One Play That Will Forever Haunt Every MLB Franchise
In the illustrious history of the game of baseball, there have been countless great moments.
There was Cal Ripken Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig's games-played streak. There was Ted Williams visiting All-Stars in 1999. There was the Shot Heard 'Round the World, Gehrig's farewell speech and Don Larsen's World Series perfecto.
But baseball tends to be a zero-sum game, and for all those great moments, there have been the infamous plays that will stick in the minds of fans forever.
From Fred Merkle's Boner to Luis Gonzalez's walk-off single in the 2001 World Series, each team has fallen victim at least once to a horrific play that will haunt fans for all time.
Here is one play from each team's history that will forever live in infamy.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Out of Finley's Reach
October 9th, 1999
In just their second year of existence, the D-Backs skyrocketed from a 65-97 inaugural season to a 100-62 sophomore year. It was absolutely magical, helped by the signing of Randy Johnson, who would go on to win the Cy Young Award. It seemed very possible that the Diamondbacks could contend for a World Series.
But in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Mets, tied 3-3 in the 10th inning, light-hitting catcher Todd Pratt hit a home run just out of the reach of a wall-climbing Steve Finley to clinch the series. The Mets went on to lose the NLCS to the Braves. The Diamondbacks, of course, would end up winning the World Series two years later.
Atlanta Braves: Twin Walk-Offs
October 26th-27th, 1991
"And we'll see you tomorrow night!"—Jack Buck
In 1991, the Atlanta Braves, led by one of the greatest pitching staffs in baseball, reached the World Series versus a very strong Minnesota Twins team. The two teams battled to the finish, resulting in one of the greatest series of all time. But for the Braves, Games 6 and 7 brought consecutive nights of heartbreak.
First, in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 6, Charlie Leibrandt gave up the now-iconic walk-off home run to Kirby Puckett, forcing a decisive Game 7.
In that game, both John Smoltz and Jack Morris pitched exceptionally well. But in the bottom of the 10th inning, with the score knotted at zero, injured Gene Larkin pinch-hit with the bases loaded, drilling a single over the heads of the shallow Atlanta outfield and handing the Twins the World Series.
Baltimore Orioles: Jeffrey Maier's Catch
October 9th, 1996
The Wild Card winners, the Orioles came into the ALCS ready to beat the mighty New York Yankees. Armed with Cal Ripken Jr., Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Mussina and Brady Anderson, the Orioles were hoping to reach their first World Series since 1983.
In the bottom of the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium, Derek Jeter hit a high fly ball to right field. With Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco seemingly in position to catch the ball on the warning track, Jeffrey Maier left his mark.
The 12-year-old Maier reached over the wall, extending his glove into fair territory to catch the ball. Despite outrage from Tarasco and Orioles manager Davey Johnson, umpire Rich Garcia ruled it to be a home run. Although this was not a decisive moment in the series (which the Yankees would go on to win), it could have changed the outcome had it gone the other way.
Boston Red Sox: Buckner
October 25th, 1986
"Behind the bag! It gets through Buckner!"—Vin Scully
The ninth inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series had been painful enough already for Red Sox fans. Leading 5-3 with a chance to end the 68-year Curse of the Bambino, all was well in New England. But one Ray Knight single and Bob Stanley wild pitch later, the Mets had tied the game, 5-5.
Mookie Wilson, the Mets left fielder, had worked a terrific at-bat. On the 10th pitch, Wilson rolled over a pitch, leaving a clear play for Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner.
It's safe to say everyone knows how this goes. Ball rolls through Buckner's legs, Knight scores and the Mets go on to win Game 7 and the World Series. Ouch.
Chicago Cubs: The Bartman Incident
October 14th, 2003
The Chicago Cubs are a championship-starved team, to say the very least. Having not won a World Series since 1908, Cubs fans were ecstatic when, in 2003, the Cubbies were within one win of beating the Florida Marlins and reaching the Fall Classic.
Going into the eighth inning of Game 6 of the NLCS, Mark Prior had pitched a fantastic game, and the Cubs had a 3-0 lead. With Juan Pierre on second base, Marlins infielder Luis Castillo hit a foul pop-up to left field.
Moises Alou, tracking the ball the entire way, drifted towards the stands. He leaped to make the catch but had the ball knocked away from him by a headphone-wearing Steve Bartman. A furious Alou pleaded for fan interference, but to no avail. Again, everyone knows the rest of this story.
