Saturday night, we witnessed an all-time World Series classic. After Sunday’s exciting follow-up, we will see a pivotal elimination game on Tuesday night where the Rays will be fighting for their postseason lives.
Will we see an even crazier game than Game 4? I don’t know if my heart can take it. Saturday’s chaotic back-and-forth fight compared to the insane tension and unbelievable twists seen in Game 6 in 2011 and Game 7 in 2014. It just so happens that those games also happened years ago this week in baseball history.
Oct. 27, 2011 – The David Freese Game
David Freese began 2011 as a relatively unheralded player, a 28-year-old third-year veteran that was fighting for everyday playing time. But by the end of the season, he would transform into a St. Louis legend.
He began 2011 as the Cardinals’ Opening Day third baseman, and over the course of 97 games, he hit a respectable .297/.350/.441 (119 OPS+) with 10 HR, 55 RBI, 41 R, and 75 K: 24 BB. This solid performance at the hot corner, combined with the .900+ OPS seasons of his teammates Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, and Matt Holliday propelled the Cardinals to a 90 – 72 record, barely clinching the NL Wild Card.
In the NLDS, Freese was okay, posting an .833 OPS as the Cardinals beat the Phillies in five games. But then Freese began to go on a tear in the NLCS, hitting .545/.600/1.091 with three HR, seven R, and nine RBI over 25 PAs. The Cardinals outscored the Brewers 43 – 24 to win the NL Pennant, and Freese’s excellent performance, which included a three-run bomb in the decisive Game 6, earned him the NLCS MVP award.
The Cardinals had to face the Rangers in the World Series, and both teams were tied for the third-best team wRC+ in baseball (112). Texas’ deadly lineup included sluggers like Josh Hamilton (127 wRC+), Adrian Beltre (135 wRC+), and Mike Napoli (179 wRC+), to name a few.
The 2011 Fall Classic was an extremely evenly-matched series, with both teams alternating wins over the first four games to tie the series 2 – 2. In Game 5, the Rangers out-dueled the Cardinals in a close 4 – 2 game to take a 3 – 2 series lead, leaving Texas just one win away from their first World Series championship in franchise history. Over these first five games, Freese’s bat was present (hitting .313/.389/.438), but it lacked the pop he had in the NLCS as he hit no home runs and knocked in just 2 RBIs.
But then Game 6 happened.
It was a constant back-and-forth slobberknocker, with lead changes happening almost every inning. Just take a look at the box score for the first eight innings:
Every hitter in the starting lineup (except for Rafael Furcal) reached base and nine different players drove in RBIs during this span, resulting in three ties and five lead changes.
After 290 pitches thrown over the course of eight chaotic innings, the Rangers were ahead 7 – 5, and they began the ninth inning with a 93% win probability.
Jason Motte came in relief for the Cardinals in the top of the inning, hoping to keep the deficit to two. He did allow one walk to Napoli, but retired the rest of the batters relatively easily, setting the stage for a dramatic bottom of the ninth.
The Rangers brought in their closer, Neftalí Feliz, who had won the ROY in 2010 and pitched well during the 2011 season (2.74 ERA/162 ERA+ and 1.155 WHIP with 32 saves over 62.1 IP). His stuff looked sharp, and Feliz struck out the first batter he faced, Ryan Theriot, on a 98 MPH fastball above the zone.
But then he started to unravel. He allowed a first-pitch double to Pujols, and then a four-pitch walk to Berkman. With runners on first and second, Feliz regained his composure and struck out Allen Craig looking on a breaking ball that hung in the middle of the plate.
Two down. Just one out away from ending a 50-year-long title drought for the Rangers franchise.
Freese stepped up to the plate next, and Feliz attacked him aggressively, working the count to 1 – 2 and putting the Rangers just one strike away.
Then there was magic.
The Rangers had opted not to make a defensive substitution by putting Endy Chávez in right (who already has an iconic postseason catch). Cruz was unable to make the catch as the ball barely flew over his glove, and the Cardinals tied the game.
Feliz prevented any more damage in the ninth, and Motte stayed on the mound to start the 10th. He quickly got a first-pitch pop out before walking Elvis Andrus and then allowing a crushing home run to Hamilton, which gave Texas yet another two-run lead.
The Cardinals refused to die. In the bottom of the 10th, they staged a rally again, leading off the inning with back-to-back singles. Kyle Lohse laid down a sac bunt to move both runners over, and then Theriot hit an RBI groundout to third to make the score 9 – 8.
Two down again. Just one out away again from a World Series title.
The Rangers opted to intentionally walk Pujols, bringing Berkman up to bat in yet another must-win situation for the veteran slugger. Scott Feldman worked the count to 2 – 2 against Berkman, putting the Rangers just one strike away again. But then Berkman came up with the most clutch hit of his long career.
