Most. Insane. Game. Ever. That was all I could think during and after Game 5 of the World Series, an incredible 13-12 win for the Houston Astros over the Los Angeles Dodgers in extra innings. The momentum swings by themselves were amazing enough. Then you add in just how unlikely it was that this would happen in a game started by Dallas Keuchel and Clayton Kershaw and the recipe for history is there.
Last year, after the Chicago Cubs’ epic Game 7 survival win over the Cleveland Indians, I wrote a post measuring it against other great games in baseball history. For the sake of brevity, I restricted the comparison to other Game 7s. As great as Sunday night in Houston was, I’m going to stand by that restriction for reasons I hope are obvious. The greatness of any game relies on the context and the tension inherit within it. Game 7 provides that tension like no other.
But Game 5 is pretty important itself, especially in a series that’s tied 2-2, so I don’t want to give this most recent game short shrift. Using 1976 as my starting point (a period where I can remember each game I’m talking about), here are a list of other Game 5s that at least qualify as noteworthy. Let’s see how the 2017 Astros-Dodgers classic compares….
1980: Phillies 4 Royals 3—Philadelphia closer Tug McGraw walked the bases loaded in the ninth inning. He ran the count full on pinch-hitter Jose Cardenal. McGraw struck out Cardenal, who swung and missed at a pitch that appeared to be a little high and inside and would have scored the tying run had he let it go.
1981: Dodgers 2 Yankees 1—A great pitchers’ duel between Jerry Reuss and Ron Guidry. The Dodgers trailed 1-0 in the seventh when Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager hit back-to-back home runs.
1982: Brewers 6 Cardinals 4—Milwaukee lefty Mike Caldwell scattered 14 hits over 8 1/3 innings and took a 6-2 lead into the ninth. St. Louis scored twice and had the tying runs on base when Gene Tenance lined out to left to end it.
1986: Red Sox 4 Mets 2—The game itself was decent. The most memorable moment was the boisterous razzing the Fenway Faithful gave Darryl Strawberry at the end ,with the loud “Darryl” chants. Strawberry got his revenge with a home run that sealed Game 7.
1987: Cardinals 4 Twins 2—In a series where the home team won every game, St. Louis completed a three-game sweep of the middle games. But like the ‘82 Brewers and ‘86 Red Sox, this moment in front of their home fans, was the last win of the year.
1996: Yankees 1 Braves 0—One of the great all-time pitchers’ duels between a pair of gamers, Andy Pettite and current Fox Sports analyst John Smoltz. New York’s win and eventual championship started the Torre Dynasty.
1997: Marlins 8 Indians 7—Moises Alou drove in four runs from Florida, who led 8-4 in the ninth. Cleveland, playing at home, rallied with three runs and brought Sandy Alomar to the plate as the winning run. He flied out to deep right.
2001: Yankees 3 Diamondbacks 2 (12)--Part of an extraordinary two nights in the Bronx, where the Yankees rallied from two runs down in the ninth each time against Arizona closer Byun-Hung Kim. On this night it was a two-out, two-run homer by Scott Brosius to tie the game. The fact this World Series was in New York in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 only made the context richer.
2003: Marlins 6 Yankees 4—A terrific performance by Marlins starter Brad Penny sets the stage for Josh Beckett go back to New York and clinch the Series in Game 6, as the end of the Torre Dynasty starts to appear close.
2011: Rangers 4 Cardinals 2—Mike Napoli’s two-run double in the bottom of the eighth breaks a tie game. This World Series is remembered for the epic Game 6 won by St. Louis and that’s appropriate. But it was a really good Fall Classic for all of the first six games, before the Cards finally pulled away in Game 7.
2013: Red Sox 3 Cardinals 1—Jon Lester and Adam Wainwright were hooked up in a 1-1 pitchers’ duel into the seventh inning when Boston scored twice to get the big road win.
2014: Giants 5 Royals 0—This was close until San Francisco finally put it away with three runs in the eighth. Madison Bumgarner threw a complete-game four-hitter. It was assumed this essentially wrapped up Bumgarner’s great postseason—until he added to his legend by throwing five shutout innings to clinch Game 7 on the road.
There were a couple other blowout games that I didn’t mention in this list—1991 (Twins-Braves) and 2002 (Giants-Angels) most notably. This is the list of Game 5s that broke a 2-2 series tie and were marked by reasonable levels of tension throughout.
So is 2017 the best? As you can see, it’s hard to argue against it, although I think a couple games involving the Yankees—1996 and 2001 can make a pretty good case. Because of a personal preference for a great pitchers’ duel, I give the Pettite-Smoltz duel of 1996 the nod for top Game 5 of the past forty years.
Then the 2017 game and 2001 games would be on the next group—both in cases where the home city was hit by disaster in the month preceding the World Series. I’d put 1980 next—I can still see, in my mind’s eye, Cardenal swinging at the pitch that was just a bit up and in.
That’s my list. What’s your favorite memory in the historical museum that is World Series Game 5?