Chicago White Sox: Wally Moon's Fake Catch
October 2nd, 1959
The 1959 World Series saw the Chicago White Sox matched up against the newly relocated Los Angeles Dodgers. It was a terrific series, helped in part by the Los Angeles setting for several of the games. All games in the City of Angels drew over 90,000 fans.
But the turning point in the series, and perhaps the most infamous single play in White Sox history, came in the eighth inning of Game 2.
With two on, Al Smith hit a booming double to left field. The hit should have tied the game 4-4, but instead Wally Moon, the Dodgers left fielder, faked the catch. This fooled one of the White Sox runners, Sherm Lollar, and he was gunned down at home plate, ending the rally. The Dodgers went on to win the series in six games.
Cincinnati Reds: Bobby Tolan's Error
October 22nd, 1972
A rare blemish on the record of the Big Red Machine, the 1972 World Series was an extremely exciting one that ended in heartbreak for the Reds.
The series pitted the Reds against a very strong Oakland Athletics squad, led by pitcher Catfish Hunter and slugger Reggie Jackson. The Athletics took a three games to one lead, but the Reds stormed back and forced a Game 7 in Cincinnati.
But in the first inning, Bobby Tolan misplayed what seemed to be a routine fly ball, allowing an Oakland run to score. From there, the teams were deadlocked. The unearned run from Tolan's error turned out to be the difference, and the A's went on to win 3-2 and capture the World Series.
Cleveland Indians: Renteria's Series-Winner
October 26th, 1997
For two teams that were relatively new to this whole World Series thing, the Marlins and Indians provided some great entertainment in the 1997 Fall Classic. The teams alternated wins for the first six games of the series, setting up a winner-take-all Game 7 in Miami. The Marlins were looking for their first World Series title, the Indians their first since 1948.
In the bottom of the ninth, with the Indians winning 2-1, closer Jose Mesa blew the save, allowing Moises Alou to score on a sacrifice fly.
Two innings later, the Marlins got to Indians pitcher Charles Nagy. Craig Counsell, whose sac fly had tied the game in the ninth, scored the winning run when shortstop Edgar Renteria lined a base hit that grazed Nagy's glove and skipped into center field.
Colorado Rockies: Fred McGriff's Backbreaker
October 7th, 1995
For a second, the Colorado Rockies had the mighty Atlanta Braves on the ropes. Down two games to one in the NLDS, the Rockies had to beat Greg Maddux and the Braves in Atlanta to stay alive. When Dante Bichette hit a three-run home run in the third inning, the momentum of the series suddenly appeared to be in the favor of the Rockies.
But in the bottom of the inning, Chipper Jones hit a two-out, two-run double to make it 3-2. The next batter, Fred McGriff, launched a two-run home run that put the Braves up 4-3. They would not give up that lead. It was a bad loss for a young team trying to make a splash in the playoffs.
Detroit Tigers: Twins Take One-Game Playoff
October 6th, 2009
This was the culmination of one of the most depressing weeks in Detroit sports history. Holding a three-game lead with four games to go, the Tigers looked all but certain to take the AL Central crown. With the AL East securing two playoff spots, the Tigers simply had to hold off the surging Minnesota Twins. They didn't.
In a one-game playoff on October 6th, with the two teams tied for first, the Tigers and Twins played an epic game. It went 12 innings and featured a huge game-tying home run from Magglio Ordonez in the eighth inning and a see-saw 10th inning. In the 12th, with Carlos Gomez on second base, Twins infielder Alexi Casilla hit a game-winning single into right field.
It was a phenomenal game to watch, no matter your allegiance. But for the Tigers, it was the end of a horrible month and a season fans will look at with scorn for years.
Florida Marlins: The Worst Trade
December 5th, 2007
This isn't a play, but it is certainly an infamous moment in Marlins franchise history. The Marlins have an unfortunate history of trading away their top prospects or players, but this trade probably takes the cake as the worst in the team's history.
In the offseason following the 2007 season, the Fish pulled the trigger on a huge trade, sending arguably two of their best players to Detroit for prospects.
The Marlins traded slugger Miguel Cabrera and pitcher Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers for a multitude of prospects, none of whom ever panned out for the Marlins. Since then, Cabrera has become one of the most feared hitters in baseball.
Houston Astros: Scott Rolen's NLCS Home Run
October 21st, 2004
The Astros had secured a spot in the playoffs in 2004, winning the Wild Card to earn a berth behind the division-champion St. Louis Cardinals. Lo and behold, the two NL Central squads met in the NLCS for a chance to face the winner of the Red Sox-Yankees ALCS.
This was a great series, with the Cardinals winning the first two, Astros winning the next three and then the Cards winning Game 6 to force a decisive Game Seven.
