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World Series Game 7: Top 20 in Major League Baseball history

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Koufax dominated the 1965 World Series as no other pitcher before or since, capturing MVP honors in leading the Dodgers to the title

 

On Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park in Houston, the host Astros will battle the Washington Nationals for the 2019 championship of Major League Baseball.

The first modern World Series was held all the way back in 1903 and has been conducted every year since 1905, with the notable exception of the 1994 season when the Fall Classic was cancelled due to a player’s strike.

Since 1922, the World Series has always been contested in a best-of-seven games format. That has not always been the case. The very first series in 1903 and again each year from 1919-21, there was a best-of nine games format utilized. None of those went the distance.

This will mark the 44th time (over 38%) that the Fall Classic has gone the ultimate full distance. On three occasions, there was a tie game in the series. Those took place in 1907, 1912, and in 1922. That 1912 series was notable in that it went a full seven games and also included one ending in a tie, so eight games were actually played.

The longest stretch that MLB has gone without enjoying a Game 7 in the World Series was in the decade between the 2002 and 2011 seasons.

The most consecutive Game 7’s occurred between 1955-58 when the drama went the distance in four straight years. From 1952-75 there was a halcyon period in which 15 (62.5%) decisive Game 7’s took place.

Here are my selections as the Top 20 Game 7’s in World Series history, with a brief synopsis. You’ll note that I haven’t chosen to rank them, but rather they are presented in reverse chronological order. Every one was a fantastic finish to the season. Feel free to leave a comment or response on social media with your own favorite.

2016: Cubs – 8, Indians – 7 (10 innings)

The Cubs were under the ‘Curse of the Billy Goat‘ for more than 70 years at this point, and had not won a World Series since 1908. They bolted to a 5-1 lead in the 5th inning, but the Indians roared back. The host Tribe got a two-out RBI double from Brandon Guyer and two-run homer by Rajai Davis off Aroldis Chapman to tie it up in the bottom of the 8th. The game rolled into extra innings, and Chicago scored twice in the top of the 10th for an 8-6 lead. The Indians were still not finished, with Davis delivering an RBI single to make it a one-run game. But Mike Montgomery got Michael Martinez to ground out, third baseman Kris Bryant firing to first baseman Anthony Rizzo to finally end the curse and bring the Cubbies and their long-suffering fans a world championship.

2014: Giants – 3, Royals – 2

Five of the previous six games in this Fall Classic had been blowouts, with only the Royals 3-2 win in Game 3 as a tight affair. This one would be won for the Giants by a fantastic five-inning relief performance from ace lefty Madison Bumgarner, who had previously won Games 1 and 5 as the starting pitcher. A one-out RBI single in the top of the 4th inning by Mike Morse off Kelvin Herrera scored Pablo Sandoval, breaking a 2-2 with what would prove the series-winning run. Bumgarner shut the Royals out on two hits over those final five frames, getting Salvador Perez to pop out with the potential tying run at third base for the final out.

2001: Diamondbacks – 3, Yankees – 2

The Yankees were the three-time defending World Series champions, and they took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the 9th inning at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix. There, manager Joe Torre turned the game over to living legend closer Mariano Rivera, one of the greatest postseason pitchers in baseball history. But the host Dbacks refused to lay down and go quietly. Tony Womack ripped a one-out RBI double to tie the game. Then, in one of the most dramatic endings of all-time, Luis Gonzalez looped a series-winning single to center, scoring Jay Bell with the walkoff run as the home crowd went crazy in celebration of the only World Series title in Arizona history.

1997: Marlins – 3, Indians – 2 (11 innings)

In just their fifth season of existence, the Florida Marlins became the first since MLB instituted Wildcard playoff teams for the 1994 season to reach the World Series and also the first to win it all. The Indians were kept from their first World Series crown since 1948, a streak that has now reached 72 years. In this one, the host Tribe led 2-1 into the bottom of the 9th inning. Craig Counsell‘s RBI sac fly off Jose Mesa brought Moises Alou home with the game-tying run, sending the contest to extra-innings. In the bottom of the 11th, Edgar Renteria walked it off with a two-out, bases loaded single that barely ticked off pitcher Charles Nagy‘s glove, scoring Counsell with the series-winning run.

1991: Twins – 1, Braves – 0 (10 innings)

The only Game 7 in World Series to go scoreless into extra innings took place at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minnesota. For the visiting Braves, John Smoltz went 7.1 shutout innings, allowing just six hits and one walk in a brilliant performance. Unfortunately he was out-dueled by a fellow future Hall of Famer, as Jack Morris went the distance for the host Twins. Morris shut the Braves out, scattering seven hits over 10 innings for the win. Dan Gladden led off the bottom of the 10th with a double off Atlanta reliever Alejandro Pena and moved to third base on a ground out. After back-to-back intentional walks to Chuck Knoblauch and Kirby Puckett loaded the bases, Gene Larkin walked it off with a series-winning base hit.

1987: Twins – 4, Cardinals – 2

Lefty Frank Viola gave the host Twins a strong eight innings on the mound at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and the home team would rally from an early deficit for the victory. Kirby Puckett‘s RBI double tied the game up at 2-2 in the bottom of the 5th inning. Three of the first four batters in the bottom of the 6th each worked walks to load the bases, and Greg Gagne then produced an RBI single to put the Twins up 3-2 with what would prove the series-winning run. With two outs in the home 8th, Dan Gladden doubled off Cardinals closer Todd Worrell to drive in an insurance run. Twins closer Jeff Reardon coaxed Willie McGee to ground out, with third baseman Gary Gaetti firing across to first baseman Kent Hrbek to wrap the first World Series title since the franchise moved to Minnesota for the 1961 season. As the Washington Senators, they had previously won it all just once, back in 1924 in another seven-gamer that you will find listed below.

1982: Cardinals – 6, Brewers – 3

At Busch Stadium in Saint Louis, the visiting Milwaukee Brewers were looking for the first world championship in franchise history. Formed originally as the expansion Seattle Pilots in 1969, the franchise had moved to Milwaukee for the 1970 season. This version of the team was nicknamed “Harvey’s Wallbangers” after manager Harvey Kuenn, and they took a 3-1 lead in the top of the 5th inning when future Hall of Famer Paul Molitor delivered an RBI single and later scored another run on a Cecil Cooper base hit. But Keith Hernandez tied it with a two-run single in the bottom of that inning, and George Hendrick followed with an RBI single to give Saint Louis a 4-3 lead. The host Cards tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the 8th, and future Hall of Fame pitcher Bruce Sutter closed it out with a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the 9th inning. The Brewers remain one of seven current MLB teams to never win the World Series, a list that the Nationals will try to knock down to six in tonight’s game.

1979: Pirates – 4, Orioles – 1

For the second time in the decade, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles were battling in a World Series Game 7. These “We Are Family” Pirates had rallied from a 3-1 series deficit, forcing this decisive game at Memorial Park in Baltimore. Trailing 1-0 in the top of the 6th inning, future Hall of Famer Willie Stargell crushed a two-run homer off Scott McGregor to put the Pirates on top. The Bucs would add a pair of insurance runs in the top of the 9th inning, and closer Kent Tekulve would shut the Orioles down in order in the bottom of the frame. The 39-year-old Stargell delivered four hits for the Pirates and was honored as the World Series MVP.

