Each year after the grueling 162-game journey that is the Major League Baseball regular season, the four best teams from each league wage war, battling one another to win just 11 more games. While trying to collect those first seven wins has proven difficult for even the most talented teams over the years, it is nothing compared to the challenge presented by the final best-of-seven series. Heroes may be born in October, but legends cement their place in baseball history during the World Series.
The following is a ranking of the five most memorable, most dramatic World Series since the turn of the century. These Fall Classics are responsible for producing the legends of this generation and will go down among the best in Major League history.
Despite only going five games, the 2000 World Series provided plenty of drama with the two New York franchises meeting in the postseason for the first time since 1956.
After a walk-off win in the bottom of the 12th of Game 1, the Yankees turned to Roger Clemens to pad their series lead before the series shifted to Shea Stadium.
During interleague play that season, Clemens hit Mets catcher Mike Piazza in the head with a fastball, sending the veteran backstop to the disabled list with a concussion. In his first at-bat of Game 2, Piazza shattered his bat while fouling off a pitch.
A sharp edge of the bat came towards Clemens, who came off the mound and threw the bat towards the Yankee dugout, nearly hitting Piazza. The incident nearly sparked a brawl, with both benches clearing, but no one was ejected.
Trailing 6-0, the Mets staged a ninth inning rally keyed by a two-run homer from Piazza off reliever Jeff Nelson and then a three-run shot by Jay Payton against Mariano Rivera. Their rally would fall just short, however, as Rivera struck out the final Mets hitter to extend the Yankees’ World Series win streak to 14 games.
After tying Game 3 in the bottom of the sixth, the Mets jumped ahead with two runs in the eighth inning off of Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, who had a postseason record of 6-0 heading into the game. The Mets went on to win Game 3, ending the Yankees’ World Series game winning streak that dated back to 1996.
The Yankees started a new streak the next night, defeating the Mets 3-2 in Game 4 behind a home run from Derek Jeter on the first pitch of the game.
Jeter delivered another pivotal home run in Game 5, this one a solo shot in the top of the sixth to tie the game at two. Mets starting pitcher Al Leiter pitched into the ninth inning but surrendered a two-out single to Luis Sojo. On that play, the throw from center field ricocheted off of baserunner Jorge Posada and into the Yankees dugout as he slid into home plate, allowing Scott Brosius to score an insurance run for the Yankees.
Representing the tying run in the bottom of the ninth, Piazza hit a long fly ball, but Bernie Williams caught it in the deepest part of the ballpark to give the Yankees their third consecutive World Series title.
Epilogue: The Mets have reached the postseason just one time since their 2000 NL pennant run. That appearance came in 2006 when they lost to the eventual World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS.
In hindsight, 2000 marked the start of the decline for the Yankees dynasty. The mystique surrounding their franchise had begun to wear off as it slowly became apparent that they were falling back to earth.
It was David versus Goliath in 2003.
Playing the role of David was the Florida Marlins. With a payroll of just $54 million and a roster comprising primarily young players, the Marlins started the season 16-22, prompting the dismissal of manager Jeff Torborg and bringing 72-year-old Jack McKeon out of retirement.
Under McKeon, Florida went 75-59 to clinch the Wild Card. After slipping past San Francisco in the NLDS, the Marlins rallied from a 3-1 deficit against the Cubs to win the NLCS. That series is most remembered for the Steve Bartman incident in Game 6 that demoralized the Cubs and propelled Florida to its second World Series in franchise history.
Enter Goliath. The New York Yankees were making their sixth World Series appearance in eight years, boasting a payroll that was nearly twice as large as the Marlins'.
Like Florida, New York had to rally from a 3-1 deficit in the LCS against a supposedly “cursed” team to reach the World Series. In Game 7 of their series versus Boston, the Yankees tied the game with three runs in the bottom of the eighth off of starter Pedro Martinez. Then, in the bottom of the 11th, Aaron Boone cemented his place in infamy for Boston fans, with a walk-off home run to lead off the inning.
Pitchers Brad Penny and Dontrelle Willis turned in strong performances, while the offense did just enough against Yankees starter David Wells to get the Marlins a 3-2 victory in Game 1. Bernie Williams hit his 18th career postseason home run in a losing effort, tying him with Reggie Jackson and Mickey Mantle for the most all-time. For the Yankees, it was their first World Series loss at Yankee Stadium since 1996.
Hideki Matsui hit a three-run homer in the first inning of Game 2, becoming the first Japanese player to hit a home run in the World Series, as the Yankees rode a stronger performance from starter Andy Pettitte to even the series entering Game 3. Their 6-1 victory in Game 2 would be the last World Series game won by the Yankees at the old Yankee Stadium.