In St. Louis, the Astros were leading 2-1 with Roger Clemens cruising on the mound. But in the sixth inning, following a game-tying double by Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen crushed a two-run home run. That blast put the Cards up 4-2, and they ended up winning Game 7 by a score of 5-2.
The Cardinals ended up losing to the Red Sox in the World Series, but the Astros were sent home in a game that will surely haunt fans.
Kansas City Royals: Off of Quisenberry
October 19th, 1980
The Phillies and Royals were matched up in the 1980 World Series, and it turned out to be a very entertaining series. The teams split the first four games of the series, setting up a pivotal Game 5 in Kansas City.
The game looked to go Kansas City's way with the Royals leading 3-2 entering the ninth inning with dominant closer Dan Quisenberry called on. But Del Unser doubled home the tying run from first base, setting up a Manny Trillo at-bat that will haunt Royals fans for a long time.
With Unser at third, the Phillies infielder hit a line drive. The startled Quisenberry couldn't quite react in time, and the ball spurted away from him. Unser scored from third, and the Phillies held on to win 4-3 and take a 3-2 series lead.
They would win Game 6 and take the 1980 World Series.
Los Angeles Angels: A.J. Pierzynski's Non-Strikeout
October 12th, 2005
The Angels were returning to the ALCS for the first time since 2002, when they went on to win the World Series. With similar goals in 2005, the Angels ran into the Chicago White Sox.
The Angels took the first game of the series and were able to tie Game 2 at one apiece. With a chance to send the series to Los Angeles up two games, the Angels were victim of a walk-off hit.
But that's not the play Halos fans remember.
With A.J. Pierzynski batting, Angels pitcher Kelvim Escobar appeared to strike him out. But in a strange turn of events, a dropped third strike allowed the White Sox catcher to be safe at first base. One pinch runner and a single later, the White Sox had won the game. They wouldn't lose another, and they went on to win the 2005 World Series.
Los Angeles Dodgers: The Shot Heard 'Round the World
October 3rd, 1951
Perhaps the most recognizable single play in the history of baseball is this legendary home run by the New York Giants' Bobby Thomson. The Brooklyn Dodgers had an extremely comfortable lead on the Giants in late September, up 13.5 games at one point. But the Giants stormed back relentlessly and forced a playoff with the Dodgers, with the winner going to the World Series.
With the Dodgers up 4-2 in the ninth inning with two men on, the Giants brought in Ralph Branca to face the Giants outfielder. Thomson drilled a 0-1 fastball into the short porch in left field, and pandemonium followed.
The home run is iconic but will forever live in Dodgers fans' minds as the collapse for all time. The team was basically sitting on a World Series berth and blew it all, culminating in Thomson's home run.
Milwaukee Brewers: Cardinals' Exclamation Points
October 20th, 1982
The Brewers have never won a World Series, but the closest they came was in 1982, when the then-AL Brew Crew faced off against the powerhouse St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic.
With Milwaukee leading the series three games to two, the Cardinals blew out the Brewers 13-1 to force a series-deciding Game 7. It was nerve-racking times for Brewers fans.
With the Cardinals ahead 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Brewers were running out of chances but still had plenty of hope. But the Cardinals put the game out of reach with two proverbial back-breakers: RBI singles by Darrell Porter, who would go on to win World Series MVP, and Steve Braun. The Cardinals won the series, and it was the closest the Brewers have come to glory.
Minnesota Twins: Hideki Matsui’s Sacrifice Fly
October 6th, 2004
The Minnesota Twins had the New York Yankees on the ropes. With the Twins leading the ALDS 1-0, the two teams played an extra-inning epic that went 12 innings. The Twins looked to have control, taking a 6-5 lead in the top of the 12th with a Torii Hunter home run. But in the bottom of the ninth, with Joe Nathan on the hill, the Twins came undone.
With two on and one out, Nathan allowed a game-tying ground-rule double to Alex Rodriguez, putting runners on second and third. Once Gary Sheffield was intentionally walked to set up a double play, Nathan allowed Hideki Matsui to drive a fly ball deep enough to score Derek Jeter from third. The Yankees won the game 7-6 and went on to win the series.
New York Mets: Molina Eludes Chavez’s Glove
October 19th, 2006
Seeking their first World Series berth since 2000 and first title since 1986, the New York Mets found themselves deadlocked going into Game 7 of the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals. The series had been thrilling and compelling so far, and Game 7 provided even more excitement.
