World Series 2011: Ranking the 5 Greatest World Series Moments of Every Era

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst IOctober 19, 2011

World Series 2011: Ranking the 5 Greatest World Series Moments of Every Era

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    From Bill Mazeroski to Joe Carter, from Bob Gibson to Jack Morris, the World Series has always been a good crucible in which to cook up a hero.

    Babe Ruth called his shot there; Kirk Gibson hit a hobbled shot. The drama and emotion of the Fall Classic creates indelible moments and images where they would not exist even if the same events unfolded in the regular season.

    Every year, one or two things occur that a fanbase (or two, or 30) will never forget. Here are five from each of baseball's major eras that stand out most.

Dead Ball Era, 1900-1919

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    The World Series did not come into being until 1903 and did not happen in 1904.

    The Fall Classic was a novelty back then, and the game was very strange.

    We know little about those games beyond what the box scores reveal, but here are five memorable moments.

5. Babe Ruth Throws 14 Innings to Win Game 2, 1916

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    Everyone knows Babe Ruth pitched before he became the all-time home run leader for 30 years, and most knowledgeable fans know he was quite good.

    What few might know, though, is that Ruth won Game 2 of the 1916 World Series in remarkable fashion.

    He gave up an inside-the-park home run in the first inning that day—and allowed no more runs in a total of 14 innings' work.

    He drove in a run to tie the game in the third inning, then successfully held the Dodgers in place for the remaining 11 frames before the Red Sox finally broke the tension and won the game 2-1.

4. Red Sox Comeback Gives Them Series Title, Game 5, 1915

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    The Red Sox were already within a game of winning the World Series, but the thrilling comeback they launched in Game 5—trailing 4-2 entering the top of the eighth, but winning 5-4—still goes down in history.

    Duffy Lewis finished a terrific series with a two-run, game-tying homer in the eighth, and Harry Hooper completed the scoring with a home run in the ninth. 

3. Christy Mathewson's Game 3 10-Inning Win, 1913

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    Christy Mathewson was still around in the 10th inning of Game 2 of the 1913 World Series, locked in a scoreless duel with Eddie Plank.

    Mathewson came to bat that top of the 10th with a runner on second and one out and drove in the run himself. His team went on to win 3-0.

2. Duffy Lewis's Game 3 Walkoff, 1915

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    As I mentioned earlier, Lewis had a hell of a Series in 1915.

    He batted .444 with a homer, a double and five RBI.

    Lewis' most important hit, though, was a sharp single scoring Harry Hooper with the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 3, giving Boston a 2-1 edge in the Series.

1. Smoky Joe Wood Finishes Series with Game 8 Win, 1912

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    A Game 2 tie forced an eighth contest in the 1912 Series, and that allowed Smokey Joe Wood to get elbow-deep in the Red Sox-Giants matchup.

    Wood took the ball in Games 1 and 4, winning with complete games each time, and again in Game 6, this time with no luck whatsoever.

    With Game 8 on the line, though, Wood came back—the very day after his disastrous outing—and helped with three innings of relief work in order to claim an extra-inning victory and lead the Red Sox to a title.

Live Ball Era, 1920-1946

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    With the livening of the ball came a certain livening of the Series and its games, a natural result of more runs being scored and more variability therefore being introduced.

    It kept things very interesting, and indeed, home runs alone would account for several memorable moments in what we might call "the Babe Ruth era."

5. Babe Ruth Caught Stealing to End Game 7, 1926

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    Dave Roberts he wasn't.

    Ruth was at first base in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1926 Series against the St. Louis Cardinals with two out and the Yankees trailing by a run.

    A steal would have been high-leverage indeed, but Ruth was pegged out and the Series was over.

4. Stan Coveleski Puts Away Brooklyn

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    In 1919, the Series began a three-year experiment with a best-of-nine format.

    Five years earlier, the resident Brooklyn squad had begun to call itself the Robins.

    Thus it was that the Robins and the Cleveland Indians met for seven games in 1920, despite the Indians' having won four of the first six.

