This was supposed to be Opening Week, the time when MLB fans everywhere look forward to making a season’s worth of memories. Since we won’t have games to get excited about for a while, we thought it’d be fun to take a walk down memory lane by reliving some of our personal favorite baseball moments.
In the second of a weeklong series focusing on a different baseball theme each day, we asked our MLB reporters to tell us about the best game they ever saw — with only one rule: They had to be in the park to witness it.
Jump to …
Morris the Magnificent | St. Louis superhero |
Freese didn’t do it alone | Bumgarner’s brilliance |
Bream’s amazing journey | Big Papi to the rescue |
It was worth the wait | No-hit wonder |
Wild ride in Houston | A cruel twist
Tim Kurkjian: Morris ‘was not coming out of that game’
In Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, Jack Morris hurls 10 scoreless innings as the Twins win the title in a 1-0 victory against the Braves.
Game 7, 1991 World Series, Braves vs. Twins at the Metrodome, which was so loud, it was like being strapped to the speakers as Aerosmith sang “Dream On.”
Each team had finished last in its division the previous season, and here they were playing in Game 7 of what had already been a tremendous World Series. After eight innings, it was still scoreless. My colleague from Sports Illustrated, the genius Steve Rushin, was one seat away from me in the auxiliary press box, so I screamed to him (because he couldn’t hear me otherwise): “I can’t write. This is too big for me. I am not worthy.” The Twins won 1-0 in 10 innings on a sacrifice fly by Gene Larkin. Jack Morris went the distance (only Roy Halladay and Mark Mulder have thrown a 1-0, 10-inning shutout since).
Late in the game, Morris was in trouble. Manager Tom Kelly came to take him out. Morris talked him out of it, then miraculously escaped the jam to keep the score tied. “If TK had tried to take Jack out there,” Twins outfielder Randy Bush said, “it would have been the first time in major league history that a manager had ever died on the mound because Jack would have killed him. Jack was not coming out of that game.”
David Schoenfield: David Freese, St. Louis superhero …
I’ve been fortunate enough to cover 10 World Series, including Game 7s in 2001, 2002, 2011, 2014, 2017 and 2019. I’ve seen Roger Clemens throw a bat at Mike Piazza, Derek Jeter become Mr. November, an unbelievable 13-12 game and one that lasted 18 innings. As a Mariners fan, it’s hard not to pick the 1995 AL West tiebreaker game between the M’s and Angels, when Randy Johnson pitched Seattle into the playoffs for the first time.
I can’t believe I’m not picking Game 7 from the 2001 World Series, when Luis Gonzalez’s blooper shocked Mariano Rivera and the Yankees, but I have to go with Game 6 from the 2011 World Series, that wild 10-9 win for the Cardinals over the Rangers in 11 innings that set up St. Louis’ victory in Game 7.
It will forever be the David Freese game in St. Louis — he tied it with a two-out, two-strike, two-run triple in the bottom of the ninth. After both teams scored twice in the 10th inning, Freese hit the walk-off home run in the 11th. The game featured seven lead changes, 42 players, six home runs and a gut-wrenching loss for a franchise looking to win its first World Series.
Alden Gonzalez: … and Lance Berkman, Freese’s Robin
I remember Game 6 of the 2011 World Series in vivid detail. And the person I most remember is actually Lance Berkman, who was batting two spots in front of the eventual hero, David Freese, that night. In the bottom of the ninth, with the St. Louis Cardinals down by two, Berkman worked a walk and scored the tying run on Freese’s triple. In the bottom of the 10th, with the Cardinals down a run and their season hanging on one final out, Berkman lined a two-strike single to center field, tying the game once again. We were in a suite that was serving as an auxiliary press box down the right-field line, and I’ll never forget the stunned silence that fell upon that room — like five separate times!
Freese, who famously ended Game 6 with a walk-off home run in the 11th, told me about the way he experienced that night a couple of years later. He was crashing in the living room of a college friend’s apartment in Brentwood, Missouri, at the time. When he returned from the game, all of his friends were partying. After they left, he still couldn’t sleep. He stayed up all night, grabbed his usual breakfast burrito at McDonald’s the following morning, drove to the ballpark shortly thereafter, then helped the Cardinals win Game 7.
Buster Olney: Bumgarner’s brilliance
After throwing nine scoreless innings in Game 5, Madison Bumgarner comes back in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series to throw five more scoreless frames and seal another Giants title.
Even before Madison Bumgarner completed a shutout in Game 5 of the 2014 World Series, speculation began about when Bumgarner might serve as a reliever in either Game 6 or Game 7. Not if he would pitch, but when Giants manager Bruce Bochy would call on him — a decision fully shaped when the Royals blew out San Francisco 10-0 in Game 6, forcing a winner-take-all showdown for the next night.
