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The 15 Biggest Plays in Baseball History

Which plays caused the widest swings in a team’s numerical chances at winning the World Series?

The Kansas City Royals may have lost last year’s World Series, but in the most indelible moment of the series — indeed, of the season — the Royals held the fate of the championship in their hands. With Kansas City down to its final out in Game 7, trailing by a run to Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants, Alex Gordon lined a single into the left-center-field gap. Center fielder Gregor Blanco allowed it to bounce past him all the way to the wall. Left fielder Juan Perez had trouble picking up the ball before throwing it to the cutoff man, shortstop Brandon Crawford. Gordon was pulling into third base by the time Crawford had secured the ball.

Gordon would stop there; third-base coach Mike Jirschele held him up. Salvador Perez batted next, needing only a single to tie the game, but he popped out to Pablo Sandoval to give the Giants the title. Jirschele — who showed in Game 6 of the just-completed ALCS that he wasn’t afraid to gamble on sending a runner home — almost certainly made the correct decision. Gordon’s chances of making it to home safely were roughly the same as Bartolo Colon’s chances would have been to drive him home had he batted instead of Perez.

But arguments over the decision to hold Gordon lingered all winter, not simply because Perez failed to come through, but because we missed out on the incredible drama of a play at the plate that had only two possible outcomes: The Giants record the final out of the game and win the World Series or the Royals score the tying run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

As Nate Silver tweeted:

You might think that Silver is guilty of some hyperbole, but how do we determine what the “greatest baseball moments ever” are? How do we quantify the impact of a specific play, not just on the odds of winning a game, but on winning a championship?

Quantifying the odds of winning a particular game is not particularly complicated; FanGraphs publishes Win Expectancy Charts of every game (here’s last year’s Game 7), and lists the WPA — Win Probability Added — of every play in every box score going back to 1914. WPA is computed by figuring out a team’s probability of winning a game — based on the score, the inning, the outs, and the baserunners — before a particular batter hits and afterward, and then calculating the difference.

When Gordon came to bat in the bottom of the ninth, with two outs, the Royals trailing 3-2 with no one on base, Kansas City’s odds of winning were 5 percent. Afterward, with him standing on third base with two outs, K.C.’s odds had increased to 16 percent. The WPA of that play was 11 percent (16 minus 5).

That, in itself, is an unremarkable number — but by WPA, it wasn’t even Gordon’s most important at-bat of the game. His double in the second inning, which scored Billy Butler from first, cutting the Giants’ 2-0 lead in half and putting the tying run on second, increased the Royals’ odds of winning by 13 percent. The biggest play of the game, in fact, was Perez’s popout — which decreased the Royals’ chances from 16 percent to nothing.

Of course, the impact of Gordon’s final at-bat was muted by Jirschele’s call to hold him at third. If Gordon had tried to score and was ruled safe, the Royals’ odds of winning the game would have increased all the way to 53 percent. That would have bumped the WPA to 48 percent.

More to the point, that would have made Gordon’s CPA — Championship Probability Added — on that at-bat 48 percent as well.

Championship Probability Added measures how much a particular play influences a team’s chances to win, except instead of measuring its chances to win a game, it measures a team’s chances to win a World Series. It is calculated simply by multiplying a play’s Win Probability Added by the impact the game has on winning a championship.

For Game 7 of the World Series, that impact is 100 percent — the winner jumps into a dogpile and the loser stews all winter long. For Game 6, the impact is 50 percent, because if the team that leads the series 3-2 wins, its championship odds are 100 percent, but if that team loses, it drops to 50 percent.1 The impact is also 50 percent for a World Series Game 5 when the two teams are tied at two wins apiece and for Game 7 of a League Championship Series.2

The enormous difference in the impact of a play in a World Series Game 7 over the impact of a play in any other game means that the vast majority — but not all — of the biggest plays in baseball history occur in a Game 7.