    It was Stan Coveleski who took the ball for Cleveland, and he took over, hurling a complete-game shutout to seal the Series.

    In total, that gave Coveleski three starts, three complete games, three wins and two shutouts in the Classic.

3. Ruth Calls Hit Shot

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    More iconic than strictly critical, this home run nonetheless has an almost unmatched place in American sporting folklore.

    Ruth may or may not have actually done it, though it sure looks like he did in recently-released photo and video of the moment. At any rate, it sure is exciting to think about Ruth's amazing skills.

2. Earl McNeely Wins It for Walter Johnson, Senators in 1924

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    One of the game's most endearing qualities is that it sometimes makes heroes of the strictly anonymous, and so it went with McNeely in 1924.

    After Walter Johnson entered Game 7 to shut down the New York Giants in the ninth, the game drifted dramatically through extra frames.

    Johnson got the win in relief, but only thanks to McNeely's walk-off hit.

    This Series makes a strangely neat little clone of the 2001 Series, won on a walk-off hit in Game 7 after the superstar of the team, a pitcher named Johnson, came in unexpectedly in relief.

1. Enos Slaughter's Mad Dash

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    In the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 7 of the World Series in 1946, the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox stood tied.

    Enos Slaughter reached first base with Harry Walker due up, and after Walker got to a good count for it, Slaughter took off on a hit-and-run.

    Officially, the hit has been recorded by history as a double, though some insist Walker would not have reached second without advancing on the throw to home plate.

    At any rate, the facts are these—Slaughter ran madly, wildly even, as the Sox retrieved the ball perhaps halfway up the gap in left-center field. He had scarcely rounded third base when shortstop Johnny Pesky got the relay throw, but for reasons still under debate, Pesky's throw was delayed, rushed and inaccurate.

    Slaughter ran through his third-base coach's stop sign and scored what turned out to be the Series-winning run.

The Integration Era, 1947-1960

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    Jackie Robinson's arrival in MLB changed everything, not least the landscape of postseason baseball.

    For the first time, African Americans would now have a chance to take personal interest in the World Series, and as a result of that and the inclusion of two New York teams, the World Series that very first year became a circus that would repeat itself (whether the Giants or Dodgers arose to challenge the Yankees) for a decade and a half.

5. Al Gionfriddo's Catch

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    Gionfriddo still rates as the most well-timed defensive sub ever, some 65 years later.

    He entered Game 6 of the 1947 Series to stop fly balls, and stop one he did—after the Yankees put two men on in that frame, Gionfriddo snagged a long, slicing drive from Joe DiMaggio that helped the Dodgers force a Game 7.

    Gionfriddo never played again after the 1947 season, but for a moment, he was Al the Yankee Killer.

4. Duke Snider Goes Nuts, Game 5, 1952

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    At his admittedly brief peak, Snider actually belonged in the conversation with Mays and Mantle as best New York center fielder.

    In 1952, to be sure, he was in league with a very young Mantle.

    It was Snider who utterly took over Game 5 of that set, homering and driving in four.

    He had a two-run shot in the fifth inning to open a 4-0 Brooklyn advantage—a re-tying seventh-inning single that knotted the game at 5-5—and an RBI double in the 11th to lift Brooklyn to victory.

    The Yankees still won the Series, but Snider certainly earned his money.

3. The Catch

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    By 1954, Mays had matured enough to surpass Snider in greatness, and he put it all on display at once in Game 1 of that year's Series. 

    It was the top of the eighth inning of the opener, and the game stood tied at 2-2.

    The Cleveland Indians, though, had put runners on first and second with one out and had Vic Wertz coming to bat.

    Wertz already had a single and a triple in the game, and who can say but that the Polo Grounds robbed him of a home run on his long, long shot to center field.

    Mays raced back, scarcely bothering to look up at the ball until the last moment, when he cast his eyes straight up and reached out to snag the baseball at full gallop.

    On such a play, the runner might have scored from second base much of the time, but Mays spun and hurled the ball back to the infield to hold the runner at third base.

    It went into extra innings, where the Giants won.

