Biggest baseball playoff upsets
From the Page 2 mailbag

Earlier this week, Page 2 listed its choices for the 10 biggest baseball playoff upsets. We knew there'd been other spoilers and, as usual, we wanted your take.

We received about 375 letters on the topic, and here's how our readers ranked the top 10. Be sure to vote in the poll at right to crown baseball's biggest playoff upset of all time.

1. 1988 Dodgers over A's (35 letters)
Most will say the Reds over Oakland in 1990, but for the most part, that wasn't a memorable series. Dodgers over A's in 1988 was bigger. I was a Twins fan in the late '80s so I hated that Oakland team deeply. They were perhaps the most complete team I have ever seen, and probably should have won three championships in a row.

Kirk Gibson
Kirk Gibson's two-run homer gave L.A. a 5-4 win over Oakland in Game 1 of the '88 World Series.
Gibson crushing Eckersley is a great moment -- they can't play that clip enough. It may be what Eck is remembered for, that or the worst hair in Major League history ... now there's list for you ...

Even hard-core Dodgers fans like myself had a hard time believing our beloved Blue Crew had a chance. Sure, they had the NL Cy Young Award winner, Hershiser, but who else? They had an aging Fernando. They traded away the bat of Pedro Guerrero -- for John Tudor (groan). Team sparkplug Kirk Gibson famously had one, and then two bad legs (we love you, Vin!). A bunch of no-names in the field -- scatter-armed Steve Sax, Mike Davis? Dave Anderson? Franklin Stubbs? Jeff Hamilton? Who were these guys?!

Hershiser loses Game 1 to the Mets. How many Dodger fans thought the season was over right there? But, they came back! Despite Jay Howell suspended for doctoring the baseball, losing the use of Kirk Gibson and going head-to-head with A's famous "Bash Brothers," the never-say-die Dodgers and their bench full of "stunt men," battled (from down 3-2) to overtake the Mets in 7 and then embarrass the overwhelmingly favored A's for the crown in five.
La Crescenta, Calif.

2. 1990 Reds over A's (33 letters)
The A's had little trouble getting back to the World Series to defend their title in 1990, leading the majors in wins that year. For them to be swept by a team that they were expected to sweep was a huge upset.

ESPN's own Joe Morgan, stated in The Sporting News that, "not since 1954 had the outcome of a World Series appeared such a foregone conclusion." In that same issue, he outlined every reason why the Reds could win. Basically, they proceeded to meet every one.

People forget that this was a Reds team that started out 35-5, and fended off every threat through the course of the year, including a Pirates team also favored to win in the NLCS. Morgan noted that the Reds had power pitching like the A's hadn't faced, specifically mentioning Rijo and the Nasty Boys (Eckersley may have been the best closer in baseball at the time, but in 1990, Dibble, Myers or Charlton could've have been the primary closer on virtually any other team), as well as the offensive and defensive threats of Barry Larkin and Eric Davis.
Bill Rudick
Quarryville, Pa.

I was at Game 1 of the World Series, and you could tell it was going to be all Reds' from the first inning. From Jose Rijo striking out Henderson and Canseco in the top of the first, to Davis' homer off of Stewart in the bottom, the Reds had their way with those powerful A's. Everyone got into the act this series ... a base hit from Joe Oliver in Game 2 scored little known Billy Bates for the game-winning run in the bottom of the 10th ... Oh, what a wonderful day it was for Cincinnati.
Robbie Gordon
Rolla, Mo.

This is right up there in the, "Who'd have believed it?!" category. This was a team led by the great Lou Piniella, but the players were mostly a bunch of no-names. Jose Rijo and the bespectacled Chris Sabo swept the defending World Champion Oakland A's. Nobody was expecting them to pull that off.
Neil Pierson
Spokane, Wash.

3. 1960 Pirates over Yankees (27 letters)
The 1960 World Series, bar none. The Yanks out scored the Bucs 55-27 and out-homered them 10-4. Not to mention a .338 to .256 BA advantage. Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Bobby Richardson, Moose Skowron and Elston Howard were beaten by Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski, Hal Smith and Vern Law ... go figure.
Matt Froehlich

Bill Mazeroski heads toward home plate after hitting Series-winning homer against New York.
The New York Yankees in the 1950s and '60s were the most dominant sports franchise in history. They were so good that their minor league players relied heavily on the World Series winner's share to supplement their incomes.

