Who do you like in the NCAA tournament? I always pick Gonzaga. Hey, it almost worked last year! In honor of March Madness, my editor tossed me an idea: What was the best postseason upset ever for all 30 major league teams?
Big mistake there, Dan, because this sucker is going to run a few thousand words -- but it's worth it. Bonus: I not only picked an upset for each team but ranked the upsets in order from No. 30 (least impressive) to No. 1 (the NC State beating Phi Slamma Jamma of the baseball postseason). Enjoy!
30. Colorado Rockies: Beat Phillies in 2007 NLDS
The Rockies have made the playoffs four times in franchise history and have won just two playoff series, both in 2007, the year of the famous Rocktober run to the World Series. They went 13-1 over their final 14 games, beat the Padres in a tiebreaker to win the wild card and then swept both the NLDS and NLCS -- a remarkable 21-1 stretch. Really, the upset was just getting to the postseason in the first place. The 2007 National League playoff teams were probably the weakest group ever. The Diamondbacks had the best record at 90-72 but had a negative run differential. The Rockies finished 90-73 and had the best run differential. The Phillies won 89 games, and the Cubs took the Central with just 85 wins. So this wasn't really much of an upset.
Key moment/game: Kaz Matsui hits a two-out grand slam off Kyle Lohse in the fourth inning of Game 2 to give the Rockies a 6-3 lead.
29. Milwaukee Brewers: Beat Angels in 1982 ALCS
The Rockies have four playoff trips in 25 seasons, but the Brewers have just four over 49 seasons -- a history of misery that tends to get overlooked. The 1982 team -- affectionately known as Harvey's Wallbangers for manager Harvey Kuenn and his team of sluggers -- was the best in franchise history. This qualifies as an upset only because the Angels won the first two games before the Brewers took the final three at home.
Key moment/game: Down 3-2 in the seventh inning of Game 5, Cecil Cooper hits a two-out, two-run single off Luis Sanchez to give the Brewers a 4-3 lead.
28. Montreal Expos: Beat Phillies in 1981 NLDS
The Nationals have lost all four of their playoff series, so we have to go back to the goofy split-season year of 1981 and the lone playoff appearance -- and victory -- from the franchise's Montreal days. The Expos were the better team, although the Phillies were the defending World Series champ.
Key moment/game: The great Steve Rogers spun a six-hit shutout to beat Steve Carlton 3-0 in the decisive Game 5.
27. Toronto Blue Jays: Beat Braves in 1992 World Series
We'll label the first of the Jays' back-to-back World Series a minor upset. The Jays had gone 96-66, the Braves 98-64 (although with a seven-game edge in Pythagorean record). In an overlooked World Series -- four of the six games were decided by one run -- the Jays won the finale in 11 innings.
Key moment/game: Dave Winfield's two-out double scored two runs in the top of the 11th; the Braves scored one run before Mike Timlin got the final out when Otis Nixon tried to bunt for a hit.
26. Texas Rangers: Beat Yankees in 2010 ALCS
Led by MVP Josh Hamilton, the Rangers were in the playoffs for the first time since 1999. They were a 90-72 team with a plus-100 run differential, while the Yankees had gone 95-67 and plus-166. Hamilton hit .350 with four home runs, eight walks and seven RBIs as the Rangers won in six games.
Key moment/game: Bengie Molina hits a three-run homer off A.J. Burnett in Game 4 to give the Rangers a 5-3 lead in the sixth inning. They go on to a 10-3 win to take a 3-1 series lead.
25. Chicago Cubs: Beat Cardinals in 2015 NLDS
The 2016 World Series title might have been a curse-breaking miracle, but it wasn't an upset. The year before, the Cubs improved from 73 wins to 97 and then beat their 100-win rivals in the division series. Though the Mets then swept them in the NLCS, beating the Cardinals set the stage for 2016.
Key moment/game: The Cubs pound six home runs in Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead.
