Saturday, October 12, 2013

Shocking October Part 2: The Top 20 Most Unlikely Post Season Victories

If you don't check the blog everyday (and why would you) you likely missed the tribute to Andy Pafko, who passed away this week.  Please check this article out and if you have any memories of seeing Pafko play or good Pafko stories to share please leave a comment.

Last week we started our look at the most shocking October appearances.  Just as with our Most Disappointing October list I am certain you have been on the edge of your seat all week waiting for our top 10.  Well, your anticipation is over.  You can find out my picks and then immediately start questioning my sanity.  I do love that the Most Disappointing list was able to get some small debate going, so please feel free to leave me your list.

10. 1954 New York Giants
Willie Mays was so good even his glove had a nickname. It was known as "the place where triples go to die". Mays would end up one of the greatest of all time but he was still a young kid.  He had been with the Giants in 1951 when they reached the World Series and lost to the Yankees. Mays knew that these chances don't come every year and 1954 could very well be his last chance to win a World Series. Standing in the way of Mays and the Giants were the Indians, winners of 111 games and seemingly the best team in decades. The Indians, feeling unstoppable, seemed to be on their way to the predicted domination but Mays's glove and Dusty Rhodes's bat led the way to one of the biggest upsets in baseball history.

9. 2002 Anaheim Angels
The Angels in 2002 were in the same situation as the 2007 Phillies (see #15 on this list). They had built a strong young team but were continually under achieving. They had blown a big lead to the #4 team on this list and had failed to overcome Seattle, Texas or Oakland in any year since. In fact, going into the 2002 season, the Angels were the only AL West team not to win the division or make the playoffs under the current Wild Card format. They finally reached the playoffs in 2002 and had to face the Yankees in the first round, the team that had won the American League for five of the last six years. Instead of the big names Garrett Anderson and Tim Salmon leading the way in the ALDS, role players like Adam Kennedy and Sean Wooten stepped up to lead the Angels to the ALCS against the Twins. Minnesota was a surprise team themselves but the Angels, again led by Adam Kennedy, beat a Twins team led by a future Angels favorite, Torii Hunter. The World Series opponent was the Giants led by Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent. Dusty Baker's kids were excited that they could see Disneyland from their hotel and the San Francisco fans were excited for the first World Series win since they moved from New York. The Giants took a 3 games to 2 lead after a 16-4 crushing in Game 5 and jumped out to a 5-0 lead in Game 6 before the Angels rallied for six runs in the 7th and 8th to force Game 7. After the miraculous reprieve of Game 6 the Angels shocked the Giants in Game 7 with a 4-1 win and the only Championship for the Angels to this point.

8. 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates
The Yankees were led by Hall of Famers and All Stars. Mantle, Maris, Berra, Ford, Richardson. They had won the World Series eight of the last ten years and were a frightening thought for any team. The Pirates were in their first World Series since 1927 when they were swept by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig's Yankees. The Yankees won games by scores of 16-3, 10-0 and 12-0. By those numbers the series should have been over already. Yet somehow, the Pirates had forced a Game 7. The Pirates jumped out to a 4-0 lead but gave it back to the Yankees and trailed 7-4 going into the 8th. When a sure double play ball to short stop took a bad hop and hit Tony Kubek in the throat (it was feared it may have crushed his windpipe and he spent some time in the hospital) things unravelled for the Yankees and before anyone knew it the Pirates had five runs and a two run lead. Yet the Yankees were the Yankees and came back to tie the game at 9. The Pirates had the bottom of the order coming up for the bottom of the 9th. Stepping to the plate was a player who had only 48 career home runs in 2379 at bats. That works out to one every 49 at bats. This was Mazeroski's 25th at bat of the series and he had already hit one home run. He hit .320 for the series so there was a good chance of him getting on base just not very likely that he would win it on a Home Run. Then he did what no one would have ever expected. He ended the World Series on one swing and the Pirates, outscored in the series 55-27, had toppled the Yankee dynasty on the most unlikely Home Run.

7. 1991 Minnesota Twins
After the 1987 World Series win (see #11 on this list) the Twins had some serious down years (making the #11 shocking October even more shocking). 1990 saw the Twins in last place but a fall off in Oakland and Kansas City and a White Sox team still a few years away from a playoff run opened a window in the division. With many of the same players from the 1987 team plus the rookie of the year and a former World Series champion (who these Twins had beaten in the 1987 playoffs) the Twins took advantage of the opening and became the first team in history to go from last place to first place in only a single year. They faced the Braves, who had accomplished the same feat, in one of the greatest World Series in history and in the greatest Game 7 ever won a 1-0 extra inning game to defeat the team that would reach the playoffs for the next 13 years.

