Monday, October 22, 2012

Ranking The LCS Game 7s

Last night, the San Francisco Giants jumped quickly on the St. Louis Cardinals to force Game 7 in the NLCS. Since both of these teams are just incapable of losing series, I expect tonight's game to last until February. Instead of piling on with everyone writing about this Game 7 and the nature of both teams that precludes them from losing do-or-die games, I figured to take a look back at all the Game 7s in LCS history since the format expanded to a best-of-seven in 1985.

Looking back, it turns out that the LCS Game 7 is as likely to be a dud than to be an epic contest. In the previous 14 seventh games, eight of them were won by 4+ runs. This tends to be when a pitching matchup seems completely skewed to one team over another (great examples: Oliver Perez and Jake Westbrook can call themselves Game 7 starters). This also tends to happen when the momentum of a series greatly swings in one direction, as six times a team rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win an LCS. Here's the list from worst to first.

14. 1996 NLCS: Braves 15, Cardinals 0 

This is perhaps the greatest example of both momentum swinging greatly and a complete mismatch on the mound. No chance was Donovan Osbourne was beating Tom Glavine, especially when Glavine is hitting triples. This game was over after a 6-run first and capped a series which the Braves rallied back from a 3-1 deficit by outscoring the Cards 32-1 in three games.

13. 1986 ALCS: Red Sox 8, Angels 1

This is the AL version of the '96 Braves. The reason the Red Sox are ahead is a) 8-1 is closer than 15-0 and b) because of the epic Game 5 win to allow this to happen, which the Braves didn't do. Still, the Red Sox had all the momentum after that win in Anaheim and Roger Clemens during his Cy Young/MVP year against John Candelaria (who I didn't know was on the Angels, much less their Game 7 starter until I started researching this). Too easy for Boston.

12. 1987 NLCS: Cardinals 6, Giants 0

This doesn't apply to either of my earlier rules since this series was never 2-2 and Danny Cox vs Atlee Hammaker isn't that lopsided (I don't care if Cox was good for 1987, he's no Glavine/Clemens). Still, this was a one-sided shutout that was decided early when Jose Oquendo hit a 3-run HR in the 2nd inning to give the Redbirds a 4-0 lead. The fun fact of this series is that this was the last time that a player from the losing team won series MVP, as Jeffrey Leonard was the winner. While he did go 2 for 4 in Game 7, it wasn't enough for the Giants.

11. 1985 ALCS: Royals 6, Blue Jays 2

It was a promising matchup because of the starters; Bret Saberhagen vs Dave Stieb is among the best you could have had in the 1980s. Then Saberhagen was taken out after the 3rd inning and Stieb gave up a 3-run triple to Jim Sundberg in the 6th when it was 2-1 Royals. A base hit by Hal McRae after made it 6-1 Kansas City and they finished their first of two 3-1 series deficit rallies (both coming after losing Games 1 and 2).

10. 1988 NLCS: Dodgers 6, Mets 0

This game is only up to number 10 because of Orel Hershiser. This capped a dominant series for him, who pitched well enough to win Game 1 (Jay Howell lost that game for the Dodgers), well enough in Game 3 (again, bullpen), gets the save in Game 4 and goes the distance in Game 7, not allowing the Mets to have any chance at a rally. Dodgers scored all six runs in the first two innings as the Mets went with Ron Darling on normal rest, instead of Dwight Gooden on short rest and it cost them.

9. 1991 NLCS: Braves 4, Pirates 0

John Smoltz gained his reputation as a big game pitcher starting with this game. He pitches a complete game shutout, while Atlanta scored 3 in the first, most notably by Brian Hunter's 2-run HR. Hunter also added an RBI double. This probably should be lower in the list, but I give this points for Smoltz and for the Braves run of success beginning with this season and playoffs.

8. 2007 ALCS: Red Sox 11, Indians 2

Why would I put a nine run Boston win this high on the list? Because the game was 3-2 in the 7th inning. This was a series which the Red Sox rallied from 3-1 down to force Game 7 because of Josh Becket and J. D. Drew. The Red Sox scored a run in the first three innings, then the Indians countered with a run in both the 4th and 5th. In the 7th, Kenny Lofton reached second after a Julio Lugo error and Franklin Gutierrez a base hit to LF; only Lofton wasn't sent home and was stranded by Casey Blake's double play. After a Dustin Pedroia HR made it 5-2, Cleveland put the first two on in the 8th. That was when Jonathan Papelbon came in and retired the next three hitters. Boston piled on six runs in the bottom of the 8th, clinching the game in the process.

7. 2004 NLCS: Cardinals 5, Astros 2

Because the epic Yankees-Red Sox wars, this series will always be overlooked from 2003-04 (Cubs would never be overlooked). However, this series had walk-off HR wins by Jeff Kent and Jim Edmonds, while Carlos Beltran and Albert Pujols both had epic hitting performances. It came down to Roger Clemens vs Jeff Suppan and Suppan held his own, giving up 2 runs (1 earned) over 6 IP. With the Cards down 2-1, the bottom of the 6th swung the game as Pujols tied the game with a double off Clemens and Scott Rolen hit a 2-run HR right after. The Astros never threatened again, but would get their revenge the following year.