1975: Reds – 4, Red Sox – 3

The day after Carlton Fisk‘s historic 12th inning walkoff home run had tied the World Series at three games apiece, the visiting ‘Big Red Machine’ would battle back to win at Fenway Park in one of the most exciting Game 7’s in baseball history. An RBI single from future Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski gave host Boston an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 3rd inning. Reds starter Don Gullett then walked in a pair of runs later in the frame, and the Bosox had a 3-0 lead. It was beginning to appear as if the 57-year-old ‘Curse of the Bambino‘ was about to be broken. In the top of the 6th with Johnny Bench aboard, Tony Perez drilled a clutch two-out, two-run homer off Bill Lee to cut the Reds deficit to 3-2. Then with two outs and two on in the top of the 7th, Pete Rose RBI single scored Ken Griffey with the tying run. The game went to the top of the 9th inning still tied at 3-3 when, with two outs, Joe Morgan‘s looping RBI single scored Griffey to push the Reds in front by 4-3. Southpaw Will McEnaney set Boston down in order in the bottom of the 9th, getting Yaz on a fly ball to end it.

1972: Athletics – 3, Reds – 2

Two great dynasties of the 1970’s were meeting here. The A’s would win three straight World Series titles from 1971-73, and the ‘Big Red Machine’ would capture back-to-back championships in 1975-76.  The first five games in this Fall Classic were each decided by a single run. In Game 7 at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, the two teams were tied at 1-1 into the 6th inning. There, Gene Tenace and Sal Bando ripped back-to-back two-out RBI doubles to push the “Swingin’ A’s” out to a 3-1 lead. Tony Perez sac fly off Rollie Fingers scored Pete Rose with a run to make it a 3-2 game in the bottom of the 8th inning. Then, with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, Fingers hit Darrel Chaney with a pitch, giving the host Reds once final shot. But Fingers retired Rose on a fly to left, and the A’s had the second of their three straight World Series crowns.

1971: Pirates – 2, Orioles – 1

This was a meeting between two of the top teams from the entire decade of the 1970’s. The Pirates won six NL East Division crowns in the decade, two NL pennants, and a pair of World Series titles. The Orioles won five AL East Division crowns, three AL pennants, and a World Series title during the decade. The defending world champs, Baltimore was hosting Game 7 at Memorial Stadium. Mike Cuellar would toss a gem for the O’s, holding the potent Bucs attack to just two runs on four hits over eight innings. Unfortunately for him, Pittsburgh starter Steve Blass was even better. He went the distance, also allowing just four hits. With two outs in the top of the 4th, Roberto Clemente gave the Pirates a 1-0 lead with a home run blasted to left-center field. The two teams traded 8th inning runs and went to the 9th with the Bucs clinging to a one-run lead. Blass retired slugger Boog Powell and future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson to open the bottom of the 9th, then ended it with a ground out.

1965: Dodgers – 2, Twins – 0

This one was all Sandy Koufax. The future Hall of Fame southpaw had shut the Twins out over the first six frames of Game 2, but was lifted for a pinch-hitter and watched as Minnesota got to the Dodgers bullpen for five runs in a 5-1 win that put the Twins up 2-0 in the series. Koufax returned for the start in Game 5, shutting Minnesota out on just four hits in a complete game victory to put the Dodgers up 3-2 in the series. The Twins then tied it up, setting up this Game 7 at Dodger Stadium. Manager Walter Alston opted to bring Koufax back on just three days rest, and his ace would not let the team down. Once again, Koufax tossed a shutout, allowing just three hits as the Dodgers won their fourth World Series title in 11 years, their third since moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958. In all, Koufax allowed a single earned run and 13 hits over 24 innings across his three starts with a 29/5 K:BB ratio, and was awarded his second World Series MVP Award in three years.

1962: Yankees – 1, Giants – 0

One of only two 1-0 Game 7’s in World Series history took place at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. This would mark the 20th World Series crown for the dynastic Bronx Bombers in 40 years, but would also be their last for the next decade-and-a-half. Meanwhile, the Giants would have to wait another 38 years to celebrate a championship. Ralph Terry tossed a complete game shutout for the Yanks, allowing just four hits. The game’s lone run scored in the top of the 5th when the Yankees loaded the bases against Giants starter Jack Sanford with a pair of singles and a walk. Tony Kubek then hit into a double play, but Bill Skowron raced home with a run to give New York a 1-0 lead. With two out and Matt Alou standing at first base in the bottom of the 9th, Willie Mays ripped a double to right field. Right fielder Roger Maris made a tremendous play on the ball, getting it back in to second baseman Bobby Richardson to hold Alou at third base. This brought future Hall of Famer Willie McCovey to the plate with the potential tying run at third and winning run at second. McCovey ripped a line drive that he would later claim was the hardest hit ball of his career. But the liner sank as it reached Richardson, who fielded it cleanly for the final out.

1960: Pirates – 10, Yankees – 9

This was one of the more unusual World Series in history in that the Yankees won their three games by routs, outscoring the Pirates 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0. Meanwhile, the Bucs three wins came in more competitive 6-4, 3-2, and 5-2 ball games. Game 7 was played at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, and the host Pirates scored twice each in the 1st and 2nd for an early 4-0 lead. The Bronx Bombers battled back to take a 7-4 lead in the top of the 8th. The big hit came in the top of the 6th when 35-year-old future Hall of Famer Yogi Berra crushed a three-run homer. The Pirates chipped away for two in the home 8th to make it a 7-6 game. Then Hal Smith drilled a three-run home run, scoring Roberto Clemente and Dick Groat to push the Pirates back on top by 9-7 as the game went to the 9th inning. But the Yankees failed to surrender, tying it up on an RBI single by Mickey Mantle and RBI ground out by Berra. With the game knotted at 9-9 in the bottom of the 9th, second baseman Bill Mazeroski led off the inning against Ralph Terry. On a 1-0 pitch, Maz drove a ball just over the wall in left field, giving the Pirates a dramatic walkoff World Series title with what has been called “the greatest home run in baseball history.”