6. 1964 St. Louis Cardinals
Replacing someone just known as "the Man" is not an easy thing to do, especially when he helped lead the organization in four World Series. The Cardinals were still considered a rebuilding organization in 1964 when they made a trade that sped up the rebuilding. They picked up an outfielder from the Cubs, a player who didn't quite fit into the Cubs plans, named Lou Brock. Brock jump started the Cardinals offense and as the Phillies had a historic collapse in the last two weeks of the season. Three teams had a chance to win the NL on the last day of the season. The Cardinals beat out the Reds and Phillies to reach the World Series but had to face Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Led by the pitching of Bob Gibson the Cardinals won a classic seven game series and beat the Yankees in their last World Series appearance until 1976.

5. 1906 Chicago White Sox (aka "Hitless Wonders")
The other side of this series was the #1 disappointing October of all time. Known as the "hitless wonders" the White Sox were seen as fortunate to even reach the World Series. Facing off against the winningest team of all time with great pitchers and strong hitters the White Sox didn't stand a chance. With the pitching of Nick Altrock, Doc White and Ed Walsh the "hitless wonders" pulled off one of the greatest upsets of all time.

4. 1995 Seattle Mariners
Baseball in Seattle was synonymous with losing. They played in a poorly lit, poorly constructed sham of a stadium that someone once said was like "playing in my basement". The Mariners couldn't even fill the stadium and the owners, after years and years of poor attendance and financial losses, were ready to move. The city of Tampa Bay was making some very serious offers and if things didn't improve the move was certain. Then the worst possible thing that could have happened to the Mariners happened. Ken Griffey Jr broke his wrist and was out for an unknown amount of time. With the Angels way ahead in the race the Mariners seemed to be headed out of town. Then Jay Buhner and Randy Johnson took over and the Mariners were right back in the fight. When the trade deadline came around the M's made a trade to make a playoff run by picking up Andy Benes from the Padres, it was the first time the Mariners tried to improve themselves at the deadline instead of dumping talent. The Mariners passed the Angels for first place then allowed the Angels to catch them. Tied for the AL West lead on the last day, the Angels and Mariners played a one game playoff in Seattle. The Mariners won and advanced to the playoffs for the first time in their history. Facing a Yankees team in the playoffs for the first time since 1981, the Mariners and Yankees played one of the best playoff series of all time with dramatic late inning home runs, countless lead changes and even a near riot in the Bronx when the Mariners pulled their players off the field for their safety. After beating the Yankees in five games in the most dramatic fashion possible the magic ran out. The Mariners lost to the Indians in the ALCS but the playoff run saved Seattle baseball.

3. 2003 Florida Marlins
The Florida Marlins won the World Series in 1997 by buying their way to the World Series. Immediately after the World Series they dismantled the team sending the pieces of the winners everywhere. The 2003 Marlins looked like they were going nowhere. In May the Marlins were in dead last and replaced their manager with the oldest manager in the majors, Jack McKeon. The laughter surrounding the major leagues' laughingstock got a little bit louder. The Marlins were made up of young, inexperienced players like Dontrelle Willis, Derek Lee, Juan Pierre, Brad Penney, Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett and Miguel Cabrera as well as one experienced veteran leader, Ivan Rodriguez. The team never got close to the division winning Braves but they won the Wild Card and then, in one of the most famous NLCS of all time, they beat the Cubs to advance to the World Series. Their opponent there was the powerful Yankees riding the emotion of Aaron Boone's dramatic Home Run to beat the Red Sox. With the Yankees being led by a huge payroll and experienced post season players no one gave the Marlins a chance. Led by the pitching of Brad Penny, the Marlins shocked the Yankees in six games.

2. 1969 New York Mets (aka "The Amazin' Mets")
The Mets had been a punchline for the first few years of their existence. It was worse than a punchline. It was a three ring circus. Between a manager who fell asleep on the bench and wrote a book titled "Can anyone here play this game?" and a team that lost more games than anyone in history no one in their right mind would consider the Mets a contender. The race to see whether man would set foot on the moon or the Mets would reach first place first got amazingly close as the 1969 season progressed. The Cardinals suffered from injuries and the Cubs got off to a huge lead. The Cubs fan base, always on the look out for the dreaded curse of the Billy Goat, saw a brand new curse in 1969. In the middle of the pennant race a black cat, an actual cat, ran onto the field, crossed the path of Ron Santo in the on deck circle then ran over to the Cubs dugout, stared down the Cubs and the collapse was underway. The Mets caught fire, the Cubs fell apart and the Miracle Mets made it to the first ever National League playoffs. They faced Hank Aaron and the powerful Braves lineup. Surprisingly, the Braves were no challenge and the Mets swept their way to the World Series. Facing the greatest Orioles team of all time they not only beat the O's, they dominated them. The outfield of the Mets led by Cleon Jones and Ron Swoboda seemed to turn every fly ball into the greatest catch in World Series history. The Mets, much like the 2003 Marlins, went from joke to World Series Champions almost over night.

