World Series History: The Seven Best Game Sevens
With the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians playing Game Seven tonight, we look back at the seven greatest Game Sevens in World Series history.
The Chicago Cubs have come back from being down three games to one to force a Game Seven in the 2016 World Series. It will be Kyle Hendricks on the mound for the Cubs. Hendricks led all MLB starting pitchers in ERA this year, with a 2.13 mark (minimum 162 innings pitched). Corey Kluber toes the slab for Cleveland. He’s 4-1 with a 0.89 ERA in five postseason starts this year. Every baseball fan in the country would love to see an epic Game Seven.
World Series Game Sevens have become more rare in recent times. In the 40-year period from 1940 to 1979, there were twenty Game Sevens. In the 36-year stretch since 1980, there have been just ten, although this year’s series will mark the third time in the last six years that the World Series has gone the full seven games.
There have been many truly epic Game Sevens and plenty of anti-climatic flops. The first ever World Series-clinching Game Seven was in 1909. The series featured the 110-win Pittsburgh Pirates against the 98-win Detroit Tigers. The Pirates had Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner on the roster and the Tigers had fellow Hall of Famer Ty Cobb. The games had gone back and forth with the Pirates winning Games One, Three, and Five, and the Tigers evening up the series each time by winning Games Two, Four, and Six. Then came Game Seven and the series ended with an uncompetitive 8-0 blowout for the Pirates.
Two other World Series, 1934 and 1985, ended with one team blowing out the other by a score of 11-0. Even with those lopsided final games, those were still interesting series. The 1934 series had the Gashouse Gang, led by colorful pitcher Dizzy Dean. The 1985 series had the controversial Game Six call at first base by umpire Don Denkinger that helped the Kansas City Royals win the game 2-1.
But enough about the Game Seven blowouts. Let’s look at the seven greatest Game Sevens in World Series history.
2014: San Francisco Giants 3, Kansas City Royals 2
Both of these teams made the playoffs as Wild Card teams, then breezed through the postseason until they got to the World Series. The Giants lost just two of their 10 playoff games. The Royals were a clean 8-0 in the postseason.
With the World Series tied at two games apiece, Madison Bumgarner tossed a four-hit shutout to lead the team to a 5-0 victory in Game Five. It was his second win of the series. The Royals came back in Game Six, blasting Jake Peavy and three relievers on their way to an 11-0 victory.
Game Seven featured Tim Hudson on the mound for the Giants against Jeremy Guthrie of the Royals. Guthrie ran into trouble in the second inning by hitting Pablo Sandoval, then allowing back-to-back singles to Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt. Mike Morse lined out to right field for a sacrifice fly to make it 1-0. Brandon Crawford hit a sacrifice fly of his own to put the Giants up by two.
As quickly as the Giants scored, the Royals came right back. Billy Butler singled to center to lead off the bottom of the second. Alex Gordon doubled him in and Salvador Perez was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second. A Mike Moustakas fly ball moved Gordon to third and he scored on a sacrifice fly by Omar Infante. After a single by Alcides Escobar, Tim Hudson was removed from the game. Jeremy Affeldt came in and got the final out.
The Royals’ starting pitcher, Jeremy Guthrie, ran into trouble in the top of the fourth when he gave up back-to-back singles to Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence. Brandon Belt hit a fly ball to left that moved Sandoval to third and that was it for Guthrie. Kelvin Herrera came on in relief, but couldn’t keep the Giants off the board. He gave up an RBI single to Mike Morse and the Giants had the lead.
Affeldt got through the bottom of the fourth by facing the minimum three batters, but that would be it for him this day. With a 3-1 lead going into the bottom of the fifth, Giants manager Bruce Bochy walked out to the mound and called for the big lefty warming up in the pen, Madison Bumgarner. MadBum had been unhittable all postseason, but would be working on just two days’ rest after throwing 117 pitches in the Game Five victory. No one was sure how long he would go in this game.