To assess where Gordon’s play would have ranked, I’ve put together a list of the 15 biggest plays in baseball since 1947, the year the sport integrated, as well as the year that roughly corresponds to the beginning of most fans’ knowledge of the sport (in part due to film evidence becoming available around this time). I have used data from, whose Play Index makes searching for these plays approximately a million times easier than doing it by hand.3

For the sake of completeness, here are the five biggest plays of the pre-1947 era:

5. Dom DiMaggio’s two-out, two-run double for the Red Sox to tie Game 7 of the 1946 World Series, 3-3, in the top of the eighth: 32 percent CPA

4. In the same game, Harry Walker’s two-out double for the Cardinals to score Enos Slaughter4 with the winning run in the bottom of the eighth: 32 percent CPA

3. Ralph Miller’s double play with the series-winning run on third base, another runner on first, and one out in the ninth, which sent Game 7 of the 1924 World Series to extra innings: minus–33 percent CPA

2. Bucky Harris’s two-out, two-run single to tie that Game 7 in the bottom of the eighth (the Senators would prevail at home over the Giants in 12 innings): 35 percent CPA

1. Tris Speaker’s game-tying single for the Red Sox in the bottom of the 10th off the Giants’ Christy Mathewson in Game 8 of the 1912 World Series (Game 2 had been a tie), putting the winning run on third with one out; the runner would score on a sacrifice fly two batters later: 38 percent CPA

Also, a quick mention of some famous plays that don’t make the list:

  • Carlton Fisk’s 1975 home run off the foul pole (18 percent CPA) and Kirby Puckett’s walk-off home run in 1991 each came in a World Series Game 6, and Aaron Boone’s walk-off homer in 2003 came in Game 7 of an ALCS. In each case, not only did the walk-off victory give the winning team just a 50 percent chance at winning the World Series, but their teams were already about a 65 percent favorite to win the game: The score was tied and (as each player was leading off) the home team had its full allotment of three outs to try to bring home the winning run.
  • Mookie Wilson’s grounder through Bill Buckner’s legs in 1986 (20 percent CPA) also came with the game tied; the Mets’ comeback as a whole had a massive impact on the series, but it was the product of three singles, a wild pitch, and an error.
  • Willie McCovey’s line drive at Bobby Richardson to end the 1962 World Series, with the tying run at third and the winning run at second, is the highest-leverage plate appearance in baseball history. But because baseball is a game tilted toward the pitcher, the Giants had only a 24 percent chance to win at that moment, which means McCovey’s out cost them only 24 percent. If he had overcome the odds to hit a walk-off single, that play would have been the biggest of all time.

And now, the good stuff. You’ve seen most of these plays before, many of them dozens of times. But no. 1 and no. 2 on the list — the two biggest plays in baseball history — have been almost entirely forgotten. The second-biggest play ever was a double by a light-hitting middle infielder off the greatest closer in baseball history, and the biggest play ever came in what is widely considered the best baseball game of all time, but has become almost completely overshadowed by what happened afterward.

15. David Freese’s Triple

Setting: 2011 World Series, Game 6 (Texas 3, St. Louis 2)
Score: 7-5, Texas
Situation: Bottom of the ninth, two outs, men on first and second
Win Probability Beforehand: 8 percent
Event: Freese hits two-run triple, ties the game 7-7
Win Probability Afterward: 62 percent
Championship Probability Added: 27 percent (54 percent to win Game 6)

Game 6 of the 2011 World Series is almost certainly the greatest baseball game played this century; it’s probably one of the five best baseball games ever. It says something that David Freese’s walk-off home run leading off the bottom of the 11th inning was only the fourth-biggest play of the game — behind Lance Berkman’s single to tie the score with two outs in the bottom of the 10th, Josh Hamilton’s two-run homer in the top of the 10th, and Freese’s previous at-bat, which is featured here. (All four plays rank among the 10 biggest plays in a Game 6.)

With the Cardinals down to their final out, losing by two with the tying run at first base, Freese sliced a line drive to deep right field, where Nelson Cruz — a man better known for crushing fly balls than defending them — stood. Cruz not only let the ball get over his head, but allowed it to roll past him after it ricocheted off the wall, allowing Berkman to score from first and Freese to get to third. Freese’s hit had the biggest WPA of any World Series hit ever that didn’t give its team the lead.

CPA underrates the value of this play slightly, because it doesn’t take into consideration the count — it was a 1-2 pitch and the Cardinals were one strike away from elimination — or that Berkman, who was 35 years old and not particularly fast even in his younger days, was on first base. (Before you criticize the Cardinals for not pinch running for him: They were completely out of position players on their bench.)