24. Los Angeles Angels: Beat Yankees in 2002 ALDS
The 2002 Angels won 99 games, but this felt like a fairly monumental upset at the time. The Yankees had won four straight AL pennants, had gone 56-22 in the postseason since 1996 and had won 103 games in 2002. The Angels, in the playoffs for the first time since 1986, wiped them out in four games, hitting .376 in the series.
Key moment/game: The Angels score three runs in the eighth for a 9-6 victory in Game 3. Tim Salmon hits a two-run homer off Steve Karsay for the clinching blow. The Angels go on to win their only World Series.
23. Arizona Diamondbacks: Beat Yankees in 2001 World Series
Maybe the Angels should thank Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, who put a dent in the Yankees' seemingly invincible armor the year before with their World Series victory. Remember, the 116-win Mariners appeared destined for immortality before the 95-win Yankees upset them in the ALCS. The Diamondbacks won 92 games but relied on their two horses in the postseason.
Key moment/game: Luis Gonzalez's blooper off Mariano Rivera capped the two-run rally to prevent the Yankees from a fourth straight World Series, but don't forget Mark Grace got the rally started with a leadoff single.
22. Oakland Athletics: Beat Dodgers in 1974 World Series
The A's have won nine World Series going back to their Philadelphia days, although none really meets the standards of a major upset. This one did feature a significant win differential as the A's had won 90 games to the Dodgers' 102. The A's had significantly underperformed their Pythagorean record (97-65) and, oh, were also the two-time defending champs. They made it three in a row with a five-game victory.
Key moment/game: Ken Holtzman homers and throws 7⅔ strong innings to win Game 4.
21. New York Yankees: Beat Braves in 1996 World Series
Before the dynasty, there was the plucky 1996 Yankees, a mix of young stars on the rise -- Derek Jeter was a rookie while Mariano Rivera had his breakout season in the bullpen -- and past-their-prime vets like Wade Boggs, Cecil Fielder and Tim Raines. Ex-Mets Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry were around as well, 10 years past their 1986 glory days. This motley crew in Joe Torre's first season finished 92-70 and then beat the 96-66 Braves in the World Series.
Key moment/game: Mark Wohlers, meet Jim Leyritz.
20. Baltimore Orioles: Beat Dodgers in 1966 World Series
When they were the St. Louis Browns, this franchise was the biggest joke in baseball. After the move to Baltimore in 1954, it would eventually become the preeminent franchise in the American League for a two-decade stretch, with just one losing season between 1963 and 1985. This was Baltimore's first trip to the World Series, and the Orioles swept the Sandy Koufax-Don Drysdale Dodgers in stunning fashion, throwing shutouts the final three games. Baltimore's three starters were 23-year-old Dave McNally, 21-year-old Wally Bunker and 20-year-old Jim Palmer.
Key moment/game: Palmer beats Koufax 6-0 in Game 2 as Dodgers center fielder Willie Davis commits three errors in the fifth inning (he dropped two fly balls in the sun and made a throwing error) as the O's take a 3-0 lead.
19. Seattle Mariners: Beat Yankees in 1995 ALDS
The Yankees were in the postseason for the first time since 1981. The Mariners were in for the first time ever, after beating the Angels in a West Division tiebreaker. That meant ace Randy Johnson wouldn't be ready until Game 3. The Mariners lost the first two at Yankee Stadium, Johnson won Game 3, Edgar Martinez broke a 6-6 tie in Game 4 with a home run off closer John Wetteland and then played hero once again in Game 5.
Key moment/game: With Johnson on in relief, the Yankees score in the top of the 11th, but Martinez's two-run double off Jack McDowell scores Ken Griffey Jr. from first base for the walk-off win.
18. Detroit Tigers: Beat Cubs in 1935 World Series
A blast from the past as the 93-win Tigers beat the 100-win Cubs in six games. It was the first World Series victory for Detroit, which had lost in 1907, 1908, 1909 and 1934. Six weeks after the win, longtime owner Frank Navin suffered a heart attack while riding a horse and died.