Nursing a one-run lead, Bumgarner allowed a single in the bottom of the fifth, but got Lorenzo Cain to strike out to end the inning with a runner stranded on second. He then retired the side in order in the sixth, seventh, and eighth. At the same time, the Royals relievers shut down the Giants’ hitters. The score remained 3-2 going into the bottom of the ninth.
Bumgarner struck out Eric Hosmer for the first out, then got Billy Butler to pop out to first. Down to their final out, the Royals weren’t ready to go just yet. Alex Gordon lined a single to left that was misplayed by Gregor Blanco, allowing Gordon to get all the way to third.
Some Royals fans may always wonder if Gordon could have scored on that play, but it looks like he would have been out by a large margin. Of course, you never know. Gordon held at third and Salvador Perez came to the dish. The count went to 2-and-2 and he popped out to third base to end the game.
1997: Florida Marlins 3, Cleveland Indians 2 (11 innings)
This was only the fifth year of existence for the Florida Marlins, one of the 1993 expansion teams. The Cleveland franchise went back to 1901, when they were known as the Cleveland Blues. Cleveland had not won a World Series since 1948. Two years before this, they had lost to the Atlanta Braves in six games.
The pitching matchup was Jaret Wright for Cleveland against Al Leiter of the Marlins. Cleveland got on the board first on a two-run single by Tony Fernandez that scored Jim Thome and Marquis Grissom. Wright shut out the Marlins through six innings, but then gave up a solo homer to Bobby Bonilla to lead off the bottom of the seventh. After striking out Charles Johnson, Wright walked Craig Counsell and was replaced by Paul Assenmacher, who got out of the inning unscathed.
Cleveland held their 2-1 lead through eight innings. They had a chance to add on in the top of the ninth, but came up short. A one-out single by Jim Thome moved Roberto Alomar to third base. Marquis Grissom then came up and hit a ground ball to shortstop Edgar Renteria. Alomar tried to score from third but was gunned out at the plate for the second out. Brian Giles then hit a fly ball to deep left-center to end the inning.
The Indians were three outs away from their first World Series championship since 1948. In came closer Jose Mesa. Moises Alou led off with a single but Mesa got Bonilla to strike out swinging. Charles Johnson singled to right, moving Alou to third. Craig Counsell then hit a fly ball to right that scored Alou and tied the game.
The Marlins put a couple runners on in the bottom of the tenth against Mesa, which brought in Charles Nagy, a starting pitcher who had led the teams in starts and innings that year. Nagy had not pitched in relief since his rookie year of 1990. He escaped the inning by getting Alou to fly out to short right field.
Cleveland was retired in order in the top of the 11th by reliever Jay Powell, the sixth pitcher of the game for the Marlins. With Nagy still on the bump in the bottom of the 11th, the Marlins got a rally going with a leadoff single by Bobby Bonilla. Gregg Zaun tried to bunt him to second but popped out to the pitcher. Craig Counsell came up again and hit a ground ball to second base… that slipped right under Tony Fernandez’s glove for an error. Bonilla scrambled to third with all the speed of a pregnant hippopotamus. Jim Eisenreich was intentionally walked to load the bases. Devon White then hit a ground ball to second that Fernandez fielded and threw home for the force out, redeeming himself slightly. With the bases still loaded, but now with two outs, young Edgar Renteria stepped up and hit a game-winning single to center.
Cleveland’s blown lead in the bottom of the ninth inning and subsequent loss in the bottom of the 11th kept their championship drought going for another year. It’s now up to 66 years, but they could end it tonight.
1912: Boston Red Sox 3, New York Giants 2 (10 innings)
This is one for the baseball historians. Also, it was technically a Game Eight because Game Two had been called for darkness in a time when there were no lights in MLB ballparks. The series featured two of the top pitchers in baseball – Christy Mathewson of the Giants and Smoky Joe Wood of the Red Sox. Wood had gone 34-5 with a 1.91 ERA in 1912. He completed 35 of his 38 starts and tossed 10 shutouts. This was a very different era. For his part, Mathewson was 23-12 with a 2.12 ERA during the regular season.
