Remembering the 25 Greatest Moments in MLB Playoff History

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistOctober 17, 2012

Remembering the 25 Greatest Moments in MLB Playoff History

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    After a phenomenal finish to the 2011 regular season and an equally exciting World Series between the Cardinals and Rangers, the 2012 postseason has picked up right where that left off with perhaps the greatest Division Series round of all time.

    Throughout the years, the MLB postseason has given us some of the greatest moments, not just in baseball history, but in sports history in general.

    Narrowing the list was tough, but here are the 25 greatest moments in MLB postseason history as I see them.

Honorable Mentions

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    • Chris Chambliss Walk-off HR in 1976 ALCS, Game 5
    • Jackie Robinson Steals Home in 1955 World Series, Game 1
    • Enos Slaughter Scores Winning Run in 1946 World Series, Game 7
    • Derek Jeter Backhanded Flip in 2001 ALDS, Game 3
    • Babe Ruth 14-Inning Win in 1916 World Series, Game 2

    Note: I do not consider the Bill Buckner error to be one of the "greatest" moments in postseason history. It is certainly one of the most memorable moments, but it does not fall under the category of "greatest" in my mind.

25. Jim Leyritz Three-Run HR in 1996 World Series, Game 4

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    In the World Series, for the first time since 1981, the Yankees dropped the first two games of the 1996 Series at home before taking Game 3 in Atlanta. However, they looked to be on their way to a 3-1 deficit when the Braves took a 6-0 lead into the sixth inning.

    A three-run top of the sixth moved the Yankees within three runs, but when the Braves turned to closer Mark Wohlers to start the eighth inning, it was clear they intended to slam the door.

    The Yankees had other ideas, though, as Charlie Hayes and Darryl Strawberry opened the inning with back-to-back singles, and, following a Mariano Duncan groundout, backup catcher Jim Leyritz stepped up to the plate.

    Leyritz entered the game in the fifth inning when starting catcher Joe Girardi was pinch-hit for, and he made the most of the position he found himself in as he launched a three-run, game-tying home run.

    The Yankees went on to win the game extra innings, and the next two games as well, to take the series. The momentum of the Leyritz home run is pointed to as the true start of the Yankees' late 1990s and early 2000s dynasty.

24. Curt Schilling Bloody Sock Start in 2004 ALCS, Game 6

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    There was clearly something wrong with Curt Schilling in Game 1 of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees when he went just three innings and allowed six runs.

    He next took the mound in Game 6 of the series, with the Red Sox coming off back-to-back extra inning wins but still trailing in the series 3-2 and facing elimination.

    Schilling had suffered a tendon injury to his right ankle earlier in the playoffs, and it was getting worse. In a desperation move, he underwent a procedure prior to the game to suture the tendon in his ankle to the skin surrounding it to prevent it from painfully moving around.

    He went on to pitch great, throwing seven innings and allowing one run on four hits, and his start was made all the more dramatic by the growing blood stain on his right sock, as one of the sutures had come loose in what is now known as the "Bloody Sock Game."

    Truly an impressive display of a player doing whatever it takes to be there for his team and get a win.

23. Bob Gibson 17-Strikeout Game in 1968 World Series, Game 1

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    After putting together what some consider the greatest pitching season of all time with a line of 22-9, 1.12 ERA, 268 Ks while taking home NL Cy Young and NL MVP honors, Bob Gibson didn't miss a beat when he took the mound for the Cardinals in Game 1 of the World Series.

    In pitching a complete-game shutout, Gibson struck out a playoff-record 17 Tigers, fanning each starter at least once. He gave up just five hits and walked only one in what could be considered the most dominant start in postseason history.

    Gibson would throw another gem in Game 4, as he gave up just one run on five hits, but he was out-dueled by Mickey Lolich in the decisive Game 7 as the Tigers took home the title.

22. Francisco Cabrera Walk-off Single in 1992 NLCS, Game 7

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    After squandering a 3-1 series lead, the Braves were forced into a Game 7 with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1992 NLCS.

