Ranking the 15 Greatest MLB Playoff Homers in Recent History

Brandon Scott@@brandonkscottFeatured Columnist IOctober 13, 2021

Ranking the 15 Greatest MLB Playoff Homers in Recent History

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    It's always fun to go back in time and look at some of the greatest moments in MLB history. That is what we will do here in ranking some of the greatest postseason home runs ever. 

    Let's start this exercise by acknowledging a couple of things. 

    There is a wealth of baseball history that exists from before any of our lifetimes. This piece will highlight moments from recent history, and that's not a slight to anything that happened before it. 

    I was born in 1989, long after some of the most legendary homers in MLB postseason history. Think of Chris Chambliss in Game 5 of the 1976 ALCS, Ozzie Smith in Game 5 of the 1985 NLCS, Dave Henderson in Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS, or perhaps most iconic: Kirk Gibson winning Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. 

    In the interest of time and fairness to my earliest memories—which start around 1993, but we'll go back a little further than that—let's rank the 15 greatest MLB playoff homers in recent history. 

15. David Ortiz, 2013 ALCS, Game 2

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    David Ortiz’s grand slam hit different because it sent Torii Hunter flying over the right field wall in an attempt to catch it.

    When you consider it tied the game with the Red Sox in danger of falling 2-0 in the series, and the energy at Fenway Park in a moment like that, it’s difficult to overlook. 

    The slam evened the series and put Boston on track to win its third World Series in 10 seasons, something fans there would not have fathomed in 2003. 

    From Ortiz slapping at the pitch, to Hunter leaping for the grab unsuccessfully, and the Boston police officer raising his hands in celebration, this moment sticks.

14. Albert Pujols, 2005 NLCS, Game 5

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    HARRY CABLUCK/Associated Press

    In Houston, the sound still rings from when Pujols banged a three-run shot off then-Astros closer Brad Lidge and the ball hit the side of the closed roof and then fell on to the train tracks at Minute Maid Park. 

    It was truly a dramatic hit and delayed the Astros claiming their first (and only) National League pennant. That happened in Game 6, and the Astros were eventually swept by the Chicago White Sox in the World Series. 

    The lasting memory from that run was not beating the Cardinals to make it to the World Series, rather how poorly Pujols treated that baseball. 

    The moment also seemed to break Lidge, at least temporarily. After becoming an All-Star for the first time in '05, Lidge struggled mightily in the World Series, and those struggles continued over the next two seasons until his resurgence with the Philadelphia Phillies.

13. Kiké Hernandez, 2020 NLCS, Game 7

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Hernandez is more recently known as the Boston Red Sox walk-off hero who just ended the Tampa Bay Rays' season. But this postseason-clutch-hitting thing is becoming his schtick. 

    Last year, the eventual World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers trailed the Atlanta Braves 3-1 in the NLDS. They worked back into the series to tie it at three games apiece.

    Then in Game 7, with the Braves holding a 3-2 lead in the sixth inning and 12 outs away from a World Series berth, Hernandez tied the game with a solo homer to left center at the neutral site Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. 

    Cody Bellinger followed up with another solo shot in the seventh inning, which turned out to be the series-clinching hit. But that starts with their utility player Hernandez setting the stage for a comeback.

12. Rajai Davis, 2016 World Series, Game 7

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The home run is what we're here for. But first, let's appreciate the at-bat and context surrounding it. It's the eighth inning, Cleveland has a man on second base, and Rajai Davis is 0-for-3 on the night and 3-for-20 on the series. 

    Not good, obviously. At that point, it doesn't seem like he's a threat to the Chicago Cubs' 6-4 lead. 

    So Davis takes a 100 mph first-pitch ball from Aroldis Chapman, then fouls off back-to-back heaters (99 mph and 98 mph) to get behind 1-2. The next pitch is 101 mph, just outside the zone. Davis takes it to even the count. Then he fouls off another 99 mph fastball, which was closer to the inner half location he was looking for. The next pitch is 101 mph that Davis fouls off the opposite way, and he stays alive.

    Chapman places one low in the zone, down and in. Davis drives it into left field with quickness to tie the game. 

    A 17-minute rain delay that followed worked to the Cubs' advantage, with Jason Heyward apparently delivering the motivational speech of a lifetime to his team. Chicago rallied with two runs in the 10th inning to win the game, despite another RBI from Davis to make it a one-run deficit. 

    It was a losing effort, but what a huge homer in that moment.