Wood started and won the first game. Mathewson started Game Two, which ended in a tie. Wood beat the Giants again in Game Four. Mathewson lost Game Five, 2-1. Wood was back on the mound for Game Seven, but got blasted for six runs in the top of the first in a blowout win by the Giants. When Game Eight rolled around, the Giants had their ace in the hole ready.
The game was scoreless until the top of the third. With two outs and a runner on third, Red Murray singled in the first run of the game for the Giants. It stayed that way until the bottom of the seventh. The Red Sox put runners on first and second with two outs and sent Olaf Henriksen up to pinch hit for pitcher Hugh Bedient. The move worked perfectly, as Olaf doubled down the left field line to drive in the tying run.
With the score tied 1-1, it was time for the Red Sox to go to the ace, Smoky Joe Wood. Wood had started the day before, but had been knocked out of the game in the second inning, so he hadn’t thrown many pitches. Wood got through the eighth and ninth innings. Mathewson matched him inning for inning.
The game went to the 10th. After a Fred Snodgrass fly out, Jake Stahl doubled to left center. Fred Merkle followed with a single to center to put the Giants ahead 2-1. With Mathewson on the mound, the game was as good as over.
Except it wasn’t. Clyde Engle pinch-hit for Wood and hit a can of corn to Snodgrass, but Snodgrass muffed it for an error, allowing Engle to reach second. Harry Hooper then crushed one to center that looked like a sure hit, but Snodgrass made a terrific play for the out. Mathewson then walked Steve Yerkes.
At this point, it was obvious to everyone in the ballpark that Mathewson was not at his best. He’d endured a heavy load during the series and had just issued his fourth walk. This was a guy who walked under a batter per nine innings during the 1912 season and just 1.6 batters per nine over his entire career. The Giants had Doc Crandall in the bullpen, rested and ready. In these days, relievers were usually failed starters who were brought in when the game was already out of hand, but Crandall was different. Giants manager John McGraw had used Crandall in relief in 27 of his 37 games. He was somewhat of a forerunner to a relief specialist. It’s likely that McGraw would have gone to Crandall if it had been any other pitcher than Christy Mathewson.
Tris Speaker came to the plate for the Red Sox. He had led the AL with a .464 on-base percentage. It was a matchup of all-time greats. Briefly, it looked like Mathewson had the best of Speaker when Speaker hit a foul pop up between first and catcher. No one was able to make the play, though, and Speaker was still alive. He then singled in the tying run. Yerkes ended up on third and Speaker on second because of an error by the right fielder. Mathewson then intentionally walked Duffy Lewis to load the bases with just one out. McGraw could have pulled Matty here, but stuck with his ace. Larry Gardner hit a fly ball to right to score Yerkes and the Red Sox had a come-from-behind victory.
2001: Arizona Diamondbacks 3, New York Yankees 2
The 2001 regular season belonged to the Seattle Mariners. Despite having recently lost three superstars – Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Alex Rodriguez – the 2001 Mariners tied an MLB record with 116 wins in the regular season. Of course, they ended up losing the ALCS to the Yankees, so those 116 wins will likely go in the record book as the most wins ever for a team that didn’t make the World Series.
The 2001 New York Yankees represented the American League in the World Series and actually had many fans across baseball rooting for them because of the attacks on 9/11 just a few weeks before. The National League representative was the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks, who were in just their fourth year of existence. They had been a 1998 expansion team. They rode the two-headed monster of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling all during the regular season and playoffs and would continue to ride them through the World Series.
In the series, the Diamondbacks jumped out in front with wins from Schilling and Johnson in Games One and Two. The Yankees beat Brian Anderson in Game Three, but Schilling was back on the bump for Game Four. He kept the Yankees in check, but Byung-Hyun Kim gave up a game-tying two-run homer to Tino Martinez in the bottom of the ninth and a game-losing solo homer to Derek Jeter in the bottom of the tenth. The Yankees had tied the series up, two games to two.