Oh, and in his next plate appearance after his walk-off home run, with two outs and two on in the first inning of Game 7, Freese doubled in two runs to pull the Cardinals even at 2-2. That double had the highest CPA (20 percent) of any first-inning hit ever. It’s a safe bet that no player in history improved his team’s odds of winning a championship more over the course of three straight at-bats than David Freese did in 2011.

14. Kirk Gibson’s Walk-off

Setting: 1988 World Series, Game 1
Score: 4-3, Oakland
Situation: Bottom of the ninth, two outs, man on second
Win Probability Beforehand: 13 percent
Event: Gibson homers, wins game for Dodgers, 5-4
Win Probability Afterward: 100 percent
Championship Probability Added: 27.2 percent (87 percent to win Game 1)

There’s not much about this game winner that isn’t known already. It takes a massively improbable World Series Game 1 play to crack this list. Gibson’s home run qualifies. It is the only walk-off home run in postseason history that occurred with a team down to its final out. Not surprisingly, the WPA for this game (87 percent) is the highest ever in the playoffs.

13. Willie Stargell’s Two-Run Shot

Setting: 1979 World Series, Game 7 (Pittsburgh 3, Baltimore 3)
Score: 1-0, Baltimore
Situation: Top of the sixth, one out, man on first
Win Probability Beforehand: 34 percent
Event: Stargell homers, gives Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead
Win Probability Afterward: 64 percent
Championship Probability Added: 29 percent5

Stargell was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but in 1979 his career was on its last legs. He was 39, he had long ago moved to first base, he couldn’t run, and he needed to be rested often. But when Stargell played, he could still mash, hitting .281/.352/.552 in 1979. He was also the clubhouse leader for the “We Are Family” Pirates, who won 98 games and swept the NLCS.

Stargell won the NL MVP award, tying for first place with Keith Hernandez, in a vote driven by pure sentimentalism — by bWAR, Stargell was just the ninth-best player on the Pirates that year. But if Stargell didn’t deserve the MVP award for his regular-season exploits,6 he made up for it in Game 7 of the World Series, turning a 1-0 deficit with 11 outs to go into a 2-1 lead. The Orioles would load the bases in the eighth but Eddie Murray would fly out to the warning track; the Pirates would add two insurance runs in the ninth and hold on to win the World Series.

12. Sid Bream’s Double-play Ball

Setting: 1991 World Series, Game 7 (Minnesota 3, Atlanta 3)
Score: 0-0
Situation: Top of the eighth, one out, bases loaded
Win Probability Beforehand: 68 percent
Event: Bream grounds into a 3-2-3 double play
Win Probability Afterward: 39 percent
Championship Probability Added: minus–29 percent

This half-inning is most famous for what happened earlier, when Lonnie Smith, running from first base with none out, was deked by second baseman Chuck Knoblauch into thinking Terry Pendleton’s double into the gap was actually a double-play grounder. Smith wound up at third base when he could have scored the game’s first run if he had kept tabs on the ball.

But Smith’s mistake wasn’t that significant in the moment — the Braves still had men on second and third with none out. Their win expectancy was 76 percent; if Smith had scored on the play it would have been around 82 percent instead. But then Jack Morris got Ron Gant to ground out to first base with the runners holding, and then intentionally walked David Justice to pitch to the glacial Sid Bream. The move worked about as well as any intentional walk ever and Bream tapped into the inning-ending double play. This play has the most negative CPA score since 1947, or to put it another way, the pitch that Morris threw to get the double play was the best any pitcher has thrown in the past 70 years.

The game stayed scoreless, the Twins won in the 10th inning, and Smith, not Bream, wound up the goat forever. As we shall see, Bream would earn some small measure of redemption the following year.

11. Cookie Lavagetto’s Double

Setting: 1947 World Series, Game 4 (New York Yankees 2, Brooklyn Dodgers 1)
Score: 2-1, New York
Situation: Bottom of the ninth, two outs, men on first and second
Win Probability Beforehand: 18 percent
Event: Lavagetto hits a walk-off double for the Dodgers
Win Probability Afterward: 100 percent
Championship Probability Added: 30.75 percent (82 percent to win Game 4)

This game retains some measure of fame today, even though the Dodgers would ultimately lose the series in seven games. Bill Bevens, starting for the Yankees, had not allowed a hit through eight innings. What he had allowed were eight (!) walks — one of which led to a run when the runner came around to score — but he went to the bottom of the ninth still nursing a 2-1 lead.