After losing Game 3 by a 6-1 score (the game was a pitcher’s duel for the first seven innings), the Marlins bounced back with a 4-3 victory in Game 4. Florida tagged starter Roger Clemens (making what many believed to be the final start of his Major League career) for three runs in the first inning, including a two-run home run from Miguel Cabrera.
After striking out Luis Castillo to end the seventh, Clemens walked off the field to a standing ovation and a pause from the Marlins players to recognize what he had accomplished during his career.
With his team trailing 3-1 in the ninth, it looked like Clemens would take the loss in his final Major League appearance, but a late-inning rally, capped off by a two-run triple by Ruben Sierra against Ugueth Urbina, spared him. The Marlins escaped a bases-loaded situation in the top of the 11th, and eventually won the game in the bottom of the 12th when Alex Gonzalez led off the inning with a home run off of Jeff Weaver.
David Wells exited Game 5 after lasting just one inning as Florida pounced on the wounded Yankees team, tagging them for six runs in a four-inning span. Trailing 6-2 in the ninth, New York attempted to rally, with RBI hits by Jeter and Enrique Wilson, as well as a pinch-hit home run from Jason Giambi. Their rally would fall just short, however, as Urbina avenged his blown save in Game 4 by getting the final two outs of the game.
Despite pitching on just three days' rest, 23-year-old Josh Beckett was dazzling in his Game 6 start (the 100th World Series game ever played at Yankee Stadium), striking out nine Yankee hitters while walking just two over nine shutout innings. That performance in Game 6 not only clinched the Marlins' second World Series Championship in franchise history, but also earned Beckett World Series MVP honors.
With their victory in Game 6, the Marlins became the fastest expansion team to win two World Series titles. They also became the first team to win the World Series despite not having home-field advantage in any of their postseason series.
Since winning the World Series in 2003, the Marlins have finished no better than third in the NL East. Their small payroll philosophy has come under heavy criticism, as fan attendance has steadily declined.
After their 2003 loss to the Marlins, the Yankees would not reach the World Series again until 2009. Aside from 2008, New York has at least reached the postseason every year since 2003, but has only made it out of the ALDS twice (2004 and 2009).
For the first time in World Series history, it was the two Wild Card teams representing their leagues in the Fall Classic.
Anaheim, who won 99 games during the regular season but finished four games behind Oakland in the AL West, was playing in their first World Championship in franchise history. Led by manager Mike Scioscia, the Angels lineup featured a balance of veterans (Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad and Troy Glaus) and young players (Adam Kennedy and David Eckstein). Their pitching staff housed players like Jarrod Washburn, John Lackey, Troy Percival and a 20-year-old prospect named Francisco Rodriguez.
Led by manager Dusty Baker (the first African-American manager to participate in the World Series since 1993), the Giants were making their third World Series appearance since moving to San Francisco in 1958, and their first since they were swept by Oakland in 1989. With a lineup that comprised slugger Barry Bonds and a starting rotation led by Kirk Reuter and Jason Schmidt, the Giants had to win 95 games to secure their spot in the postseason.
Making his first career World Series appearance, Bonds did not disappoint, smacking a solo home run to lead off the second inning off of Washburn to give San Francisco an early lead. The Giants eventually extended their lead to 4-1 behind home runs from JT Snow and Reggie Sanders and would hold on for the Game 1 victory despite two home runs from series MVP Troy Glaus.
Game 2 redefined the word “slugfest,” as the two teams combined for of eight home runs and a total of 21 runs scored. Bonds and Sanders both had multi-home run games for San Francisco, but it was Tim Salmon’s second home run of the night, a two-run shot in the bottom of the eighth, that gave Anaheim an 11-10 victory and evened the series as it headed back to San Francisco.
Bonds became the first player to homer in his first three World Series games, but it was not enough as Anaheim batted around twice (without hitting a home run) in the third and fourth innings, en route to a 10-4 victory in Game 3. Before the game, Giants PA announcer Renel Brooks-Moon was recognized by the Baseball Hall of Fame as the first female announcer of a championship game in any professional sport.
San Francisco evened the series in Game 4 behind an RBI single by David Bell in the bottom of the eighth and pushed Anaheim to the brink of elimination in Game 5 with a 16-4 blowout.
One of the more memorable moments in World Series history occurred in the bottom of the seventh of Game 5. After Kenny Lofton hit a triple to center field, three-year-old batboy Darren Baker, Dusty’s son, ran to home plate to grab Lofton's bat before the play was over. Reacting quickly, Snow grabbed Darren by his jacket, saving him from a collision with Bell, who was close behind Snow.
Back in Anaheim with a chance to clinch their first World Series Championship in franchise history in Game 6, the Giants held a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh. With so much on the line, Baker opted to pull starting pitcher Russ Ortiz after he allowed back-to-back singles.