Key moment/game: Tommy Bridges tosses a complete game in the clincher and Goose Goslin's single plates player/manager Mickey Cochrane with the walk-off victory.
17. Cleveland Indians: Beat Yankees in 1997 ALDS
The Indians made the playoffs five straight years in the 1990s, but not all of those teams were powerhouses. This edition finished just 86-75 with a plus-53 run differential (nobody else in the AL Central finished above .500). The Yankees went 96-66 with a plus-203 run differential. Of course, any team with Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, David Justice and Matt Williams in the lineup is capable of an upset. Heck, even Sandy Alomar hit .324/.354/.545 that year.
Key moment/game: Alomar ties up Game 4 in the eighth inning with a home run off Mariano Rivera, and Omar Vizquel's game-winning hit in the ninth bounces off Ramiro Mendoza and past Derek Jeter to score Marquis Grissom from second base.
16. Tampa Bay Rays: Beat Red Sox in 2008 ALCS
An upset? Maybe not. After all, the Rays had won the division with 97 wins while the Red Sox had won 95. Still, these were the Rays -- known as the Devil Rays prior to 2008 -- and they'd lost 96 games in 2007. And 101 in 2006. And so on. It was a fun little ride to the postseason, but no way would they beat the defending World Series champs with the pressure on. They beat them in seven games.
Key moment/game: Rookie David Price, with 14 innings of big league experience, came on in the bottom of the eighth of Game 7 with a 3-1 lead, the bases loaded and two outs. He fanned J.D. Drew and then finished it off for his first major league save.
15. Houston Astros: Beat Cardinals in 2005 NLCS
Behind Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, the Astros had some powerhouse teams in the late 1990s and 2000s. This actually wasn't one of them. Bagwell missed most of the year, Biggio was in decline and they won just 89 games. The Cardinals had won 100 games for the second season in a row. The Astros, however, had an imposing trio of starters -- Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt -- who each finished with a sub-3.00 ERA (Clemens was at 1.87). Everyone remembers the Albert Pujols home run to win Game 5, but Houston won the series in six games.
Key moment/game: Oswalt allows one run and three hits over seven innings to win Game 6.
14. Pittsburgh Pirates: Beat Yankees in 1960 World Series
This seems like a bigger upset than it actually was, in part because the Yankees won games by scores of 16-3, 10-0 and 12-0. The Pirates finished 95-59, while the Yankees finished 97-57 and the Pirates actually had the better run differential. Still, these were the Yankees of Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford, and the Pirates, perennial losers for most of the 1950s, had won their first pennant since 1927. The defeat would cost Casey Stengel his job as Yankees manager.
Key moment/game: Bill Mazeroski wins the dramatic Game 7 with a walk-off home run to give the Pirates the 10-9 win in maybe the greatest game ever played.
13. St. Louis Cardinals: Beat Phillies in 2011 NLDS
The 2006 World Series champs won only 83 games, so you could go with their NLCS win against the 97-win Mets or their World Series win over the 95-win Tigers, but I’ll go with this shocker over the Phillies. The Phillies were a 102-win juggernaut featuring one of the best rotations of all time. The Cardinals had won 90 games, making the playoffs only on the season's final day.
Key moment/game: Chris Carpenter beats Roy Halladay 1-0 in Game 5 with a three-hit complete game. The Cardinals end up winning the World Series.
12. Florida Marlins: Beat Yankees in 2003 World Series
The Marlins have never finished in first place and yet have two World Series titles -- they've never lost a postseason series. Baseball is weird and unfair and joyous and awful. Which was the bigger upset? The 92-win 1997 Marlins beating the 101-win Braves in the NLCS or the 91-win 2003 Marlins beating the 101-win Yankees in the World Series? We'll give the edge to the World Series upset.
Key moment/game: The Marlins win Game 4 on Alex Gonzalez's walk-off home run in the 12th off Jeff Weaver -- Mariano Rivera never got in the game -- but this World Series is remembered for Josh Beckett's five-hit shutout in Game 6 on three days' rest.
