MLB Playoffs: Ranking the 25 Most Improbable Home Runs in Playoff History

Ray TannockSenior Analyst IOctober 11, 2011

MLB Playoffs: Ranking the 25 Most Improbable Home Runs in Playoff History

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    The MLB playoffs are full of indelible moments, and a few of those moments become indelible memories on the minds of baseball fans worldwide.

    Today, we're going to look at the 25 most improbable home runs in MLB playoff history as a way of highlighting just a few of those historic players.

    Whether it's a famous story steeped in antiquity, such as Babe Ruth, or a classic improbable player hitting an improbable shot, such as Aaron Boone (shown above), these 25 are just some of the best that MLB postseason history has to offer.

    Let's take a look.

Bucky Dent, 1978 AL East Playoff

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    Dent is remembered for hitting a three-run homer that gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead in the 1978 AL East one-game playoff against the Boston Red Sox.

    But what makes this homer improbable was the fact that in 12 years, Dent hit just 40 home runs.

    It's also notable that Dent batted in the ninth spot for the formidable Yankees, making this home run even more improbable.

Aaron Boone, 2003 ALCS, Game 7

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    After a bad move on the part of the Red Sox to leave Pedro Martinez in way too long, Boston followed up with Tim Wakefield to handle a 5-5 tie.

    The Yankees countered with Aaron Boone.

    Boone entered the game as a pinch-runner in the eighth inning. He hit the first pitch he saw from Wakefield over the left-field wall and sent the Yankees to the World Series.

Scott Podsednik, 2005 World Series, Game 2

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    In 2005 Scott Podsednik was considered more of a speedy option that could hit and run with some limited power benefits.

    But in the bottom of the ninth, facing Brad Lidge, it was the improbable walk-off home run from Podsednik that came through for the White Sox.

    In Game 2 of the 2005 World Series, in the bottom of the ninth inning, with the White Sox and Astros tied at six, Podsednik hit a 2-1 fastball into the right-field stands for a walk-off home run, which was the 14th in World Series history...and the only home run of any kind from Podsednik that year.

Trot Nixon, 2003 ALDS, Game 3

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    After winning the first two games in the 2003 ALDS at home, the A's were hoping for a full-blown sweep of the Boston Red Sox.

    The game featured a tightly pitched game, so close that the contest went into extra innings, but the A's still only needed a single run to complete the sweep.

    But Boston only needed one run to prevent it, and it got exactly that from an unexpected source in Trot Nixon.

    Nixon came on as a pinch-hitter and was facing one of the best fastball throwers in the game in Rich Harden, but the one vulnerability for a fastball pitcher—the long ball—would be the one undoing for the A's sweep, as Nixon knocked that ball into orbit, helping the Red Sox prevent Oakland's pending sweep.

Bill Mazeroski, 1960 World Series, Game 7

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    One of the best defensive second basemen ever to play the game, Mazeroski did himself one better with his game-ending and World Series-ending home run in 1960.

    Mazeroski hit just 11 home runs during the regular season, and it was just one of just six times he broke double digits during his 17-year career, making this home run very improbable.

J.D. Drew, 2007 ALCS, Game 6

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    Drew's homer off Indians pitcher Fausto Carmona was so improbable that it may go down as one of the greatest shots in Red Sox postseason history.

    Drew walked on and hit his first Red Sox postseason home run with his team down 3-2 in the series, when all things looked to be beyond desperation.

    Being the guy who you would never think to be the one to sink a crusher like that is about as improbable as it gets.

Ozzie Smith, 1985 NLCS, Game 5

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    The Cardinals started things off with a 2-0 lead only to see it fall victim to a two-run fourth, landing the game in a deadlock tie for the remainder.

    Until Ozzie Smith came along, that is.

    The Dodgers called in reliever Tom Niedenfuer after eight stellar innings from ace Fernando Valenzuela, but it was the improbable that would be Niedenfuer's undoing.

    In 3,009 at-bats batting left-handed, Smith had never homered, further setting the stage.

    "Go crazy, folks, go crazy!"—Cardinals announcer Jack Buck, as Smith did the unthinkable and achieved the improbable.

Chris Burke, 2005 NLDS, Game 4

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    In the longest postseason game in Major League Baseball history, it was an improbable home run from an unexpected hitter for Houston, Chris Burke.

