Most painful losses in baseball history
Page 2 staff

This week, Page 2 turns its attention to the most painful single-game losses -- for the losing team, of course -- in baseball history.

Take a look at our list, then read how our readers ranked their choices for the most painful loss in baseball history. And be sure to vote in the poll to crown baseball's No. 1 painful loss of all time.

Bobby Thomson
Bobby Thomson is mobbed by his Giants' teammates after hitting the "shot heard 'round the world."
1. Branca gets the call: Dodgers lose to Giants in 1951 playoff
The flip side of "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" was, obviously, the Dodgers lose the pennant. On May 13, 1951, the Dodgers moved into first place, and it didn't seem like they'd ever leave. On Aug. 11, with only 49 games left to play, the Dodgers led the second-place Giants by 13½ games. Then, it all started to unravel. The Giants swept the Dodgers in a mid-August three-game series and went on a tear, winning 16 in a row in August and then seven in a row to end the season. The Dodgers played well -- they never lost more than two in a row after that August sweep -- but the Giants caught them on the next-to-last day of the season.

New York's two most beloved baseball teams then started a three-game playoff at Ebbets Field. They split the first two games. Then, in Game 3, at the Polo Grounds, the unbelievable happens. The Dodgers led 4-1 going into the ninth, but surrender a run on Whitey Lockman's double, then, famously, three more runs on Thomson's home run off Branca, the "shot heard 'round the world."

Bill Buckner
Bill Buckner wasn't the only one to blame for Boston's Game 6 loss in the 1986 World Series.
2. Buckner and Stanley blow it: Red Sox lose to Mets in 1986 World Series
Who can forget? The Red Sox led three games to two and 5-3 with two men down in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the World Series. Then the Mets rallied. With Mookie Wilson at the plate, Bob Stanley fired one far inside, and it got away from catcher Rich Gedman. Kevin Mitchell scored the tying run on the wild pitch, and the Mets won when Mookie Wilson hit a routine grounder that went between first baseman Bill Buckner's legs, scoring Ray Knight all the way from second.

The Sox had a day off to regroup, but it didn't help; two days later, the Mets took the seventh game, 8-5, and Buckner, one of the best players of his era, ended up being better known for what he didn't do (catch the ball) than what he did (2,715 career hits).

3. 16 innings of agony: Astros lose to Mets in 1986 NLCS
New York finished the season with a 108-54 record, moving into first place in the NL East on April 22 and never looking back. The Mets finished 21½ games ahead of the second-place Phillies. The Astros didn't have a shabby regular season, either -- they went 96-66 and finished 10 games on top of the second-place Reds.

With starting pitchers Mike Scott, Bob Knepper and Nolan Ryan, and hot reliever Charlie Kerfeld, it looked as if Houston might have a chance in the short NL championship series, and indeed, they did. Scott shut out the Mets in Game 1, striking out 14. The Mets took Game 2. It looked like the Astros would win Game 3, but Len Dykstra hit a walk-off two-run blast in the bottom of the ninth and the Mets won 5-4. Mike Scott again came through in Game 4, shutting down the Mets on only three hits, as the Astros tied the series at two games apiece. Game 5 went 12 innings, as Gary Carter hit the game-winning homer, ruining a fine nine innings of two-hit ball by Ryan.

Game 6 turned out to be the real heartbreaker, though. The Astros led by three going into the ninth, but the Mets scored three to tie the game and send it into extra innings. Seven innings later, the Mets scored three again, and it looked as if the longest game in playoff history would soon be over. But the Astros fought back and scored two runs in the bottom of the 16th. It was not enough. The rally fell short as Jesse Orosco fanned Kevin Bass to give the Mets a 4-2 series win.

4. Bucky who? Red Sox lose to Yankees in one-game playoff in 1978
The Sox blew a 14-game lead in the AL East, then rebounded to win eight straight games at the end of the season, tying the Yankees for first place in the AL East. In a one-game playoff at Fenway Park, light-hitting Bucky Dent lifted one over the Green Monster for a three-run homer. Reggie Jackson also homered, and the Yankees led 5-4 going into the bottom of the ninth. Rick Burleson managed to make his way to third base, and represented the tying run with two down and Carl Yastrzemski at the plate. But Yaz fouled out, the Yankees won the AL East pennant, and Boston fans hunkered down for another long winter.

5. Poor Merkle: Giants lose NL pennant to Cubs, 1908
Merkle's boner is probably the most notorious in sports history. Heading into September, the Giants, Cubs and Pirates were knotted in what would be one of the closest pennant races in history. New York was in first with a 69-45 record, followed by Chicago (70-47) and Pittsburgh (69-47). September continued to be a battle, but the Giants managed to hold on to first by the slimmest of margins throughout most of the month.

Then came Sept. 23. The Giants had just lost four in a row, including a doubleheader the previous day to the Cubs, putting the teams in a virtual dead heat for the lead in the NL (the Cubs were 90-53, the Giants 87-50). With Christy Mathewson on the mound for the Giants and Three-Finger Brown going for the Cubs, the game was, predictably, tight and low-scoring. The two clubs were tied 1-1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but the Giants had a late rally going. With Moose McCormick on third and 19-year-old first-baseman Fred Merkle, starting his first game of the season, on first, Al Bridwell singled to center, and McCormick easily scored. After McCormick touched home plate, Merkle, thinking the game was over and trying to avoid being stampeded, dashed for the clubhouse.

Mass confusion followed. The ball was possibly thrown in from center to Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers (of Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance fame). In any case, Evers somehow came up with a baseball and touched second, and umpire Hank O'Day called Merkle out, saying he never reached second. This disallowed McCormick's run.

