another World Series this year, it seems appropriate that we revisit their most recent October clash.
This series didn't have a special moment, except for the final out, which meant a lot to baseball fans. The Red Sox swept the Cardinals, and none of the games was particularly compelling. The best was probably Game 1, when Mark Bellhorn hit a go-head two-run homer in the eighth inning to give Boston an 11-9 win.
Everyone knows that 2004 will be remembered more for the Red Sox comeback in the ALCS against New York. Yet when you have 86 years of history to erase, just winning an American League pennant wasn't enough.
So when Edgar Renteria hit a comebacker to Keith Foulke, who flipped the ball to first for the final out, it wasn't just a celebration of joy for a franchise that had come so close to a title many times before.
Boston had finally exorcised the demons of 1986, Bucky Dent, Aaron Boone and countless others.
No. 8: Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter and Scott Brosius, 2001 World Series
Remember, we are talking about a list of moments. That doesn't mean they all have to come from the winning team, which brings us to the 2001 World Series and the New York Yankees.
Everyone who was old enough to remember what the city of New York—and the country as a whole—were dealing with understood what this World Series meant. It wasn't just a game, but a way to bond and unite for a few hours of fun when no one felt like celebrating.
Then, whether you think it was just a few bad pitches by Arizona closer Byung-Hyun Kim or believe in some higher power that lurked in the shadows of Yankee Stadium, Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter and Scott Brosius provided all sorts of late-inning drama.
Martinez tied Game 4 with a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning. Jeter came to the plate with two outs in the 10th inning, just after the clock passed midnight and the calendar flipped to November, and ripped a home run to right field.
Surely history wouldn't repeat itself just 24 hours later, right? Wrong.
Brosius came to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the Yankees trailing 2-0. Kim left a pitch right in the spot that Brosius was looking, and the Yankees tied the game at two.
Alfonso Soriano would win the game for the Yankees with a walk-off single in the bottom of the 12th.
For even a few brief moments, New York could celebrate something good and feel happy.
No. 7: Kirby Puckett, 1991 World Series
"Into deep left center...and we'll see you tomorrow night!" Jack Buck called Kirby Puckett's walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series.
Puckett's walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series was an incredible moment for two reasons. First, it extended what is considered to be one of the greatest Fall Classics in history and set the stage for John Smoltz vs. Jack Morris in Game 7.
That decisive game wound up being one of the best-pitched final games in a series, with Smoltz throwing 7.1 shutout innings and Morris going all 10 innings before Gene Larkin's walk-off single in the bottom half of the inning.
The other reason that Puckett's home run was so special was because it gave us a chance to appreciate the majesty of Jack Buck, who used as few words as possible to describe the moment and let what we were seeing on television tell the rest of the story.
No. 6: Pablo Sandoval, 2012 World Series and Albert Pujols, 2011 World Series
Via MLB Advanced Media
Only five times in World Series history has a player hit three home runs in one game. How fortunate we are that it happened in consecutive seasons.
The less heralded of the two performances came from Albert Pujols, the greatest hitter of this generation. He went off in Game 3 of the classic Cardinals vs. Rangers series, going 5-for-6 with three homers, 14 total bases, six RBI and four runs scored in St. Louis' 16-7 win.
His performance gets overlooked because it came in the middle of a series that would feature an all-time classic game a few days later. David Freese was also named MVP of that World Series, not Pujols.
In the other moment, Pablo Sandoval got things started for the San Francisco Giants with his own three-homer performance in Game 1 against Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander. The "Kung Fu Panda" hit three home runs in his first three at-bats of the series and finished the game 4-for-4 with four RBI and 13 total bases.
You can't go wrong with either incredible performance, which is why we lump them together here.
No. 5: Edgar Renteria, 1997 World Series
Via MLB Advanced Media
Lost in the shuffle of all-time classic World Series is this gem between the Cleveland Indians and Florida Marlins from 1997. If it had featured two higher-profile franchises, it would probably stand alongside the 1991 or 2001 series among modern classics.
As it stands, you may need a reminder of what the Marlins did to capture their first championship and continue to break the hearts of Cleveland fans.
The final game of the series turned into a great pitching duel with rookie Jaret Wright starting for the Indians against veteran left-hander Al Leiter. The Indians took a 2-0 lead in the third inning on a two-run single by Tony Fernandez.
That score would hold until the seventh inning when Bobby Bonilla hit a solo home run. The Marlins would tie the game off Indians closer Jose Mesa in the bottom of the ninth after a sacrifice fly from Craig Counsell.
In the bottom of the 11th—after a single, an error by Fernandez and an intentional walk—Edgar Renteria stepped up to the plate and hit a liner just over the glove of Indians pitcher Charles Nagy, which gave the Marlins a title five years into their existence.