When the Giants’ clubhouse opened after the wipeout, Bumgarner was in the process of getting dressed — and was surprised, and a little grumpy, when reporters surrounded him. After all, he wasn’t starting in Game 7 and didn’t expect to get questioned. But the curiosity was a reflection of Bumgarner’s preeminence that fall.
The Giants were the fifth seed in the NL as the postseason began, but Bumgarner shut out the Pirates in the wild-card game, and continued to carry the team; he would allow only six runs in seven games that fall. Bochy kept giving him the ball and Bumgarner kept throwing up zeros, so when he began to warm up in the midst of Game 7, with the Giants leading, it felt like Superman jumping into a phone booth.
As one scout said afterward, Bumgarner simply refused to be beaten. He threw five scoreless innings that night, and when Bochy hugged him afterward, the left-hander finally acknowledged that yes, he was tired. My favorite stat from that postseason: Bumgarner threw 52⅔ innings in the playoffs and World Series, more than twice as many as any other pitcher.
Tim Keown: Sid Bream’s amazing journey
In Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS, Francisco Cabrera singles in the bottom of the ninth and Sid Bream slides to beat the throw to propel Atlanta past Pittsburgh.
I was tempted to pick The Brian Johnson Game — a wild Dodgers-Giants game from late in the 1997 season, a sprawling, goofy, borderline stupid game that ended with a walk-off homer by Johnson an inning after Rod Beck got out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out mess by inducing an inning-ending double play from Eddie Murray.
Instead, in a nod to historical import, I’ll go with Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series — The Francisco Cabrera Game. The Braves went to the World Series because Cabrera, who had just 12 plate appearances in 1992 and finished his career with fewer than 400, lined a pinch-hit single between short and third off Stan Belinda with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth and the Pirates leading 2-1. Sid Bream, representing the winning run, broke from second, his body moving like a creaky erector set, and Barry Bonds charged from left field, scooped the ball near his right heel and threw toward the plate with his body angling toward center. The throw was weak and toward the mound, a one-hopper that catcher Mike LaValliere backhanded before diving toward the plate.
From the time LaValliere caught the ball to the time Bream’s left foot slid across home, time stopped. Bream was safe by the length of a spike, and afterward he lay on the plate and dropped his head on his crossed arms, telling us what we suspected: The trip from second to home was all he had in him, and if the bases were somehow 91 feet apart instead of 90, Francisco Cabrera would have gone down in history as just another guy with fewer than 400 plate appearances.
Joon Lee: Big Papi to the rescue
In Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS, David Ortiz ties the game with a grand slam that sends Torii Hunter over the wall.
The favorite baseball moment I’ve ever seen comes a bit two-fold. I was at Game 2 of the 2013 American League Championship Series when David Ortiz hit an eighth-inning grand slam off Detroit’s Joaquin Benoit to tie the game and eventually lead Boston to the World Series. I was sitting three rows from the field (a family friend had gotten tickets) right by the on-deck circle (Miguel Cabrera and a fan went back and forth all night when he was warming up). I also had been at the game preceded by the “This is our f—ing city” speech (about which I wrote an oral history), so to see Ortiz step up again for Boston made the two moments feel so connected.
The reaction to the Ortiz home run was the loudest I’d ever heard Fenway Park, and on a personal note, I was a freshman in college who was being exposed to the real world for the first time and was going through a difficult transition, and I got to see the moment with my dad, who first introduced me to baseball.
Seeing Torii Hunter flip over the wall, one of the biggest moments of the Red Sox carrying the city of Boston on their backs after the Boston Marathon bombings, was one of the most special things I’ve gotten to witness, so my mind always goes back to that grand slam. Getting to interview Ortiz, my childhood hero, about this years later only made the experience all the more special.
Bradford Doolittle: It was worth the wait
In a thrilling Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, the Cubs outlast the Indians in 10 innings to win their first title in 108 years.
It’s not often in sports that the reality of an event lives up to the anticipation of it. But it does every once in a while, and it’s these scrapbook moments that dominate our personal memories. Game 7 of the 2016 World Series lived up to the anticipation that preceded it and more. I’ve been to big games at which I was a fan of one of the teams, and it’s tough to match an event at which you have a personal stake. I didn’t have any particular personal stake in the Cubs-Indians finale, but I don’t think I’ll ever cover a more intense contest.
What elevates that game above the rest were the sheer stakes at play. A 108-year title drought will do that, but it was also because it was the Cubs, one of the sport’s most popular teams. But then you match them up with the Indians, who deserved the limelight to themselves in the championship drought category. One way or another, we were going to witness a venerable fan base experience a release that had been building for generations.