1946: Cardinals – 4, Red Sox – 3

Boston. Saint Louis. Boston. Saint Louis. Boston. Saint Louis. That was how the 1946 Fall Classic went over the first six games, with the Red Sox and Cardinals trading wins to set up a winner-take-all Game 7 at Sportsman’s Park in Saint Louis. This was the first World Series played after World War II, and would turn out to be the only shot at a championship for perhaps the greatest hitter the game has ever seen, Ted Williams. It would not be a great series for ‘Teddy Ballgame’, who had served in the U.S. Marine Corps as an aviator in WWII and who would do so again in Korea. Williams batted just .200 with five hits over 25 at-bats, five walks, and just one RBI. He would to 0-4 in the Game 7 finale. Dom DiMaggio, brother of Yankees star and Williams’ rival Joe DiMaggio, would try to play the Bosox hero, driving in all three Boston runs. His clutch two-out, two-run double in the top of the 8th inning tied the game at 3-3. In the home 8th, Enos Slaughter led off with a base hit. Then with two outs, Harry Walker lined a double to center. Slaughter was running on the play, and then ignored a stop sign at third put on by coach Mike Gonzalez. Boston shortstop Johnny Pesky took the relay throw, turned, appeared stunned that ‘Country’ Slaughter was running, and fired weakly to the plate. Slaughter was safe at home on his now famous ‘Mad Dash‘, and the Cardinals had what would prove to be the World Series-winning run.

1940: Reds – 2, Tigers – 1

Detroit and Cincinnati traded wins over the first six games, with neither team able to put together two in a row to take control. This set up a dramatic Game 7 at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, Ohio. The visiting Tigers jumped out first on a two-out RBI single from 37-year-old future Hall of Fame second baseman Charlie Gehringer. Tigers starting pitcher Bobo Newsom and Reds starter Paul Derringer would each go the distance in this one, and that 1-0 lead for Detroit held into the bottom of the 7th inning. Back-to-back doubles to lead off the frame by Frank McCormick and Jimmy Ripple tied it up, and later a one-out sac fly by Billy Myers brought home Ripple with what would prove the series-winning run. Derringer set Detroit down in order in the 9th, wrapping up the first World Series crown for Cincinnati since the 1919 club had won a controversial title against the scandalous Chicago “Black Sox” team. It would be the last Cincy title until the ‘Big Red Machine‘ came along in the 1970’s.

1926: Cardinals – 3, Yankees – 2

The Yankees, whose 27 World Series crowns are more than any franchise in Major League Baseball, had won just one title in the first 26 years of their history to this point. The Cardinals have won 11 championships, more than any team in National League history. Their franchise had been around since 1882, but had not yet won a championship since joining the NL for the 1892 season. This was the first of five meetings in the Fall Classic between the two teams, something that has not happened now since 1964. The great Babe Ruth homered three times in Game 4 to pull the Yankees even at two games apiece. This was the legendary game in which Ruth had promised a sick boy, Johnny Sylvester, that he would hit a homer for him. But it would also ultimately be a base-running gaffe for which the Bambino would be remembered for in this series . With the Cardinals leading by a run and two outs in the bottom of the 9th at Yankee Stadium, Ruth drew a walk off fellow future Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander. On the first pitch to the next batter, Bob Meusel, Ruth took off for second base. The throw from catcher Bob O’Farrell to second baseman Rogers Hornsby easily beat the sliding Ruth for the final out. It remains the only World Series to ever end on a caught stealing.

1925: Pirates – 9, Senators – 7

Relevance to tonight’s Game 7 of course in that it was the last World Series to be played in our nation’s capital until this past week. The Senators were the defending world champions. The Pirates had won the 1909 World Series, and would not win another after this one for another 35 years. Washington bolted out of the gate, scoring four times and knocking Pittsburgh starter Vic Aldridge out in the very 1st inning at Forbes Field. But the Pirates fought back, narrowing their deficit to just 7-6 as the game entered the bottom of the 8th inning. Future Hall of Famer Walter Johnson retired the first two Pittsburgh batters. But then suddenly the Pirates bats erupted. Three doubles, a walk, and an error combined to give the home team three runs, two unearned, and a 9-7 lead. The Senators went down in order in the 9th, and Pittsburgh celebrated its second World Series title.

1924: Senators – 4, Giants – 3 (12 innings)

The first of three straight Fall Classics to make this list, it has also, to this point, been the only World Series ever won by a team from Washington, D.C. The Senators would get four shutout innings of relief from the ‘Big Train’, future Hall of Famer Walter Johnson, and rally from a 3-1 deficit at Griffith Stadium in D.C. to force extra innings, finally take it in the 12th inning. A solo home run off the bat of Bucky Harris gave Washington an early 1-0 lead. But the Giants scored three times in the top of the 6th aided by a pair of Senators infield errors to take that 3-1 lead. Harris would again play the hero in the bottom of the 8th, delivering a two-out, two-run single to tie it up. Then with one out in the bottom of the 12th, Sens catcher Muddy Ruel stayed alive when Giants catcher Hank Gowdy dropped an easy foul pop. Given the new life, Ruel doubled. One batter later, Earl McNeely ripped a hard grounder through to left field for the walkoff hit, Ruel rolling home with the World Series-winning run.

1912: Red Sox – 3, Giants – 2 (10 innings)

It is difficult to compare a World Series from so long ago to those of today’s game. And yet it remains an indisputable fact that this ninth contest pitting the winners of the upstart American League against the champions of the more established National League is one of the greatest World Series in the game’s long history. Four of the eight games were decided by a single run, two others were tight affairs, and Game 2 was called off and ruled as an official tie result due to darkness after the two clubs battled to a 6-6 stalemate over 11 innings. So, this Game 7 was actually the eighth game of the series. The two teams were knotted at three wins apiece as they took the field at Fenway Park, now the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball, but then finishing up its very first season of existence. The Giants future Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson would go the distance on the mound and took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the 7th. There, one of the earliest and most unlikely heroes in World Series history struck. Olaf Henriksen, a reserve outfielder who had just four extra-base hits over 75 regular season plate appearances that year, was sent up to face the great ‘Christian Gentleman’ as a pinch-hitter with two outs and two men on base. Henrickson came through, ripping a line drive RBI double, scoring Jake Stahl with the tying run. The game went to extra innings, and in the top of the 10th the Giants recaptured the lead on Fred Merkle‘s RBI single. Then in the bottom of the 10th, Giants center fielder Fred Snodgrass made an error on a fly ball by Clyde Engle that would become known in baseball history as “the $30,000 muff“, putting the tying run at second base. Three batters later, Tris Speaker scored him with a game-tying single. Two batters after that, Larry Gardner lofted a sac fly to right field, with Steve Yerkes tagging and coming home with the first walkoff run in World Series history.

Will we get an unforgettable, historic moment in tonight’s Astros-Nationals contest to equal Slaughter’s Mad Dash, or the walkoffs provided by Mazeroski, Renteria, or Gonzo?

Maybe there will be a shutdown pitching performance from the two starting pitchers, Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke, each of whom is already likely headed to the Hall of Fame. Something to equal the performances of Koufax or Bumgarner.

This 2019 World Series will mark the third time in the last four years that the Fall Classic has gone the full seven games. Whichever team wins, the real winners as the drama unfolds are sure to be all true fans of the game of baseball.

 

More baseball pieces for your enjoyment:

2019 World Series preview and prediction

 

In their 51st season of existence, the Washington Nationals franchise has reached the World Series. They will face-off against the Houston Astros, who have been to the Fall Classic twice previously (2005, 2017) and just two years ago captured their first world championship.