A tie game yet again. The Rangers retired the next Cardinal to temporarily stop the bleeding, but they were unable to do anything in the top of the 11th against Jake Westbrook.
Bottom of the 11th. The leadoff batter? David Freese—the man who saved his team’s World Series hopes just two innings earlier. And after he worked a full count against Westbrook, Freese did the unbelievable yet again.
Still, to this day, the most mindbogglingly insane game I have ever seen. The Cardinals ended up winning Game 7, and Freese’s heroics made him an eternal legend in St. Louis.
Oct. 29, 2014 – The Madison Bumgarner Game
The 2010s belonged to the San Francisco Giants. Though they finished the decade with the 9th-worst wRC+ (94) and 7th-best ERA (3.96), they had the most World Series titles: three championships in five years, a dynasty.
Who knows if they would have truly earned that title if not for the postseason dominance of Madison Bumgarner.
Here are the three pitchers with the lowest career World Series ERA (min. 20 IP):
Remember that guy Mariano Rivera? He is ninth on the list with a 0.99 ERA in 36.1 IP.
In short, Bumgarner is arguably the best World Series pitcher ever. And this is the story of when that legacy was truly born: Game 7, 2014.
The ’14 Giants had to face a tough Royals team on a magical run. Kansas City had a below-average wRC+ of 92 and a slightly above-average ERA of 3.51. But they had a three-headed monster in the bullpen: Greg Holland (1.44 ERA, 13.0 K/9, 0.914 WHIP over 62.1 IP), Wade Davis (1.00 ERA, 13.6 K/9, 0.847 WHIP over 72 IP), and Kelvin Herrera (1.41 ERA, 7.6 K/9, 1.143 WHIP over 70 IP).
Even though the Royals had not made the playoffs since 1985, they absolutely dominated their opponents in 2014. They beat the Athletics in the Wild Card Game, then swept the Angels and Orioles in the ALDS and ALCS, respectively.
On the West Coast, the Giants had their own great postseason run that featured a magical moment in Travis Ishikawa’s walk-off home run to win the NL Pennant.
Both teams seemed almost unstoppable, but the Royals finally met their match in Game 1 of the World Series when Bumgarner pitched a gem (7 IP, 3 H, 1 R/ER, 1 BB, and 5 K) and gave the Giants a 1 – 0 series lead. The Royals bats retaliated with wins in Games 2 and 3, before the Giants won Game 4 in an 11 – 4 landslide.
In Game 5, Bumgarner returned to the hill and delivered yet another masterpiece: a CGSO with 4 H, 0 BB, and 8 K. The Royals simply had no answer for MadBum, but the Giants couldn’t respond to Yordano Ventura in Game 6 (7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 5 BB, and 4 K) as the Royals won 10 – 0 to tie the series and force a Game 7.
The starters for both teams, Tim Hudson for SF and Jeremy Guthrie for KC, struggled almost immediately, giving up two runs in the second inning. In what seemed destined to be a low-scoring affair, both managers went to their relievers as soon as trouble arose.
Jeremy Affeldt relieved Hudson in the second, and he performed admirably, going 2.1 IP with just one hit and no walks, runs, or strikeouts. Ned Yost made it clear that he would lean on those three nuclear warheads in his bullpen, and he first brought Herrera into the fourth to quell a Giants rally. But with runners on first and third, Mike Morse came up with a clutch single to put the Giants up 3 – 2.
Affeldt finished out the bottom of the fourth without incident, but when the fifth inning came around Bruce Bochy gave the ball to the one person he trusted most: Bumgarner.
He was on two days’ rest, having thrown 223 pitches over the previous eight days, and Bochy essentially wanted him to pitch five perfect innings in a must-win game.
The first batter MadBum faced, Omar Infante, hit a single to right. But after that, Bumgarner was indeed perfect. He was flat out unbeatable as he retired the next 14 batters in a row before facing Alex Gordon with two outs in the ninth. Meanwhile, the Royals bullpen had pitched just as incredible, with Herrera-Davis-Holland posting a combined line of 5.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, and 9 K to keep the score 3 – 2.
With one batter standing between the Giants and postseason glory, the unthinkable happened.
When was the last time we have ever seen multiple fielders mishandle the same ball in a two-out, one-run ninth-inning situation??? Oh right… two days ago.
Could Gordon have actually scored on that play? It’s a possibility… if he kept running, the Giants would have had to make a perfect throw home to nail him.
But the reality is that the tying run was now just 90 feet away. And 40,535 fans stood on their feet as Salvador Perez stepped up with the chance to be a hero. Bumgarner worked the count 2 – 2, making sure to throw nothing that could scoot away from Buster Posey. And on the sixth pitch of the AB, Perez swung at an inside pitch, popping it up for an easy put out as Pablo Sandoval caught it and collapsed to the ground.