Game Five went 12 innings and featured nine pitchers between the two teams. Byung-Hyun Kim had another chance to close out the game in the bottom of the ninth and once again gave up a two-run shot to blow the save. This one was to Scott Brosius. The Yankees eventually won the game in 12 innings.
Game Six was a Diamondbacks blowout. They won 15-2 and had 22 hits. Randy Johnson started and went seven innings, throwing 104 pitches. Of note in this game is that Arizona led 15-0 after four innings, yet Johnson stayed in the game for three more innings. This set the stage for Game Seven.
The pitching matchup was Curt Schilling versus Roger Clemens. Both pitchers were on their game. Clemens went 6 1/3 and allowed a single run, striking out 10. Schilling went 7 1/3 and was touched for two runs while striking out nine. With two outs in the top of the eighth and Arizona losing 2-1, Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly summoned the Big Unit to keep the game close.
The Yankees pulled out their trump card in the bottom of the eighth when they brought in Mariano Rivera. He was (and still is) baseball’s greatest postseason closer. He tossed a scoreless inning. Randy Johnson shut down the Yankees in the top of the ninth. It was up to Rivera to get three outs to give the Yankees another World Series victory, which would be their fourth straight. The last team to win four World Series in a row was… the New York Yankees, from 1949 to 1953 (five straight).
Mark Grace led off with a single. Damian Miller laid down a bunt to Rivera, but the Great Mariano threw wild to second and both runners were safe. Jay Bell pinch hit for Randy Johnson with everyone in the park expecting a bunt. Bell did bunt but Rivera made a good play to get the force out at third. Then came the shocker. Tony Womack lined a double to right to tie the game, with Bell moving to third base. It was like watching Superman succumb to kryptonite. Rivera hit Craig Counsell to load the bases, then gave up a bloop single to Luis Gonzalez. The Diamondbacks had defeated the mighty Yankees.
That was the only loss of Mariano Rivera’s postseason career. He pitched 141 innings in the postseason and had an ERA of 0.70. In the “what might have been” category, you have to wonder how the game would have turned out if the Yankees had played back for the double play instead of in to get the runner at home.
1991: Minnesota Twins 1, Atlanta Braves 0 (10 innings)
This may be the most improbable World Series ever. In 1990, the Minnesota Twins had finished in last place in the AL West, 29 games out of first. They were tied for the second-worst record in the American League. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves had finished in last place in the NL West, 26 games out of first and had the worst record in baseball. A year later, they are both in the World Series. Inconceivable!
Old-school pitcher Jack Morris and his epic mustache were on the hill for the Twins in Game One. Morris and his mustache gave up two runs in seven innings and got the victory in a 5-2 win for Minnesota.
Kevin Tapani outdueled Tom Glavine in Game Two and the Twins took a two games to zero lead. The Braves came back with a 5-4 victory in 12 innings in Game Three. Game Four was another one-run affair, with the Braves winning it in the bottom of the ninth on a sacrifice fly by Jerry Willard that scored Mark Lemke. It was the only at-bat Jerry Willard ever had in a World Series, but he made it count.
Through four games the series was tied at two games apiece and three of the four games had been decided by one run. The Braves defied that trend with a 14-5 blowout in Game Five, but Game Six was another thrilling one-run game. This one ended on a Kirby Puckett solo shot in the bottom of the 11th. “Touch ‘em all, Kirby Puckett! Touch ‘em all!”
That set the stage for Game Seven, a classic pitching duel. It was the 24-year-old John Smoltz, back when he still had hair, against the 36-year-old Jack Morris, who had already started two games in the series. His mustache was ready for battle. Both pitchers were going on three days rest.
The two pitchers tossed zeroes at each other for seven innings. Smoltz left the game with one out in the eighth but it would take a pack of wild dogs to get Morris and his mustache out of this game. Runners reached base, but neither team could get the big knock to drive them in. The eighth inning was particularly dramatic.