This should be a fascinating match-up, featuring perhaps the best teams in both the National and American Leagues by the time the 2019 regular season came to an end.

Strong starting pitching. Deep bullpens. Exciting stars. Future Hall of Famers. It will all be on display over the next week or so in Houston, Texas and the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C.

Over the course of this exciting October of 2019 MLB Postseason play, I provided previews and predictions for all four Division Series, and each League Championship Series after going 1-1 in the Wildcard games. If you followed my advice, you are doing pretty well, as my predictions have gone 6-2 to this point.

Also, prior to the season in my 2019 MLB preview, I gave you the Nationals as my National League champions. A pretty bold prediction, given that many saw the defection of Bryce Harper in free agency as signaling their franchise decline.

While I would like to say that I was also prescient enough to have picked Houston in the American League, I did not. Close, however. I had the Astros eliminated by the New York Yankees in the playoffs. Instead, the reverse happened.

HEAD TO HEAD RESULTS

These two ball clubs have met just twice in Interleague play. During the 2017 MLB regular season go-around, the Nationals captured the first and third games of a three-game set at Minute Maid Park in Houston, winning each by a single run by scores of 4-3 and 5-4. The host Astros won the middle affair by a 6-1 score.

Back in 2014, Washington swept a four game series between the two teams at Nationals Park, taking three of the four by a single run each.

From the inception of the Nationals franchise in 1969 as the old Montreal Expos through their move to Washington in 2005, and then on through the 2012 season, the two teams were each part of the National League. So for 44 years, they met frequently.

The Nationals/Expos franchise holds a 244-207 all-time regular season record over the Astros, for a .541 win percentage. The two clubs have never previously met in postseason play.

HOW NATIONALS GOT HERE

The Nationals got off to a horrendous start. Sitting at just 19-31 on May 23, they were in fourth place in the NL East Division. With rumors swirling that manager Dave Martinez‘ job was in jeopardy, their odds of reaching the World Series were less than 1%.

From that point onward, Washington was a completely different ball club. The Nats went 74-38 over the balance of the regular season, finishing in second place and easily claiming an NL Wildcard playoff berth.

In that National League Wildcard Game, the Nationals trailed the Milwaukee Brewers by 3-1 with two outs in the bottom of the 8th inning.

With their season on the brink, the Nats loaded the bases. Juan Soto then delivered a base hit which skipped past Brewers rookie right fielder Trent Grisham for an error and a scoreboard-changing three-run play. When the dust settled, Washington had an improbable 4-3 victory.

Advancing on to a National League Division Series, the Nationals were matched up against the Los Angeles Dodgers, winners of seven straight NL West crowns and back-to-back National League pennants.

The Dodgers captured two of the first three games and appeared on the verge of a third straight trip to the NLCS.

However, the resilient Nationals rallied once again, tying the series up with a win at Nationals Park, and then getting a 10th inning grand slam home run from Howie Kendrick to win the decisive Game 5 at Dodger Stadium.

Four times the Nationals had reached the playoffs in this decade. All four times they had lost in the Division Series, three of those in excruciating fashion.

But now they had advanced to the National League Championship Series for the first time in franchise history. Waiting for them were the Saint Louis Cardinals, whose 11 World Series crowns are the most in National League history.

This one was never really a contest. The Nationals got tremendous pitching over the first three games, their offense exploded in the final two, and in the end they swept out the Cardinals in four straight, out-scoring Saint Louis by 20-6 over the four games.

HOW ASTROS GOT HERE

The Astros were one of the favorites to win the World Series when the season opened. They struggled over the season’s first week, dropping five of their first seven games.

But then Houston rolled off 10 straight victories to take over the AL West Division lead. On April 28, they moved back into first place in the division and never relinquished that perch, capturing their third consecutive division title.

In their American League Division Series, the Astros were matched up with the always tough Tampa Bay Rays ball club. Houston took a quick 2-0 lead in the series and appeared ready for a sweep.

However, anyone who underestimates the Rays is asking for trouble. Tampa roared back with two big wins in front of their home fans at Tropicana Field to even up the series.

The Astros restored sanity back in front of their own home fans in the decisive Game 5 at Minute Maid Park. They scored four times in the 1st inning and then coasted to a 6-1 victory, advancing to the ALCS for the second time in three years.

In that American League Championship Series, the Astros were matched up with the powerful New York Yankees, champions of the AL East Division.

On their way to the 2017 World Series championship, the Astros had edged out the Yankees in ALCS, rallying to win the final two contests and taking the series in a full seven games.

This one nearly went the same full distance. The Bronx Bombers took the opener in Houston, but then the Astros rolled to three straight wins and a commanding lead.

The Yanks fought back, winning Game 5 and then rallying for a pair of runs in the top of the 9th inning to tie up Game 6.

Then in the bottom of the 9th, the smallest player on the field delivered the biggest hit of the entire American League season. Jose Altuve ripped a two-out, two-run home run to walkoff the series in front of the delirious Houston home crowd.

SCHEDULE (all games televised on the FOX Network with 8:07 PM first pitch)

Games 1 & 2: Tuesday-Wednesday 10/22-23, Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas

Games 3 & 4 (and Game 5 if needed): Friday-Saturday (possibly Sunday as well), Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

Games 6 & 7 (if either/both needed): 10/22-23, Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas

STARTING PITCHING PROBABLES

Game 1: Justin Verlander (HOU) vs Max Scherzer (WAS)

Game 2: Gerrit Cole (HOU) vs Stephen Strasburg (WAS)

Game 3: Zack Greinke (HOU) vs Patrick Corbin (WAS)

Game 4: Brad Peacock (HOU) vs Anibal Sanchez (WAS) – for the Astros, this would be a bullpen game, with the hope that Peacock could get them to, even through, the 4th inning

Games 5-7: if needed, expect the Games 1-3 match-ups to repeat

STARTERS POSITION BY POSITION EDGE

First Base – Yuli Gurriel (HOU), Ryan Zimmerman (WAS) – advantage Houston

Second Base: Jose Altuve (HOU), Brian Dozier (WAS) – advantage Houston

Shortstop: Carlos Correa (HOU), Trea Turner (WAS) – even

Third Base: Alex Bregman (HOU), Anthony Rendon (WAS) – even

Catcher: Robinson Chirinos (HOU), Yan Gomes/Kurt Suzuki (WAS) – advantage Washington

Left Field: Michael Brantley (HOU), Juan Soto (WAS) – even

Center Field: George Springer (HOU), Victor Robles/Michael A. Taylor (WAS) – advantage Houston

Right Field: Josh Reddick (HOU), Adam Eaton (WAS) – even

I gave the Astros the advantage at three of the usual eight starting positions, with four rated as an even push. In that regard, this would seem a pretty tight match-up.

However, a healthy Springer joining Altuve, Bregman, Correa, and Gurriel gives Houston five major impact bats for the talented Nationals pitching staff to contend with each night.

Rendon, Turner, and Soto must produce for the Nationals to have any chance. And they’re likely going to need at least one surprise run-producer, perhaps some like their top bench option below.