    Ace Doug Drabek took the mound for the Pirates, and he was lights-out though eight innings, giving up just five hits and no runs, and Pittsburgh took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning.

    Terry Pendleton led off the ninth with a double. Then David Justice reached on an error, and the bases were loaded with no one out when Drabek walked Sid Bream on four pitches.

    That was enough for Drabek to get the hook, and Stan Belinda came on for the Pirates to try to snuff the rally. Ron Gant greeted him with a sacrifice fly to deep left field, as the Braves pulled it to 2-1 with runners on first and second and one out.

    Damon Berryhill drew a walk to re-load the bases, but pinch-hitter Brian Hunter popped out to bring the Braves down to their final out. Francisco Cabrera came to the plate, pinch-hitting for the pitcher's spot, with the Braves season hanging in the balance.

    With just 10 regular-season at-bats in 12 games with the team, Cabrera was an unlikely hero, but he came through with a single through the left side of the infield, and Bream slid in just ahead of the tag at home plate to send the Braves to the World Series.

21. Reggie Jackson Three-HR Game in 1977 World Series, Game 6

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    The Yankees entered Game 6 of the 1977 World Series leading the series 3-2 and looking to put the pesky Dodgers away.

    Cleanup hitter Reggie Jackson had homered in the previous two games for the Yankees, but he was about to do something no one had ever done in the playoffs and something that would earn him the nickname "Mr. October."

    After walking in his first plate appearance, Jackson would homer in each of his next three at-bats as the Yankees won the game 8-4 and captured the title.

    Jackson took home MVP honors and finished the series with five home runs and eight RBI to post one of the greatest World Series lines in history and truly earn his nickname.

    Babe Ruth and Albert Pujols are the only other players to ever homer three times in a single World Series game, but it is Jackson who is best-known for achieving the feat.

20. Christy Mathewson Throws Three Shutouts in 1905 World Series

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    One of the greatest pitchers ever to play the game, Christy Mathewson holds the record with four career shutouts in the World Series, and if that was not impressive enough, three of those four came in the 1905 World Series.

    The Giants took the 1905 series from the Athletics in five games, and Mathewson pitched three of those five, giving up a total of 13 hits over 27 innings, while striking out 18 and walking just one.

    There have been many dominant postseason performances over the years, but no pitcher has ever single-handedly won a World Series for his team the way Mathewson did for the Giants in 1905.

19. Derek Jeter Walk-off HR in 2001 World Series, Game 4

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    With the Diamondbacks holding a 3-1 lead heading into the eighth inning, Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly turned to his closer Byung-Hyun Kim for a two-inning save. He responded by striking out the side in the eighth but ran into trouble in the ninth, and a two-run home run by Tino Martinez sent things into extra innings.

    After the Diamondbacks failed to score in the top of the tenth, Brenly decided to stick with his closer for a third inning. He got the first two batters of the inning out, bringing up Jeter just as the clock at Yankee Stadium passed midnight, marking the first time baseball had been played in November.

    After drawing a full count, Jeter smacked one over the wall in right field for an opposite-field game winner. That earned him the nickname "Mr. November."

    Kim would blow another save the next game, but the Diamondbacks got the last laugh, winning the series in seven games when Yankees closer Mariano Rivera blew a save of his own.

18. Sandy Koufax Throws Shutout in 1965 World Series, Game 5 & 7

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    After suffering the loss in Game 2 of the 1965 World Series, Sandy Koufax took the mound again for the Dodgers in Game 5 with the series knotted up at 2-2.

    Facing a good Twins lineup that featured future Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew and a pair of great hitters in Tony Oliva and Bob Allison, Koufax was absolutely dominant as he surrendered just four hits and struck out 10.

    That wasn't the end of Koufax's amazing postseason, though, as he took the ball again three days later and threw another shutout in the decisive Game 7, this time allowing just three hits, while again striking out 10.

17. David Ortiz Walk-off HR in 2004 ALCS, Game 4

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    Coming off of a 19-8 drubbing in Game 3, the Red Sox found themselves facing a sweep at the hands of their rivals, as they trailed 4-3 against the Yankees going into the bottom of the ninth.