Lonnie “Skates” Smith led off with a single to right. Terry Pendleton then lofted a double to left. Smith had good speed but bad instincts. He ended up on third. Legend has it that second baseman Chuck Knoblauch and shortstop Greg Gagne deaked him, but Smith has said that isn’t true. Announcer Tim McCarver sides with Knoblauch and Gagne. Whatever the reason, it looked like Smith should have scored.
After the Pendleton double, Ron Gant came up with runners on second and third and nobody out and it was time for Jack Morris and his mustache to conjure up some magic. They got Grant to ground to first with the runners holding. They intentionally walked David Justice. Now, with the bases loaded, up steps Sid Bream and his mustache. The dueling mustaches sized each other up. With the Twins fans urging them on, Morris and his mustache got Bream and his mustache to ground into a double play. And the Metrodome let out a sigh of relief.
The Twins rallied in the eighth. Randy Bush and Chuck Knoblauch sandwiched singles around a Dan Gladden pop out. With runners on first and third and one down, the Braves walked Kirby Puckett to let the lefty Mike Stanton pitch to Kent Hrbek. Stanton got Hrbek to line into an unassisted double play to keep the game scoreless.
Morris and his mustache set the Braves down in order in the top of the ninth. The Twins got another rally going in the bottom of the inning. Chili Davis and Bryan Harper hit back-to-back singles, but Shane Mack grounded into a double play. Mike Pagliarulo was intentionally walked for some reason and Alejandro Pena got Paul Sorrento to strike out to end the threat.
Morris and his mustache once again retired the Braves in order in the top of the tenth. The man simply refused to be scored upon, like USA goalie Tim Howard in the 2014 World Cup. With Pena still toeing the slab for the Braves, Dan Gladden led off the bottom of the tenth with a double to center. Guess what form of facial hair occupied the real estate just above Dan Gladden’s upper lip? That’s right, a mustache. Chuck Knoblauch bunted him to third and the Braves intentionally walked Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek to load the bases. They were hoping for another double play. Alas, it was not to be. Gene Larkin singled to left and the Twins, Jack Morris, and Jack Morris’ mustache had a 1-0 Game Seven victory.
1924: Washington Senators 4, New York Giants 3 (12 innings)
One of the great things about this series was that 13 Hall of Fame players were part of the action. The Washington Senators had perhaps the greatest pitcher of all time, Walter Johnson, but had been perennial also-rans for his entire career. Johnson’s first year in the major leagues was 1907. It took until this 1924 season for the team to make the World Series, by which time Johnson was 36 years old. Even at 36 years old, he had led the league in wins (23-7), ERA (2.72), starts (38), shutouts (6), and strikeouts (158).
Three of the first six games in this series were decided by one run and another was a two-run game. Walter Johnson had started Game Five on October 8, so would not be on the mound to start Game Seven on October 10. This would be a chess match between the opposing managers, John McGraw and Bucky Harris.
Harris played the first move. Rather than start his team’s second best starter, lefty George Mogridge, he went with right-hander Curly Ogden, who had not yet appeared in the series. He did this because he knew McGraw often kept his first baseman, Bill Terry, on the bench against lefties, but would start against righties. The best reliever on the Senators was right-hander Firpo Marberry. Harris didn’t want Marberry to face Terry in a crucial situation.
Harris started Ogden and McGraw started Terry. Harris planned to go to the lefty quickly to get the platoon matchup against Terry. Ogden struck out the first batter but walked the second and was removed. In came the lefty Mogridge.
The Senators got on board first with a home run from player-manager Bucky Harris in the bottom of the fourth. The Giants rallied in the top of the sixth, putting runs on first and third with no outs. Bill Terry was due up. McGraw removed him for pinch hitter Irish Meusel. This was the situation Harris was looking for. He brought in his relief ace, Firpo Marberry. Meusel hit a sacrifice fly to right to tie the game, then Hack Wilson followed with a single to put runners on first and third, with one out. Back-to-back errors by the Senators allowed the Giants to score two more runs and take a 3-1 lead. So much for the managerial chess match.