OFF THE BENCH

Howie Kendrick, whose dramatic grand slam won the Division Series, appeared in 121 games this season for the Nationals and made starts at first, second, and third base. The 35-year-old veteran is a dangerous pinch-hit bat and a versatile infield substitute.

The Nationals other top bench options are usually whichever catcher, Gomes or Suzuki, and center fielder, Robles or Taylor, is not starting. Also look for a trio of veterans in outfielder Gerardo Parra and infielders Matt Adams and Asdrubal Cabrera to make contributions.

For the Astros, rookie slugger Yordan Alvarez will be the Designated Hitter for the games in Houston. He’ll be a pinch-hitter in the games played in Washington.

The other leading bench options will be outfielder Jake Marisnick, infielder Aledmys Diaz, and catcher Martin Maldonado. Rookie outfielder Kyle Tucker also saw action in both the ALDS and ALCS.

Advantage: Nationals

BULLPEN ARMS

While much of the talk entering this series is justifiably centered on the talented starting pitching for each club, the fact remains that both bullpens are going to have to produce in significant, pressure-filled spots to ensure individual game victories.

The Astros will try to get to controversial closer Roberto Osuna with an all-righty bullpen of Joe Smith, Will Harris, Josh James, Jose Urquidy, Ryan Pressly, Hector Rondon, and long man Brad Peacock.

In his 13th big-league season, Smith has appeared in 782 games. That is the most by any relief pitcher in MLB history who has never appeared in a World Series, a streak likely to end this week.

For Washington, you could see lefty Sean Doolittle or either of a pair of right-handers, Daniel Hudson or Fernando Rodney, on the mound trying to close out a game. Righty Tanner Rainey and lefty Mike Grace are most likely to get any other innings.

Advantage: Houston

MANAGERS

Dave Martinez, Washington: Turning 55 years of age just a month ago, Martinez has guided the Nationals to an overall 175-149 record over two seasons at the helm, finishing in second place in the NL East Division each season.

Back in mid-September, Martinez suffered a health scare when he was forced to leave a game after he began to experience chest pains. He was hospitalized and underwent a cardiac catheterization, and was eventually cleared to return after missing a series in Saint Louis.

A native New Yorker, Martinez was the third round pick of the Chicago Cubs in the 1983 MLB Draft. He played in 16 big-league seasons with nine different clubs, including a four-year stint 1988-91 with the Nationals predecessors, the Montreal Expos.

AJ Hinch, Houston: At just 45 years of age, Hinch has gone 481-329 as the Astros skipper. His clubs have taken three straight AL West Division crowns, winning 101, 103, and 107 games in those seasons. He also led the club to the only World Series championship in franchise history back in 2017.

Hinch was previously the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks over parts of two seasons 2009-10, fashioning an 89-123 mark in the desert.

An Iowa native, Hinch was the Oakland A’s pick in the third round of the 1996 MLB Draft out of Stanford University. He appeared in seven big-league seasons, mostly as a platoon or backup catcher, from 1998-2004.

PREDICTION

The Houston Astros are battle-tested after a five-game ALDS with Tampa and a tough six-game ALCS with the Yankees. They have everything talent-wise that a championship team needs. They won 107 games during the regular season, most in Major League Baseball. And they have now had a couple of days to rest prior to the World Series.

The Washington Nationals have enjoyed, if that is the right world, a week-long rest after capturing the first National League pennant in franchise history. They have not lost a game since Game 3 of the NLDS back on October 6.

The Nationals biggest strength is the big three at the front of their starting rotation. For me, the Nats best chance would come from at least two of the three turning in dominating, winning performances.

My head is telling me to pick the Astros. But my gut is telling me to go with the Nationals. Back in the preseason, I picked Washington to win it all. Why not just stick with that since they’ve gotten this far?

Let’s make it Washington in seven games. Sure, it will be hard for many of my fellow Phillies fans to swallow a Nationals victory parade. But hey, they are one of just six current MLB teams to have never enjoyed the thrill of a World Series championship. It’s time.

 

More baseball pieces for your enjoyment:

The two greatest defensive plays in Phillies franchise history

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Carlos Ruiz tags out Jason Bartlett in 2008 World Series

For my money it has always been one of the two greatest defensive plays in Philadelphia Phillies history, both of which were made during situations in which the fielders were facing tremendous pressure.

It came during Game 5 of the 2008 World Series between the Phillies and visiting Tampa Bay Rays at Citizens Bank Park, and was started by Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, who will be feted on Friday night when he officially retires with the organization.
You may be able to look back over the history of this now 137-year-old ball club and find more spectacular or technically difficult plays. But it would be hard to find two that combine those aspects of difficulty and spectacle with sheer importance in a championship-level setting.
The players at the center of these two phenomenal defensive moments also just happen to be arguably the most popular players among the fan base in the entire history of the Philadelphia Phillies organization.

WHITEY’S STRIKE

The first of those two greatest defensive plays came all the way back in the final game of the 1950 regular season, and was pulled off by Baseball Hall of Famer and Phillies Wall of Famer Richie Ashburn. There were no playoffs in those days. If you finished in first place, you won the pennant and advanced to the World Series.
On that Sunday, October 1 afternoon at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, the Phillies were battling the host Dodgers. The two teams were tied at 1-1 into the bottom of the 9th inning. A victory by the home side would mean they would tie for first place, forcing a playoff for the National League pennant.
The first two batters, Cal Abrams and Pee Wee Reese, reached base against Phillies right-hander Robin Roberts. The future Phillies Wall of Famer and Baseball Hall of Famer had turned just 24-years-old the previous day, but was already the ace of the staff. But now he was in trouble, and the pennant was in jeopardy.
Next up for the Dodgers was their own 24-year-old future Hall of Famer, Duke Snider. On the first pitch, Snider sent a clean base hit into center field, where the 23-year-old Ashburn fielded the ball and came up firing.
Abrams never hesitated, rounding third and heading for home as the potential game-tying run. Ashburn’s throw to catcher Stan Lopata was true, and Abrams was out as he slid for the plate. For its importance at that moment, and for what happened next, Ashburn’s strike to the plate may still be the greatest defensive play in Phillies franchise history.
Roberts would intentionally walk the next batter, Jackie Robinson, to load the bases. With the pennant-winning run now in scoring position, Roberts proceeded to get Carl Furillo on a pop fly to first baseman Eddie Waitkus, then retired Gil Hodges on a fly ball to right fielder Del Ennis to wriggle his way out of the jam.
The game moved into the top of the 10th inning, where Dick Sisler would drill a one-out, three-run homer off Don Newcombe to put the Phillies up 4-1. Roberts set the Dodgers down in order in the bottom of the frame, and he was then mobbed at the mound by his ‘Whiz Kids’ teammates in celebration of just the second NL pennant in franchise history.
UTLEY’S DEKE
As stated earlier, this play by Utley took place in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series. The only reason that I rate it equivalent to the Ashburn play is that it actually took place in the Fall Classic, where plays such as this make the difference between winning and losing an actual championship.
The Phillies led the Tampa Bay Rays by three games to one, and were just a win away from only the second world championship in franchise history. This fifth game between the two teams had been suspended by torrential rains that spilled through the Philadelphia area for the last two days.
The visiting Rays were desperate for a win at Citizens Bank Park. It would give them life, sending them back home to Tampa trailing 3-2 in the series, but with the final two games in front of their home fans.