In a rather bold move, Baker gave Ortiz the game ball as he sent him to the dugout. During the pitching change, the Rally Monkey came onto the JumboTron, electrifying the sellout crowd and sparking a rally from the Angels.
The two-inning, six-run rally was started up by the very next hitter, Scott Spiezio, who hit a three-run home run over the right field wall. Erstad led off the bottom of the eighth with a home run, before Glaus drove in two runs with a double to left-center field over Bonds’ head. The Angels’ comeback from a five-run deficit was the largest in World Series history for an elimination game.
Anaheim finished off the comeback with a 4-1 victory in Game 7 behind a strong performance from rookie John Lackey. The Angels defeated San Francisco in the series despite scoring 41 runs to the Giants’ 44. They also became the first team to win a World Series Championship despite losing the first game in all three rounds of the playoffs.
While Scioscia is still manager of the Angels, Baker was not re-signed by the Giants, opting to manage the Chicago Cubs. Despite winning five AL West titles over a six-year period and having a 100-win season in 2008, Anaheim has yet to win an AL pennant since their 2002 World Series run. San Francisco finally won its first World Series in 2010, defeating the Texas Rangers four games to one.
When ranking the World Series from the past decade, there are the 2001 and 2011 Fall Classics—then all of the others. These two series are head and shoulders above the rest in terms of drama and the context surrounding each team's rise to the postseason.
In 2001, the three-time defending champion New York Yankees were in one corner. Led by guys like Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, the Bronx Bombers had won four of the last five Fall Classics and appeared to be poised for another decade of dominance.
Playing with especially heavy hearts following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Yankees shouldered the hearts and souls of the entire city of New York with them on their journey to the World Series.
Opposing the Yankees were the Arizona Diamondbacks. At the time, the D-backs were a lowly expansion team who appeared to be getting hot at just the right time. In hindsight, Arizona, whose roster included Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and Luis Gonzalez, among others, should have been given more of a chance. At the time, however, the Yankees were the emotional favorite.
In Games 1 and 2, the Diamondbacks dominated the Yankees behind strong performances from their aces, Johnson and Schilling. As the series shifted back to New York, it appeared that Arizona was poised to pull off the upset.
It would turn out, however, that a homecoming was all that the Yankees needed to get back on track. Recharged by the emotional crowds at Yankee Stadium, the Bronx Bombers won Games 3,4 and 5 in dramatic fashion.
In Game 3, the Yanks rode a strong performance from Clemens to win their first game of the series.
After Tino Martinez hit a game-tying two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth off Byung-Hyun Kim, Joe Torre turned to Rivera, his lights out closer, to hold the score at 3-3 and give the Yankees a chance to win. Rivera did his job, and in the bottom of the tenth, first year manager Bob Brenly inexplicably left Kim in the game to face the top of New York’s lineup.
After getting the first two hitters out, it appeared that Brenly was going to get lucky. But with two outs, Jeter smacked a walk-off home run to tie the series for the Yankees heading into Game 5.
The Yankees needed another ninth-inning home run, this time from third baseman Scott Brosius, to extend Game 5. The score held at 2-2 until the bottom of the 12th when Alfonso Soriano drove in Chuck Knoblauch with a walk-off RBI single to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead as the series shifted back to the desert.
After the Diamondbacks forced a Game 7 with a 15-2 blowout in Game 6, Brenly decided to go back to his ace Schilling on just three days' rest. Schilling pitched admirably but exited the game with his team trailing 2-1 in the top of the eighth after surrendering the go-ahead home run to Soriano to lead off the inning.
In the bottom of the ninth, however, it was Arizona’s time to shine. With one out, Tony Womack tied the game with an RBI double, effectively ending Rivera’s streak of 23 successful postseason saves. With the infield drawn in for the play at the plate, Gonzalez hit low line drive that barely reached the outfield grass, dropping for a World Series-clinching, walk-off single.
Arizona’s walk-off win in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series served as the basis for Buster Olney’s book The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, which chronicles the Yankees’ Game 7 collapse both on the field and inside the dugout.
Despite posting a combined 182-142 record over his next two seasons, Brenly was fired midway through the 2004 season after his team got off to a 29-50 start. He is currently in the broadcast booth, providing color commentary for the Chicago Cubs.
The aging heroes from the 2001 series, Johnson, Schilling and Gonzalez, were eventually dealt away. The Diamondbacks have reached the postseason just three times since 2001. New York has played in two World Series since, winning in 2009 against the Philadelphia Phillies.
