Dear baseball fans: Can you hope for anything more from a World Series? The 2016 Fall Classic was tough to beat. It went seven games, had enough highs and lows to cause heart palpitations, and ended a championship drought spanning 108 years. You even got a rain delay after nine innings and free baseball in Game 7. In that sense, the pickiest of sports gods were appeased.
That was how the drama ended, but let’s not forget how it started. Both Wild Card games kicked off a thrilling edition of postseason baseball, and the conclusion was more like icing on the cake. If you like walk-off home runs, pitcher’s duels, and the usual serving of drama behind the scenes, you got your share from the first playoff game to the final out of the World Series.
Here are the best five games of the postseason, ranked.
5. Mets vs. Giants, NL Wild Card
Even opponents of the wild card must admit this one was worth it. You can’t top Madison Bumgarner and the Giants versus Noah Syndergaard and the Mets for the right to advance to the NLDS. This showdown had everything you want in a pitcher’s duel, and ended with Conor Gillaspie, a most unlikely hero, launching a three-run homer off Jeurys Familia in the top of the ninth. From there, MadBum took care of the rest.
We would have preferred a walk-off, but the seven-inning staredown between these pitchers set a perfect canvas for Gilaspie’s ninth-inning blast. In some ways, the match-up recalled the 1991 World Series showdown between Jack Morris and John Smoltz, albeit in a lower-stakes format. As in that game, the winner tossed a complete game shutout while his opponent threw 7 IP of scoreless ball. Gillaspie continued his magical run into the NLDS, but the Giants lost to a far better team in the next series.
4. Blue Jays vs. Orioles, AL Wild Card
The only thing missing from the NL Wild Card happened one night earlier in the AL version between Toronto and Baltimore. This game was deadlocked 2-2 from the bottom of the fifth until the bottom of the 11th. Then Edwin Encarnacion launched a three-run, walk-off bomb off Ubaldo Jimenez of the Orioles. Those four tense, scoreless innings are the sort of things baseball fans dream about at night. (For fans of the teams, they’re impossible to stomach.)
A total of 13 pitchers threw in this game, which was the epitome of “all hands on deck” on both sides. The one blemish was Buck Showalter’s refusal to use Zach Britton, the season’s best reliever, in a non-save situation. Had he pitched, they might have gone 15 innings, but we’ll have to live with Encarnacion’s dramatic, game-ending home run as a consolation prize.
3. Nationals vs. Dodgers, NLDS Game 5
When the postseason arrives, we want our heroes to be immortal, so the spotlight shine brightest on MLB’s best stars. In the NLDS between the Nationals and Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw had one of his best moments to date. Just two days after pitching into the seventh inning in a dramatic Game 4 loss, LA’s ace returned in Game 5 up 4-3 with runners on first and second and the lethal Daniel Murphy at the plate.
Again, baseball fans write these scripts in their heads all year, and in the clinching game you got the league’s best hitter against the league’s best pitcher. Kershaw won, getting Murph to pop up for the second out. The next man up — Wilmer Difo, last man on Dusty Baker’s bench — struck out on four pitches. The Dodgers advanced to the NLCS and Kershaw got his first brilliant postseason moment. Of the four opening series, this matchup is the only one to reach an elimination game.
2. Cubs vs. Indians, World Series Game 3
Until Game 3 of the Fall Classic, Chicago had not played a World Series game at Wrigley Field since the 1940s, and the first game back delivered high drama. Josh Tomlin and Kyle Hendricks dueled into the fifth inning without allowing a run, setting up a showdown between the Indians and Cubs bullpens. Upon entering, Justin Grimm faced Francisco Lindor in a base-loaded, one-out situation and got Cleveland’s star shortstop to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Tension continued mounting until the seventh. Andrew Miller had been mowing down Cubs hitters when Terry Francona subbed in Coco Crisp to pinch-hit for the ace reliever with one out and runners on first and third. Crisp, who delivered the knockout blow in Game 3 of the ALDS versus Boston, came through with a single to take a 1-0 lead. Things went smoothly until the ninth, when Cody Allen faced Javier Baez with two outs and runners on second and third. Allen struck him out to give the Indians a 2-1 Series lead.
1. Indians, vs. Cubs, World Series Game 7
Of course it had to come down to a Game 7. There were many blunders in this game by Cubs players and manager Joe Maddon, but still Chicago went into the eighth inning with a 6-4 lead and closer Aroldis Chapman on the hill. Then things got really complicated. With two outs and two strikes, Rajai Davis went down and drove a low pitch into the left-field bleachers to tie the game. As the great Vin Scully once remarked, “In a year that of the improbable, the impossible has happened!”
Yet it was far from over. After an awful bunt attempt by Baez with a runner on third and one out in the ninth, the game entered extra innings, and Cubs fans began wondering if they’d seen this nightmare before. (First, a rain delay put the action on ice for 2o minutes.) When the ground crew removed the tarp and the game resumed, Cubs batters quickly scored two off Bryan Shaw.
In the bottom of the 10th, with Chapman no longer available, Carl Edwards and Mike Montgomery escaped after allowing an RBI single to Davis that trimmed the led to 8-7. With David running on the pitch, Montgomery induced a slow grounder that Bryant fielded for the final out. Cubs won! Whew, it was one hell of a game, and a fitting end to an amazing postseason.
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com
Follow Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY