KANSAS CITY -- Discussion of great World Series games almost invariably and quite naturally revolves around the clinchers, because the ring is the thing that matters most. But as evidenced again late Tuesday and early Wednesday, when the Royals and Mets took the phrase "evenly matched" to another level, there's certainly something to be said for a fascinating first Fall Classic impression.
The Royals won Game 1 by a 5-4 count in the 14th inning, a near-record five hours and nine minutes after it began. And that got us thinking about other Game 1s to remember.
10. 1924: Giants 4, Senators 3 (12 innings)
This was the first World Series start for a 36-year-old Walter Johnson, and he was afforded the opportunity to take it into extras when the Senators tied it at 2 in the bottom of the ninth on Roger Peckinpaugh's RBI double.
But after working a scoreless 10th and 11th, Johnson let the Giants load the bases on two walks and a single in the 12th. Ross Young's single and High Pockets Kelly's sacrifice fly gave the Giants a 4-2 lead, and Art Nehf -- who is nowhere near as well known as Johnson but outdueled him here -- made it stand. The Senators scored a run in the 12th and had the tying run at third with two out, but Nehf got Goose Goslin to ground out to end the game.
The Senators, though, would have the last laugh, winning this Series in seven.
9. 1918: Red Sox 1, Cubs 0
In the first game of what would turn out to be their last World Series victory until 2004, the Red Sox got a brilliant start from who else but Babe Ruth. He went the distance, allowing just six hits with a walk and four strikeouts. And though Cubs starter Hippo Vaughn was almost equally good in this game at old Comiskey Park, one bad fourth-inning sequence -- capped by Stuffy McInnis' RBI single -- came back to bite him.
The Sox won this Series in six. But you might have heard something about them trading Ruth a little more than a year later.
8. 1939: Yankees 2, Reds 1
Cincinnati's Paul Derringer and New York's Red Ruffing had a dandy of a duel going as the game entered the ninth. Ruffing retired the side in order in the top of the inning, and then Derringer finally blinked. Charlie Keller's one-out triple put the winning run 90 feet away, and, after an intentional walk to Joe DiMaggio, catcher Bill Dickey came through with an RBI single to center.
The Yanks would never look back, sweeping the Series in four games.
7. 1958: Braves 4, Yankees 3 (10 innings)
Down 3-2 going into the bottom of the eighth, Milwaukee put the tying run together with an Eddie Mathews walk, a Hank Aaron double and a Wes Covington sacrifice fly. Warren Spahn pitched a perfect ninth and worked around trouble in the 10th to keep it knotted up. And in the bottom of the 10th, Bill Bruton, who had entered the game as a pinch-hitter an inning earlier, came up with runners on first and second and two out. He lined a single to right-center field to score Joe Adcock with the winning run.
Alas, the Braves would go on to lose the Series in seven games.
6. 2000: Yankees 4, Mets 3 (12 innings)
An absurdly long Game 1 lost by the Mets? Hmm. You don't say.
The Subway Series certainly didn't start off on the express line. In what was -- until Tuesday/Wednesday -- the longest Game 1 in Series history, the Yankees and Mets went at it for four hours and 51 minutes at Yankee Stadium. The Mets took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth, but the Yanks rallied off Armando Benitez to tie it.
On it went to extras, finally concluding in the 12th, when Jose Vizcaino stepped up against Turk Wendell with two outs and the bases loaded. Vizcaino ripped the game-winning single to left, and the Yanks were officially on their way to their third straight World Series title, this one in five games.
5. 1949: Yankees 1, Dodgers 0
Zeros. Nothing but zeros. For 8 1/2 innings, Don Newcombe and Allie Reynolds traded them, with only 10 men reaching base.
And then -- out of nowhere -- came the third pitch of the bottom of the ninth. Tommy Henrich wouldn't even be able to tell reporters what kind of pitch it was, saying only, "It looked pretty good, so I hit it." Hit it, he did, as Henrich belted the ball to deep right field to make the Yankees the walk-off winners. They'd go on to win it all in five games.
4. 2015: Royals 5, Mets 4 (14 innings) Alcides Escobar led off the game by becoming the first player since Mule Haas to hit an inside-the-park home run in the World Series. There was also a rare, almost Bill Buckner-esque error by Eric Hosmer to give the Mets the lead in the eighth. And let's not forget a clutch-as-can-be Alex Gordon homer off the previously untouchable Jeurys Familia to tie the game in the ninth. Inning after inning, this game brought the thrills, finally concluding with the Royals loading the bases off Bartolo Colon to set up Hosmer's game-ending sacrifice fly.
This was not your average ballgame, folks. It was the eighth walk-off win in Game 1 of a World Series, and it goes on this list as an instant classic.
3. 1977: Yankees 4, Dodgers 3 (12 innings)
This Series would birth the "Mr. October" nickname for Reggie Jackson. But Game 1's hero was Paul Blair -- the guy who replaced Jackson for defensive purposes in the ninth.
The Dodgers tied this game in the ninth to send it to extras, erasing a 3-2 deficit with pinch-hitter Lee Lacy's RBI single that scored Dusty Baker. After the two teams traded zeros in the 10th and 11th, the Yankees got something going against Rick Rhoden in the bottom of the 12th. Willie Randolph led off with a double, and the Dodgers intentionally walked Thurman Munson to get to Blair.
Now, interestingly (and controversially), manager Billy Martin had given Blair the start over Jackson in the decisive Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, and Blair had singled to spark a three-run rally that gave the Yanks the win. In this game, he came through again, but only after Martin twice called upon him to put down a sacrifice bunt. After two failed attempts, Blair was free to swing away, and he punched a single to left to score Randolph and give the Yankees a huge first win en route to their victory in six.
2. 1954: Giants 5, Indians 2 (10 innings)
The Indians had won a then-AL-record 111 games in the regular season, so they were heavily favored to win it all.
Then came "The Catch."
With the scored tied at 2 in the top of the eighth at the Polo Grounds, Larry Doby drew a walk and Al Rosen singled to put runners on first and second. Left-handed reliever Don Liddle was summoned to face the left-handed Vic Wertz, who launched a 3-2 pitch approximately 420 feet to center field. Willie Mays sprinted toward the warning track with his back to the infield to make the epic over-the-shoulder catch before spinning and heaving the ball back to the infield, where Doby was unable to tag up from third. That play changed the whole scope of the Series, and the Indians never recovered.
In the bottom of the 10th, the Giants had two aboard against Bob Lemon, setting up Dusty Rhodes' homer that barely cleared the 258-foot right-field fence to give the Giants the first win in what would turn out to be a stunning sweep of the mighty Tribe.
1. 1988: Dodgers 5, Athletics 4
Much like those '54 Giants, the Dodgers entered this game, and Series, as heavy underdogs, and things almost immediately looked grim for them when Jose Canseco hit a second-inning grand slam that not only gave the A's a 4-2 lead but struck the center-field camera.
But Mike Scioscia would drive in an important run in the sixth. The A's handed Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley a 4-3 lead going into the ninth, and, with two quick outs, he was on pace to preserve it. Little did anyone know, however, that Kirk Gibson, with two bad legs, was taking hacks off a tee in the cage area behind the Dodgers' dugout, grunting with every swing. And after Mike Davis drew a two-out walk, Tommy Lasorda stunningly summoned Gibson to pinch-hit. Despite a couple weak swings for foul balls, Gibson was able to work the count full. And just as advance scout Mel Didier had told him would be the case in a 3-2 count, Eckersley came at him with a backdoor slider.
With a flat-footed swing, Gibson, in his lone at-bat of the Series, hit one of the most stirring home runs in World Series history. The Dodgers were on their way to a five-game upset of the mighty A's.