1.   1914 Boston Braves (aka "The Miracle Braves")
The first ten years of World Series National League play was dominated by a few organizations. The Pirates (1903 and 1909) the Giants (1905, 1911, 1912 and 1913) and the Cubs (1906, 1907, 1908 and 1910) had won every NL Pennant since the start of the postseason series. On July 4th they lost their fifth straight game to fall 15 games out of first place. This team was going nowhere. They won seven of the next eight and cut the lead to ten and a half games. A nine game winning streak starting on July 27 cut the lead to six and a half but there was still little chance that the Braves could keep winning at this pace. They lost August 7th but started a new seven game winning streak the next day. They tied for first on August 25th and hovered between first and second for about a week. By September 8th they were up a game. By September 18th they were up 3 games. They went 25-4 over the last month of the season and won the NL by 10 games. They went from 15 games out to 10 games up in two months (remind anyone of the 2013 Dodgers?). Next up was the Philadelphia Athletics. The World Champions three of the last four years. The $100,000 infield. Connie Mack. One of the greatest collections of talent ever. The Miracle Braves, led by the keystone combination of Johnny Evers and Rabbit Maranville and pitchers Bill James and Dick Rudolph the Braves stunned the A's with a four game sweep. Rumors have swirled ever since that the A's threw the World Series to the Braves in a precursor to the Black Sox scandal. Regardless of whether or not the Series was on the level the Braves' miracle run turned the sport upside down and over the next few years new teams would find their way into the World Series.

Think a team is too high or too low on this list? Think there is a team missing? Email me your list or leave a comment.  Check back next week for part 1 of the Top 20 Most Satisfying Octobers

The 2002 World Series saw the emergence of one of the best relief pitchers of the next decade (he is still an active pitcher but is currently more of a set up pitcher). What Angels relief pitcher used his 2002 World Series performance to emerge as a star?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
Don Baylor was a member of the 1985 Yankees, who failed to make the playoffs despite one of the most talent filled teams of the decade.  In March of 1986 the Yankees traded Baylor to the Red Sox for Mike Easler.  Baylor appeared in the 1986 World Series as a member of the Boston Red Sox.  Baylor was on the Red Sox roster for most of 1987 but was traded on 9/1/87 to the eventual World Champion Twins in exchange for Enrique Rios.  Following the World Series win, Baylor was released and became a free agent.  He signed with the Oakland Athletics who went on to lose to the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers.
Reggie Sanders appeared in the 2001 World Series as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Following the 2001 season Sanders was a free agent.  Sanders signed with the 2002 San Francisco Giants, who lost to the Anaheim Angels in the World Series.  Sanders did not appear in the 2003 World Series, however, following the 2003 season (which was spent with Pittsburgh), Sanders signed with the St.Louis Cardinals and appeared in the 2004 World Series against the Red Sox.


  1. As stated before, the 1954 Giants were a big surprise. The Indians were so much better with that great pitching staff.
    You mentioned about Mays knowing the chance to win a world series doesn't come along every year. I feel that way about the Tigers this year.

    It is amazing how I remember world series of 50 years ago like it was yesterday but can't remember any series from 10 years ago. I had forgotten that the Angels won a WS. Was that the year of the thunder sticks and rally monkey?

    The 1960 game 7 was the second best game 7 ever.
    The 1991 game 7 was the best game 7 ever.

    The 2003 Marlins was a fluke.

    The 1969 Mets was the biggest fluke in my opinion.( I didn't pick the 1914 Braves because I was not alive back then.) The New York Mets franchise is one of the sorriest in the history of this great game. A few shining moments but overall it has been incompetent. The Cubs come close, but at least they had some good years even though it was over a century ago.

    One of my favorite quotes is "Can't anyone here play this game?" When we go to the Reading Phillies games there are times when I will turn to my lovely wife or she will turn to me and we will use that quote. We used that a lot during the 2013 season. This quote is on a wall at the Hall of Fame.

    Need a clarification. The first word of this quote; Is the first word can or can't?

    I have no clue to the trivia question. I am going to take 3 guesses. Soriano,Mujica or Dotel.


    1. I disagree that the 2003 Marlins were a fluke. They had a great group of talent that didn't stay together long enough to compete. By the middle of the next season many of the good talent was gone and kept trickling away as the seasons went on.

      The Mets have had some truly terrible times (starting with the expansion year of 1962) but they have also had just as many great moments. Their current status doesn't help my argument but they are no worse than some of the long time franchises (especially the Phillies, Senators/Twins and Philadelphia/Kansas City/Oakland A's) and better than newer than other expansion franchises (like the Mariners and Brewers).

      The correct quote from Casey Stengel was "Can't anyone here play this game?". Casey had a million great quotes. He was the Mets first manager and developed the 1962 team. Someone asked him what you need to build a team. Casey's obvious answer was "You've got to have a catcher or you'll have all passed balls."

      Sorry, but three strikes on the trivia guess. You'll have to wait until next week for the answer.


Have questions about something in this or a former post? Have a suggestion for a future post? Want more information on a specific team, player, season or game? I welcome the feedback, so feel free to leave a comment in the box or email me at baseballeras (at) gmail (dot) com.