6. 2008 ALCS: Rays 3, Red Sox 1

The first ever postseason for the Tampa Bay Rays included a Game 7 which didn't have to happen if they would have held a 7-0 lead in Game 5. Boston came back to win that one in Fenway, then won a tough Game 6 to force a Game 7. The Red Sox were poised to win their 10th straight ALCS elimination game, especially after a 1st inning HR by Pedroia. That's when Matt Garza started to dominate, allowing only one more hit in 7+ IP. Tampa would begin to hit like they did all series, and took a 3-1 lead in the 8th. Boston had one last rally on the Rays bullpen when David Price came in to strikeout Drew with the bases load. Price finished it off and the Rays were World Series-bound.

5. 2003 NLCS: Marlins 9, Cubs 6

Nothing will be more memorable than the Bartman game and it seemed like the Cubs were finished after losing Game 6. Sure enough, Miguel Cabrera hit a 3-run HR in the 1st inning to put Florida up early. Chicago rallied though, the key plays being a Kerry Wood 2-run shot in the 3rd and Moises Alou 2-run homer, giving the Cubs a 5-3 lead. Unfortunately for Cubs fans, the Marlins scored in the 5th, 6th  and 7th innings to make it 9-5 and held on to win. The Marlins went on to their second World Series win in six years while it's 104 years and counting for Chicago.

4. 2004 ALCS: Red Sox 10, Yankees 3

In terms of just as a competitive game, this game belongs much lower. However, I can't ignore the history that was made when the Red Sox won Game 7 in 2004 over the Yankees, becoming the first team to win a series down 0-3. Unlike Games 4-6, which were some of the tightest played baseball games any series ever saw, this was over early as David Ortiz hit a two-run HR in the first, then a Johnny Damon grand slam put this out of reach. Derek Lowe pitch six innings of one run baseball despite pitching on two days rest. Boston would win the World Series in a sweep and forever alter the course of baseball history.

3. 2006 NLCS: Cardinals 3, Mets 1

We finally reach the best of the best in terms of legendary LCS Game 7's. The fact that Mets-Cards from 2006 would be among this group is pretty shocking. This was a well-pitched game between Oliver Perez and Jeff Suppan (the odds of which being one billion to one). This had a catch by Endy Chavez which if it's not the best catch in MLB history, it's not laughable to suggest it (kudos for doubling up Jim Edmonds). Finally, you reach the ninth and Yadier Molina hits a 2-run HR to give the Cards a 3-1 lead, something no one envisioned would happen back then. The Mets loaded the bases in the bottom half, only to see Adam Wainwright to throw a great pitch to freeze Carlos Beltran to win the series. This really was a remarkable game and no one gives it credit for being pretty incredible.

2. 1992 NLCS: Braves 3, Pirates 2

Everyone knows this game. Everyone knows the last play. Some backstory: the Braves were ahead 3-1 over the Pirates, then Pittsburgh won a couple to force Game 7 which was played in Atlanta. John Smoltz started for the Braves like he did the year before, but this time the Pirates got to him and scored a couple. Doug Drabek dominated over eight innings and came out to start the ninth. After a Terry Pendleton double, Jose Lind botched a David Justice ground ball, making it 1st and 3rd. Sid Bream walked and Drabek was done with the bases loaded. The Braves scored on a sac fly and after two batters, Francisco Cabrera came up with two outs and the bases loaded. What happened next was one of the iconic plays in baseball history: Cabrera base hit which you see Sid Bream chug home and slide safely just short of the tag at the plate. The Braves were back in the World Series, while the Pirates (still) haven't finished a season over .500 (though they are coming close to ending that).

1. 2003 ALCS: Yankees 6, Red Sox 5

Normally I'd put the play that ends with a play at the plate ahead of one with a walk-off HR because the play at the plate is the best play in baseball. However, this game has to trump Braves-Pirates because of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, the matchup between Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez and  the ebb and flow of this game. Boston was winning all game long as Trot Nixon and Kevin Millar both homered and sent Clemens out early. Jason Giambi kept the Yanks close with a couple solo HR's as Pedro pitched very well in the first seven innings. A David Ortiz solo HR made it 5-2 and the Red Sox were set for the World Series. Then the Yankees rallied, and manager Grady Little made the fateful decision to leave Pedro as the Yankees poured on three runs to tie the game at 5. After Mariano Rivera pitched three scoreless innings, Aaron Boone won it on the first pitch in the bottom on the 11th with a HR.

It would be pretty difficult for tonight's Cardinals-Giants Game 7 to reach Aaron Boone status, but with the way both teams play in do-or-die games, making it into the top-5 won't be that difficult. Let's hope we're watching a memorable one, or it will be easy to switch to football or the debate.

CORRECTION: The early version of this post said that Brian Harper homered and drove in 3 runs in Game 7 of the 1991 NLCS. It was actually Brian Hunter.

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