And then the game itself turned out to be wall-to-wall insanity. Dexter Fowler‘s leadoff homer. Jon Lester‘s back-to-back, run-scoring wild pitches. David Ross’ dinger. Rajai Davis‘ jaw-dropper off Aroldis Chapman, and the tilting energy in the ballpark when it happened. And then, finally, a smiling Kris Bryant throwing out Michael Martinez to end it. Just a pinnacle moment in the history of baseball.
Steve Richards: No-hit wonder
For sheer drama and excruciating excitement, it’s hard to beat the 14-inning, nearly six-hour-long taffy pull that was Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS, the second step in the Red Sox’s historic comeback against the Yankees. But for the full ballgame experience, I can top that.
Every dad who loves baseball envisions the magical day he can take his kid to the ballpark for their first game together. For me and my 5-year-old son, Levi, a budding Red Sox die-hard just like his old man, that came Sept. 1, 2007, at Fenway Park. Honestly, I figured the action on the field would be something of a sideshow as I tended to Levi’s needs for ice cream, popcorn, souvenirs, the bathroom and more ice cream … and given his age, the two-hour trip and the fact it was a night game, I didn’t expect to make it for all nine innings anyway. I begrudgingly convinced myself that that was OK since the Sox had a pretty comfortable lead in the AL East, the Orioles weren’t exactly a marquee opponent and Boston’s pitcher was a rookie making his second major league start, some kid named Clay Buchholz.
It was indeed a magical time, seeing the wonder on my son’s face as we settled into our seats, as night fell and the lights brightened, as the Red Sox knocked around the O’s and built a hefty lead. But that was only the start of it. Right around the time I had figured we’d be heading to the exits, it was becoming clear Buchholz had some amazing stuff, no-hit stuff. As the line of zeros on the Fenway scoreboard grew longer, with the goose egg in the Baltimore hit column the most notable, the tension rose, particularly for me as I anticipated a meltdown from my exhausted son.
The meltdown never came. The electricity in the park enthralled Levi, and while he had no way of realizing how special it would be to experience a no-hitter, he wasn’t going anywhere. And Buchholz was dealing, spotting his fastball and baffling the Orioles with a dizzying array of breaking pitches. After getting Corey Patterson on a liner to center for the second out in the ninth, Buchholz froze Nick Markakis with one last looping curve for strike three to become just the third pitcher since 1900 to throw a no-hitter in either his first or second career start.
For Buchholz, it was the game of a lifetime. For me and my son, it was not only the game of a lifetime but the first of a lifetime of games we’d enjoy together.
Dan Mullen: Wild ride in Houston
This was the toughest category of the week for me to pick. Brad Doolittle and Alden Gonzalez made choosing a little easier by taking two of the prime contenders for the top spot on my list, which I narrowed to the David Roberts steal game in the 2004 ALCS and the game I ultimately settled on. The game I’m choosing stands out because besides being a huge, World Series-shifting moment — no matter what we now know about that moment — this is one game that would have been absolutely bananas had it come in Game 5 of a tied World Series or just on a random Tuesday night in June.
I remember walking into Minute Maid Park so excited about a Clayton Kershaw–Dallas Keuchel showdown in an even World Series and walking out well after midnight wondering what the heck just happened — and whether I was going to make it to the airport in time for the flight to L.A. Five hours and 21 minutes after Kershaw threw the first pitch, Alex Bregman sent everyone home with the walk-off hit in what can only be described as the craziest baseball game I’ve ever seen. In the time between, we saw:
• 25 runs
• 28 hits
• Seven home runs
• Five plays that changed the win probability by at least 25%
• Two former Cy Young winners who didn’t even make it through the fifth inning;
• A team that rallied from two separate three-run deficits
• And me totally exhausted after spending most of the night sprinting from the auxiliary box in center field to the main press box behind home plate and back while trying to figure out what we were going to write after every twist and turn along the way.
Unfortunately, none of us will ever look back at anything involving the 2017 Astros the same way again. But, man, that was one bizarre night in Houston.
Sam Miller: Cruel twist for Kendrys Morales
I want to be clear that “best” doesn’t mean most enjoyable, most joyful. There was ultimately no joy the day that Kendrys Morales hit a walk-off grand slam to end what had been a marvelous Saturday afternoon pitchers’ duel between peak Felix Hernandez and peak Jered Weaver.
As Morales came home with the final run in the bottom of the 10th inning, and we in the press box scrambled to finish our game story rewrites, Morales leaped into a scrum of teammates and landed awkwardly on home plate. As his friends briefly continued to celebrate around him, he crumpled to the ground in agony with what would turn out to be a broken leg.
It was just awful, and the sudden vacuum in that previously boisterous stadium was unforgettably affecting. The power of the silence made my eyes water. That’s the game I think about most often. It’s the reductio ad absurdum application of Yogi Berra’s baseball thesis statement: It ain’t over ’til it’s over.