1960 was no different. The Yankees were playing the Pirates and were expected to go through their National League opponent like a combine through wheat. Bill Mazeroski changed all that. The shocking ninth inning home run that produced the single greatest baseball playoff upset in history is still alive in my family. Dad (the biggest Pirates fan in the world), still reminds me (the biggest Yankee fan in the world), that an improbable hit by a improbable hitter to beat the greatest franchise in history, has no rival.
John J. Anania

4. 1969 Mets over Orioles (24 letters)
In the days before free agency, seven years was a short period of time to have a winner built from scratch. Not only had the Mets never won big before, they never had a winning record. Truth be told -- they sucked. And their players were either castoffs, journeymen or young and untested. The Orioles were solid everywhere with proven all-stars throughout the lineup. Quite the accomplishment.
Steve Kirson

Tommie Agee
Tommie Agee had two of the best catches in World Series history in 1969.
Why the Mets? From your list, this is the only upset that dramatically altered a club's psyche and history. I believe that the team and its fans now believe anything can happen and, as we know ... it often does. (Just ask Bob Stanley).
John M. D'Arecca
New Brunswick, N.J.

On paper, there was no way that team of perpetual losers should have been able to stand up to the powerful O's. But, it happened, giving hope to all of the downtrodden in sports. When I was in high school in upstate N.Y., they showed us the "Miracle Mets" highlight film every time P.E. got rained out ... we must have seen it about 30 times! I can still hear Vin Scully's narration, he summarized it the only way possible -- "Amazin'!"
David Sigalow

5. 1993 Phillies over Braves (23 letters)
Consider this:

1993 Atlanta Braves -- You have your offense powered by Fred McGriff, Ron Gant and David Justice in the prime of their careers. The rotation features John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. You're managed by Bobby Cox and owned by mega-mogul Ted Turner.

1993 Philadelphia Phillies -- You get your offense from the beer-bellied trio of Lenny Dykstra, John Kruk and Darren Daulton (each who only played four or five healthy, full seasons of baseball). You're ace is a young Curt Schilling. Nice, but you have the one-year wonder Danny Jackson and the king of the trading deadline, Terry Mulholland, backing him up. Did I forget to mention Tommy Greene? Yes, Tommy Greene (who?) was the Phillies' No. 2 starter. You had Mitch Williams as your closer. The textbook manager is Jim Fregosi. Your owner passed up on Bobby Bonilla ... and opted for Milt Thompson.

Phillies beat Braves 4-2. Despite having an ERA of well over 6.00, Mitch Williams gets two wins and two saves in the series. Dave Hollins hits two homers off Greg Maddux. Kim Batiste gets winning hit in Game 1 ... Oh yeah, whatever happened to that phenom Kevin Stocker?
Kevin Wyrauch
Bensalem, Pa.

I can't believe the 1993 Phillies didn't make this list. On one hand you have the Atlanta Braves, winners of 104 regular season games, having two 20-game winners and coming off back-to-back World Series appearances. On the other hand, you have the worst-to-first Fightin' Phils, who coasted to a division title on the back of the shoulda-been MVP Lenny Dykstra, who spent as much time in the bar as he did in the batting cage.

After getting pounded in Games 2 and 3 to fall behind in the LCS, they fight back for three straight to win it in six, "sending a lot of good ballplayers back to Atlanta." Damn that Mitch Williams ...
Steve Dripps

6. 2001 Diamondbacks over Yankees (21 letters)
The improbable bloop by Gonza vs. Rivera. Surely the D-Backs blew it when Jay Bell couldn't get a bunt down ... right? Wasn't that the little break the Yanks needed? I could already hear the postgame interviews about how you have to make plays, you can't give the Yankees any help, we failed to execute ... blah, blah, blah. But somehow, they got another break with a little bloop by a 50-homer guy. If Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling started for high school team from Arizona, could they have beat the Yanks that year? What a wild series.
Chris Johnson
Kansas City

Luis Gonzalez
The D-backs broke the Yankees' air of invincibility.
I work a half-a-globe away from the action in America ... I missed Vinatieri's kick. I missed "American Idol" (thankfully), but most of all, I missed Gonzo appeasing the gods over Fenway Park.

I was actually able to check Game 7 on the Internet, occasionally scanning's scoreboard. Seeing Rivera's name under a one-run lead in the 9th inning, I was tempted to just turn everything off ... but to see the big "F" up with Arizona in the win column made for a fist-pumping celebration right in the office, drawing more than a few questions from my co-workers. I explained everything to which one Japanese worker smiled and a conceded, "Thank goodness." ... I guess Yankee haters are everywhere.
Geoff Tebbetts
Hirata, Japan

7. 1985 Royals over Cardinals (20 letters)
Just reading what Tom Boswell wrote about that series gave me goosebumps. Coming back twice from 3-1 deficits? Coming back in the World Series after losing the first two games at home? It's never been topped.

And sure, Denkinger blew the call. But what Cards fans -- and all those who dismiss the Royals' accomplishment -- forget, is that there was only one out when Dane Iorg got the game-winning hit in Game 6. Even if Denkinger had called Orta out, the Royals still win. And that analysis doesn't even bring into consideration the Cards' complete meltdown in Game 7.
Chris Suellentrop

You can judge a series by the grudges held after it, in St. Louis and Kansas City ... the blood runs deep. St. Louis' refusal to forgive Denkinger for a call that did NOT even cost them the series shows that they just can't accept that they got beaten by Kansas City. (Not many people can!) Without a shadow of a doubt this list belongs to the Royals trumping the Cards ... Nothing compares to taking the last three games to win it in seven ... twice.
Robert Henderson
Independence, Mo.

8. 1968 Tigers over Cardinals (19 letters)
Look at the odds ... they were down 3-1 in the series, were down by a score of 3-0 after the first inning in Game 5, they had to go back to St. Louis for Games 6 and 7, up against the great Bob Gibson (not to mention Brock and Flood) ... impossible.

While we're on the subject of the Cards, lets not add insult to injury by even acknowledging the K.C. "victory" in 1985. Probably the worst example of sports officiating ever and the greatest miscarriage of justice ever. No way should K.C. get any credit for that fiasco.
Ken Schmidt
Wilbraham, Mass.

Mayo Smith takes the huge risk to move Mickey Stanley from center field (where he won the gold glove), to SS so that he could get Al Kaline into the series. Stanley makes only two meaningless errors the entire series. The Tigers fall behind 3-1 in the series and come back to beat the best pitcher in baseball, Bob Gibson, in the final game.

The three keys in order are -- Lou Brock not sliding into home, Curt Flood losing his footing in CF to allow the series clinching runs, and Mickey Lolich -- not Denny McLain.
Flushing, Mich.

9. 1987 Twins over Cardinals (17 letters)
Fewest wins ever for a World Series champ, major underdogs in both the ALCS and WS ... Les Straker (?!!?) in their playoff rotation -- the list goes on and on. The Twins proved that heart, hustle, determination, teamwork ... and homefield advantage can win titles!
John Branstad
Mankato, Minn.

Gotta be Twins in '87. Until then, Minnesota hadn't won anything. (I'm ignoring the Lakers, they left town, anyway.) Consider the '65 Series loss to the Dodgers ... the inability to get past the Orioles in '69 and '70 ... those four Vikings' Super Bowl debacles ... the North Stars' Stanley Cup loss in '81 ... All this not to mention Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale.

The Twins had a lot of bad karma to overcome, there -- on the other hand, they weren't suffering with the burden of high expectations.
Steve Morley
Plano, Texas

10. 1997 Marlins over Braves and Indians (16 letters)
The Marlins over the Tribe was big. This was the year when the whole idea of renting a team to win a World Series really began. If Mesa could have just closed out the game, or if Nagy could have caught that last floater over his head, Huzienga's attempt to charter a championship would never have worked ... Thanks for ruining baseball, Wayne.
David Ide

Expensive Talent (Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, Darren Daulton, Kevin Brown, Robb Nen, Al Leiter, Charles Johnson, Jeff Conine, Moises Alou and Devon White) + up-and-coming stars (Luis Castillo, Livan Hernandez, Edgar Renteria) = an expensive expansion that delivered a World Championship. Big wins over the highly favored Braves and Indians ... was it worth it? It sure was (then), unfortunately, the Marlins could not afford another crown and had one of the biggest yard sales in Major League history.
Josh Kleemeyer
Athens, Ohio

Honorable Mention

  • Boston Braves sweep Philadelphia A's, 1914
  • White Sox beat Cubs, 1906
  • Orioles sweep Dodgers, 1966


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