Epics from '86 top the list
By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff

Strap on your seatbelts, folks, it looks like we're in for some extraordinary drama this postseason -- especially considering that the Yankees, Braves, Cubs and Red Sox -- epic winners and losers all -- are in this year's mix.

We're not talking World Series. We're not talking the tiebreakers that were officially part of the regular season (as in: Bobby Thomson, 1951). We're talking League Championship Series games (since 1969) and Division Series games (since 1995). Here are the 10 greatest butt-numbing, spine-tingling, nerve-jangling epic playoff games:

1. 1986 NLCS, Game 6: Mets 7, Astros 6 (16 innings)
Mets thwart Astros' second extra-inning comeback -- and avoid Mike Scott

Jesse Orosco
Mets reliever Jesse Orosco jumps for joy after winning wild Game 6.

The backdrop behind the Game 6 drama was that if the Mets didn't win, they had to face Mike Scott -- who had already beaten the Mets twice, allowing one run and just eight hits in two complete games -- in Game 7. In other words, they had to win Game 6.

The Astros took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first. The Mets still trailed 3-0 in the ninth but rallied to tie the game when Ray Knight's sac fly scored Keith Hernandez. Four scoreless innings sent the game into inning 14, when the Mets scratched out a run. Billy Hatcher tied it in the bottom of the 14th with a solo shot. The Mets scored three in the top of the 16th. The Astros came back with two more. With two outs, Denny Walling was on second, Kevin Bass, a .311 hitter, was at the plate, but Jesse Orosco fanned Bass to win the NLCS.

Sixteen innings. 110 at-bats. 4 hours and 42 minutes

It was a great ending to a great series. "The Mets didn't just win, 4-2, in six games. They won, 21-17, in 64 innings," wrote Dave Anderson of the New York Times.

''What a series -- everybody out there was using that expression," first baseman Keith Hernandez said. ''Every time one of the Astros would get to first base, Doran, Walling, Ashby, they'd turn to me and say, 'What a series.' This was the best league series ever, better than when the Phillies beat the Astros in 1980. What a series."

2. 1986 ALCS, Game 5: Red Sox 7, Angels 6 (11 innings)
Henderson stall Angels' World Series hopes

With the Angels up three games to one in the series, Anaheim Stadium was packed with 64,232 fans revved up to see California clinch its first AL pennant. They were in for a roller-coaster ride -- the Red Sox took an early 2-0 lead on a Rich Gedman homer, Bobby Grich put the Angels ahead 3-2 in the sixth, with a homer that deflected off of Dave Henderson's glove. In the top of the ninth, the Red Sox came back on two-run homer by Don Baylor and Henderson's dramatic two-out, two-strike, two-run homer off Donnie Moore. The Angels scored in the ninth to send the game into extra innings, then lost in the 11th when Henderson hit a sac fly off Moore.

Notable ninth-inning replacement: Dave Stapleton pinch-ran for Bill Buckner, then stayed in at first base. Think about it.

"I've never seen a game like this in my 20 years in baseball," said Red Sox pitcher Tom Seaver. "The big plays, vindication and heartbreak. One team on the brink of the World Series, another team on the brink of elimination. The whole range of emotions. I still can't believe it."

The Red Sox went on to win the final two games of the series, 10-4 and 8-1, while Moore later committed suicide, in part because he never got over serving up Henderson's home runs.

3. 1976 ALCS, Game 5: Yankees 7, Royals 6
Yankees win first pennant in 12 years on Chambliss homer

Chris Chambliss
Chambliss fights through fans after hitting his home run off Mark Littell.

Back in the best-of-5 days of the LCS, the Royals struck first when John Mayberry hit a two-run homer in the top of the first. The Yankees rallied for two in the bottom of the first. The Royals took the lead again in the second, with Buck Martinez singling home Cookie Rojas. The Yankees surged ahead in the third and padded their lead to 6-3 in the sixth. In the top of the eighth, George Brett's three-run homer over the right field wall off Grant Jackson tied it at 6.

Then this. Murray Chass told the story: "With a blow that rivaled Bobby Thomson's 1951 home run for stunning drama, Chris Chambliss hit a home run on the first pitch of the ninth inning ..."

Yankee fans went wild, mobbing Chambliss as he rounded the bases. He managed to touch first and third with his feet, but touched second with his hand as a fan was carrying it off. And he ducked and bobbed and weaved, lost in a huge crowd, and didn't come close to touching home plate. After he straggled into the clubhouse, his teammates asked him if he was sure he did. He wasn't. He went out, came back, and said he got it.

4. 1988 NLCS, Game 4: Dodgers 5, Mets 4 (12 innings)
Scioscia, Gibson homer Dodgers to win

Doc Gooden and the heavily-favored Mets were in command -- leading the game 4-2 entering the ninth and the series, two games to one. After giving up two first-inning runs, Gooden shut the Dodgers down through the next seven innings while his buddy, Darryl Strawberry, hit a two-run homer to tie the game in the fourth, and Kevin McReynolds followed with a solo shot for the go-ahead run. Gary Carter tripled home McReynolds for another run in the sixth, and with Gooden humming along at Shea, it looked like the Mets would take a 3 games to 1 series lead.

