Game 7s deliver ecstasy, heartbreak in ultimate drama
Five of the best World Series clinchers offer lasting memories
By Mark Newman and Doug Miller
The Cleveland Cavaliers finished off the 2016 season in the NBA in grand, historic fashion. They came back from a 3-to-1 deficit to win the next two and then beat the Golden State Warriors on the road Sunday to win, 93-89, and claim their city's first major sports championship since December 1964.
But LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and the rest of the Cavs team didn't just become the top of the heap in hoops. They also reminded everyone in the baseball world of how dramatic, all-encompassing and thrilling a Game 7 for a sport's ultimate crown can be.
We don't see it every year in Major League Baseball. Not even close. But when we do, it's usually spectacular. So congratulations, Cleveland, and thanks for giving us a seventh game of our own to look forward to once late October rolls around.
"For a baseball fan, a Game 7 of the World Series is as good as it gets," San Francisco Giants broadcaster Jon Miller said. "That's your Super Bowl, because the Super Bowl basically is a Game 7 -- that's how they play it: One game for the whole season. The difference in baseball is, you don't just put your two teams out there; the story has been building and it takes a lot of twists and turns to get to a Game 7."
Game 7 is Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson on short rest. It is Ralph Terry as both hero and goat. It is long-awaited breakthroughs, like Dem Bums of Brooklyn throwing off the Yankees' albatross in '55.
Here's a look back at five of the best World Series seventh games:
Oct. 29, 2014: Giants 3, Royals 2. Ninety feet away. That's where Royals outfielder Alex Gordon was at third base as the tying run for Kansas City with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning at Kauffman Stadium in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series. And that's where he stayed. It was close, but when Salvador Perez popped out in foul territory against Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco had capped off an epic seven-game Fall Classic by winning its third title in five years.
Bumgarner was the biggest story of the Series. The left-hander started and won Games 1 and 5 and entered Game 7 in relief, pitching the last five innings of shutout ball on two hits. His World Series ERA of 0.43 earned him the MVP award unanimously and finally squelched an inspiring run by the upstart Royals, who would go on to take their first title in 30 years the following season against the Mets.
Nov. 4, 2001: D-backs 3, Yankees 2. It is hard to top because of the surrounding circumstances as well as the drama that unfolded that night. The Yankees, reviled by so many fans around the Majors for their payroll and dominance, were going after a fourth straight title and now public sentiment was clearly on their side in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
With one out in the ninth and runners at first and second, Tony Womack doubled to right off the legendary Mariano Rivera, scoring pinch-runner Midre Cummings to tie the score at 2 and moving Jay Bell to third. Then Rivera hit Craig Counsell with a pitch, loading the bases. On an 0-1 pitch, Luis Gonzalez then wrote his name in D-backs history by blooping the Series-winning single to center.
Oct. 27, 1991: Twins 1, Braves 0 (10 innings). There have been some great World Series Game 7 pitching duels over the years, and the one that resonates most today featured Jack Morris on the mound for Minnesota and John Smoltz for Atlanta.
With one out in the bottom of the eighth, both starters were pitching in a scoreless game. Braves manager Bobby Cox summoned Mike Stanton to replace Smoltz, and after intentionally walking Kirby Puckett, the Braves got a double play to end the inning.
Morris, meanwhile, was getting ever stronger. He retired the side in order in the top of the 10th. In the bottom of the inning, Braves reliever Alejandro Pena surrendered a leadoff double to Dan Gladden, and a sac bunt by Chuck Knoblauch moved Gladden to third. Cox then had Pena intentionally walk Puckett and Kent Hrbek to load the bases. That brought up Gene Larkin, whose walk-off single on the first pitch scored Gladden and gave the Twins their second World Series title in five seasons.
Oct. 16, 1962: Yankees 1, Giants 0. They called it the Columbus Day Storm of '62 or the "Big Blow." It was a Pacific Northwest windstorm that struck on Oct. 12 and Miller recalls how it continued to have an effect not only on the Bay Area but also on that World Series, which spanned a then-record 13 days.
"The Series got stopped for three days," he said. "It was an all-time historic storm, with hurricane-force winds up in the High Sierra that knocked over 1,000-year-old redwoods. That's why the pitchers who actually ended up pitching in that Game 7 were able to pitch. The guys who pitched Game 5 pitched Game 7."
Indeed, the same Ralph Terry who had surrendered the Maz homer two years earlier was the winning pitcher of Game 7 for the Yankees in 1962. He had been the winning pitcher in Game 5 at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 10, and here he was pitching five days later in Game 7.
Before McCovey ripped his liner to Bobby Richardson, Willie Mays had doubled into the right-field corner and Matty Alou was the tying run but got stopped at third. "Should Matty Alou have scored the tying run?" would become a hotly debated question in the Bay Area. The field was still wet, and as Miller recalls, "Roger Maris picked up a wet baseball and made a perfect, quick relay to Richardson, the relay man, who then fired it home. Most of the people who see the whole picture and who were there said it really looked like Matty would have been out by several feet. So Maris might have saved that World Series for the Yankees."
Orlando Cepeda says he was "ready" but that Terry feared him and preferred to face McCovey.
"I was hoping that they would walk McCovey," Cepeda said. "When he hit that ball, I was worried about telling Mays to slide into home plate. Then when I looked there, I saw Richardson with his glove, the ball in his glove, it shocked me. I thought it was going to be a base hit and [I thought] we won the World Series."
Instead, a "Peanuts" comic strip that following winter showed Charlie Brown and Linus sitting dejectedly, with Charlie Brown screaming in the final panel: "Why couldn't McCovey have hit the ball just three feet higher?"
Oct. 13, 1960: Pirates 10, Yankees 9. This Fall Classic is remembered for Bill Mazeroski hitting a walk-off homer -- and for the dominant club not winning: The Yankees outscored the Pirates, 55-27, in the Series.
In Game 7, New York took a 7-4 lead into the bottom of the eighth, the Pirates scored five, and then Mickey Mantle drove in a run and scored another to tie it in the top of the ninth. Terry threw a 1-0 pitch to the leadoff man in the bottom of the inning, and it was belted just over the ivy wall at Forbes Field near the 406 marker. Yogi Berra, playing left field, waited for a carom but saw only history. Mantle cried in the clubhouse.
"When I hit second base, I don't think I touched the ground until I got home," Mazeroski said. "And the only thing going through my mind was, 'We beat 'em. We beat 'em. We beat the great Yankees. We beat 'em.'"