With one out, Bevens walked Carl Furillo, then got Spider Jorgensen to foul out. Al Gionfriddo pinch ran for Furillo and stole second base, prompting an intentional walk of Pete Reiser — Bevens’s 10th walk of the game. Lavagetto pinch hit against Bevens, who stayed in because this was 1947 and you didn’t pull a starter who had a no-hitter going even if it might cost you a World Series game.

Lavagetto doubled off the right-field wall and the Dodgers walked off, 3-2. Other than Kirk Gibson’s home run, there has never been another walk-off in a World Series with the home team down to its last out.

10. Joe Carter!

Setting: 1993 World Series, Game 6 (Toronto 3, Philadelphia 2)
Score: 6-5, Philadelphia
Situation: Bottom of the ninth, one out, men on first and second
Win Probability Beforehand: 34 percent
Event: Carter hits a series-ending home run
Win Probability Afterward: 100 percent
Championship Probability Added: 33 percent (66 percent to win Game 6)

You might also be familiar with this play. You can quibble with whether the Blue Jays’ odds of winning before his home run were just 34 percent — Mitch Williams, pitching for the Phillies, was so lost on the mound at this point that he would have had trouble throwing strikes to Jimmy Carter, let alone Joe Carter. But still, a series-ending homer is a series-ending homer. When Tom Cheek said, “Touch ’em all, Joe, you’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life!” he knew of what he spoke — according to CPA, 22 years later, no one has hit a bigger home run. It is one of only two walk-off home runs ever to end a World Series. The other one is coming up.

There have been 56 walk-off plays in World Series history. This was one of only four that came with the home team losing. The other three: Gibson’s homer, Lavagetto’s double, and Dane Iorg’s pinch-hit bases-loaded single to win Game 6 of the 1985 World Series.7

9. Yogi Berra’s Three-Run Blast

Setting: 1960 World Series, Game 7 (Pittsburgh 3, New York Yankees 3)
Score: 4-2, Pittsburgh
Situation: Top of the sixth, one out, men on first and third
Win Probability Beforehand: 30 percent
Event: Berra hits a three-run homer to give New York a 5-4 lead
Win Probability Afterward: 64 percent
Championship Probability Added: 34 percent

There have been 37 World Series Game 7s, and this is almost certainly the best of them — which makes this the best baseball game ever. It was a damn miracle when the only known film copy of the full game was found in Bing Crosby’s wine cellar 50 years later. (You can watch the whole game here.)

The Pirates took an early 4-0 lead, but the Yankees got one back when Moose Skowron homered to lead off the fifth, and in the top of the sixth, the Yankees’ first two batters reached. Roger Maris fouled out, but Mickey Mantle singled to make it a 4-2 game, and then Yogi Berra followed with his drive into the right-field bleachers to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead.

Unfortunately for Yogi, this game was just getting started. Berra’s home run is the biggest hit in baseball history for a team that ultimately lost the game.

8. Joe Morgan’s Go-Ahead Single

Setting: 1975 World Series, Game 7 (Cincinnati 3, Boston 3)
Score: 3-3
Situation: Top of the ninth, two outs, men on first and third
Win Probability Beforehand: 50 percent
Event: Morgan singles to give Cincinnati a 4-3 lead, and moves to second base on the throw
Win Probability Afterward: 84 percent
Championship Probability Added: 34 percent

Carlton Fisk’s home run in Game 6 is the iconic moment of this World Series, because of the image of him waving his arms, because his home run ended the game, and perhaps most importantly, because the home team won. A roaring home crowd lends more drama to a moment than a crowd that sounds like a morgue.

Joe Morgan’s single in Game 7 silenced the crowd and drove in the series-winning run for the Reds. That there were two outs when he batted in the ninth made his single even more valuable — had he made an out, the Red Sox would have batted needing only one run to win a championship, knowing that the worst thing that could happen was that they’d go to extra innings. It was the Big Red Machine’s third clutch hit in four innings, following Pete Rose’s game-tying single in the seventh and Tony Perez’s two-run homer in the sixth, to complete the comeback after being down 3-0.