In the ninth, Gooden walked leadoff batter John Shelby. Mike Scioscia, who'd hit only three home runs all season, followed with a two-run blast to tie the game. ("The last person you would think would hit a home run would be Scioscia," Mets manager Davey Johnson said after the game.)

Neither team scored in the 10th and 11th innings, but in the 12th, with Roger McDowell on the mound, Kirk Gibson, who'd gone 1-for-16 in the series, hit a solo shot to put the Dodgers ahead, 4-3.

Orel Hersheiser, a day after pitching seven innings, came in to get the final out and the save for L.A., which had run through seven pitchers in the marathon contest.

It was a devastating loss for the Mets, an incredible win for the Dodgers, and a great game all around. "It looked like we had it," said Johnson. "It was Doc's game. He'd been breezing. I didn't have anybody [warming] up. I figured it was ours ..." The Dodgers would win Game 7 on Hershiser's 6-0 shutout.

5. 1995 ALDS, Game 5: Mariners 6, Yankees 5 (11 innings)
David Cone pitched brilliantly -- until, after throwing about 150 pitches, he tired in the eighth inning and surrendered an upper-deck home run to Ken Griffey Jr., loaded the bases, then walked home the game-tying run. In the ninth, Randy Johnson came on in relief and got the M's out of a no-out, runner-on-second jam. But the Yankees scored the go-ahead run in the 11th.

"I thought all the hard work this team had done went down the drain," Johnson said. "I thought I let the team down."

Thought being the key word.

In the bottom of the 11th, Joey Cora led off with his third bunt single in two days, off Jack McDowell, another starter pitching relief. Griffey singled to center. Up came Edgar Martinez, who had driven in seven runs in Game 4. And he played the hero again, sending a shot into the left-field corner. Cora scored the tying run standing up. Griffey slid home, beating tje relay throw for the winning run. And 57,411 fans in the Kingdome went wild as the Mariners headed to their first ALCS.

6. 1992 NLCS, Game 7: Braves 3, Pirates 2
Braves win the pennant by a half inch

Sid Bream
Sid Bream can't believe he just scored the winning run in the '92 NLCS.

John Smoltz, winner of Games 1 and 4, took the mound against the Pirates' Doug Drabek, loser of Games 1 and 4. The Pirates took a first-inning, 1-0 lead on an Orlando Merced sac fly. Drabek held the Braves scoreless through eight while the Pirates scored once more in the sixth.

Bottom of the ninth. The Braves loaded the bases on a Terry Pendleton double, a David Justice grounder that second baseman Jose Lind misplayed for an error, and a Sid Bream walk. Pirates closer Stan Belinda came in to relieve Drabek. Terry Pendleton lined to Barry Bonds in left; Pendleton tagged and scored easily. Another walk loaded the bases again, but Brian Hunter popped to short for the second out. Score: 2-1. Outs: 2. Bases: loaded. Pinch hitting: Francisco Cabrera, who'd gone 3-for-10 with 2 HRs and 3 RBI during the entire regular season.

Cabrera lined a 2-1 pitch to left for a single, driving home David Justice. Bream, one of the slowest runners in the game, headed home. Bonds fired a strike to catcher Mike LaValliere. Bream slid home, scoring the winning run on a very close play. "I don't know if he was out or if he was safe," said LaValliere. "The throw was up the line a bit. I'm 5-feet-8, but this time I was a half-inch too short. If I'm 5-feet-8 and a half, he's out. Bream's out."

7. 1999 NLCS, Game 5: Mets 4, Braves 3 (15 innings)
Mets beat Braves in 15 innings on Ventura grand slam

It was the longest game in postseason history -- 5 hours and 46 minutes. Each team used all its position players. Each team used all its relief pitchers. The Mets used nine different hurlers. The game started in sunshine, but by the sixth inning it was raining steadily, and the fans at Shea sat through long innings of dramatic, tactical, scoreless ball -- there were no runs between the fifth and 14th innings . The Braves kept getting on base -- they had 13 hits and walked 10 times -- but they kept stranding runners, nineteen in all. And striking out, too -- 19 times.

"The game seemed to turn every half-inning on head-spinning managerial moves and spectacular pitching -- three straight bases-loaded situations that yielded no runs, Maddux failing to get a bunt down on a suicide squeeze in the sixth, the Mets issuing intentional walks in four straight innings," wrote Dave Sheinin in the Washington Post.

And the Mets kept holding on, until the top of the 15th, when Keith Lockhart tripled off Octavio Dotel to drive in Walt Weiss with the go-ahead run. The Braves were up 3-2 and three outs away from the NL pennant.

But Shawon Dunston led off the bottom of the 15th with what can only be described as an epic at-bat. He stood at the plate for nine minutes, fouling off pitch after pitch after the count reached 3-2, and finally hit Kevin McGlinchy's 12th pitch for a single to center. The Mets loaded the bases. Todd Pratt drew a walk to force in the tying run. Bases still loaded. Robin Ventura up. Bob Costas made the call: "A drive to right ... back to Georgia ... gone ... a grand slam ... a 5-hour-47-minute trip to bedlam." It didn't turn out to be a grand slam, because Ventura was mobbed by his teammates after he touched first, and never reached second. But Ventura didn't care.

