Sunday, October 6, 2013

Shocking October Part 1: The Top 20 Most Unlikely Post Season Victories

It takes a lot to shock baseball fans. It seems like we've seen everything. We have seen records that have been called unbreakable be broken with seeming ease. We have seen teams that look like they have more talent than anyone in the league repeatedly fail to even reach the post season. We have even seen Jose Canseco try to catch a fly ball, miss it and have it bounce off his head, over the wall for a Home Run. Yet we can still be surprised.

For the next two weeks we will be focusing on my picks for the teams that shocked the world with their October performances.  They could have shocked us for any number of reasons.  They could have come from way behind late in the season to reach the postseason.  They could have had low expectations to start the season but overcome the favorites.  Some of them were giant underdogs throughout the World Series but still found ways to win.  Whatever they overcame to get there, here are my #20-11 picks for the Top 20 Most Unikely Post Season Victories.

20. 1990 Cincinnati Reds
Pete Rose took over as manager of the Reds in 1984, halfway through the season.  In 1985 the Reds finished in second just 5 1/2 games out.  1986 was a second place finish, 10 games behind the Astros.  1987 was a second place finish again, 6 games behind the Giants.  1988 was another second place finish, seven games behind the Dodgers.  1989 was a total disaster.  The personnel was essentially the same but the focus was on the Pete Rose betting scandal and the distraction led to a fourth place finish, 17 games behind the Giants.  With the Giants, Dodgers and an improving Padres team in the NL West no one expected much out of the Reds for 1990.  The Reds were led in the first half of the season by an unexpected starting pitcher, Jack Armstrong.  Armstrong started off 11-3 and was the NL starter for the All Star Game.  He faltered in the second half finishing 12-9 but Jose Rijo, Tom Browning and "the Nasty Boys" bullpen picked up the slack.  Their first opponent was a tough Pirates team with Bonds, Bonilla and Van Slyke.  It was no problem for the Reds.  Next up was the defending champion, highly favored, almost unbeatable Oakland A's.  The A's were not only defending champs, they were improved.  They added Harold Baines, Willie Randolph, Scott Sanderson and Willie McGee (who nearly won a National League batting title despite not playing in the NL for the last two months of the season).  Led by Eric Davis, Hal Morris, Billy Hatcher and Rookie of the Year Chris Sabo the Reds, a surprise division winner, pulled one of the greatest upsets in history by sweeping the A's

19. 1934 St.Louis Cardinals (aka "The Gashouse Gang")
The team that came to be known as "the Gashouse Gang" was known for fighting each other as much as fighting other teams.  Led by players known as Leo the Lip, Pepper, Dizzy and the Fordham Flash, the Gashouse Gang was ready to explode at a moment's notice.  Leading into the season Dizzy Dean promised the world that between he and his brother Paul the Cardinals would get at least 45 wins.  Midway through the season the Cardinals were a mess.  The Deans walked out "on strike", took the Cardinals owners to court in front of Judge Landis to argue over their treatment, their pay and a suspension/fine and threatened never to play again. As late as September 5 the Cardinals were seven games behind the Giants but with the Deans back in the rotation and leading the way, the Cardinals cut the lead to one half game with just three games left.  They tied the Giants for first on 9/28 with just two games left.  The Cards faced off against the Reds.  The Giants faced the Dodgers.  In a perfect example of speaking before you think, way back in the spring the Giants' manager Bill Terry had been asked what he thought Brooklyn's chances were for 1934.  He had responded "Brooklyn?  Are they still in the league?"  By the end of the weekend the Dodgers and their manager, Casey Stengel, were yelling  "Are we still in the league?" Thanks to two Dean wins and two Giant losses, the Cardinals moved on to face Hank Greenberg and the Tigers.  In the 7 game series that followed Pepper Martin, Ducky Joe Medwick and Ripper Collins each had 11 hits, Medwick and Tigers third baseman Marv Owen got in a fist fight, Medwick was pulled off the field for his safety and the Deans won four games as the Gashouse Gang surprised everyone by working together long enough to win the World Series.

18. 1997 Florida Marlins
Heading into the 1997 season there was little question who would win the NL East.  The Braves were nearly perfect.  The Mets, Expos and Phillies were years from contention and the Marlins were still considered an expansion team with no true direction.  Signing Moises Alou was a move in the right direction but signing John Cangelosi and John Wehner were not ones that seemed to help the team over the hump.  This Marlins team was certainly full of talent but the theory throughout the free agency era has always been that you can't buy a title.  (Ask this year's Dodgers and Angels how accurate that theory is.)  Yet the Marlins, in third place the year before, seemed to be trying to do just that.  Adding Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Al Leiter and Bobby Bonilla for the 1996 season, all players who had seemed to under achieve on big contracts in the past, hadn't worked, so there was no reason to believe that this team would be any better.  The team not only won the Wild Card race, they took out Bonds and the Giants and then the unstoppable Braves before knocking off the heavily favored Indians in a bizarre 7 game World Series.  In just their fifth season they became the fastest expansion team to reach the World Series.  That is until the next team on the list.

