The last night of 2011 MLB season was perhaps the most thrilling five hours in the history of professional sports. Consequently, some people may have thought the 2011 MLB Postseason would be a letdown. But not us. We here at Total Pro Sports predicted this year’s playoffs would be thrilling, and so far they have lived up to their potential. Three of the four division series went to 5 games, and there were a couple of great upsets. You just gotta love October baseball.
In honor of this unprecedentedly great stretch of baseball, and in the hopes that there’s more great stuff to come, how about a look at the 13 greatest postseason upsets in baseball history?
13. Mets over Orioles (1969 WS)
Yes, they call the 1969 Mets the “Miracle Mets,” or, alternately, the “Amazin’ Mets.” And their victory in 1969 over the excellent Baltimore Orioles was an upset, given that the O’s had won 9 more regular season games (109 versus 100) than the Mets. But 100 wins aint nothin. So it’s hard to put this MLB postseason upset any higher than #13. But you’ll just have to keep reading to see whether you agree.
12. Cardinals over Phillies (2011 NLDS)
In terms of the difference between the teams in regular season victories (Philly had 102, St. Louis had 90), this was a pretty big upset. When you add the fact that the Phillies had (arguably) the best starting pitching rotation in the history of baseball, this was a huge upset. So why, then, is this upset not higher on the list? Two reasons: it’s really recent, and it was only a 5-game series. If they had to play two more games (like every other series on the list), the Cardinals probably don’t win. (Plus, they had the Busch Stadium rally squirrel on on their side.)
11. Pirates over Yankees (1960 WS)
The win differential between these two teams wasn’t that great. The Yank’s won 97; the Pirates won 95. But this was the pre-division era, meaning the top teams from each league just proceeded automatically to the WS without an addition playoff round. Also, this was (obviously) pre-interleague play, and pre-free agency. So 95 wins in one league wasn’t necessarily the same as 95 wins in the other league.
This all just a long-winded way of saying no one gave the Pirates a chance in hell of winning the World Series against the Yankees in 1960. And, if you looked at the run totals for the two teams at the end of the 7 games played, you’d have thought the Yankees won. (It was 55-27.) Nevertheless, the Bucs won game 7 on Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th.
10. Marlins over Braves (1997 NLCS)
The Marlins won a respectable 92 games in 1997 to clinch the NL Wild Card. But the Braves won 101 games, and were in the midst of their dominant run of 14 straight division titles. And they had Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz in their prime. And David Justice in his prime. And Fred McGriff in his prime. And…you get the idea. Yet somehow, as we all know, the Marlins beat the mighty Braves and went on to win the World Series.
9. Royals over Cardinals (1985 WS)
This upset makes the list for two reasons. One: the Cardinals won 101 games, played great defense, and could run like the wind. The Royals had George Brett, and that was about it. (That’s an oversimplification, but just go with it.)
Two: the Cardinals were up 3-2 in the series, and 1-0 heading into the bottom of the 9th. Everything was going just like it was supposed to. Then, on a routine ground ball to Cardinals first baseman Jack Clark, an umpire who shall remain nameless (Don Denkinger) called runner Jorge Orta safe at first when everyone else on the planet saw that he was out. Instead of 1 out, nobody on, 2 outs to a World Series victory, it was 1 on, nobody out.
The Royals took advantage, won the game 2-1, and then blew out the Cardinals in Game 7 11-0. (If this were a list of epic comebacks/stunning collapses, this series would obviously be much, much higher.)
8. Marlins over Yankees (2003 WS)
What everyone remembers most about the Marlin’s 2003 championship run is the infamous Steve Bartman incident in the NLCS against the Cubs. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can look it up for yourself.) But their victory in that series wasn’t really an upset. The Cubs won 88 games in 2003, while the Marlins won 91. The Cubs were ahead in the series, but really, they had no business going to the WS. The Marlins were supposed to win on paper, and they did.
But against the 101-win Jeter Dynasty Yankees in the World Series? The Marlins had no chance. Then they won. In six games. (And 7 years later, the Yankees would pay one of the Marlins’ star pitchers from that series a cajillion dollars to totally suck. Sorry, AJ Burnett.)