8. 1999 NLCS, Game 6: Braves 10, Mets 9 (11 innings)
Braves beat Mets in second straight epic battle

What a game ended what a series (five of six games decided by one run). The Braves led three games to two, but both teams were drained after Game 5. When the series returned Atlanta for Game 6, the Mets sent out ace Al Leiter on three days' rest, but he gave up five first-inning runs and didn't get an out

But these Mets would rise again.

The score remained 5-0 going into the sixth, when the Mets scored three runs, altough they gave back two in the bottom of the sixth. The Mets scored four more in the seventh, tying it up at 7 on Mike Piazza's blast off John Smoltz. They took an 8-7 lead in the top of the eighth, but the Braves tied it up in the bottom of the inning. Neither team scored in the ninth. The Mets took the lead again in the 10th, 9-8. The Braves tied it up again, 9-9, to send the game to the 11th. The Mets failed to score, and Kenny Rogers walked Andruw Jones on a bases-loaded, 3-2 pitch.

9. 1981 NLCS, Game 5: Dodgers 2, Expos 1
Fernando freezes Expos, Dodgers win flag on Monday's solo shot in 9th

On a rainy, 41-degree day in Montreal, the Dodgers sent out rookie Fernando Valenzuela, the 20-year-old fireballer from Mexico, to face the Expos' Ray Burris. Only 36,491 Expos fans braved the weather, and they were rewarded with a great pitching duel. After Montreal's Tim Raines scored on a double-play ball in the bottom of the first, Valenzuela settled down. Burris pitched 8 innings and gave up only five hits, allowing the Dodgers to scratch out a game-tying run in the fifth (Valenzuela got the RBI on a groundout).

In the top of the ninth, Expos VP and acting manager Jim Fanning, who'd fired Dick Williams six weeks earlier, decided to relieve Burris with Steve Rogers, a starter who won Game 3 and had last pitched in relief in 1978. On a 3-1 pitch with two outs, the Expos' pitcher threw a sinker that didn't sink, and Rick Monday connected on a solo shot over the center-field fence.

Valenzuela tired in the bottom of the ninth, walking Gary Carter and Jerry Manuel after retiring the first two batters. Bob Welch came in to relieve, getting Jerry White to ground out on one pitch to gain the save.

"How can we lose with him out there?" Tommy Lasorda said afterward. "The kid's done everything right all season. It's his year. We're goin' to the World Series. If you threw Fernando in the bottom of the river, he'd swim out the other side with a fruit stand."

10. 1972 NLCS, Game 5: Reds 4, Pirates 3
Reds score twp in bottom of ninth to win series

It was one of the great rivalries of the 1970s, two almost dynasties separated by only a few hundred miles. There was a six-pack of all-time greats on the field for Game 5 at Riverfront -- Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez -- and one very good pitcher, Steve Blass, who would later have a "disease" named after him.

But Blass wasn't ailing -- in 7 1/3 innings, he held the powerful Reds to only two runs, and retired to the dugout with a 3-2 lead. He handed the ball off to Ramon Hernandez, who inspired confidence -- the reliever had appeared in 53 games in 1972 and had a nifty 1.67 ERA. The lefty got the final two Pirates out in the eighth, but was lifted in the ninth for righty Dave Giusti -- not a bad move, since three Reds' righties were due up and Giusti was a pretty good reliever himself in 1972, with a 1.92 ERA.

But the strategy didn't work. Johnny Bench hit Giusti's fourth pitch over the right-field wall to tie the game. Tony Perez singled. George Foster pinch ran for Perez, Denis Menke singled. Bob Moose, a starter, came in to relieve Giusti. Cesar Geronimo hit a long flyball that was caught by Clemente butdeep enough for Foster to take third. With Hal McRae at the plate, Moose uncorked a wild pitch that took a wild, high hop over catcher Manny Sanguillen, and Foster scored the winning run. "It looked like it hit something," said Sanguillen. "I jumped up for the ball and it came up, but it never hit me on the hand. It never touched my glove."

Also receiving votes:

1980 NLCS, Game 5: Phillies score five in top of 8th, Astros tie it with two in bottom of 8th, Philllies win it 8-7 in 10th.

1977 ALCS, Game 5: Yankees shock Royals for second straight year, score three in bottom of ninth for 5-3 win.

1996 ALCS, Game 1: Jeffrey Maier's HR in 8th ties it, Bernie Williams' HR in 11th wins it, 5-4, Yankees over Orioles.

1999 ALDS, Game 5: Cleveland leads 8-7 after three. Pedro Martinez comes in, pitches six innings of hitless relief, Red Sox win 12-8.



Jeff Merron Archive

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The List: Baseball's greatest rookies

The List: Greatest pennant races

The List: Worst group efforts

The List: Biggest sports busts

The List: Underrated all-time athletes

The List: Underrated teams

The List: Underrated current athletes

The List: Most overrated athletes

Most overrated athletes of all time

The List: Greatest individual streaks

Baseball's one-hit wonders

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