Read through Giuseppe’s great post on his Top 5 Post Season Moments of all time, and knowing I am not qualified to offer any dissenting opinion, I thought I would take a different look at great plays in the MLB playoffs through history.
We often limit are definition of greatness to teams that won. History favors those who win, after all. That makes them all the worse for the teams that lost, but in baseball games those top moments aren’t always just the ones at the end.
Went through my own brain of watching lots of baseball over the course of the last 20+ years and came up with a few moments that have stood out in my own head that should’ve, could’ve been great moments if the outcome of the game/series had been different.
#1 Clayton Kershaw Relief Save 2016 NLDS
So this one is pretty fresh in the minds of baseball fans and Dodgers fans in general. The Dodgers scratched and clawed their way to the post-season and NL West Title in 2016 even after missing Clayton Kershaw for a significant portion of the regular season. The pundits left them for dead, but they made to and clinched the West in Vin Scully’s last home game with a walk off from a guy who hadn’t hit a home run all season. Destiny?
Kershaw has struggled with the reputation of a bad post-season pitcher. Of course part of this is that his main contemporary has been Madison Bumgarner who had the greatest post-season of all time for a pitcher in 2014, when he literally pitched 1/3 of all Giants pitched innings in the World Series and half of all innings by ALL Giants starters in the 2014 post-season. I digress.
In this years Division Series against the Nationals he started well before his bullpen blew it. His Game 4 start started well but then he allowed a few runs. Despite his struggles, he has still struck out 96 in 77 innings entering Game 5. The season was on the line heading into Game 5, with the Dodgers only able to trust closer Kenley Jansen. Cue the drama.
The last time Kershaw got a save was in the Gulf Coast League game in 2006. His catcher? Now Dodgers closer Jansen. His manager? Now Nationals third base Bob Henley. His opponent that night? The Gulf Coast League Nationals. History. Connectededness. In a way only baseball can do it.
The Dodgers got an early lead and first year manager Dave Roberts pounced on the opportunity the way Terry Francona had been doing in the American League, bringing in his top reliever earlier and often – not Buck Showwaltering it and waiting for a lead they didn’t yet have. So in came Janssen for two innings and started the 9th inning with a small lead. Jansen walked two and in came Kershaw. Top hitter Daniel Murphy came up, and Kershaw got him to pop out, before striking out the next pinch hitter to win the game. He vindicated himself, his manager, and appeared to vanquish his post season demons.
Great moment, right? Yes. Except…the Dodgers lost in the next round, meaning this will NOT be remembered as one of the great postseason pitching performances of all time.
#2. Rick Ankiel Home Run 2010 NLDS
In of itself, this moment might not have made any sort of list. Game 2 of a Division Series, albeit one that marked the beginning of the Giants even year mini-dynasty and the Braves return to the postseason for the first time since 2005.
However, the story of Rick Ankiel is what makes this one great. In 2000 he melted down on live television in the playoffs as a top young pitcher for the Cardinals – against the Braves. He lost all ability to throw strikes and never really recovered. He reinvented himself as a full time outfielder in the minor leagues and this home run was his first and only postseason home run.
So he came to bat with the Braves down 1-0 in the series. They had rallied from four back to tie the game and Ankiel hit a moonshot into McCovey Cove in the 11th inning to give the Braves a lead they would keep. Said Ankiel at the time: “To be honest with you, I wanted to go from the batter’s box to the dugout and be with the guys and not run the bases. What a cool thing to do and what a cool way to win.”.
Unfortunately, the Braves would go on to lose the series, in large due to the Brooks Conrad game of errors and the Giants would eventually win the World Series.
#3 Endy Chavez Catch 2006 NLCS Game 7
If you haven’t been checking any of the videos up to this point, do yourself a favor and watch the one above. This one to me rivals ANY catch I have ever seen, and in Game 7 of a League Championship Series at that. It had been a back and forth series with the Cardinals and came down to Game 7. The game was tied at 1 in the 6th inning with one out and a runner on first. Scott Rolen launched a ball deep to left off of Oliver Perez (somehow still pitching) and the crowd at Shea Stadium held their breath.
Endy Chavez is not known for his bat. He is known for his defense, which is how he had earned his start. This catch would make his manager look like a genius. As you can see in the video, he leaped at just the right moment and snagged the ball in the edge of his glove at the apex of his 6′ frame and outstretched arm. He brought it back in and doubled off Jim Edmonds at first to end the inning. As announcer Gary Cohen exclaimed, “A miraculous play by Endy Chavez! The play of the year. The play, maybe, of the franchise history.”.
It was. Until it wasn’t.
#4 Tony Gwynn Home Run 1998 World Series Game 1
The Padres have never won a World Series. Tony Gwynn is easily regarded as the greatest Padres player of all time, and when he got his shot in 1998 he took advantage of the opportunity. One tidbit I found is that Gwynn’s two highest MVP finishes were both Padres World Series seasons: 1984(3rd) and 1998(6th). In 1998 he hit 16 home runs in the regular season so he was enjoying a late career power surge. Still, not known for his power a year after hitting .372.
The Yankees had won the World Series in 1996 and their team in 1998 is argued to be one of the best teams of all time. The Padres were fresh off a tough NLCS with the Braves and though they had Kevin Brown, were heavy underdogs.
Gwynn hit a home run off of Yankees starter David Wells who had thrown a perfect game that season and for a moment it seemed as if the Padres could not only make this World Series a good one, and maybe even a chance to win it. Unfortunately the Yankees roared back on their way to a sweep of the Series and winning again in 1999 and 2000.
#5 Byung-Hyun Kim Nearly Ruins the 2001 World Series for the Diamondbacks…Twice
Remember how the Yankees ruled the back half of the 1990’s and into 2000? Then in 2001 on September 11th America was attached by terrorists in New York. So the 2001 World Series had a LOT of emotion before it even started. That it ended up being one of the best World Series of all time was the icing on the cake.
In Game 4 the D’backs had the lead with two outs in the 9th and closer Byung-Hyun Kim on the mound. Tino Martinez homered to tie it and send it into extra innings. A couple of innings later with Kim still on the mound, Derek Jeter had homered off of Diamondbacks closer Byung-Hyun Kim as the clock struck midnight earning him his “Mr. November” moniker.
Game 5 came with the Series now tied at 2 games apiece. Once again the Diamondbacks had a lead entering the 9th inning. Once again Kim got the call to finish things off and he got two outs. This time it was Scott Brosius who send the game winning shot to left field to tie the game before losing in extra innings. Before the 2001 World Series, there had only been three game-tying or winning home runs with two outs in the 9th inning. Now, the Yankees would get two on consecutive nights.
The Diamondbacks came back in Arizona to win Game 6, then Game 7 off of Yankees legendary closer Mariano Rivera. This is the moment that is often the lasting image of the great 2001 World Series.
So these moments could be in the upper echelon of great post-season moments. Admittedly some of them do get dug out now and again talking about great moments in baseball history, but for every moment that does get selected for immortality come a lot of other moments forgotten on the wrong side of history. Let me know what moments I have forgotten!