Jason Bartlett was a heads-up shortstop with the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays. His daring spring home in the decisive game of the World Series was overcome by Utley’s Deke. (imagesbyferg on Flickr)
In the top of the 7th inning, Tampa Bay right fielder Rocco Baldelli blasted a one-out solo home run off Ryan Madson to tie the game at 3-3. The following batter, shortstop Jason Bartlett, grounded a single to left off Madson. Bartlett was then moved up to second base on a sacrifice bunt, and he stood there as the go-ahead run with two outs.
Up to the plate stepped Rays’ leadoff man Akinori Iwamura. The 28-year-old second baseman had signed with Tampa Bay a year earlier after nine years playing professionally in his native Japan, and was a dangerous contact hitter. Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel countered by bringing in southpaw reliever J.C. Romero to face the left-handed hitting Iwamura.
Romero got in front with a strike. But on the second pitch, Iwamura connected with a breaking ball and grounded it back through the middle. Bartlett had a good lead and took off running. Off the bat, and even as it rushed towards center field, the ball looked like it was a base hit.
Utley was playing Iwamura in the hole, shaded towards first base, and was roughly twenty feet from the ball as it rolled through the infield. But the Phillies then 29-year-old, six-year veteran second baseman bolted smoothly and confidently to his right. He backhanded the ball, and in one motion made a jump-throw in an attempt to get the speedy Iwamura at first.
And then he didn’t. In a play that epitomized Utley’s uncommon baseball instincts, the Phillies second baseman never threw the ball to first. As he cross behind shortstop Jimmy Rollins and the second base bag towards the left field side of the diamond, Utley realized he had no play on Iwamura.
But then he spotted Bartlett breaking for home. In one motion, Utley deked a throw to first, turned on a hop, and fired a one-hopper that was a bit up and behind the third base line to catcher Carlos Ruiz.
The Phillies catcher fielded the ball and dove for Bartlett, who had taken off in a head-first slide attempt to the front of the plate. “Chooch” applied the diving tag to Bartlett’s outstretched shoulder, and umpire Jeff Kellogg stutter-stepped around the pair to pump his fist in the “out” call as the home fans at Citizens Bank Park exploded.
The play has become known by various names to Phillies fans over the years, most frequently as “Utley’s Deke”, even though it has to be pointed out that the fantastic play by Ruiz on the back end is often over-looked.
In the bottom of the inning, Pat Burrell would lead off with a booming double high off the center field wall in what would be his final plate appearance in a Phillies uniform. Two batters later, Pedro Feliz singled home pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett to put the Phillies in front by 4-3. In the 9th, closer Brad Lidge would strikeout Eric Hinske to end it, sinking to his knees where Ruiz, Utley, and their teammates would pile up as World Series champions.
As the Phillies remember and celebrate the many great moments of the brilliant 13 seasons spent by Chase Utley in a Phillies uniform, “Utley’s Deke” is sure to be front-and-center. It is my personal favorite play by “The Man”, and remains one of the two greatest defensive plays in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies franchise.

A look at the 10 dramatic Philadelphia Phillies postseason extra-innings games

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Maddox was in the middle of the action during  the decisive1980 NLCS Game Five

The Los Angeles Dodgers season was on the brink as Game 3 of the 2018 World Series staggered into the bottom of the 18th inning at Dodgers Stadium. The Boston Red Sox had a 2-0 lead and would take a nearly insurmountable 3-0 stranglehold on the series with a victory.

The Dodgers were rescued when Max Muncy lofted a lead-off, walk-off, opposite-field home run to give Los Angeles a 3-2 win, pulling them back from the precipice and cutting Boston’s lead in the Fall Classic to a 2-1 margin.
In the 136-year history of the Philadelphia Phillies franchise the club has reached postseason play on 13 occasions. They have been involved in 103 games across 22 different series during those playoff appearances.
Just ten of those games reached extra-innings. The Phillies have an even 5-5 split result. While none lasted nearly as long as last night’s marathon, each held its own drama and importance, and revealed its own heroes and scapegoats.
Let’s take a quick look back at each of those five Philadelphia Phillies extra-inning postseason victories and defeats.

1950 WORLD SERIES – GAME TWO

The Phillies were swept by the powerful New York Yankees in four straight games in this Fall Classic. But the young ‘Whiz Kids’ didn’t go down without a fight. They battled the Bronx Bombers evenly during the first three games, losing each by a single run.
After the Yankees had taken the opener by a 1-0 score, Game 2 of the 1950 World Series would again be held at what was still in those days known as Shibe Park. The Yanks went up early when Gene Woodling‘s ground single off Robin Roberts scored Jerry Coleman in the top of the second inning.
Mike Goliat left off the home 5th with a single off Yankees pitcher Allie Reynolds. He rolled around to third base on a one-out base hit by Eddie Waitkus, and then raced home with the tying run on a sac fly to left from Richie Ashburn.
Roberts and Reynolds would battle into the 10th inning, both pitchers going the distance in what is a complete antithesis to today’s game. In the top of the 10th, Joe DiMaggio crushed a lead-off home run out deep to left field for what would prove to be the game-winner.

1978 NLCS – GAME FOUR

The Phillies had tied the franchise record by winning 101 regular season games for a second straight season. And for a second straight year they would meet the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.
The Dodgers had taken the series the previous year by breaking the hearts of Phillies fans on what has become known as ‘Black Friday’ in team lore. Now a year later, LA appeared on the verge of doing it again, taking the first two games.
The Phillies fought back to win Game 3 on the road. And now Game 4 of the 1978 NLCS went to extra-innings with the Phillies looking to tie it up, and the Dodgers looking to advance to a second-straight World Series.
Trailing 3-2 with two outs in the top of the 7th, Bake McBride had blasted a home run off Rick Rhoden to tie it up and force extras. In the bottom of the 10th, Tug McGraw retired the first to Dodger batters, but then walked Ron Cey.
The next batter, Dusty Baker, reached on an extremely rare error by Phillies center fielder Garry Maddox. Dodgers light-hitting shortstop Bill Russell then looped a first-pitch single cleanly to center, with Cey racing around to score the series-winning run.