11. Scott Brosius, 2001 World Series, Game 5

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    STAN HONDA/Getty Images

    There was a runner on second base, and the Yankees were 1-for-24 with runners in scoring position in the series at that point. Byung-Hyun Kim was on the mound with a 2-0 lead for the Arizona Diamondbacks, just one out away from taking a 3-2 series lead over the Yankees 

    Brosius had seen Kim the previous night, going 0-for-2 with a strikeout and fly out to right field. He was also 0-for-3 in the game.

    Then he sent a 1-0 pitch to left field at the old Yankee Stadium, tying the game. It was the second of back-to-back games the Yankees won in extra innings, but Arizona responded at home with a pair of wins of their own for the club's only World Series title. 

    The Brosius home run turned out to be inconsequential in the long run, but in the moment, it seemed like it could've changed the series entirely.

10. Marwin Gonzalez, 2017 World Series Game 2

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    John W. McDonough/Getty Images

    This was the best season, by far, for Gonzalez. He parlayed the run with Houston to a two-year, $21 million contract in 2019 and has never performed this way since. 

    But his performance in 2017 (when the Astros were admittedly stealing signs) made Gonzalez a legend in Houston. Nothing was more significant than his homer off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning of Game 2. 

    The Dodgers were at home and three outs away from taking a 2-0 series lead against the Astros. Gonzalez sent the 0-2 pitch from Jansen to left center field to tie the game and change the series outlook. 

    There were a lot more runs scored in this game, which finished in the 11th inning. George Springer hit a go-ahead homer in the 11th to secure the win, but that rally started with Gonzalez coming through in the clutch.

9. Edgar Renteria, 2010 World Series, Game 5

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    Rob Tringali/Getty Images

    This three-run homer from Renteria solidified the Giants' 2010 World Series title against the Texans Rangers. They were both scoreless in the top of the seventh inning of Game 5 up to this point. 

    With runners on second and third, Renteria sent a 2-0 pitch off Cliff Lee over the left field fence to give the Giants a commanding 3-0 lead.  

    While Renteria was not necessarily known for his power, getting a World Series-clinching hit was totally on brand. He'd done it 13 years earlier for the Florida Marlins to beat Cleveland with a walk-off single up the middle. 

    It turned out to be the first of three World Series titles in five years for the Giants, who prior to that had not won it since 1954.

8. Jose Altuve, 2019 ALCS, Game 6

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Bottom of the ninth, two outs with a runner on first base, and it's the three-time batting champion Jose Altuve at the plate facing Aroldis Chapman, one of the game's best closers. The Yankees and Astros are tied at four runs apiece when Jose Altuve sends a 2-1 pitch to left field, known in Houston as the Crawford Boxes. 

    It was Altuve's fifth home run of that postseason and sent the Astros to their second World Series in three seasons. The Astros did not finish the job, losing the World Series in seven games. But more on that in a moment.

    Just a couple of months after this, the Astros' elaborate sign-stealing scheme from 2017 and 2018 was revealed, which raised doubt among many around the game about what they might have been doing in 2019. Altuve's refusal to allow his teammates to rip off his jersey, even motioning for them not to, brought the conspiracy theory that Houston used buzzers to steal signs. 

    Of course, this was an unfounded claim. Yet this homer is the start of Altuve, at the time a lovable 5'6" AL MVP, as a pariah and villain across baseball. It's why opposing fans still boo and chant “(expletive) Altuve” at games.

7. Aaron Boone, 2003 ALCS, Game 7

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    Sporting News Archive/Getty Images

    No player on this list is more synonymous with the home run mentioned in the article. It was the 11th inning with Tim Wakefield pitching for the Boston Red Sox and Aaron Boone making his first plate appearance of the game. 

    Boone sent the first pitch he saw deep to left field to send the Yankees to the World Series for the 39th time in franchise history. 

    The Yankees ended up losing to the Marlins in the championship round, but this is still considered one of the biggest moments in a storied rivalry with the Red Sox. 

    Game 7 was a rematch between two all-time great pitchers, Pedro Martinez for the Red Sox and Roger Clemens for the Yankees. They had both pitched in Game 3, when Martinez infamously threw 72-year-old Don Zimmer to the ground during a bench-clearing brawl.

    Remember, this is the year before Boston finally broke the Curse of the Bambino. The Red Sox were still searching for their first World Series since 1918. 

    Boone made sure that waited another year.

6. Derek Jeter, 2001 World Series, Game 4

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    John Iacono/Getty Images

    Byung-Hyun Kim joins Aroldis Chapman as the pitchers to appear twice on the business end of these great home runs. 