Fate stepped in during the bottom of the eighth inning. The Senators still trailed by two runs but a loaded the bases with one out. Earl McNeely popped out to short left for the second out, leaving the runners where they were. Then Bucky Harris hit a ground ball to third base. The ball hit something in the dirt and took a bad hop right over the head of third baseman Fred Lindstrom. Both runners scored and the game was tied.
Harris pulled a final card out of his deck and sent the veteran Walter Johnson to the mound for the top of the ninth. Johnson had already lost two games in the series and was desperate to make up for it. He got Lindstrom to pop out but gave up a triple to Frankie Frisch. Ross Youngs was intentionally walked to set up a potential double play, but Johnson didn’t need the double play after striking out High Pockets Kelly. Young stole second but Johnson got Meusel to ground out to end the threat.
The game remained scoreless into the 12th inning. With one out in the bottom of the inning, the Senators’ Muddy Ruel popped up but catcher Hank Gowdy tripped over his mask and couldn’t make the play, giving Ruel new life. He responded with a double to left field. Walter Johnson then reached on an error by the shortstop.
The Giants were looking for a ground ball to get a double play and escape the inning. They got it from Earl McNeely. He hit an easy grounder right to Freddie Lindstrom. Amazingly, the ball again took a bad hop and Lindstrom couldn’t make the play. Ruel scored the winning run. There’s no word on whether the two balls hit the same pebble, but there was something strange going on that day. Walter Johnson got the win in relief.
1960: Pittsburgh Pirates 10, New York Yankees 9
The six games leading up to this Game Seven really add context to how shocking the final result was. Pittsburgh won the first game 6-4. The Yankees came back with two straight victories, winning 16-3 and 10-0. Mickey Mantle hit two home runs in Game Two and another in Game Three.
The Pirates laughed in the face of those two blowout losses and bounced back to win Game Four by a score of 3-2. Then they won Game Five also, this one by a score of 5-2. It was like two guys were in a fight, with one using a sledgehammer and the other using a pocketknife. The Yankees brought the sledgehammer out for Game Six, a 12-0 trouncing.
The Series was all tied up at this point. In their three victories, the Pirates had outscored the Yankees 14-8. In their three losses, they had been outscored 38-3. Overall, the Yankees had scored 46 runs to the Pirates’ 17. Based on run differential, there was no way this series should have been tied.
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Game Seven was at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Bob Turley was on the hill for the Yankees against Vance Law of the Pirates, but neither pitcher would have a great day. The Pirates scored two in the first and two more in the second to jump out to a 4-0 lead. The Yankees came back with one in the fifth and four in the sixth to make it 5-4. They added two more in the top of the eighth to make it 7-4, but the Pirates answered with five runs in the bottom of the eighth to take a 9-7 lead. One of the key plays was a bad hop grounder that hit Tony Kubek in the throat. Right in the damn throat. Ouch.
The Pirates were three outs away from an improbably World Series victory. They brought in Bob Friend. He gave up singles to Bobby Richardson and Dale Long and was quickly given the hook. In came Harvey Haddix, who had pitched 6 1/3 innings three days before. Haddix got Roger Maris to pop out to the catcher, but he couldn’t get Mickey Mantle out. Mantle singled to right to make it 9-8 and put runners on first and third. Yogi Berra followed with a ground out to first that tied the score. Haddix then got Moose Skowron to ground out to end the inning.
Leading off the bottom of the ninth in a tie game was Bill Mazeroski, a second baseman known more for his glove than his bat. Ralph Terry was on the mound. Ralph threw, Mazeroski swung, and the ball flew out to deep left field, up and over the wall to the left of the “406 ft” sign. It’s the only Game Seven to ever end on a home run.
The 2016 World Series has only had two close games. Cleveland beat Chicago 1-0 in Game Three. The Cubs beat the Indians 3-2 in Game Six. The other four games have all been decided by at least four runs. Today is Game Seven. Perhaps we’ll see a game that can make its way onto this list.