    Kevin Millar led off the inning with a single, and pinch-runner Dave Roberts stole second base to set up a game-tying single from Bill Mueller, as Mariano Rivera blew a rare postseason save opportunity. He did, however, get out of the inning with the score still tied.

    After a scoreless 11th, the Yankees failed to score in the top of the 12th, and the Red Sox had another opportunity to come away with the win. Paul Quantrill came in to pitch for the Yankees, and after a Manny Ramirez single, David Ortiz gave the Red Sox the win with a two-run shot.

    That began perhaps the most improbable comeback in sports history, and the Red Sox won the next three games to become the first team to ever come back from down 3-0.

16. Jack Morris 10-Inning Shutout Win in 1991 World Series, Game 7

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    Signed in the offseason to a one-year, $3.7 million contract to be the ace of the Twins staff, Morris found himself very much in the role of ace as he took the hill for Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, a game set up by Kirby Puckett's dramatic walk-off home run in Game 6.

    Morris won Game 1 of the series and took a no-decision in Game 4, despite giving up just one run in six innings of work. Pitching on three days rest, Morris would not give the bullpen a chance to give the game away in the decisive Game 7.

    Morris and a then 24-year-old John Smoltz matched each other zero for zero with seven shutout innings before the Braves turned to the bullpen. Things remained scoreless through nine innings, and Morris took the mound for the top of the tenth with a pitch count of 118 and no intention of leaving the game.

    He needed just eight pitches to get through the tenth inning 1-2-3, and in the bottom of the 10th, the Twins finally pushed across a run on a Gene Larkin RBI single as Morris turned in one of the most dominant performances on the biggest stage possible.

15. Edgar Martinez Walk-off Double in 1995 ALDS, Game 5

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    After coming back in September to catch the collapsing Angels, then securing a playoff spot with a one-game playoff victory, the Mariners' road to the 1995 postseason was an exciting one to say the least, but that was nothing compared to the series they would play with the Yankees.

    After falling behind in the best-of-five series 2-0, the Mariners looked to be on their way to the offseason, but they battled back to take the next two games and force a decisive Game 5.

    The Mariners trailed 4-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, but a solo home run by Ken Griffey, Jr, and a bases-loaded walk by Doug Strange later in the inning tied things up heading into the ninth.

    Seattle turned things over to ace Randy Johnson, and he threw three scoreless innings before giving up an RBI single to Randy Velarde that put the pressure on the Mariners to score or go home.

    With starting pitcher Jack McDowell on the mound for his third inning of relief, the Mariners opened the inning with back-to-back singles from Joey Cora and Griffey.

    That brought up Edgar Martinez, and he drove a double to left field, bringing in Cora and a racing Griffey, who scored the winning run just ahead of the tag.

    The play is largely credited with saving baseball in Seattle, and it remains the biggest moment in Mariners franchise history.

14. Babe Ruth Called Shot in 1932 World Series, Game 3

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    The Yankees have hit some of the most memorable home runs in baseball history, but there is none more talked about nor more revered than Babe Ruth's infamous called shot against the Cubs in the 1932 World Series.

    What is fact and what is fiction about the events that transpired that day will likely never be known, and the closest we have to evidence is the above grainy photo that is the baseball equivalent of the infamous Bigfoot picture, but that only makes the legend that much more intriguing.

    As it goes, the Cubs' players and fans had been heckling Ruth all game, and he had been giving it right back rather than just ignoring them. Batting in the fifth inning against Cubs ace Charlie Root, Ruth took a first-pitch strike. He is then said to have pointed to either Root or the right-center bleachers.

    After taking three straight pitches, and pointing after each one, he then crushed a 2-2 offering to the same area in the right-center field bleachers where he was supposedly pointing.

    Whether it is all true, we may never know, but it is one of the stories that makes baseball great, and it goes down as one of the most legendary moments in sports history.