17. 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks
When you reach October you really only need a few good starting pitchers so the 4th and 5th starters are less significant.  For some teams there are one or two great starters and the rest are asked just to hold the other team for a quality start.  The shocking part about the Diamondbacks was not that this talented group was in the World Series.  The shocking part was that the organisation, in only their fourth year, had been able to assemble enough talent through free agency to immediately compete.  Smart signings like Mark Grace, Jay Bell, Luis Gonzalez and Matt Williams gave the offense a powerful pedigree.  Meanwhile, their two aces, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling were at the top of their game.  With the talent that was stockpiled on the roster the shock was less about them reaching the World Series and more about how they beat the great Yankee Dynasty they faced off against.  After winning the first two games in Arizona and outscoring the Yankees 13-1, the Diamondbacks looked to be in control.  Riding the emotion of playing in New York just weeks after September 11, the Yankees took Game 3 and then the Series got great.  In back to back nights, Arizona appeared to be set to take control of the Series.  In both games, in almost identical situations, the Yankees hit dramatic Home Runs off of Byung Hyun Kim and the Yankees won Game 4 in 10 innings and Game 5 in 12 innings.  The Yankees now had the momentum but back in Arizona the D-Backs pounded Yankees pitching for 15 runs and forced Game 7.  In one of the great Game 7's of all time the Diamondbacks toppled the Yankee Dynasty by beating the unbeatable Mariano Rivera on a broken bat, bottom of the 9th single by Luis Gonzalez. 

16. 2010 San Francisco Giants
Given the excitement of the final day of the 2011 season and the attention paid to the Phillies in the 2010 NL it is not surprising that the impressive run of the 2010 Giants get a bit ignored.  The division had been won by the Dodgers in 2008 and 2009 and by the Diamondbacks in 2007.  In fact, the Giants had not made the playoffs since the Barry Bonds era.  With a young group of pitchers on the ascension and a strong young catcher named Buster Posey, it appeared that the Giants had a bright future somewhere down the road.  The problem was the lineup was filled with castoffs and unwanted players on the downside of their career.  Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Jose Uribe, Edgar Renteria.  These were not the names that screamed World Series and when the Giants fell to six games behind the Padres on 8/28 most people felt sure that the Giants were done.  The Giants lost only ten more games the rest of the season and passed the stumbling Padres on 9/16.  The Giants took a three game lead over the Padres into the final weekend of the season.  Their final three games were against San Diego in San Francisco.  The Padres took the first two games leading to a final day showdown for the division title.  The Giants won 3-0 and took the West title.  Next up was a Braves team trying to win Bobby Cox one more title in his final year.  The Giants beat the favored Braves 3 games to 1.  Following Atlanta was the Phillies Dynasty.  They had struggled for a good part of the year but were a team on fire and Doc Halladay had just pitched a no-hitter against the Reds in the NLDS.  In six tight, well pitched games the Giants beat the Phillies, ending their chance for three straight NL titles.  Up next was the Texas Rangers.  Led by the young pitchers, Buster Posey and Edgar Renteria the Giants took care of the Rangers in 5 games.  The team that was supposedly a few years away from contention had graduated a few years early.

15. 2007 Philadelphia Phillies
Phillies fans started having high expectations as early as 2001 when the young, up and coming Phillies took the Braves down to the last day of the season for the NL East title.  With the signing of Jim Thome and the farm system finally producing players like Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard the Phillies Phaithful in the mid 2000's were hopeful.  By the time 2007 rolled around the excitement was starting to drop a bit.  After finishing close to the Wild Card, but out of the playoffs in 2004, 2005 and 2006, when midseason 2007 rolled around Phillies fans were starting to look forward to Eagles training camp.  As late as September 12, when the Phillies lost 12-0 to Colorado, they were seven games behind a Mets team that was one out from going to the World Series the year before.  The Phillies won on September 13 and they kept winning.  While they did, the Mets kept losing, cutting into the lead and tying the Mets at the top with one game left to play.  On the final day of the season the Phillies beat the Nationals while the Mets lost to the Florida Marlins.  The story would be better if the Phillies had advanced in the playoffs but by overcoming a dominant Mets team in the last week of the season and leading to a downfall of the organization from which they still have not recovered, the 2007 Phillies certainly shocked October.