With this final out, the 2010 – 2014 Giants rightfully earned the title of a dynasty. And it was thanks to the WS MVP Bumgarner, who pitched maybe the single best World Series performance in the modern era: 2 W to 0 L, giving up just 1 R, 9 H, 1 BB and 17 K while recording a 0.43 ERA over 21 IP.
Oct. 31, 2001 – The Mr. November Game
Postseason baseball and October are intertwined. Since 1903, every October (besides 1904 and 1994) we can expect dreams to be made and hopes to be crushed for fans across the world. But in 2001, something different happened… for the first time we had November baseball!
This resulted from the temporary delay to the season following the 9/11 attacks. Slowly, yet surely the country recovered and returned to a sense of normalcy. Mike Piazza’s dramatic home run helped many baseball fans heal, as did Sammy Sosa’s home run trot while carrying an American flag. All eyes were on New York during this time, and especially the Yankees, who were seeking their fourth straight World Series title.
They had won the AL East and clawed their way to victory in five games in an extremely close ALDS battle against the Athletics. In the ALCS, they had a slightly easier time beating the Mariners in five. But what lay ahead of the Yankees was a formidable foe in the Arizona Diamondbacks.
This new franchise, in just its fourth year of existence, finished first in the NL West thanks to some terrifying weapons. Luis Gonzalez had a career year, clobbering 57 HR and 142 RBI while slashing .325/.429/.688 with 8.9 fWAR to finish third in the NL MVP race. But the real death star within the Diamondbacks was the 1-2 combo of Randy Johnson (21 – 6, 2.49 ERA, 372 K, 10.4 fWAR) and Curt Schilling (22 – 6, 2.98 ERA, 293 K, 7.2 fWAR), who finished first and second in Cy Young voting, respectively.
In the NLDS and NLCS, the Diamondbacks offense only scored more than five runs once, but their elite pitching neutralized opposing bats and allowed them to win close games. That is exactly what they did in Games 1 and 2 of the World Series as Arizona pitching and hitting easily beat the Yankees, outscoring the Bronx Bombers a combined 13 to 1. But as the series returned to New York for the first time, the tides turned.
It all began with Game 3, when George Bush, while wearing a bulletproof vest, threw out arguably the greatest first pitch in baseball history.
The Diamondbacks worked a bases-loaded situation in the very first inning, but Hernández escaped unscathed. This failed rally loomed large as Schilling was electric, retiring 15 of the first 16 batters he faced. That one batter who beat him? It was Shane Spencer aka “The Home Run Dispenser,” who led off the third with a solo shot to put the Yankees up 1 – 0.
But then Mark Grace responded with his own solo dinger to tie it 1 – 1.
After these minor blemishes, the pitching returned to its dominance, with neither team scoring until the Diamondbacks had a two-run, eighth-inning rally off the Yankees bullpen. To ice the game and notch a 3 – 1 series lead (which we now understand to be extremely dangerous), Arizona manager Bob Brenly brought Byung-Hyun Kim in for a two-inning save.
In the bottom of the eighth, Kim picked apart the Yankees. He worked full counts on each hitter and then struck them all out for a clean 1-2-3 inning.
Kim continued his work in the ninth after getting the lead-off hitter, Derek Jeter, to bunt out. The next batter, Paul O’Neill, hit a single to left to bring the tying run to the plate in Bernie Williams. But Kim had no problem with the perennial batting title contender, striking Williams out on three pitches.
Just one out more (where have we heard this before?). But first, Kim had to beat Tino Martinez. And on the first pitch of the at-bat, Tino shook off Kim’s submarine delivery and caused the upper deck in Yankee Stadium to shake to the point of collapse as Tino belted a game-tying homer to dead center.
Kim avoided any more damage in the ninth, and the Yankees brought in Rivera for the top of the 10th to keep the score tied. Kim was brought out to pitch one more inning, which is at lot to ask of a 22-year-old guy who had already thrown 45 pitches. However, he easily retired the first two batters.
A bell tolled throughout Yankee Stadium, telling fans that the time had turned to midnight. As of that moment, for the first time ever, there was November baseball.
Just as the sound echoed throughout “The House That Ruth Built,” Jeter strolled up to the plate. He had been abysmal in the World Series up to that point, going 1-for-15 with 1 HBP and 2 K. He dug himself into a quick hole as Kim pounded in two strikes. But Jeter fought back, fouling off pitch after pitch and taking some tough balls to work the count full.
Kim couldn’t find the answer to get Jeter out, and he decided to go with a breaking ball on the ninth pitch of the AB. But it hung and caught too much of the plate. Jeter went with his classic ‘Jeter-ian’ swing, slapping the ball to the opposite field, barely over the outfield wall in almost exactly the same spot of his famed Jeffrey Maier home run that began Jeter’s postseason legacy.
And that walk-off home run is how Jeter became known as Mr. November.
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