13. Aaron Boone Walk-off HR in 2003 ALCS, Game 7

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    With Pedro Martinez pitching great for the Red Sox, the Yankees trailed 5-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. Martinez took the mound in the eighth despite a high pitch count after assuring manager Grady Little that he still had something left.

    After getting the first out of the inning, Martinez gave up a double to Derek Jeter, followed by an RBI single to Bernie Williams. That drew Little to the mound, but to the surprise of everyone, he left Martinez in.

    Pedro then promptly gave up a double to Hideki Matsui and was finally chased after a two-run double Jorge Posada, with the score now 5-5.

    It would remain 5-5 until the bottom of the 11th, as the Red Sox sent Tim Wakefield out for his second inning of relief.

    Leading off for the Yankees was Aaron Boone, who had entered the game as pinch-runner in the eighth inning. He hit the first pitch he saw from Wakefield over the left-field wall to send the Yankees to the World Series.

12. Ozzie Smith Walk-off HR in 1985 NLCS, Game 5

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    Prior to the 1985 season, the League Championship Series was changed from a best-of-five format to a best-of-seven format, so when the Cardinals and Dodgers entered Game Five tied at 2-2, it was not a chance to win the series but certainly to take control of it.

    The Cardinals jumped to an early 2-0 lead, but the Dodgers tied things up with a two-run fourth inning, and the score remained tied heading into the bottom of the ninth.

    The Dodgers turned to reliever Tom Niedenfuer to keep things tied, after eight strong innings from ace Fernando Valenzuela. After inducing a popup from the first hitter of the inning, Willie McGee, switch-hitting Ozzie Smith stepped up to the plate hitting left-handed.

    In 3,009 at bats in his career batting left-handed, Smith had never homered, but when it mattered most, he came through with a game-ending jack to right field.

    "Go crazy, folks, go crazy!" said Cardinals announcer Jack Buck.

11. Roy Halladay No-Hitter in 2010 NLDS, Game 1

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    Roy Halladay enjoyed a phenomenal 2010 regular season, as he led the National League with 21 wins and took home the NL Cy Young Award in his first season with the Phillies. Throw in the perfect game he pitched on May 29, and it is safe to say that Halladay was the best pitcher in baseball in 2010.

    That great regular season was followed by the first postseason appearance of his career, as he took the ball in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Reds, and he started off the postseason with a bang.

    Halladay needed just 104 pitches as he no-hit the Reds, striking out eight and walking just one for the lone blemish on his stat line. It was just the second no-hitter in postseason history and an impressively dominant performance to say the least.

10. Edgar Renteria Walk-off Single in 1997 World Series, Game 7

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    One of the bigger underdog stories in World Series history, the Marlins took on a loaded Indians team in 1997, and the teams alternated wins through the first six games to take things to a deciding Game 7.

    The Indians held a 2-1 lead entering the bottom of the ninth inning, and closer Jose Mesa took the mound in an attempt to slam the door and give the Indians a title. However, he was unable to lock things down, and after a pair of singles, Craig Counsell delivered with a sacrifice fly to tie the game.

    After a scoreless 10th, Jay Powell came on for the Marlins and pitched a scoreless top of the 11th to set his team up with a chance to win it against Indians ace Charles Nagy on in relief.

    Bobby Bonilla led off the inning with a single, and following a Greg Zaun popout, Craig Counsell reached on an error. That was followed by an intentional walk to Jim Eisenreich to load the bases, but Nagy managed to get the second out of the inning when Devon White grounded out to second, and Bonilla was forced out at home.

    He wouldn't get out No. 3 though, as 20-year-old shortstop Edgar Renteria singled up the middle to score Counsell and give the Marlins a title in just their fifth season as an MLB franchise.

9. Luis Gonzalez Walk-off Single in 2001 World Series, Game 7

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    In one of the most exciting World Series of all time, the Diamondbacks entered Game 7 coming off of a 15-2 victory in Game 6 that was preceded by a pair of blown saves by closer Byung-Hyun Kim that resulted in extra-inning losses.

