Baseball’s Best Playoff Games of the Last 25 Years

  • The Comeback

    2004 ALCS, Game 4

    Choosing one game from this 2004 classic between the Red Sox and Yankees is rough; the Sox became the first team to dig out of a 3-0 series hole, defeating the Yankees behind a string of memorable performances. Who could forget Curt Schilling’s bloody sock in Game 6?

    But the fourth game of this seven-gamer stands out for its symbolism and spark. The Red Sox fought off their most hated rivals on the way to their first championship since 1918, fighting off elimination on this night in dramatic fashion. A blown save by all-time great Mariano Rivera gave the Sox hope in the ninth, and the Sox walked off in extras on a towering shot from David Ortiz.

    It was the start of something bigger, but a memorable night on its own nonetheless.

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  • A Pitcher’s Duel For The Ages

    1991 World Series, Game 7 

    The 1991 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves is widely considered among the best championship series we’ve ever seen. Due to three games being decided in extra innings, it also holds the record for longest seven-game World Series in history, with a whopping 69 frames in total.

    Game Seven was one of those extended affairs, but it wasn’t because of an offensive battle. Twins hurler Jack Morris and Braves upstart John Smoltz had a pitcher’s duel for the ages, with the former going 10 shutout innings to seal the deal for his team. Smoltz went eight strong as well, with the Braves conceding the game’s only run on a Gene Larkin hit with the bases loaded in the 10th.

    Tension could not have been higher throughout the game, with each team just one hit away from capturing the championship. They weren’t lighting up the scoreboard, but the Twins and Braves ended a fantastic series with an incredible final game.

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  • The Freese Show

    2011 World Series, Game 6

    There’s making a comeback to win a game, and then there’s what the Cardinals did against the Texas Rangers in 2011. Down to their last strike on two separate occasions, the Cardinals were able to stave off elimination and win on their home turf.

    One man in particular has to be thanked. David Freese, still not a full-time starter entering the season, had his coming-out party during the 2011 postseason, with no moment as important as his series-saving triple in the bottom of the ninth. After the Cardinals came back from yet another two-run deficit in the 10th inning, Freese hit a blast to center in the 11th, forcing a seventh game that the Cardinals would win.

    St. Louis became the first World Series team to come back from two runs down in both the ninth and tenth inning, creating a moment that is unlikely to be repeated anytime soon. As for the Rangers, they were left wondering what might have been.

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  • Halladay No-Hitter

    2010 NLDS, Game 1

    There are but two men who can count playoff no-hitters on their resume. One is the aforementioned Don Larsen; the other is Philadelphia’s ace in 2010, punctuating his first postseason start with a bit of history.

    Roy Halladay would have been happy just to get a win against the Reds, but he was at peak dominance in his playoff debut, a single walk away from turning in a perfect game against a potent Reds lineup. Talk about a tough act to follow.

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  • Gonzo Wins It For Diamondbacks

    2001 World Series, Game 7 

    On a quest to become the first team in 50 years to win four straight World Series titles, the Yankees were primed for another title, having knocked off the record-breaking 116-win Mariners in the ALCS. Thanks to strong pitching and a never-say-die attitude, the Diamondbacks were able to crush the Yankees hopes.

    A premier pitching matchup between Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling was turned over to the bullpens in the eighth, and after Mariano Rivera struck out the side in his first go-round, the game looked to be a wrap. But a series of slip-ups from Rivera and the defense behind him opened the door for Arizona, and they seized the opportunity. Luis Gonzalez’s walk-off blooper made the D-Backs the quickest team to win a World Series title, capturing a championship just four years after their inception.

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  • Joe Carter Ends It

    1993 World Series, Game 6

    1993’s Fall Classic pitted the defending world champions against an upstart bunch from Philadelphia, affectionately referred to a year prior by member John Kruk as “24 morons and one Mormon.” The two sides squared off in an offensive slugfest, scoring 81 runs in just six games.

    The most memorable contest was Game 6, which featured the Phillies trying to stave off elimination in Toronto. Up 6-5 in the ninth inning after overcoming a four-run deficit, the boys from Philadelphia turned to erratic closer Mitch Williams to shut the door and extend the series. After walking feared baserunner Rickey Henderson, Williams employed a slide-step delivery to counter Toronto’s speed on the basepaths. The move backfired on Williams, as Joe Carter hit only the second clinching home run in Series history.

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  • Edmonds Extends Series

    2004 NLCS, Game 6

    Marking the first time that two Central Division teams met in a league championship series, the 2004 NLCS was a battle of rivals, upping the stakes in a contest already pitting solid teams against one another. Although St. Louis’ relatively comfortable victory in Game 7 was anti-climactic, Game 6 provided plenty of drama.

    Down 3-2 in the series but up by the same margin in the ninth, the Cardinals saw the hope of another game flash before their eyes when Jeff Bagwell tied the game up for the Astros. Fortunately for St. Louis, Jim Edmonds was around to save the day and crush a homer deep into the night in inning No. 12. The Redbirds lived to fight another day, and fans were treated to an excellent NLCS battle.

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  • David Ortiz
  • Gene Larkin
  • David Freese
  • Luis Gonzalez

Baseball may be a sport that thrives in the summer, but nothing compares to MLB’s postseason, played as the weather begins to cool across America. It’s the only sport whose penultimate series has a name associated with a season — the words “Fall Classic” resonate across generations of sports fans. The World Series, and by proxy baseball’s playoffs, are a yearly tradition to celebrate before we head into the darkest, coldest months.

As we’re wont to do at The Drop, we wanted to take a look at some of the best the MLB postseason offered us over the last few decades. Playoff baseball is exciting and action-packed on a general level, but not all games are considered equal. There are performances that will echo through time for moments of individual brilliance or collective insanity, and today we’re exploring the moments that jump off the page at us.

Whether it’s a sleeper who comes up large in the biggest moments, or superstars living up to their billing, brilliance takes shape in many forms. Regular season hardware is all well and good, but legends are spawned by performances in the fall. There’s a reason why players like Reggie Jackson and Derek Jeter are referred to as Mr. October and Mr. November respectively, and why Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series is remembered more fondly than others.

Take a look back with us at some of the most memorable playoff games of the last quarter century as you gear up for another iteration of fall baseball. These are Baseball’s Best Playoff Games of the Last 25 Years.

Follow Kyle on Twitter at @kyleneubeck

image via Brian Schwenk/Flickr Creative Commons