2. Larsen's Perfect Game

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    The fact that Larsen shut down the Dodgers in a 1956 Series when the Yankees needed seven games to win makes his feat all the more impressive.

    Larsen actually never was much of a pitcher, but he had a great afternoon and put himself in a permanent, prominent place in the baseball pantheon.

1. Bill Mazeroski

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    How can you top it?

    In a Series marked by three brutal Yankee blowouts and four slim Pirates wins, Mazeroski struck the indelible, beautifully sepia-toned blow that declared Pittsburgh free from Yankee tyranny.

    It may have been the beginning of the end of the Yankee dynasty.

The Expansion Era, 1961-1975

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    Growing and changing at as rapid a pace as it ever has, the game in the 1960s and early 1970s was fascinating, varied and a joy to observe and remember.

    Though this era consists essentially of 15 seasons, it's not remotely difficult to find five deserving moments to discuss.

5. McCovey Lineout Ends 1962 Series

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    McCovey came to bat with runners on second and third base, two out and the Giants trailing 1-0 in Game 7 of the 1962 Series.

    A single would have won the game and the Series.

    McCovey hit the ball hard—very hard.

    Unfortunately, he hit it right at Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson, and Richardson caught it to end the Series.

4. Roberto Clemente Wins World Series, World Series MVP, Everyone's Hearts

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    Almost a quarter-century after Jackie Robinson, the baseball world still seemed to feel that white players were smarter, more intelligent and of better general makeup than others.

    Roberto Clemente and a very heavily minority Pirates team made it their mission to disprove that notion.

    Clemente was on display in that Series as an elite all-around player and, as importantly, a deadly opportunist who saw every chance to take something from the opponent.

    He hit .414 in that Series, but his greatest moment was the home run he hit to start the scoring in the fourth inning of Game 7.

    Since the Orioles never tied that game, it technically goes down as a game-winning homer, and more importantly, it sent a message about Clemente, Latino players and the wave of the future.

3. Sandy Koufax's 1965 Series

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    Koufax did everything the way one ought to do it in 1965.

    Prior to Game 1, he asserted the priority of his faith over baseball by refusing to pitch on Yom Kippur.

    He came back to pitch Game 2, which he lost, but he then pitched two times more.

    He threw a four-hit shutout in Game 5, and then—on two days' rest—threw a three-hit shutout in Game 7.

    It was a stunning, remarkable performance.

2. Bob Gibson Just Keeps Pitching, 1964

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    Gibson pitched so much down the stretch to help get the Cardinals over the hump and into the Series at all that he did not pitch in Game 1 of the Series that year against the Yankees.

    When he did take the mound in Game 2, he lost.

    He came back in Game 5, though, and pitched a 10-inning six-hitter to win 5-2.

    He came back again in Game 7, on just two days' rest, and won an ugly complete game to finish the Series.

    It was a gritty, awesome performance.

1. Carlton Fisk and the Best Game Ever, 1975

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    All five of this era's moments could have come from this Series, and three could easily have come from this game. Make that four.

    Anyway, as for the moment chosen to represent them all, Fisk's leaping and waving and Dick Stockton's voice rising and the sheer lateness of the hour all lent themselves to compelling memory—and after all, it was at the moment the best moment the Sox had had in the Fall Classic in some 50 years.

    What a moment.

Free Agency Era, 1976-1992

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    With divisions established, this era gave us more quantity in the postseason than any before it.

    It was an exciting time, though as often as not, the drama of the Series in those years derived from mistakes, mishaps and general chaos.

    Then again, chaos is part of what makes baseball fun in the first place.

5. Don Denkinger Does It Wrong

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    In Game 6, nothing is guaranteed. That is always the refrain.

    No team can blame bad luck, a bad bounce or a bad turtleneck for losing a series if the misfortune befalls them in Game 6. Don't tell the Cardinals.

    It has to have been wildly difficult for them to let go of the frustration of losing the 1985 World Series after a blown call from Don Denkinger opened the door to a Kansas City Royals rally in the ninth inning of Game 6.