    In the 18th inning, nearly six hours after the game started, Burke swung at a pitch from Atlanta Braves rookie Joey Devine and sent the ball into orbit.

    The shot would also send the Astros to the NLCS, where they defeated the Cardinals en route to their first World Series in 44 years.

Carlton Fisk, 1975 World Series, Game 6

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    After knotting Game 6 up against the Reds in the bottom of the eighth inning, a tie that would last to the 12th, the Red Sox found themselves dealing with a near perfect outing from reliever Pat Darcy, who had already thrown two perfect innings of relief.

    The Red Sox began the 12th inning against Darcy with cleanup hitter Carlton Fisk

    What made this hit improbable was the fact that nobody was able to hit Darcy, but what made this homer memorable was Fisk waving his arms towards "fair-ball play" in an effort to "help" a ball that seemingly was hooking foul.

Matt Williams, 2001 World Series, Game 2

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    Game 2 of this series was really won on the arm of Randy Johnson, but what made this improbable was the fact that it was Matt Williams hitting the dinger and the fact that the D-Backs went up two games to none against a formidable Yankees club.

Chris Chambliss, 1976 ALCS, Game 5

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    After nearly a dozen years since Yankees fans had seen their squad win the AL pennant, Chris Chambliss provided the improbable home run that made such a wait end.

    Chambliss hit a walk-off homer that caused the entire stadium to empty on the field, making it nearly impossible for him to even tag home.

Joe Carter, 1993 World Series, Game 6

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    The Blue Jays were up 3-2 in the series, leading 5-1 as they headed towards the top of the seventh inning on the shoulders of some stellar pitching from Dave Stewart.

    However, Stewart led off the inning giving up a walk, a single and a three-run shot by Lenny Dykstra, which chased him from the game.

    Now things were interesting.

    The Phillies added two more runs, and before Jays fans knew it, their team was in a 6-5 hole.

    The Phillies turned to closer Mitch Williams (the "Wild Thing"), which seemed like the perfect move, but it was Williams who surrendered the three-run shot to Carter, lifting the Jays over the Phillies in what seemed, at the time, to be an improbable occurrence.

    "Touch 'em all, Joe; you'll never hit a bigger home run in your life!"—Blue Jays announcer Tom Cheek

Ben Francisco, 2011 NLDS, Game 3

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    Ben Francisco enjoyed a quiet season in 2011, as he wasn't widely used, but in Game 3 of the 2011 NLDS, his usage came up big with an improbable moon shot.

    With just seven starts and a total 29 at-bats in the final month of the season, Francisco wasn't viewed as a player who was going to pose too much of a threat.

    With the game tied at zero and two on and two out in the seventh inning, Francisco hit a three-run home run to help provide the Phillies a crucial 3-2 victory, despite the unmentioned finality to the series.

Tommy Henrich, 1949 World Series, Game 1

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    Game 1 of the 1949 World Series was billed as a classic pitchers' duel, and both pitchers didn't disappoint.

    Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe and Yankees pitcher Allie Reynolds battled through the thick into eight scoreless innings before Newcome finally succumbed, giving up a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth to Yankees second-spot hitter Tommy Henrich, who wasn't viewed as a power threat.

    The shutout was no more.

Steve Garvey, 1984 NLCS, Game 4

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    1984 was supposed to be "the year" for the Cubs, and despite facing a hitter who was riding the high of a 4-for-5 night, many Cubs fans weren't worried at all.

    That was, of course, until a guy not known for his power prowess sent a moon shot into orbit, defeating the Cubs and sending the series to a decisive Game 5, which helped catapult the Padres to the World Series.

Jim Leyritz, 1996 World Series, Game 4

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    For the first time since 1981, the Yankees dropped the first two games of the World Series at home before taking Game 3 of the 1996 Fall Classic on the road in Atlanta.

    However, they looked to be on their way to a 3-1 series hole in Game 4 after the Braves took a 6-0 lead into the sixth inning.

    The Braves turned to closer Mark Wohlers to start the eighth inning, which was a clear indication that Atlanta had all intentions of ending this contest.

    After entering the game in the fifth inning to pinch-hit for starting catcher Joe Girardi, it was backup catcher Jim Leyritz who found himself doing the improbable by hitting the game-tying three-run shot, which was the catalyst that led to the Yankees' 8-6 victory to tie the series.

Bernie Carbo, 1975 World Series, Game 6

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    Game 6 of the 1975 World Series is widely viewed as the single greatest baseball game ever played for many reasons.