No. 4: Kirk Gibson, 1988 World Series
Via MLB Advanced Media
In the past weeks, many stories have written about Kirk Gibson's walk-off homer in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series to celebrate the anniversary, but my favorite is the scouting report on Oakland closer Dennis Eckersley from former Dodgers scout Mel Didier.
Arash Markazi of ESPN.com published a round-table discussion with key members of both teams from this game about everything leading up to it. The piece included a quote from Didier about how Eckersley attacked hitters.
I had scouted the pitchers in the scouting report, and, after I was done talking to the team about each guy, I turned and all the left handed hitters were sitting on the floor in the dressing room. There was Kirk and Scioscia and Mike Davis and all the left-handed guys, and I pointed to them and I said, 'Now remember, and don't ever forget this, if you're up in the ninth inning and we're down or it's tied and you get to 3 and 2 against Eckersley. ... Partner, sure as I'm standing here breathing, you're going to see a 3-2 backdoor slider.'
Sure enough, when you watch the video, you can see Eckersley threw a 3-2 slider. He was trying to backdoor it, but the pitch caught the middle of the plate. Gibson didn't put a great swing on it because he could barely move, but he got enough of the ball to send it over the fence.
The moment was even more dramatic because it was Gibson's only plate appearance in the series. The Dodgers would defeat the A's in five games.
For those who are curious, the only reason this doesn't rank higher is because it happened in the first game of the series. It's still a great moment that deserves praise.
No. 3: Luis Gonzalez, 2001 World Series
Via MLB Advanced Media
Going back to the 2001 World Series for the second time, this moment arguably ended that great New York Yankees dynasty. They had largely the same core collection of talent that led to four championships in five years starting in 1996.
Game 7 of the 2001 World Series would turn out to be the final game for stalwarts like Scott Brosius and Paul O'Neill, as both retired after the series ended. Furthermore, Tino Martinez signed with St. Louis in the offseason.
Of course, the series ended with a whimper from the Yankees' perspective. They had the situation they wanted with Mariano Rivera on the mound and a 2-1 lead in the ninth inning. There was no way New York would lose this series.
Yet that day just happened to be one of the few when Rivera showed his human side. He gave up a leadoff single to Mark Grace, made an error on a throw to second trying to start a double play, gave up a game-tying double to Tony Womack and hit Craig Counsell with a pitch to load the bases for Luis Gonzalez.
Gonzalez had a monster year in 2001 with 57 home runs and a 1.117 OPS, but his biggest hit traveled about 130 feet over a drawn-in Yankees infield to give the Diamondbacks a thrilling World Series victory.
No. 2: David Freese, 2011 World Series
Via MLB Advanced Media
When you were a kid playing baseball in the backyard, you fantasized about hitting a walk-off home run in Game 7 of the World Series for your favorite team.
David Freese didn't quite make it to Game 7 to play the hero, but he did get to do it for the franchise he grew up rooting for.
Instead of hitting a walk-off homer in Game 7, he had to settle for hitting a game-tying two-run triple in the bottom of the ninth and a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 11th in Game 6 to send the Cardinals and Rangers to a seventh game.
Making the moment even more dramatic for the Cardinals is the fact they were down to their last strike twice in Game 6. The first time was when Freese hit a triple that Nelson Cruz still hasn't picked up off the ground after misplaying it.
The second time was in the bottom of the 10th, after Josh Hamilton gave the Rangers a 9-7 lead with a two-run homer in the top half of the inning. Lance Berkman hit a sharp single to center field that scored Jon Jay to tie the game following an RBI groundout by Ryan Theriot.
Freese led off the bottom of the 11th and drove Mark Lowe's pitch deep into that October night to extend the series to a seventh game, which the Cardinals won handily 6-2 for their second title in six years.
No. 1: Joe Carter, 1993 World Series
Via MLB Advanced Media
If you want to talk about the ultimate World Series moment, how do you top a home run that won a championship?
To me, that was the ultimate separator between Joe Carter's line drive over the left field wall and everything else on this list. There have been other walk-off hits in the last 25 years to win a World Series game, but Carter ended the battle between the Blue Jays and Phillies with a home run.
He simultaneously sent Toronto into a frenzy while destroying the hopes and dreams of Philadelphia. It would take the Phillies 15 years to exorcise the demons of 1993, and the Blue Jays have been chasing this moment for the last 20 years.
The defeat was so bad for Phillies closer Mitch Williams that the team traded him to the Houston Astros prior to the start of the 1994 season. He was never the same after giving up the home run to Carter, posting an ERA of 7.65 with the Astros and 6.75 with the Angels in 1995.
There have been classic moments in the World Series over the last 25 years, yet when it comes to finding the ultimate moment that defines what October baseball is all about, Carter's blast and subsequent jubilation rounding the bases top the list.
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