11. Philadelphia Phillies: Beat Braves in 1993 NLCS
The '93 Phillies were a hard-livin', fun-lovin' group of crazies. For one year, they were a legitimately great team -- 1993 was the franchise's only winning season between 1987 and 2000 -- but nobody expected them to beat the 104-win Braves in the NLCS. The Braves, perhaps wiped out by a grueling division race with the Giants, took two of the first three games before the Phillies won the final three.
Key moment/game: In Game 5, the Phillies led 3-0 behind Curt Schilling heading to the bottom of the ninth. After a walk and error, Mitch Williams came in, and next thing you know, the game is tied. Call it foreshadowing. Lenny Dykstra rescues the day, however, with a home run off Mark Wohlers in the 10th inning.
10. San Diego Padres: Beat Braves in 1998 NLCS
The Padres won 98 games, although with a 93-69 Pythagorean record, then beat the 102-win Astros in the NLDS and the 106-win Braves in the NLCS. Along the way, they beat Randy Johnson twice, Tom Glavine twice and Greg Maddux once, before losing to the Yankees in the World Series. This was probably the greatest of all those Braves teams of this era, as they had five starters win 16-plus games and four sluggers with 30-plus home runs. They outscored their opponents by 245 runs. Then they ran into Sterling Hitchcock.
Key moment/game: Hitchcock beat Maddux in Game 3, and then Glavine in Game 6 (with five scoreless innings).
9. Cincinnati Reds: Beat A's in 1990 World Series
It was the Nasty Boys versus the Bash Brothers, the ultimate showdown of power versus power. The A's were heavy favorites, going for their second straight title after winning 103 games -- 12 more than the Reds. It was all Reds. Mostly, it was all Jose Rijo. He allowed one run over 15 1/3 innings in winning Games 1 and 4.
Key moment/game: In the bottom of the 10th of Game 2, little-used utility guy Billy Bates -- he'd had only five plate appearances with the Reds and hit .088 on the season (3-for-34) -- reaches on an infield dribbler against Dennis Eckersley and later scores the winning run. It was the last appearance of his brief major league career.
8. Boston Braves: Beat Athletics in 1914 World Series
Considering all the times the Atlanta Braves were upset in the postseason (see above!), it's not a surprise that we have to go back to the Boston Braves to find their own shocker. The Miracle Braves were in last place on July 18 -- that's eight out of eight teams -- but would go 31-8 in September/October to win the NL pennant. In the World Series, they swept Connie Mack's A's, who had won in 1910, 1911 and 1913. Mack, disillusioned by the defeat and facing financial problems, tore up the team after the loss.
Key moment/game: In Game 3, the A's take the lead with two runs in the 10th. The Braves tie it, however, with one run coming on catcher Hank Gowdy's home run -- back when few home runs were hit -- and then win in 12 innings.
7. Kansas City Royals: Beat Cardinals in 1985 World Series
The 2014 and 2015 postseason runs were of transcendent joy, but this was the biggest upset. This team had George Brett at his peak and 21-year-old Cy Young winner Bret Saberhagen, but was a 91-win team and not nearly as good as some of the Royals teams from a few years earlier that failed to win a World Series. The Cardinals had won 101 games.
Key moment/game: The Cardinals led 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth of Game 6, three outs from a title. Jorge Orta hit a bounce to first base, pitcher Todd Worrell covering for the out. Except Don Denkinger blows the call. The Cardinals self-destruct from there with a dropped foul ball and passed ball, and the Royals score twice and then win Game 7 behind Saberhagen's 11-0 shutout.
6. Minnesota Twins: Beat Cardinals in 1987 World Series
One of the worst World Series champions ever, the Twins won 85 games and were outscored by 20 runs. One thing they did well: Win in the Metrodome. They had gone 56-25 at home and 29-52 on the road, but thanks to the quirks of a preset schedule had home-field advantage in both the ALCS and World Series. They would go 6-0 at home. Long live the Homer Hankie. The Cardinals had gone 95-67, although Jack Clark, their best hitter (.286/.459/.597, 35 home runs), missed the series, and Terry Pendleton played just three of the seven games.