14. 2004 Boston Red Sox
Similar to the # 17 and #15 teams on our list, it wasn't a surprise that a team this talented reached the World Series, it was a surprise the way they got there. Someone once questioned whether or not there was actually a Red Sox-Yankees rivalry by asking "is there a rivalry between a hammer and a nail?"  The Red Sox had seemingly come up against the Yankees in critical playoff impacting situations a million times over the decades and had never come out ahead.  The 2003 Red Sox had lost to the Yankees after blowing a lead in Game 7 of the ALCS when Aaron Boone hit a game winning Home Run to send the Yanks to another World Series and devastate Red Sox Nation once more.  This group trailed the Yankees 3 games to 1 and were within an out of another disappointing season. Then Dave Roberts stole second base, yelled at the Red Sox dugout and it was like a switch had been flipped.  The Red Sox rallied in Game 5 to win in 14 innings.  They won again in Game 6 and forced Game 7 in Yankee Stadium.  At this point people waited for the curse to strike again and for the hammer to pound the nail into the ground.  Not only were they playing in New York but the Red Sox had used Pedro Martinez  and Curt Schilling (bloody sock and all) to win Games 5 and 6 so they had to use Derek Lowe in Game 7.  This is where the shocking thing happened.  This is where the nail hit back at the hammer.  The Sox struck first with two runs in the first and four in the second to take a 6-0 lead.  The Yankees used 6 pitchers but lost Game 7 and the Red Sox advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1986.  Their opponent was a powerful St. Louis Cardinals team featuring Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds and Larry Walker.  Although everyone continuously waited for the curse to strike, the Red Sox swept St. Louis and won their first World Series since 1918.

13. 1966 Baltimore Orioles
The Dodgers of the early days in Los Angeles had a clear team concept.  Strong pitching.  Strong defense.  Play for one run and let the other team beat themselves.  With Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale pitching, it almost always worked.  The Dodgers had won the World Series three times (1959, 1963 and 1965) since moving to Los Angeles.  Their opponent in the 1966 World Series surprised everyone by reaching the World Series at all.  They had a powerful offense with Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell but their pitching was unproven and after all, this was the old St. Louis Browns and no one had ever taken the Browns seriously.  There was nothing in the last few years to really make people think Baltimore could compete with the Twins, Tigers or Yankees.  Yet with the leadership and determination of Frank Robinson, the Orioles won the American League.  They faced Don Drysdale in Game 1 and sent their ace Dave McNally to the mound.  When they scored three in the first and one in the second against the big DD it was assumed they would win Game 1 but McNally was wild and walked 5 in 2 1/3 innings.  The O's brought in a pitcher known more for his sense of humor and funny appearance than anything.  Moe Drabowsky shut down the Dodgers offense and shocked the Dodgers in Game 1.  The benefit of having two aces like Koufax and Drysdale is that you will almost never lose two in a row.  The Orioles sent young Jim Palmer to the mound.  For the first four innings Koufax was cruising while Palmer seemed to be constantly working out of trouble but neither team scored and the score remained tied  at 0 in the fifth.  Then Willie Davis had the worst inning anyone has ever had.  It started with a one out fly ball by Paul Blair.  Davis misjudged the ball and earned an error allowing Blair to reach second and Boog Powell to advance to third.  That was followed by another fly ball misplayed by Davis and in his haste to minimize his mistake he threw wild allowing two runs to score.  Three errors in one inning and the Orioles had all they needed for an eventual 6-0 win.  Game 3 was a 1-0 shut out of the Dodgers with Paul Blair's home run accounting for the only run and Game 4 was another 1-0 win on a Frank Robinson Home Run off of Don Drysdale.  Not only had the Orioles beaten the powerful Dodgers they had done it in the Dodgers own style and in four straight.  The Orioles pitching, considered questionable at the start of the series, held the Dodgers to 2 runs in four games and scoreless from the third inning of Game 1 to the end of the Series.