1980 NLCS – GAMES TWO thru FIVE

For my money, the 1980 National League Championship Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros remains the greatest NLCS in baseball history. After the Phillies won the opener 3-1, each of the final four games went to extra-innings.
In Game 2 of the 1980 NLCS at Veteran’s Stadium, Maddox’ single scored Lonnie Smith in the bottom of the 8th inning to send it to extras. The Phillies then had the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the 9th, but the Astros Frank LaCorte wriggled out of the jam. Houston then scored four times in the top of the 10th and evened the series with a 7-4 victory.
In Game 3 of the 1980 NLCS at the Astrodome in Houston, Larry Christenson of the Phillies and Joe Niekro of the Astros dueled through shutout starts. In fact, Niekro lasted 10 innings. Joe Morgan led off the bottom of the 11th with a triple off McGraw.
After Phillies skipper Dallas Green ordered two intentional walks to load the bases, Denny Walling lifted a sac fly to score the game’s only run. The walkoff victory gave the host Astros a 2-1 lead and put them within one game of the first World Series appearance in franchise history. This remains the longest postseason game by innings in Phillies history.
Game 4 of the 1980 NLCS saw the Phillies trailing 2-0 with their season on the brink into the top of the 8th inning. But Verne Ruhle surrendered four straight singles to start the frame, and then a Manny Trillo double scored Pete Rose with the go-ahead run.
Houston battled back to tie it in the home 9th inning. Then in the top of the 10th, back-to-back two-out RBI doubles from Greg Luzinski and Trillo gave the Phillies a 5-3 win, tying the series at two games apiece and setting up the dramatic finale.
Game 5 of the 1980 NLCS is perhaps the most dramatic postseason game in Phillies history. It easily includes their greatest playoff comeback. For a second straight game, the Phillies season appeared to be ending as the game entered the top of the 8th inning, but this time it looked even more bleak.
Entering that top of the 8th, the Astros lead 5-2. Not only that, they had future Hall of Fame ace Nolan Ryan on the mound. But the Phillies somehow scratched out a pair of runs without hitting a ball out of the infield. Then huge hit from Del Unser tied it, and Trillo ripped a triple to left to put the Phillies incredibly ahead by 7-5.
This dramatic game and series were both far from over. Houston rallied back to score twice in the bottom of the 8th off McGraw to again tie it up, and the teams rolled into extra innings for a fourth straight game.
In the top of the 10th, Unser doubled with one out. Then with two outs, Maddox dropped an RBI hit to center field. Usually a starting pitcher, Dick Ruthven retired Houston in order for a second straight inning to finish it off and send the Phillies on to the World Series.

1980 WORLD SERIES – GAME THREE

The Phillies followed up that dramatic series with Houston by rallying for a pair of victories at The Vet in the World Series against the Kansas City Royals. As the Fall Classic moved out to Royals Stadium for the first time ever, George Brett and the home squad were desperate for a victory.
Trailing 3-2 into the top of the 8th in Game 3 of the 1980 World Series, the Phillies once again showed their late-inning comeback resilience when Rose laced a two-out single to score Larry Bowa with the tying run.
The teams moved to the bottom of the 10th, and McGraw allowed the first two runners to reach base. He then battled back to retire the next two hitters, but following a steal and intentional walk, Willie Aikens base hit scored Willie Wilson with the walkoff game-winner.
The Royals would tie the series the next day, but the Phillies would ultimately capture their first-ever World Series crown in six games.

1981 NLDS – GAME FOUR

During a time when there was no such thing as a ‘Division Series’, a lengthy mid-season player’s strike resulted in Major League Baseball deciding to work under a split-season format with two half-seasons separated by the strike date.
The Phillies had the best record in the NL East at that point and were declared first-half division champs. The Montreal Expos took the second-half, and so the two teams would meet in a National League Division Series. The Dodgers and Astros were meeting in another such series, with the two winners slated for the NLCS.
The Expos shut the Phillies down in the first two games at Montreal, taking both by 3-1 scores. The Phillies offense finally awoke for a big 6-2 win in Game 3 back at Veteran’s Stadium. The Phillies needed to win to tie it up, while the Expos were looking to advance into the NLCS against the Dodgers.
The Phillies rushed to an early 4-0 lead in Game 4 of the 1981 NLDS, but Montreal scored in each inning from the 4th through the 7th, and the two teams battled into extra-innings tied at 5-5.
In the bottom of the 10th, Green sent young George Vukovich up to lead-off as a pinch-hitter for McGraw. Vukovich wasted no time becoming a postseason hero, ripping a walk-off homer over the right field wall. The Phillies had tied the series at 2-2, but Montreal would win it the following day when Steve Rogers out-dueled Steve Carlton.

1993 NLCS – GAMES ONE & FIVE

The 1993 ‘Macho Row’ squad went worst-to-first to win the NL East crown in an almost wire-to-wire performance that remains the single most fun Phillies season that I have witnessed in my 48 years following the team.
Waiting for them in the NLCS were the Atlanta Braves, who were then in the NL West Division. Atlanta had won 104 games that year and were seen by most as one of baseball’s up-and-coming teams. Despite winning their division, the Phillies were seen by many as a flaky fluke.
The Phillies sent a message in Game 1 of the 1993 NLCS at Veteran’s Stadium that they were no pushovers. After the Braves tied it by scoring an unearned run off Mitch Williams in the top of the 9th, the Phillies walked off to victory in the bottom of the 10th of the opener.
With one out in that 10th, John Kruk drilled a line drive double to right field off Greg McMichael. Next up was Kim Batiste, who had entered the game as a late defensive replacement for Dave Hollins at third base. Batiste ripped a two-strike, walk-off hit down the left field line to score Kruk with the game winner.
In Game 5 of the 1993 NLCS with the two teams tied at 2-2 in the series, the pivotal game entered extra-innings with someone looking to take the series lead.
With one out in the top of the 10th, Lenny Dykstra stepped in against Braves fireballer Mark Wohlers. On a 3-2 pitch, ‘The Dude’ blasted a go-ahead solo home run to put the Phillies on top. Larry Andersen came on to set Atlanta down in the bottom, and the Phillies had a 3-2 series lead headed back to The Vet. They would win the NL Pennant in the next game.
That blast from Dykstra highlighted what would prove to be the last Phillies extra-innings postseason game to this point. Despite reaching the playoffs in ever year from 2007 through 2011 and playing in more games during that stretch than all previous playoffs combined, the Phillies would not need extra frames again.
Losing the first four times, the Phillies have battled back to even their all-time franchise record at 5-5 in extra-innings playoff contests. When will we see the club back in the postseason? Hopefully it’s only a matter of time before we see bonus Phillies playoff baseball for the first time at Citizens Bank Park.

Remembering Eric Bruntlett, unsung hero of the 2008 World Series champion Phillies

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Bruntlett dashes home as the winning run in Game 3 of the 1980 World Series

It seems somewhat hard to believe, but it has been a full decade now since the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in five games to capture the 2008 World Series championship.

There were many popular, homegrown heroes on that Phillies ball club. The names and faces jump immediately to mind for every fan who was around to enjoy that incredible team: Jimmy RollinsRyan HowardChase UtleyCole HamelsBrett MyersRyan MadsonCarlos Ruiz.
But even with all of those great players, the Phillies don’t win the World Series that year without the contributions of those brought in from the outside. Many of those acquired from other organizations became extremely popular and are easily recalled by fans as well: Jamie MoyerJayson WerthShane Victorino, and Brad Lidge would quickly come to mind.
But there were lesser contributors, players who didn’t get on the field or up to bat as often but who played a pivotal role in much of the drama that unfolded during that season and in that Fall Classic. One such contributor was utility player Eric Bruntlett.