7. Indians over Orioles (1997 ALCS)
The Indians suddenly got good in the mid-90s after decades (and decades) of futility that made the Major League movies possible. But after back-to-back 100- and 99-win seasons in 1995 and 1996, they stumbled into the 1997 playoffs with just 86 wins. The Orioles, meanwhile—also in the middle of an upturn in fortunes that has since vanished—won 98 games (12 more than the Tribe) to lead all of baseball. Yet the Indians beat the O’s in 6 games, thanks to a number of bizarres plays and insane comebacks.
6. Twins over Cardinals (1987 WS)
No one gave the 1987 Twinkies a chance to win the World Series against the Redbirds. St. Louis won 10 more games than Minnesota (95 to 85) and, besides, Minnesota just wasn’t that good. The wins had a negative run differential during the regular season (meaning they gave up more runs than they scored), and no team had ever won a championship after winning so few games. But the ’87 Twins shocked the baseball world by beating the Cardinals in Game 7 at the Metrodome—the first ever WS in which the home team won every game. (The second time that happened? When the Twins won again in 1991…why did they move out of the Metrodome again?)
5. Dodgers over A’s (1988 WS)
A lot of people would probably list this as the #1 greatest upset in MLB postseason history, but it really doesn’t belong any higher than this. The drama of Kirk Gibson’s famous home run makes the upset seem just a little bigger than it was.
The Dodgers were huge underdogs to the perfect-in-every-way Oakland A’s in 1988. The A’s won 104 games behind the steroid-infused “Bash Brothers” (Canseco and McGwire) and a dynamite pitching staff that included the game’s top closer, Dennis Eckersly. Yes, NL MVP Kirk Gibson of the Dodgers had two bad knees and was hobbling around the whole time, but LA won 94 games and had the best pitcher in baseball in 1988, Orel Hershiser. So while it was shocking when the Dodgers prevailed in just 5 games, it wasn’t quite as shocking as the next four.
4. Yankees over Mariners (2001 ALCS)
You may be of the opinion that it’s impossible for the Yankees to pull off a postseason upset. And in most cases, you would be right. But in 2001, the Seattle Mariners won a MLB record 116 games (21 more than the Bronx Bombers), beating the record set in 1998 by…yep, the Yankees. It was just absolutely ridiculous. Yes, it was the Jeter Dynasty New York Yankees who had won the last 3 World Series. But 116 wins? How could they lose? No other upset on this list had a win differential of even 15 games, let alone 21.
3. Giants over Indians (1954 WS)
The 1954 Cleveland Indians won an AL-record 111 games. They only played 154 games back then, so that was good for a .721 winning percentage. It was, quite simply, one of the most dominant regular seasons in the history of baseball.
The 1954 New York Giants had a nice season themselves, winning 97 games for an excellent .630 winning percentage. But no one gave them a chance in hell against the incredible, history, unstoppable Cleveland Indians.
Then Willie Mays made “The Catch,” and the Giants swept the mighty Indians in four straight games.
If the Giants were not such a good team themselves, this upset would surely be even higher.
In 2006, the Cardinals became the “worst” playoff team in the history of Major League Baseball in terms of regular season wins, winning the feeble NL Central with an insanely mediocre 83 victories. There were 12 teams with better records than the Cardinals in 2006, and 5 of those teams didn’t make the playoffs. The Mets, on the other hand, were practically an all-star team who went 97-65 and tied that other team from New York for the best record in baseball.
The Cardinals’ chances of beating the Mets in the NLCS were approximately 0.001%. But they somehow prevailed in 7 thrilling games. Then they beat the heavily favored Detroit Tigers in the World Series.
1. Reds over A’s (1990 WS)
The Oakland A’s won the World Series in 1989. They overcame the disappointment of the 1988 World Series (see #5) to finally fulfill their destiny and get that monkey off their back. In 1990, the A’s were just as good (winning 103 games), and expected to be even more lethal in the playoffs now that they knew what it was like to go all the way. They were juggernauts. They were an unstoppable freight train. There was no team in baseball who could hit their pitching or beat their sluggers, least of all the 91-win Cincinnati Reds.
Of course, the Reds won the World Series by beating the mighty A’s in four consecutive games.
I guess that’s why they bother playing the series out.