First, in the sixth inning, Scott Rolen pounded an Oliver Perez pitch deep into left field. But athletic Mets outfielder Endy Chavez made one of the most incredible catches in playoff history to save the home run.
However, in the top of the ninth, with the teams tied at one, St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina hit a similar blast to left field. This one went just over the glove of Chavez, giving the Cardinals a 3-1 lead they would hold in the bottom of the inning. They would go on to win the World Series.
New York Yankees: Damon’s ALCS Slam
October 20th, 2004
The 2004 ALCS is without much of a doubt the greatest postseason series in baseball history—or, at the very least, the most compelling. It pitted the “cursed” Boston Red Sox, hungry for their first World Series since 1918, against the New York Yankees.
The bitter rivals went to battle, but for the first three games, it seemed like more of a slaughter. The Yankees led three games to zero going into Game 4.
We all know the story from there. By Game 7, the pressure was on the Yankees, seeking to avoid becoming the first team ever to lose a series after leading 3-0. In the second inning of Game 7, with the Red Sox ahead 2-0, center fielder Johnny Damon hit a grand slam off Javier Vazquez, all but cementing the biggest choke in the history of baseball.
Oakland Athletics: Gibson’s Legendary Blast
October 15th, 1988
In the hierarchy of famous home runs in the history of baseball, this one probably will rank in the top three for the foreseeable future.
The 1988 World Series found the Oakland Athletics, who would become one of the more dominant teams of the late '80s, matched up against another California team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. In Game 1, the A’s held a 4-3 lead entering the bottom of the ninth, with Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley ready to shut the door.
With two outs and a runner on first after Eckersley allowed a walk, a hobbling Kirk Gibson stepped up to the plate on two bad legs. Facing one of the most feared pitchers in baseball history, Gibson launched a full-count slider deep into the right field stands, giving the Dodgers a 5-4 win. Four games later, they won the World Series.
Philadelphia Phillies: Joe Carter’s Series-Winning Homer
October 23rd, 1993
The Phillies have been a team that, for a long time at least, seemed like they just couldn’t win a championship. In 1993, the Phils faced off against the Toronto Blue Jays, who had won the World Series the previous year. It was a very fun series, with the Blue Jays taking a three games to two lead into Game 6.
But in that game, the Phillies appeared poised to win and force a Game 7. This wouldn’t come easily.
In the bottom of the ninth, winning 6-5, the Phillies allowed two baserunners to reach. With two on and one out, closer Mitch Williams faced Blue Jays slugger Joe Carter. Carter promptly belted a 2-2 pitch deep into the SkyDome bleachers, winning the World Series in walk-off fashion.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Sid Bream’s Pennant-Winning Slide
October 14th, 1992
Much is made about series-winning hits and home runs, but in this case, it was one of the most fundamental baseball plays that won a series.
With the Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates tied in the NLCS at three games apiece, the Pirates carried a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth. Following a sacrifice fly, the bases were loaded with two outs and Francisco Cabrera at bat.
Cabrera lined a Stan Belinda pitch into left field. The first and tying run scored, and the Braves’ Sid Bream rounded third, competing with a strong throw from left fielder Barry Bonds. Bream just beat the throw, setting off a huge celebration at home plate and sending the Braves to the World Series and the Pirates back home.
St. Louis Cardinals: Darrell Porter’s Missed Tag
October 26th, 1985
The 1980s was a decade of mixed success for the St. Louis Cardinals. Despite reaching the World Series three times, the Cards only won one of them in 1982. The other two, in 1985 and 1987, both resulted in seven-game marathons that ended in heartbreak.
In 1985, the Cardinals faced cross-state rivals the Kansas City Royals. The series went the distance, going seven games, but the real drama occurred in Game 6.
With the Cardinals clinging to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth, Jose Orta hit an easy bouncing ball back to the mound. Rookie Todd Worrell appeared to throw him out, but Orta was ruled safe at first, almost inexplicably.
Several batters later, the bases were loaded. The Royals’ Dane Long hit a single into right field, scoring Jim Sundberg. Onix Concepcion, heading home as well, looked to be victimized by a great throw from Andy Van Slyke. But Darrell Porter, the Cardinals catcher, couldn’t tag him.
The Royals won in stunning 2-1 fashion and ended up winning the World Series.
San Diego Padres: Tino Martinez’s Grand Slam
October 17th, 1998
The San Diego Padres entered the 1998 World Series trying for the second time in franchise history to bring home a world title.
The Padres had made the Fall Classic in 1984, losing to the Detroit Tigers. In 1998, they faced an even stiffer challenge. The New York Yankees, boasting the best record in baseball history (to that point), would prove to be too good.
