By Thomas Sellers Jr.
October is here, and that means the calendar year is almost over.
The 10th month is synonymous with cooler weather, shorter days, fall festivals and hibernating. Besides an autumn wedding, sporting event and Halloween, we begin to stay home more and more.
While binge watching will be several people’s agenda this fall and winter, some of us still hold onto tradition. October also means Major League Baseball playoffs.
Now the long, boring games of the summer have extra meaning. The sporting spotlight belongs to baseball and the Fall Classic to be played at the end of the month. The last team standing from the National League will take on the champion of the American League in a tradition called the World Series.
The first major championship series in the United States dates back to the early 1900s. The first official Fall Classic was held in 1903, but the MLB held other versions of the championship beginning in the 1880s.
In 1884, the Providence Grays of the National League outplayed the New York Metropolitan Club of the American Association in a three-game series for what was originally called “The Championship of the United States.” Several newspapers penned the Grays as “World Champions” and the new title.
Fast forward almost 20 years and the first World Series went eight games between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Americans.
Now the World Series is a best-of-seven showdown to conclude the marathon known as Major League Baseball. There have been countless heroes, games and moments from the Fall Classic. Names like Pete Rose, Reggie Jackson, Bill Mazeroski, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth and Willie Stargell are just some of the players who became legends in October.
In my lifetime the World Series still is producing icons and iconic moments. The first World Series I remember watching was back in 1986 when I was five years old. I was hooked from that point.
America’s Pastime is like a rite of passage. Tuning into the perfect series will make anybody a fan of the MLB. Whether it is the earthquake of 1989 or the Boston Red Sox finally ending the Curse of the Babe in 2004, the World Series stamps your soul.
Here are my 10 favorite World Series since 1986. Just missing the cut was the 2016 Fall Classic with the Chicago Cubs finally ending the Curse of the Billy Goat by beating the Cleveland Indians in seven games.
10. Kansas City vs. San Francisco 2014
By 2014 I firmly believed it was impossible for the road team to win Game 7 of a World Series. My second-favorite National League team, the San Francisco Giants, was facing that challenge against the American League champion Kansas City Royals.
Both teams had solid regular seasons, winning almost 90 games. But they got hot in the postseason with KC sweeping Baltimore to win the American League pennant. And over in the National League the Giants took care of the St. Louis Cardinals in five games.
It was time for the evenly matched team to clash with the Royals having the home field advantage.
Things were even after six games and the Royals had to feel pretty good about being the host of Game 7. But the Giants had an equalizer in pitcher Madison Bumgarner. The Giants won the final game 3–2.
The game-winning RBI came courtesy of Michael Morse scoring the Kung Fu Panda Pablo Sandoval. That was all Bumgarner needed. Bumgarner pitched five shutout innings in relief on two days’ rest to clinch the championship. He was rightfully named the series’ MVP. KC did manage to return to the Fall Classic in 2015 and claim the championship.
9. Anaheim vs. San Francisco 2002
My favorite baseball player of all time finally reached the big show. Barry Bonds is going to play in the World Series with his San Francisco Giants. After years of disappointment, Bonds had the stage in front of the nation to put-up or shut up.
He did show up in a large way. Bonds crushed some of the longest home runs in modern day World Series history. He was amazing, even causing Anaheim Angels legend Tim Salmon to say after one Bonds homer, “That’s the farthest ball I’ve ever seen hit.”
Despite Bonds hitting .471 with four home runs and driving in six runs with limited pitching, the Giants fell short to the Angels. Troy Glaus was the MVP helping Anaheim clinch the championship in seven games. Glaus hit three homers in the series while batting .385.
The Angels played the role of heroes by beating the villain Bonds in his first and only World Series appearance.
8. St. Louis vs. Texas 2011
Another seven-game classic on the list, the games played in the American League champion Texas Rangers’ home park were so memorable. But the main reason this World Series was so great was simply Game 6 in St. Louis.
The National League champions of 2011 play in one of the best baseball cities in America. The rich history of St. Louis Cardinal Baseball includes greats like Stan Musial, Ozzie Smith and Albert Pujols.
