MLB: The 5 Most Influential Plays in World Series History

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With the 2015 World Series officially underway, we must prepare ourselves for some heroics. For as history shows, this tends to happen quite often. Of course, like most things in sports — specifically Major League Baseball — some plays tend to have a greater affect on the outcome of a game than others, increasing a team’s odds of victory. As the good folks at Grantland point out, figuring out the impact of a specific play is not too hard.

Quantifying the odds of winning a particular game is not particularly complicated; FanGraphs publishes Win Expectancy Charts of every game (here’s last year’s Game 7), and Baseball-Reference.com lists the WPA — Win Probability Added — of every play in every box score going back to 1914. WPA is computed by figuring out a team’s probability of winning a game — based on the score, the inning, the outs, and the baserunners — before a particular batter hits and afterward, and then calculating the difference.

Yet, in the spirit of discussing the grandest stage MLB has to offer, Grantland decided to take things a step further. For these individuals, it was all about determining the Championship Probability Added (CPA).

Championship Probability Added measures how much a particular play influences a team’s chances to win, except instead of measuring its chances to win a game, it measures a team’s chances to win a World Series. It is calculated simply by multiplying a play’s Win Probability Added by the impact the game has on winning a championship.

Using the information above, and based on this particular criteria, Grantland was able to compile a list of the single biggest baseball plays ever (as far as the Fall Classic is concerned). Here, we count down the five most influential plays in World Series history.

5. Jim Northrup’s clutch triple in Game 7

With two outs and runners on first and second during the seventh inning of Game 7 of the 1968 World Series, outfielder Jim Northrup strode to the plate, looking to make a difference. Boy, did he ever. Northrup’s tw0-run triple off of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson proved to be, as Grantland called it, “The biggest hit by a road team in baseball history.” This hit gave the Detroit Tigers a two-run lead and increased their CPA to 36%.

4. Francisco Cabrera sends the Braves to the biggest stage

It’s not often that a team’s odds off winning the World Series increase during a game that’s not part of the Fall Classic, however, that’s exactly what happened during Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS between the Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates. Francisco Cabrera‘s pinch-hit single during the bottom of the ninth inning not only scored two runs — including an unlikely Sid Bream from second base — and sent the Braves to the World Series, but it also bumped the club’s CPA to 37%. Unfortunately, as important as this play was, it didn’t change the fact that Atlanta would go on to lose in the 1992 World Series to the Toronto Blue Jays.

3. Bill Mazeroski’s game-winning home run

Game 7 of the 1960 World Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees was tied at nine heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. It didn’t take long for that to change. With a swing of the bat, second baseman Bill Mazeroski hit one of the most memorable home runs in World Series history, winning the game for the Pirates and forever cementing his place in baseball lore.

2. Tony Womack ties it up with a double

When Mariano Rivera took the mound — with the lead — in the bottom of ninth during Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, good money suggested that the New York Yankees were on the verge of capturing another championship. Yet, that’s not how it played out. Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Tony Womack would tie the game up with a double, send the eventual game-winning run to third base, and add 50% to the Diamondbacks’ odds of winning the whole thing. Two batters later, Luis Gonzalez’s bloop hit would make the unlikely comeback a reality.

1. Hal Smith is the real hero

While most remember the 1960 World Series being all about Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off homer, the biggest play in the game — and Championship Probability Added history — actually happened in the eighth inning when Pirates catcher Hal Smith launched a three-run home run. With this hit, Pittsburgh went from being down 7-6 with two outs in the inning, to up 9-7 and seemingly having the title in the palm of their hands. Of course, Mazeroski would go on to win the whole thing with a deep ball of his own in the bottom of the ninth inning. However, by increasing the CPA to 64% and essentially turning the tides of the game, Hal Smith managed to leave a mark unlike anything the game has ever seen.

All statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, Grantland, and ESPN.go.com.