Every Major League Baseball player dreams of playing in the World Series, and it’s safe to say a good many have envisioned themselves hitting a walkoff home run to clinch the best-of-seven Fall Classic. As one would imagine, cases of it happening are extremely rare. Only Bill Mazeroski (1960) and Joe Carter (1993) have ever decided a World Series with such heroics.
The list of players sending their teams to the World Series on a walkoff home run are almost as rare. Even after Travis Ishikawa vaulted the Giants there in 2014, it’s possible to count them on one hand. Here are the only five MLB players whose walkoff home runs sent their teams to the World Series.
5. Bobby Thomson, “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” New York Giants, 1951
This epic moment in time predates league championship series play, but Thomson’s game-winning home run made “The Giants win the pennant!” Baseball fans owe it to themselves to research this event in full, but let’s just say there was a sizzling backstory leading up to the fateful day in 1951. (To start, the Giants closed the season with a 50-12 record.)
Did Thomson steal signs that gave the Giants the edge over Brooklyn? Evidence certainly points to that conclusion, but he still hit a Major League fastball into the seats with the Giants’ season on the line. Thomson and his New York club from northern Manhattan went on to lose to the Yankees (yes, a third New York contender) in six games in the ’51 World Series, but the conquest of Brooklyn remains a high-water mark among Giants fans of a certain age. See Don DeLillo’s Underworld for an exquisite ficitonal frame for the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.”
4. Chris Chambliss, New York Yankees, 1976 ALCS
League championship play began in 1969, but it didn’t take long for the New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals to take their rivalry to a dramatic conclusion in the postseason. In 1976, the ALCS was still a best-of-five showcase (it expanded to seven games in 1985), and the deciding game was one for the ages. After George Brett tied the game in the eighth inning with a three-run bomb, the score went to the bottom of the ninth knotted 6-6.
Chris Chambliss changed all that with a walkoff home run to right field. Yankees fans (then in a dry spell for the franchise) exploded onto the field in ecstatic ashion. The crowd was so raucous that Chambliss never touched home plate, opting instead for the safety of the clubhouse.
3. Aaron Boone, New York Yankees, 2003 ALCS
The Red Sox vanquished the Yankees with the unprecedented comeback in the 2004 ALCS, but in 2003 the “Curse of the Bambino” was alive and well. In fact, the 2003 ALCS featured one of the greatest moments of the historic rivalry when these powerhouse teams went to extra innings of the seventh game of the ALCS. On a team that featured Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, and countless other stars, Aaron Boone was the one who golfed a Tim Wakefield knuckleball for a home run that sent the Yankees to the World Series.
One could call the Boone home run the modern “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” For Yankees fans, it represented another year of keeping the Red Sox out of the winner’s circle. To date, it is the only extra-innings home run that ever sent a team to the World Series.
2. Magglio Ordonez, Detroit Tigers, 2006 ALCS
The ALCS drama continued in 2006 when the A’s met the Tigers for a best-of-seven affair. Though the series turned out to be all Tigers, who made a clean sweep of Oakland, that doesn’t take away from the thrilling moment Magglio Ordonez provided in Game Four. In a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the ninth inning, Ordonez blasted a Huston Street pitch into the Detroit night, guaranteeing his club a ride to the World Series. Like the three preceding teams that had this dramatic sendoff to the Fall Classic, the Tigers lost the World Series that year.
1. Travis Ishikawa, San Francisco Giants, 2014 NLCS
When Travis Ishikawa launched a three-run home run to right field to send the Giants to the 2014 World Series, he became the first player to end an NLCS in this fashion. Ishikawa, who was out of work for much of the past several seasons, also joined Bobby Thomson in Giants lore as the second player to send the franchise to the Fall Classic. Though it isn’t fair, Michael Morse’s pinch-hit home run that tied the game earlier will likely be lost in history.
It seems that every team experienced some sort of letdown after the ecstatic entry to the World Series. Will the Giants be the first team to win the World Series after getting there on a home run? The Royals will first have to lose a game this postseason (and then another three) for the 63-year streak to end.