Pujols added to his legend in the city with his Cardinals outlasting the Rangers.
Pujols, Smith and Musial had a few of their classic moments called by iconic broadcaster Jack Buck. His son Joe had the privilege of calling the 2011 World Series for Fox Sports.
The younger Buck borrowed a 20-year-old line from his father to cap the coverage of Game 6. That contest was a back-and-forth battle. The Cardinals erased a two-run deficit in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Texas looked to be prepared to end the series in six games once again taking a two-run advantage in the 10th inning. St. Louis stepped up again and tied the game.
In both innings, the Rangers were one strike away from their first World Series championship. The Cardinals won the game in the 11th inning on a walk-off home run by series MVP David Freese.
“We’ll see you tomorrow night.” St. Louis took Game 7 and the series.
7. Minnesota vs.
St. Louis 1987
The Cardinals were not always victorious in Game 7 of World Series. In 1987 the “Homer Dome” proved to be too much for St. Louis to overcome. The American League champions Minnesota Twins took full advantage of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, winning all four games played there.
The Cardinals fell behind 2-0 in the series with the Twins dominating by outscoring St. Louis 18-5.
In Missouri, the Cardinals tallied 14 runs in three games compared to the Twins’ 5.
Minnesota’s bats woke up in Game 6 with 11 runs to force a Game 7. The Twins sent Game 1 winner Frank Viola to the mound in the decisive contest. Only giving up two runs in the second inning, Viola earned the MVP award by shutting down St. Louis the rest of the way to prevail 4-2.
6. Oakland vs.
Los Angeles 1988
This series only went five games. But it was a major upset with the 104-win, AL champion Oakland Athletics going down to the upstart Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Athletics were loaded with the Bash Brothers of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. Toss in Ricky Henderson as the leadoff hitter, and that lineup was scary. Oakland had the arms to dominate from the mound with pitchers like Dave Stewart, Bob Welch and Dennis Eckersley.
Speaking of Eckersley, he was the premiere closer of the time. And the ace made his way to Dodger Stadium mound to end Game 1 and shut down the hopes of LA.
The Dodgers were hobbling into the series with 1988 National League MVP Kurt Gibson doubtful with a leg injury.
That set the stage for the 85th edition of the World Series to have an iconic moment. Gibson came to the plate in a pinch-hitting role. He limped into the batter’s box with Eckersley giving his trademark stare. The Oakland hurler had no mercy.
Barely able to walk, Gibson stood in the box and tried to get his timing down. With the Dodgers trailing 4–3 with two outs and the tying run at first base in the bottom of the ninth inning, Gibson took a swing more suitable for chopping wood. But the ball traveled over the right field wall, giving the Dodgers the victory and momentum to take the series. Of course Jack Buck was there to make the call, giving the perfect summary. “I can’t believe what I just saw!”
5. Boston vs. New York 1986
The Curse of the Bambino was alive and well in 1986. But a young Thomas Sellers Jr. didn’t know anything about this spell placed upon a franchise. To be honest I thought Babe Ruth was just a delicious candy bar.
All I knew was the World Series was fun and Game 6 was epic. That game alone is a novel or a Hollywood movie and even would be a great miniseries. Boston was an out away from winning its first World Series since 1918. To keep this short and simple, Vin Scully’s call will be my summary of the most iconic moment of that game.
“Little roller up along first. Behind the bag. It gets through Buckner! Here comes (Ray) Knight, and the Mets win it.” That wacky extra innings affair set up the conclusion of a Game 7 victory for New York.
4. Toronto vs. Philadelphia 1993
Speaking of memorable moments, not since Mazeroski in 1960 has a home run ended the World Series. I got a chance to witness that rare occurrence during my lifetime north of the border. Defending American League and World Series champions Toronto Blue Jays were in a showdown with the edgy, cool National League winners, the Philadelphia Phillies.