    However, things looked to be all over as the Diamondbacks entered the bottom of the ninth inning trailing 2-1, set to face the greatest closer of all-time in Mariano Rivera.

    Mark Grace led off the ninth with a single, and an error by Rivera put runners on first and second with no one out. A failed sacrifice bunt by Jay Bell made it first and second with one out when leadoff hitter Tony Womack smacked a double down the right field line to score one and tie things up.

    Clearly rattled, Rivera hit the next batter to bring Luis Gonzalez to the plate. Bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, tie game, World Series Game 7. The ultimate scenario and Gonzalez delivered.

    While most kids don't envision hitting a bloop single to win the World Series when imagining that scenario, it was enough to score Jay Bell and give the Diamondbacks the title.

8. Kirby Puckett Walk-off HR in 1991 World Series, Game 6

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    Down 3-2 to the Braves in the World Series, it was do-or-die for the Twins in Game 6, and they jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first inning. The Braves tied things up at 2-2 in the top of the fifth, but the Twins once again took the lead with a run in the bottom of the inning.

    A Mark Lemke single to open the seventh inning chased Twins starter Scott Erickson, and after reliever Mark Guthrie loaded the bases, Ron Gant tied things up with an RBI ground out.

    The score would remain 3-3 until the bottom of the 11th, when Puckett led off the bottom of the inning with a home run to left-center off of a 2-1 pitch from reliever Charlie Leibrandt.

    In on of the most straight to the point, yet perfect calls of all-time, Jack Buck simply said, "and we'll see you tomorrow night!"

7. David Freese Hits Tying Triple, Walk-off HR in 2011 World Series, Game 6

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    While Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, which was ended by Carlton Fisk's legendary home run, is often considered the greatest game ever played, Game 6 of the 2011 World Series can certainly give it a run for its money.

    The Rangers entered the game leading the series 3-2 and looked on their way to winning the title as they entered the bottom of the ninth with a 7-5 lead.

    Closer Neftali Feliz came on and struck out the first batter he faced before running into trouble in giving up a double to Albert Pujols and walking Lance Berkman. He struck out Allen Craig for the second out of the inning, bringing up David Freese.

    With a 1-2 count, Freese connected and hit what appeared to be a catchable fly ball to right field, but Nelson Cruz took a poor route to it, and it wound up being a two-run, game-tying triple to send things to extras.

    The Rangers quickly regained the lead on a two-run home run from Josh Hamilton in the top of the tenth, but RBI from Ryan Theriot and Berkman in the bottom of the inning again knotted things up.

    Jake Westbrook pitched a scoreless top of the 11th, and Freese led off the bottom of the 11th with a game-winning home run to cap off his heroic day and extend the series to Game 7, which the Cardinals would win.

6. Willie Mays Catch in 1954 World Series, Game 1

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    Game 1 of the 1954 World Series ended with a walk-off, pinch-hit, three-run home run, and that still only ranks as the second-best moment of that game, thanks to Willie Mays.

    With the game tied at 2-2 heading into the eighth inning, the Indians put runners on first and second to lead things off, bringing first baseman Vic Wertz to the plate.

    Wertz hit a two-run triple in the first inning to give the Indians their first two runs, and he put a drive into a ball to deep center field that looked like it would add to his RBI total.

    Instead, Giants center fielder Willie Mays ran the ball down on a dead sprint, catching it over his shoulder for one of the greatest defensive plays in baseball history and a moment that has gone down simply as "The Catch."

5. Don Larsen Perfect Game in 1956 World Series, Game 5

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    In just his second season with the Yankees and his fourth season in the league, Don Larsen found himself as the second starter in the New York rotation behind Whitey Ford in the 1956 World Series.

    Starting Game 2, Larsen lasted just 1.2 innings and gave up four unearned runs while walking four before getting pulled, and he would next take the mound in Game 5 with the series tied 2-2.

    Larsen went 11-5 with a 3.26 ERA during the regular season in 38 appearances (20 starts), and he took the mound with his best stuff on Oct. 8, 1956.