    As we saw earlier, one of those reasons was the indelible image of Carlton Fisk waving his game-winning home run, but what many fans may not know was what happened earlier in the game that acted as the setup.

    Trailing 6-3 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, the Red Sox put two men on before quickly being dispensed with for the first two outs thanks to Rawly Eastwick.

    With the pitcher's spot due up, the Red Sox called on Bernie Carbo, and he responded with a huge three-run home run to the game. As you can plainly see, the stage had been set.

Babe Ruth, 1932 World Series, Game 3

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    If you are an old, diehard Cubs fan, this story of Babe Ruth's called shot is probably the one that you hate the most.

    As it goes, the Cubs players and fans had been heckling Ruth all day, and he had been giving it right back rather than just ignoring them.

    Against Cubs ace Charlie Root, Ruth took a first-pitch strike only to then point to the right-center-field bleachers, which is where the infamous homer was sent.

    Now the other half of this story is that Ruth actually pointed to Root instead, which adds to the mystique behind what is fact and fiction.

Scott Spiezio, 2002 World Series, Game 6

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    In Game 6 of the 2002 World Series, the Angles had fallen behind 5-0 and were facing a pending shutout with nine remaining outs.

    To make matters worse, the Giants had sent out Felix Rodriguez to begin the shutdown process against Scott Spiezio, which seemed like a routine out for Rodriguez.

    After a few foul balls, Spiezio did the improbable in two ways: hitting not just a home run off Rodriguez, but the shot that revitalized the Angels en route to overcoming that 5-0 deficit for the improbable win.

Matt Stairs, 2008 NLCS, Game 4

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    Tied 5-5, the Phillies turned to the one guy who was known for getting something going in times when the team needed that extra push, but what they got was something totally different.

    Against Jonathan Broxton—the best closer in the business at the time—and his smoke ball, the thinking was the Phillies were looking for a possible hit that could act as a setup for the following hitters. Instead, Stairs walked up to the plate and hit the first pitch he saw, which was a smoker in its own right, and sent the ball out of the park for one of the most improbable home runs in postseason history.

    Obviously, the rest is history.

David Freese, 2011 NLDS, Game 4

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    Would you really think—with one of the best pitchers in baseball on the mound, mind you—that a guy who struck out in seven of his first 13 postseason at-bats would hit for a double to put his team in the lead by one?

    Possible? OK, but would you THEN think that the SAME guy who again, struck out in seven of his first 13 at-bats, would hit a monster rocket hitting the 424-foot mark, essentially slamming the door shut on the one team in the NL that was heavily favored to bid for another World Series appearance?

    Dictionary definition of an improbable home run.

Nelson Cruz, 2011 ALCS, Game 2

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    Nelson Cruz is a guy you would expect to hit a few dingers, even in a playoff environment, when every player is seemingly playing at a higher level.

    So what made this home run so improbable?

    Cruz made major-league history in the 11th inning by being the first player to hit a walk-off grand slam in postseason history, which is just about the most impossible accomplishment to achieve in postseason play.

Bobby Thomson, 1951 NL Playoff, Game 3

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    I'll let the video do the speaking here for the "Shot Heard 'Round the World."

Bobby Kielty, 2007 World Series, Game 4

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    In his only World Series at-bat, and on the first pitch, Bobby Kielty hit a pinch-hit solo home run in Game 4 of the 2007 World Series, which wound up being the series-clinching game-winner in the 4-3 final over the Colorado Rockies.

    Kielty is also the fourth player to ever hit a pinch-hit home run in his first career World Series at-bat, which is another dictionary definition of improbable home run.

Kirk Gibson, 1988 World Series, Game 1

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    When impossibility meets improbability.

    After cruising to a 4-3 lead over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, the A's sent their top closer Dennis Eckersley to the bump to seal the deal.

    Eckersley entered the game sporting an AL-best 45 saves while finishing second in AL Cy Young voting.

    Kirk Gibson, with two nearly inoperable knees, somehow made his way to the mound as the Dodgers' last-ditch effort, and the rest was history.

    Gibson fouled off a slew of pitches working his way to a full count, and it was widely viewed that the next pitch was going to be an easy out pitch for Eckersley.

    Instead, Gibson sent the pitch into orbit, and the rest is one of the most indelible marks in MLB postseason history.