Normally, that would have meant extra innings. But the field has been overrun by Giants fans, and O'Day ruled the game a 1-1 tie. The NL then held a couple of hearings, and upheld O'Day's call. The game was replayed Oct. 8 at the Polo Grounds with the teams tied for first, and the Cubs beat the Giants 4-2 to win the flag. Chicago went on to beat the Tigers in the World Series.

6. Donnie Moore's pain: Angels lose to Red Sox in 1986 ALCS
Before the Sox lost the heartbreaker of all heartbreakers to the Mets, they inflicted some serious fan-pain themselves. Leading the best of seven ALCS three games to one, the long-suffering Angels looked World Series-bound for the first time in history. California led 5-4 with two outs until the top of the ninth when Dave Henderson hit a two strike two run shot off Donnie Moore to give the Sox an edge. The Angels would tie in the bottom of the ninth but the 11th inning made Henderson a hero once again as his sac fly sealed the game five win for the sox on their way to the series victor and an AL flag.

7. Close (again) but no cigar (again): Pirates lose to Braves in 1992 NLCS
It may be hard to remember, but the Pirates almost had a dynasty going in the early 1990s. The key term here is "almost." In 1990, Pittsburgh lost the NLCS in six games, to the Reds. In 1991, the Pirates led the Braves three games to two, but Braves pitchers Steve Avery (Game 6) and John Smoltz (Game 7) shut them out twice in a row to take the series.

But 1992 looked like it would finally be the Pirates' year. In Game 6 of their NLCS rematch against the Braves, they crushed Atlanta 13-4 to tie the series. Then, in Game 7, the Pirates led 2-1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Francisco Cabrera came up to pinch hit, and his single brought in the tying and winning runs.

Andy Van Slyke was so stunned and defeated that he remained sitting in center field, barely able to move, as the Braves and the fans at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium went wild. Barry Bonds, who fielded Cabrera's single, was down on one knee, in disbelief. The Pirates become only the third team to lose three league championship series in a row. Then Bonds left and they never contended again.

8. Cards crumble in heartland: St. Louis loses to Kansas City in 1985 World Series
In the I-70 Series, the Royals staged one of the greatest playoff comebacks in MLB history, with the Cards and their fans the repeated victims of high hopes -- and one very bad call. The Cards took the first two games in Kansas City, lost Game 3, then won Game 4 to take what looked like an insurmountable 3-1 lead. Then, in Game 5, things started to fall apart, as Danny Jackson flummoxed Cards batters, holding them to only five hits in a complete-game (6-0) shutout. In Game 6 at Kansas City, the Cards looked like they were going to wrap things up, as they led 1-0 going into the bottom of the ninth. Jorge Orta dribbled one to Jack Clark at first, who tossed it to reliever Todd Worrell covering. Umpire Don Denkinger called Jorge Orta safe with an infield single, but TV replays showed he was clearly out. Cards' manager Whitey Herzog ferociously debated the call to no avail.

Disaster ensued. Steve Balboni followed Orta with a skied pop up in front of the Royals' dugout that dropped a few feet to the left of Clark. Granted a reprieve, Balboni singled on an 0-2 pitch to left, moving Orta to second. Next, Sundberg would try to move the runners over with a bunt, but instead Worrell went to third to nab Orta for the first out. Next, facing Hal McRae, Cards' catcher Darrell Porter let one get by him moving runners to second and thrid. McRae was given a free pass to juice the bases for pinch hitter Dane Iorg. Iorg delivered a single to right to bring in two runs and force a game seven with his former Card teammates.

Herzog was furious about Denkinger's call. "As long as you don't get the best umpires in the World Series, you'll always get this crap," he says. "They screwed up in the American League playoffs and they screwed up in the National League playoffs. And they screwed us tonight. We've got that same jerk (Denkinger) behind the plate Sunday night."

In Game 7, the demoralized Cardinals didn't have a chance, as Bret Saberhagen pitched a complete-game shutout and the Royals batters went on a tear. The Cards lost Game 7, 11-0, and the World Series, four games to three.

9. The unhittable Randy Johnson: Angels lose to Mariners in one-game playoff, 1995
It looks like 1995 just might be the Angels' year. For 124 days they held on to first place in the AL West, but suffered through two nine-game losing streaks late in the season, and fell behind the streaking Mariners. They managed to finish with five straight wins, tying Seattle, which dropped its last two games, for first place in the AL West with a 78-66 record. In the single-game tiebreaker in the Kingdome, though, the Angels were never in it. Randy Johnson, who would go on to win the 1995 AL Cy Young Award, shut down Anaheim, allowing only three hits while striking out 12. The M's won, 9-1.

Florida Marlins
The 1997 Marlins celebrated their World Series victory, then scattered about the major leagues.
10. Sizzled by a flash (in the pan): Indians lose to Marlins in 1997 World Series
The Indians won the AL Central with an 86-75 record, come back from a two-games-to-one deficit to beat the Yankees in the ALDS, then dispatching the O's in six games to take the AL pennant. In the World Series against the Onederful Marlins, it went like this: Florida won Game 1, Cleveland Game 2, Florida Game 3, Cleveland Game 4, Florida Game 5, Cleveland Game 6.

In Game 7, the Indians led 2-0, and it looked like they'd win their first World Series since 1948. Then, in the bottom of the ninth, the Marlins' Craig Counsell tied the game with a sacrifice fly. In the bottom of the 11th, Counsell scored the winning run, and the Tribe's hopes were dashed again.

Also receiving votes:

  • Dodgers win NL pennant after Rick Monday hits two-out, ninth-inning home run off Montreal's Steve Rogers, in relief, during 1981 NLCS.
  • Cubs lose to Padres in 1984 NLCS.
  • Arizona reliever Byung-Hyun Kim blows his second save in the 2001 World Series against the Yankees.


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