    He tore through the Dodgers' impressive lineup that featured five future Hall of Famers, throwing a perfect game while striking out seven to take the pivotal Game 5, as the Yankees would go on to win the series in seven games.

4. Kirk Gibson Walk-off HR in 1988 World Series, Game 1

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    After the Dodgers struck for two runs in the first inning, Athletics starter Dave Stewart settled down and gave up just one more run through eight innings. The Athletics, meanwhile, scored four runs of their own in the top of the second inning, as the score sat at 4-3 entering the bottom of the ninth inning.

    The A's turned to their All-World closer Dennis Eckersley, who had an AL-best 45 saves and finished second in AL Cy Young voting, to slam the door in the ninth inning. After getting two quick outs, Eck walked pinch-hitter Mike Davis, and the Dodgers turned to Kirk Gibson to pinch-hit for the pitcher's spot.

    With two bad knees, Gibson hobbled up to the plate as the Dodgers last chance. After fouling off a number of pitches, he managed to work a full count. According to Gibson, Dodgers scout Mel Didier had told him that Eckersley throws a backdoor slider nearly exclusively when he has a 3-2 count.

    Sure enough, Gibson got the pitch he was looking for and hit it into the right-field bleachers, setting the tone for the rest of the series, which the Dodgers would win in five games.

    The footage of Gibson hobbling around the bases and pumping his fist is baseball legend, and Jack Buck's line, "I don't believe what I just saw!" is as much a part of history as the home run itself.

3. Carlton Fisk Walk-off HR in 1975 World Series, Game 6

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    The Red Sox entered Game 6 of the 1975 World Series trailing the Reds in the series 3-2, and they trailed 6-3 entering the bottom of the eighth inning before a huge pinch-hit home run from Bernie Carbo tied things up. The score would stay knotted until the bottom of the 12th inning.

    After throwing two perfect innings of relief, the Reds' Pat Darcy took the mound for his third inning of work in the 12th, and first up for the Red Sox was cleanup hitter Carlton Fisk.

    After taking the first pitch he saw for a ball, Fisk lined a ball deep down the left-field line that had the distance but looked as though it may drift foul.

    With Fisk waving his arms in an attempt to coax it fair, in what has become an iconic baseball moment, the ball kicked off the left-field foul pole for a game-winning home run.

    The Red Sox would go on to lose Game 7, but that has taken nothing away from the legend of the home run itself.

2. Joe Carter Walk-off HR in 1993 World Series, Game 6

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    With the Blue Jays up 3-2 in the series, the Blue Jays held a 5-1 lead heading into the top of the seventh inning with starter Dave Stewart pitching well.

    However, Stewart led off the inning with a walk and a single, and a three-run Lenny Dykstra home run promptly chased him from the game. The Phillies would go on to score two more runs before the Jays got out of the seventh, and they held that 6-5 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth.

    The Phillies turned to closer Mitch Williams in the ninth. Williams had 43 saves during the regular season, but he was not known as "Wild Thing" for nothing, and he walked the first batter of the inning in Rickey Henderson.

    After getting a flyout, Williams then surrendered a single to Paul Molitor, bringing up slugger Joe Carter. After working the count to 2-2, he took the next pitch out to left field, just clearing the wall to give the Jays the win and the series.

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

1. Bill Mazeroski Walk-off HR in 1960 World Series, Game 7

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    Mazeroski is widely regarded as the best defensive second baseman ever to play the game, yet the crowning achievement of his career is without a doubt his game-ending and World Series-ending home run in 1960.

    After hitting 11 home runs during the regular season, one of just six times he broke double digits during his 17-year career, Mazeroski led of the bottom of the ninth inning in what had been a back-and-forth game.

    After scoring five runs in the eighth to take a 9-7 lead, the Pirates surrendered two runs in the top of the ninth to tie things up. Mazeroski led off the bottom of the ninth, hitting in the eighth spot in the lineup, and he crushed Ralph Terry's 1-0 offering over the left-field wall for the first World Series-winning home run in baseball history and the greatest moment in MLB postseason history.