Key moment/game: Kent Hrbek's grand slam breaks open Game 6 and sends it to Game 7, which the Twins win behind Frank Viola.
5. New York Giants: Beat Indians in 1954 World Series
The Giants featured NL MVP Willie Mays, 21-game winner Johnny Antonelli and bullpen aces Hoyt Wilhelm and Marv Grissom as they went 97-57 -- and this was still a huge upset. That's because the Indians won 111 games, at the time an American League record, behind the stellar rotation of Early Wynn, Bob Lemon, Mike Garcia and a still-effective Bob Feller. Larry Doby led the AL in home runs and RBIs. Then the Giants swept the series.
Key moment/game: Mays' famous catch came in the eighth inning of Game 1, preserving a 2-2 tie as the Giants would eventually win in 10 innings on Dusty Rhodes' pinch-hit three-run walk-off.
4. Chicago White Sox: Beat Cubs in 1906 World Series
If your nickname is "The Hitless Wonders," it probably qualifies as an upset. In fact, this makes a strong case for the greatest upset in postseason history since the White Sox were 93-58 while the Cubs were 116-36. If you like 1906 baseball and want to put this atop your list, go for it. Anyway, the White Sox hit .230 that year, which was worst in the American League. The Sox, however, were Moneyball 95 years before "Moneyball," leading the league in walks and finishing third in runs. They also had a pitching staff that allowed the fewest runs in the league, led by spitballer Ed Walsh, who spun 10 shutouts that year.
Key moment/game: Walsh throws a two-hit, 12-strikeout shutout in Game 3. The White Sox win in six games with Jiggs Donahue driving in three runs off Three Finger Brown in the clincher. Never pass up a chance to write "Jiggs Donahue."
3. Boston Red Sox: Beat Yankees in 2004 ALCS
You can make an argumentthat this qualifies as the greatest upset considering not just the history of the two franchises but the Red Sox becoming the only team in postseason history to rally from a 3-0 series deficit. In actual strength, the teams were pretty even: The Yankees won 101 games, the Red Sox 98, and the Red Sox actually had the much larger run differential (plus-180 to plus-89). So maybe it wasn't even an upset!
Key moment/game: Dave Roberts steals second and sets everything into motion.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers: Beat A's in 1988 World Series
The Dodgers had two players who hit more than 10 home runs, and one of them had just one at-bat in the World Series (it was a big one). Their No. 3 hitter in the World Series hit one home run all season. Their No. 2 hitter hit .223 with a .288 OBP. Their third baseman had a .268 OBP. Their shortstop hit .199. The A's had won 104 games, the Dodgers 94. This was about Kirk Gibson's heroics and Orel Hershiser carrying a team on his back and a reminder that absolutely anything can happen in a short series.
Key moment/game: As Vin Scully said, "And look who's coming up."
1. New York Mets: Beat Orioles in 1969 World Series
On one level, maybe this is overrated as the biggest upset. After all, the Mets won 100 games. On the other hand, the Orioles won 109, so there was still a wide spread in the win column. The Mets also outperformed their Pythagorean record by eight wins, so you can argue their true talent level wasn't really that of a 100-win team. Pointedly, they won just 83 games the following season. What still makes the Miracle Mets the preeminent miracle in postseason history is the backstory. They'd gone 73-89 in 1968, which was the best -- by 12 wins! -- in the franchise's short history. They were an extremely young team. Until they traded for Donn Clendenon, the oldest regular position player was 26. The top four starters were all 26 or younger. They came out of nowhere and beat a loaded Orioles team in five games.
Key moment/game: Lots of crazy moments and great catches throughout the series, but the gem was Tom Seaver's 2-1 victory in Game 4 when he pitched all 10 innings.