When Blue Jays slugger Joe Carter stepped to the plate to face Phillies’ Mitch Williams, it was a microcosm of the two squads. The clean-cut, professional class of Carter represented Toronto. And the long-haired, rough facial hair on the “Wild Thing” was symbolic of Philadelphia.
Could Williams toss flames pass Carter? Or would Carter prevail with his trusted bat? Carter was victorious, hitting a three-run homer after trailing 6-5 in Game 6. The Blue Jays were World Series champions again.
3. Cleveland vs. Florida 1997
Another game-winning and series-clinching moment came four years later in an unlikely place — Miami. Awarded a Major League Baseball franchise in 1991, the Marlins hit the field in 1993. The team not old enough to attend kindergarten was taking on the storied Cleveland Indians. The last time the Indians sniffed a title was in the 1989 film “Major League.”
Cleveland was seeking its first World Series since 1954. The loaded lineup of the Indians were a few outs away from grabbing that elusive championship.
The seesaw series saw both teams alternate victories leading into Game 7. The Indians were close to winning, but the decisive game went into extra innings.
The stage was set for Edgar Rentería of the Marlins. Florida featured one of the best teams money could buy. But it all came down to a young prospect to win the championship in the 11th inning. Renteria was able to place the ball between two Indian infielders to drive home a leaping Craig Counsell.
2. New York vs. Arizona 2001
The most storied team in MLB history is the New York Yankees. As of today the franchise has 27 World Series titles. There have been many eras of dominance for the Bronx Bombers. During my lifetime it was 1996 to 2001.
The reason why the period ends in 2001 is because of the Arizona Diamondbacks and their two-headed pitching monster of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson.
It took those aces and timely hitting to overcome the Derek Jeter-led Yanks in seven games.
New York entered the Fall Classic in 2001 as winners of the 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000 championships. The Yankees were the favorites, and they had the extra motivation of playing for the city of New York weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
A national week of mourning pushed the October Classic back a week. The first World Series games were played in November. Jeter hit an iconic home run on the first of November, earning him the title of Mr. November.
But on Nov. 4, the night would belong to the Diamondbacks. Arizona was awarded the team in 1995 and began play three years later. Fast forward three more years, and the Diamondbacks are battling the big, bad Yankees for the championship.
Trailing 2-1 entering the bottom of the ninth, Arizona chipped away at legendary closer Mariano Rivera. Arizona clawed out two runs, including the game-winning bloop single of Luis Gonzalez. The Diamondbacks were winners 3-2.
1. Minnesota vs. Atlanta 1991
The most competitive World Series of my lifetime. Three games went to extra innings, including Game 7. The home team won each game. Great pitching performances, timely hitting and iconic moments were coming often throughout this series.
The lasting moments of this classic were Minnesota’s Kirby Puckett literally rising to the occasion to keep his team alive in Game 6. First, he made a leaping catch in centerfield in front of the plexiglass window that sent the Metrodome crowd into riot-level intensity.
The game was still tied 3-3 in the 11th inning. Puckett stepped to the plate and delivered a classic moment. Puckett crushed a Charlie Leibrandt offering. As the ball traveled through the air, Jack Buck gave the call of… “And we’ll see you tomorrow night.”
And the next night was phenomenal. Two great teams battling for the World Series title down to the last at bat. Atlanta’s John Smoltz matched eventual MVP Jack Morris pitch for pitch.
Smoltz finally ran out of gas with the game still 0-0. But Morris kept going and pitched all 10 innings. In the bottom of the 10th inning, the Twins started to mount a rally. With the bases loaded, little known Gene Larkin comes to bat. Larkin, nursing an injured knee, hits a single over the Braves outfielders. Dan Gladden starts to make his way toward home plate. Gladden was moments away from ending the best World Series ever. The 180-pound left fielder pumped his arms in victory and waved for his teammates to meet him at home plate. When Gladden’s cleats touched the plate giving the Twins the 1-0 win and the championship, he exploded into the air and into the embrace of his teammates.
I cheered and cried at the same time. The team I was rooting for won the championship, but this great series was over.
THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for West 10 Media/Magic Valley Publishing. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.