Born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, Bruntlett played shortstop at Stanford University. He was chosen in the ninth round of the 2000 MLB Amateur Draft by the Houston Astros as the 277th player taken overall that year.
He rose quickly through Houston’s minor league system, reaching Triple-A by the following summer. In late June of 2003, Bruntlett was called up for the first time and would spend most of the season with the Astros from that point as a pinch-hitter and infield backup.
That would prove to be Bruntlett’s primary big-league role over the entirety of what became a five-year stint with Houston. In each of his first four seasons, the Astros finished in second place in the National League Central Division.
He was part of the close-but-no-cigar Houston teams that tried to win the first world championship in Astros franchise history during that run. The team lost a heart-breaking NLCS in seven games to the Saint Louis Cardinals in 2004, and then were swept by the Chicago White Sox in the 2005 World Series.
On November 7, 2007 newly hired Astros GM Ed Wade, the former Phillies general manager, packaged Bruntlett with Lidge in a trade, sending both to the Phillies. In exchange, Houston received relief pitcher Geoff Geary and a pair of prospects, infielder Mike Costanzo and outfielder Michael Bourn.
It would prove to be a coup for Pat Gillick, who had been hired as the Phillies GM to succeed Wade almost exactly two years to the day earlier. In fact, it would end up as one of the most important deals in Phillies history.
Lidge would go a perfect 41-for-41 in Save situations for the 2008 Phillies, then register another seven without blowing one during the magical postseason run. He would strike out Eric Hinske of Tampa Bay to clinch the World Series, dropping famously to his knees before being engulfed by his teammates.
The contributions of Bruntlett were perhaps not as memorable but remained vital all the same.
During the regular season in 2008, Bruntlett joined infielder Greg Dobbs and outfielder Geoff Jenkins as manager Charlie Manuel‘s most frequently utilized and important bench pieces. His numbers were nothing to write home about, slashing just .217/.297/.297 with a dozen extra-base hits across 238 plate appearances.
However, Bruntlett held down the shortstop position for much of the early portion of the schedule as Rollins recovered from injury. Given a chance to play some in the outfield as the summer wore on, he became so trusted by Manuel that the skipper used Bruntlett as his primary choice to close out games in left field as a defensive sub for Burrell over the final month.
That role as defensive sub in left field would continue throughout the 2008 playoffs. Bruntlett did provide a base hit during Game 1 of the NLDS, a 3-1 Phillies victory over Milwaukee. He then went 0-1 in each of the last two games of the NLCS victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It was ten years ago today that Bruntlett provided the first of his two most important direct conributions to that title run. In Game 3 of the World Series at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies and Rays had split the first two games. This game would decide which team took the lead in the series.
The Phillies took a 4-1 lead into the late innings. But the usually reliable ‘Bridge to Lidge’ bullpen blew it, surrendering three runs over the 7th and 8th innings. The Phillies and Rays thus battled into the bottom of the 9th inning tied at 4-4 in this pivotal contest.

Bruntlett had, typically by that point, replaced Burrell in left field for the top of the 7th inning. He would now get his first appearance at the plate to lead off the bottom of the 9th inning.

Working the count to 2-1 against Rays reliever J.P. Howell, Bruntlett was hit by a pitch. Taking his place at first base, he was the winning run if the Phillies could get him around.
Rays manager Joe Maddon made another pitching change, bringing on Aussie native Grant Balfour to face Victorino. On his second pitch, Balfour uncorked a wild one. Bruntlett took off immediately, and as the ball got behind Rays catcher Dioner Navarro, he bolted all the way around to third base.
As the Citizens Bank Park crowd roared, Bruntlett now stood just 90 feet away as the winning run at third base with nobody out. Resorting to his last-gasp strategy in such situations, Maddon had Balfour intentionally walk both ‘The Flyin’ Hawaiian’ and Werth to load the bases.
Bases loaded with Phillies. Nobody out. Rays players and fans praying for a ground ball that their club could turn into a force-out at home plate, maybe even then into a double play. Phillies fans hoping for a base hit, a deep fly ball, anything to get that winning run home.
Up to the plate stepped the hugely popular Ruiz. As the crowd roared, waving white rally towels in the air above their heads in unison, ‘Chooch’ battled the count to 2-2 against Balfour.
What happened next seemed in the first instant to be exactly what Tampa Bay wanted. Ruiz topped a slow-roller towards third base. If a Rays fielder got it and threw home, they could force out the runner, and maybe even have time to throw the slow-footed Ruiz out at first base for that double play.
However, the ball bounced much more slowly than anyone at first realized it would. Third baseman Evan Longoria charged towards it, bare-handing the ball and firing it home. Bruntlett had taken off as soon as the ball left the bat and was racing towards home.
As Longoria’s hurried throw blew high past Navarro, Bruntlett slid in safely with the winning run. The Phillies had the 5-4 victory and the lead in the World Series. Teammates mobbed both he and Ruiz, and the Phillies were on their way to the first championship for the franchise in nearly three decades.

It wouldn’t be Bruntlett’s last big moment in that Fall Classic. In fact, in the clinching Game 5, it would be Bruntlett who would score the World Series-winning run.
Burrell led off the bottom of the 7th inning of that game with a booming double high off the center field wall in what would prove to be his final appearance in a Phillies uniform. Manuel then sent Bruntlett in to run for Burrell.
The pinch-runner moved up to third base on a ground out, then scored when Pedro Feliz delivered a line-drive base hit up the middle. That run gave the Phillies a 4-3 lead, and Bruntlett was in left field as Lidge closed things out two innings later.

Bruntlett returned to the Phillies for the 2009 season, which would prove to be his swan song in Major League Baseball. He tried to catch on with the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees, playing with the Triple-A affiliates for both clubs during the 2010 season, but was unable to get back to the bigs. After that season he decided to hang up his cleats and become a stay-at-home dad.
Before leaving Philadelphia and Major League Baseball, Bruntlett would have one more memorable moment in the sun. In August 2009 he became just the second player in MLB history to record a game-ending unassisted triple play.
Trailing by 9-7 but with runners at first and second and nobody out at Citi Field the host New York Mets were trying to tie and possibly even rally for a comeback victory over the Phillies.
As the Mets tried a hit-and-run, Bruntlett snared a line drive off the bat of future popular Phillies outfielder Jeff Francoeur for the first out. He then stepped on second base to force out Luis Castillo, and in the same moment tagged out Daniel Murphy running from first.
Bruntlett returned to South Philly this summer, taking part in the festivities as the Phillies honored the 2008 World Series champions on the 10th anniversary of their glorious achievement.
This was just the first of these types of reunions sure to take place in the coming years and decades, so fans of the team should have many more opportunities to thank him and his teammates for those great memories.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as “2008 Phillies Flashback: Eric Bruntlett, unsung hero