    It’s fine, since both won a World Series. Kim had the last laugh on both of these. 

    But what you likely remember is the moment Derek Jeter became "Mr. November." The World Series was played in November for the first time in MLB history, with the schedule pushed back one week because of the Sept. 11 attacks. 

    The Diamondbacks were up by two runs in the ninth before Tino Martinez evened the score with a two-out, two-run shot.

    That set up Jeter, who swung on a 3-2 pitch and sent it the opposite way to tie the series. He was 1-for-11 in the series leading up to this. 

    Jeter was already working on his Hall of Fame resume, having won World Series MVP the year before and already a three-time World Series champion. This, however, was when the legend was really solidified.

5. Anthony Rendon, 2019 World Series, Game 7

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    The Washington Post/Getty Images

    Down 2-0 and facing future Hall of Famer Zack Greinke in the seventh inning of Game 7, Rendon hit a rocket to left field to cut the Washington Nationals' deficit in half. 

    The solo shot wasn't necessarily a reason for the Astros to panic, but then Greinke walked Juan Soto. A.J. Hinch, the Astros' manager at the time, pulled Greinke, who'd thrown only 80 pitches at that point. 

    Greinke would later recognize this as one of several instances the Astros showed a lack of faith in him since being acquired in a midseason trade that year.  

    Hinch brought in Will Harris, a reliable reliever in Houston who had been used four times already throughout the series, including the previous night in which he gave up a homer to Rendon. 

    What happened next changed MLB history.

4. Howie Kendrick, 2019 World Series, Game 7

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    Greg Nelson/Getty Images

    Instead of Greinke getting the Game 7 win and his first World Series title, it was all left in the hands of Smith and at the mercy of Howie Kendrick. 

    Harris got Kendrick to swing and miss on the first pitch. But the second pitch? The right-handed Kendrick sent it the opposite way and hit the right foul pole. Harris seemed to know it immediately, even though the ball barely got out of the ballpark. 

    It gave the Nationals a deciding 3-2 lead, as the Astros never recovered from that fateful seventh inning. 

    This was a peculiar seven-game series, given the road team won each game.

3. David Freese, 2011 World Series, Game 6

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    What a night for David Freese. First, he tied this game against the Texas Rangers with an opposite field, two RBI-double off the right field wall to tie the game at 7-7 in ninth inning. 

    If that wasn’t good enough, with the score tied at nine runs apiece, Freese came up big again in the 11th inning with this walk-off homer to center field on a 1-2 count.  

    Freese’s blast turned the series around, as the Rangers were up 3-2 at the time. The Cardinals won Game 7 the following night. 

    It is the last time the Cardinals won a World Series and the 11th in their franchise’s history.

    Manager Tony La Russa retired after this, becoming the only manager to do so after winning a title. 

2. Kirby Puckett, 1991 World Series, Game 6

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    Heinz Kluetmeier/Getty Images

    Twenty years before Freese, it was Kirby Puckett crushing souls and rallying his team from down 3-2 in the World Series.

    There had already been an extra-inning game in this series, but it went to the Atlanta Braves, who'd just won the first of five National League pennants in the 90s. 

    This time, it was Puckett homering off Charlie Leibrandt to give the Twins a 4-3 win and force a decisive Game 7. 

    Puckett sent Leibrandt's pitch to deep left center field, and there was pandemonium at the Metrodome. 

    Jack Buck was on the call for this one with his iconic line, "We'll see you tomorrow night." So it was only fitting that 20 years later his son Joe would call Freese's walk-off with the same line. 

1. Joe Carter, 1993 World Series, Game 6

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    MARK DUNCAN/Associated Press

    This is still the most iconic moment, certainly in Toronto Blue Jays history, and one of the signature MLB moments of the '90s. 

    The Blue Jays had been up 3-1 on the Philadelphia Phillies. But Curt Schilling pitched a complete game, five-hit shutout in Game 5 to make the series 3-2. 

    Then back in Toronto for Game 6, the Phillies rallied in the seventh inning with five runs to erase what seemed like a comfortable four-run Blue Jays lead. 

    No need for Blue Jays fans to worry. Rickey Henderson was leading off the inning, and Mitch Williams promptly walked him on four pitches. 

    Henderson’s prowess on the basepaths worried Williams so much that Williams side-stepped while throwing a hanging slider to Carter for a three-run homer.  

    The back-to-back Blue Jays World Series titles were cemented in baseball history.

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