It was tough deciding between the '01 and '11 series. There was so much emotion and that strong sense of patriotism surrounding the 2001 series ,and the entire nation's attention was on those seven games in New York
Looking past the emotional factor, it really signified the end of the Yankees' dominance. As would be the case in 2003, it was an expansion team that came out of nowhere to knock off the champions.
There was a high amount of emotion surrounding the 2011 series, but it was a different kind of emotion. St. Louis had risen from the ashes late in the season, pulling off an unprecedented run late in the regular season and through the playoffs.
There was a mystique surrounding Texas as well. Despite losing Cliff Lee to Philadelphia during the offseason, the Rangers still clinched the AL West title with relative ease and cruised to their second AL pennant in as many years.
The tiebreaker between these two series was the caliber of the games played. While the '01 series featured late-inning victories in Games 3-5 and a dramatic walk-off to end it in Game 7, six of the seven games in 2011 were dramatic in their own right. Even in the blowout in Game 3, there was Albert Pujols' historic performance to talk about.
Some may complain that the 2011 series was not nearly as big of a draw as the 2001 series, but after the dramatics of Game 6, Texas and St. Louis had everyone's attention.
Games 1 and 2 featured late-inning heroics from both teams against a pitcher who had been dominant up until that point.
Cardinal manager Tony La Russa gambled in Game 1, electing to pinch-hit Allen Craig for pitcher Chris Carpenter with two runners on in the sixth inning. Craig came through, delivering an RBI single off of Texas reliever Alexi Ogando to give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead.
Texas responded in Game 2, capitalizing on an error by Pujols in the top of the ninth to take the lead and eventually tie the series as it shifted back to Texas. After the game, Pujols slipped out of the clubhouse without talking to any members of the media, drawing some harsh criticism from writers around the nation, including Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan, who called the Cardinal slugger’s actions “cowardly.”
In Game 3, Pujols responded to his critics with three home runs in a historic 5-6 performance. He joined Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth as the only players in World Series history to hit three home runs in the same game during the World Series.
The Cardinals' 16-7 victory did not come without controversy. With his team leading 1-0 in the top of the fourth and Pujols on at first, Matt Holliday hit a ground ball to Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus. Andrus flipped to Ian Kinsler, who rifled a throw to first baseman Mike Napoli.
Kinsler's throw pulled Napoli off the bag, but he grabbed the errant throw and quickly tagged Holliday on the back of the neck before he was able to reach first base. Napoli's tag was so forceful that it actually knocked Holliday off balance as he crossed first base.
There is no denying that Holliday was out, but first base umpire Ron Kulpa called Holliday safe, extending the inning for the Cardinals, who promptly blew the game wide open. As was the case in 1985 when the Cardinals fell victim to a blown call by Don Denkinger, Texas still had opportunities to stop the bleeding that inning, but were unable to.
After a slugfest the night before, Game 4 belonged to Texas starter Derek Holland, who pitched eight and a third shutout innings, holding the Cardinals to just two hits while striking out seven.
Pitching was the story again the next night. This time, however, it was a missed phone call for the bullpen in the bottom of the eighth that ultimately cost the Cardinals Game 5, putting Texas just one win away from their first World Series Championship in franchise history.
Game 6, which will go down as one of the greatest games in World Series history, saw Texas come within one strike of winning the World Series on two different occasions, but both times the Cardinals rallied to extend the game. In the bottom of the ninth, St. Louis-native David Freese smacked a two-run triple over the head of Nelson Cruz in right field to force extra innings.
In the top of the tenth, Hamilton hit his first home run of the series, a two-run shot to put Texas back on top.
It was the same story, but with different characters in the bottom of the inning for St. Louis. This time, it was Lance Berkman facing Scott Feldman. Down to his final strike, Berkman roped Feldman's 2-2 offering into center field, driving in Jon Jay and tying the game once again.
After a quiet top of the 11th, Freese permanently cemented his place in Cardinal history by crushing a 3-2 changeup from Mark Lowe to dead center field for a walk-off game winner.
With Carpenter on the mound for Game 7, the Cardinals cruised past a demoralized Texas team 6-2 to claim their 11th World Series Championship. While Game 7 was nowhere as exciting as Game 6, it did have its moments, the biggest of which came in the top of the sixth.
Trailing by three runs and needing just one more home run to break Barry Bonds' record for most postseason home runs, Cruz crushed Carpenter's offering to left field. Just as it looked as if the ball was going to sail over the wall, Craig jumped up and robbed Cruz of his record-breaking home run.
With his late inning heroics in Game 6, Freese became the sixth player in MLB history to win the MVP award in both the League Championship Series and the World Series.
Just a day after the city of St. Louis celebrated the Cardinals' 11th World Series Championship, La Russa announced his retirement. The team had not named a replacement at the time this article was written.