12. 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers
Facing the bash brothers in their prime was intimidating.  It wasn't just McGwire and Canseco that scared you.  It was Rookie of the Year Walt Weiss.  It was Dave Henderson, Carney Lansford, Don Baylor and Dave Parker.  It was Dave Stewart with his hat pulled down so low you couldn't see his eyes and it was Dennis Eckersley shutting the door every time he came into the game.  Facing the A's, a team had to be at their best.  So the Dodgers facing off against Dave Stewart without their MVP Kirk Gibson and having used their ace Orel Hershiser to beat the Mets, the Dodgers needed a lot of help.  Game 1 started the way everyone expected.  After a two run Mickey Hatcher Home Run in the first the A's big boys went to work.  A single, a walk to the pitcher and a walk brought Canseco to the plate with two outs.  Canseco, the first ever 40/40 man, blasted a ball to dead center field and dented the NBC Sports camera.  The A's were on their way to a World Series title.  Then Kirk Gibson limped his way to the plate and immortality.  The fact that Gibson hit a game winning Home Run on two bad knees is always the focal point of this upset.  The part that gets missed in the Kirk Gibson drama is the amazing performance of Orel Hershiser and the fact that every game seemed to have another Dodgers player go out of the lineup.  By the end of the series the Dodgers were playing without Gibson, Mike Marshall and Mike Scioscia.  The Gibson home run was a shock but the patch work lineup was an even bigger October shock.

11. 1987 Minnesota Twins
It had been a long time since the Twins were good.  A really, really long time.  They moved from Washington in the 1950's with an improving young team and were in the World Series by 1965.  They lost twice to the Orioles in the first 2 ALCS (1969 and 1970).  Then there was a rebuilding.  A long, tough, slow rebuilding.  A growing of the organization from within and waiting for the crops to blossom.  Then they started to sprout.  Kirby Puckett.  Kent Hrbek.  Frank Viola. Greg Gagne. Gary Gaetti.  With the exception of Puckett and Hrbek these were not names that scared anyone.  Fighting off the Royals who were still considered the favorite in the division, the Twins won the division but lost their last five regular season games.  Facing off against the red hot Tigers no one expected the Twins to advance.  Not only did they advance but they rolled over the Tigers.  Their next task was the Cardinals and the powerful lineup still trying to make up for their 1985 World Series loss.  There were few close games in this series as the home team won each game.  There were scores of 10-1, 7-2, 8-4 and 11-5.  You would think there would be no drama in this series but Game 7 was full of close plays, plays at the plate and great pitching.  The Twins, who weren't considered a favorite to even compete at the beginning of the year won the organisations first World Series since 1924 when they were still the Washington Senators.

Think one of these teams is ranked too low or too high?  Think another team should be included in the list?  Check back next week for the Top 10 Most Unlikely Post Season Victories.

The 1987 Twins (listed at # 11 on today's list) featured a player who had appeared in the World Series the year before with the 1986 Red Sox and would appear again in the World Series in 1988 with the Oakland Athletics.  Similarly, there was a player who appeared in the 2001 World Series with the Arizona Diamondbacks then appeared the next year with the 2002 San Francisco Giants.  Although he did not appear in the World Series in 2003, he did reach the Fall Classic again in 2004 with the St. Louis Cardinals.  Who were these two players?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
Congratulations to Hope for answering last week's question correctly.
The Orioles had a one run lead in the bottom of the 8th inning of Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS.  With one out Derek Jeter drove a pitch toward right-center.  It was hit deep but it appeared playable.  Tracking the ball to the wall was Orioles Right Fielder Tony Tarasco.  Tarasco had just replaced Bobby Bonillia in Right Field for defensive purposes.  As Tarasco reached the wall he felt he had an easy play of a routine fly ball.  Instead of leaping to meet the ball he nonchalantly leaned against the wall and waited for it to come down.  In the stands, 12 year old Jeffrey Maier leaned out and caught the ball.  Immediately, as Tarasco turned and pointed at the air and yelled "Hey!", Maier was jumping for joy along with the entire city of New York.  The Right Field Umpire called the ball a Home Run.  Replays showed that Maier had reached over the fence and pulled the ball in on what likely would have been caught by Tarasco.

1 comment:

  1. I forgot about the 1990 Reds.

    When the Marlins won in 1997 I thought it was a disgrace to baseball that an expansion team could win so quickly. I grew up when expansion was new and you built your teams by the farm system. (KC.). the new concept of big money over a building farm system was a difficult to accept.

    I have to admit that the 7th game of the 2001 WS was the most exciting 7th game since the 7th game of the 1960 series.

    In my youth the Orioles were considered a bad team. In the early 60's I could see the Orioles improving to a respectable and good team. That they were in the 1966 world series was no surprise. That they beat the powerful Dodgers in 4 games was a huge surprise. I was in college that year and my roommate was an Orioles fan.

    As stated before I thought the Tigers had a better team in 1987 than the twins. That Twins team definitely overachieved.

    On the trivia questions, for the first part I am going with Frank Viola.
    For the second part I'm guessing Juan Uribe.



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