But in Game 1, the series took a sudden turn. With the game tied at five and bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, umpire Rich Garcia called a very close 2-2 pitch to Tino Martinez a ball. The next pitch Martinez crushed into the right field bleachers for a grand slam. The Yankees won the game 9-6, and it was as close as the Padres would come to winning a game.
San Francisco Giants: Garret Anderson’s Bases-Loaded Double
October 27th, 2002
The long, illustrious history of the New York and San Francisco Giants has been filled with memorable moments, both good and bad. From Fred Merkle’s famous baserunning error to Bobby Thomson’s 1951 home run, the Giants have provided plenty of memories.
But in recent memory, no play hurt as bad as Garret Anderson’s bases-clearing double in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series.
The series had gone down to the wire, and the Giants found themselves tied with the Los Angeles Angels 1-1 in the bottom of the third inning. But Livan Hernandez ran into trouble, and the bases were jammed. Anderson, one of the more consistent players in Angels history, drilled a bases-clearing double that put the Halos up 4-1. It was a lead they would not give up, as they secured their first-ever World Series.
Seattle Mariners: Justice Serves Rhodes
October 17th, 2000
The 2000 ALCS saw the two-time defending World Series winners, the New York Yankees, facing the upstart Seattle Mariners. The Yankees had taken a three games to one lead, but the Mariners fought back to force a Game 6 back in New York.
With the M’s leading 4-3 in the sixth inning, lefty Arthur Rhodes was brought in to face David Justice. The lefty for the Yankees crushed a Rhodes pitch into the bleachers for a three-run home run. The Yankees took a 6-4 lead that they would never lose.
The home run killed any chance of a Mariners comeback, and that is about as close the Mariners have ever come to a World Series berth.
Tampa Bay Rays: Ruiz’s Walk-Off Single
October 25th, 2008
The 2008 season was a magical season for the Tampa Bay Rays. Everyone knows the story by now. A year removed from being a cellar-dweller in the AL East, the Rays won 97 games en route to a division title.
After beating the White Sox in the ALDS and an emotional seven-game series win over the Red Sox in the ALCS, the Rays ran into the Philadelphia Phillies.
With the series tied at a game apiece and Game 3 tied at four entering the bottom of the ninth, the Rays looked to hold the Phillies for a chance to take the lead in extra innings.
With bases loaded and the infield drawn in, Carlos Ruiz hit the only walk-off infield single in World Series history. Third baseman Evan Longoria tried a flip to tag out the scoring Eric Bruntlett, but to no avail. The Rays would lose the series four games to one.
Texas Rangers: Dean Palmer’s Error
October 2nd, 1996
In researching this article, I realized something Rangers fans have known for a long time—facing the Yankees in the playoffs is almost a requirement. Of course, last year, it worked out well. But in 1996, the first such meeting, things did not go Texas’ way.
The Rangers were leading the ALDS one game to zero and in the middle of a tied 4-4 game in the bottom of the 12th. With two men on, Charlie Hayes of the Yankees laid down a sacrifice bunt. Rangers third baseman Dean Palmer, fielding the bunt cleanly, threw the ball away. This allowed a young shortstop named Derek Jeter to score the game-winning run.
The Yankees didn’t lose another game in that series.
Toronto Blue Jays: Sundberg off the Top of the Wall
October 16th, 1985
The Blue Jays have actually fared very well once they reach the playoffs. Their only two trips to the World Series resulted in wins.
However, in 1985, the Blue Jays reached the playoffs for the first time, setting up a series with the Kansas City Royals with the winner going to the World Series. The series went the distance, and in the sixth inning of Game 7, the Royals led 2-1.
Seeking to keep the game close, the Blue Jays faced Jim Sundberg with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth. Sundberg drove a pitch that hit off the top of the wall, skipping away from outfielder Jesse Barfield. All three runners scored, and the Royals rode that momentum all the way to the World Series.
Washington Nationals: Rick Monday’s Pennant-Winner
October 19th, 1981
The only division crown for the then-Montreal Expos came in 1981, when the team found great success despite the strike-shortened season. The Expos met up in the NLCS with the favored Los Angeles Dodgers but put up a terrific fight in the five-game series.
In the decisive Game 5, the Expos and Dodgers were knotted up at one entering the ninth inning. With ace Steve Rogers on the hill in the ninth inning and two out already, Dodgers outfielder Rick Monday came up to bat. He belted a home run to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead.
In the bottom of the inning, the Expos threatened but never scored, as Bob Welch shut the door on a potential World Series berth.