4. Kirby Puckett Puts Twins on His Shoulders

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    In Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, Kirby Puckett was all the Twins had—and all they needed.

    He tripled in a run and scored in the first inning; stole a home run from Ron Gant in the third; untied a 2-2 game with a sacrifice fly in the fifth; singled and stole second base, giving himself a chance to score in the eighth (though no Twin knocked him in); and led off the bottom of the 11th with a walk-off homer to send the Series to a seventh game.

    Jack Buck, as he so often did, lent Puckett's play extra poignancy with his great call of the home run: "And we'll see you tomorrow night!"

3. Reggie Jackson Becomes Mr. October

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    Nicknames and narratives are tricky, and Jackson probably isn't anything like the best postseason performer ever.

    Still, on a big night in 1978, he established himself as Mr. October by launching three home runs against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    That display, especially given the distance and consecutive ease of the bombs, caught everyone up so much that his moniker still sticks.

2. Kirk Gibson's One Good Swing

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    Jack Buck is once again a part of this, but to Buck's credit, he never speaks out of turn.

    Gibson's blast against Oakland in Game 1 of the 1988 Series was truly unbelievable, the kind of thing that had you rubbing your eyes and blinking rapidly.

    Gibson had two bad legs, so he swung with his arms, and it worked out nicely.

1. Bill Buckner Becomes Boston's Rosebud

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    Thank goodness for the 2004 Red Sox for setting Buckner free.

    It's a shame he went through all he did for so long after he gave away Game 6 of the 1986 World Series—but to be fair, it was his fault.

    Buckner's botch is the most indelible baseball moment of the 1980s, albeit a morbid one.

The Steroid Era and After, 1993-Present

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    It has been a wild 16 years since the advent of the Wild Card, and although the overall quality of postseason play has inevitably fallen due to dilution of talent and teams getting lucky just to reach the World Series, there have been a preponderance of wild moments along the way.

5. Bush's First Pitch

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    Never a moment so moving.

    Whatever you think of him now, Bush was a good leader in the days and weeks immediately after 9/11, an optimistic but tough talker.

    When Bush said he was coming to Game 3 of the 2001 World Series, the first played in New York, throwing out the first pitch was an immutable step.

    He took the mound to a roaring, soaring ovation, threw a solid strike and then, amid a crowd overwhelmed by emotion, gave a thumbs up that represented the resiliency by which the city identified itself at the time.

4. Rally Monkey, Strike!

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    The San Francisco Giants led the World Series (3-2) and Game 6 (5-0) entering the bottom of the seventh.

    It looked like it might all be over for the scrappy Anaheim Angels, who overcame so much and all that.

    But the Angels had Rally Monkey, and more importantly, they had Scott Spiezio and Troy Glaus.

    Spiezio launched a three-run homer in the seventh inning, and after the Angels pushed another run across in the eighth inning, Glaus doubled home two to give Anaheim the lead.

    They went on to win that night and the next.

3. Luis Gonzalez Ends the Yankee Dynasty

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    The ninth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series was a downright wacky affair.

    There were unnecessary bunts, Mariano Rivera mistakes, an (ill-advised) infield pinch and a floater into shallowest left field that would not have damaged anything under any other circumstance, but which in that particular circumstance won the World Series.

    Then again, 2001 was a crazy year for baseball in the playoffs in general.

2. Edgar Renteria's First World Series MVP

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    Another World Series-winning Game 7 walk-off single—also not hit hard, and also hit by a player having his best season.

    The Marlins were a poor champion, really, but the Indians gave away that Series.

    Renteria's heroics, though, are not remotely diminished.

    Back before the Wayne Huizenga disillusionment, the fans in Florida cherished that team and that title like few others.

1. Joe Carter Sets Two Cities on Fire

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    Mitch Williams always made you nervous, but he was really struggling to maintain any effectiveness whatsoever by the end of the 1993 season.

    He blew Game 4 of the Series, and then, with the eyes of the world watching, he blew Game 6 in completely spectacular fashion.

    Joe Carter became a legend with one swing of his bat and will never buy a drink in Toronto again.