7. Edgar Renteria’s Bases-Loaded Single

Setting: 1997 World Series, Game 7 (Florida 3, Cleveland 3)
Score: 2-2
Situation: Bottom of the 11th, two outs, bases loaded
Win Probability Beforehand: 66 percent
Event: Renteria singles in the series-clinching run
Win Probability Afterward: 100 percent
Championship Probability Added: 34 percent

The Cleveland Indians had been three outs away from their first championship since 1948, but in the ninth inning, closer Jose Mesa allowed a leadoff single to Moises Alou and a one-out single to Charles Johnson that moved Alou to third (a hit that narrowly missed our list, with a 25 percent CPA), and then Craig Counsell tied the game with a sacrifice fly. The stage was set for Renteria’s 11th-inning heroics.

Indians second baseman Tony Fernandez booted a ground ball with a man on first and one out in the 11th, putting the winning run at third base. New pitcher Charles Nagy intentionally walked Jim Eisenreich to load the bases, and the move almost worked when Devon White grounded into a forceout at the plate. But then Renteria, barely 21 years old at the time, whistled a line drive that Nagy managed to glance with his glove, but couldn’t stop it from going into center field.

There have been five walk-off hits in a World Series Game 7. This is the only one that occurred with two outs.

6. Bobby Thomson’s Shot

Setting: 1951 NL tiebreaker, Game 3 (New York Giants 1, Brooklyn Dodgers 1)
Score: 4-2, Brooklyn
Situation: Bottom of the ninth, one out, men on second and third
Win Probability Beforehand: 29 percent
Event: Thomson hits a Shot Heard Round the World
Win Probability Afterward: 100 percent
Championship Probability Added: 35.5 percent (71 percent to win NL Tiebreaker)


This is the biggest play in a regular-season game ever, by such an enormous margin that I don’t even know what would rank second — no other play came close. (Today’s three-round playoff format makes it impossible for any regular-season play to have a CPA of higher than about 12 percent.) And it might have ranked even higher if there had been two outs, or if the tying run hadn’t been at second base, which would have allowed a single to tie the score. Still, when you hit a home run that inspires classic works of literature, both fiction and nonfiction, you’ve done all right.

5. Jim Northrup’s Game 7 Triple

Setting: 1968 World Series, Game 7 (Detroit 3, St. Louis 3)
Score: 0-0
Situation: Top of the seventh, two outs, men on first and second
Win Probability Beforehand: 49 percent
Event: Northrup triples to drive in two runs
Win Probability Afterward: 85 percent
Championship Probability Added: 36 percent

Bob Gibson had already started World Series Game 7s in 1964 and 1967 when he made this start, making him the only pitcher in history to start three Game 7s. And in each of the previous two starts, he threw a complete-game victory.

That would not be the case in 1968. After retiring the first two batters in the top of the seventh, Gibson gave up singles to Norm Cash and Willie Horton to bring up Northrup. Northrup drove a ball to deep center field, and Curt Flood — who won seven Gold Gloves for his play in center — made a rare misplay, taking an awkward route to the ball and nearly slipping in the process. The ball got over his head for a two-run triple. It was the biggest hit by a road team in baseball history.

Bill Freehan followed with a double to score Northrup; the Tigers got an insurance run off Gibson in the ninth; and Tigers starter Mickey Lolich, working on two days’ rest, went the distance, giving up only a meaningless two-out homer to Mike Shannon in the ninth before closing out the 4-1 win.

4. Francisco Cabrera Sends Atlanta to the World Series

Setting: 1992 NLCS, Game 7 (Atlanta 3, Pittsburgh 3)
Score: 2-1, Pittsburgh
Situation: Bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded
Win Probability Beforehand: 26 percent
Event: Cabrera singles, two runs score, Braves win
Win Probability Afterward: 100 percent
Championship Probability Added: 37 percent (74 percent to win NLCS Game 7)

It’s not often you get to see a murder up close, but I once watched Francisco Cabrera murder an entire franchise on national television.

The strangest part of this game’s legacy is that Barry Bonds somehow emerged the goat. True, his throw from left field was slightly off-line and not particularly strong; letting Sid Bream score from second base was not only devastating but humiliating. But somehow time has stretched the truth of the play — the story now is that Bonds fielded Cabrera’s line drive, pulled a Sharpie out of his back pocket, autographed the ball, refused to toss it to two adorable cancer-stricken children in the front row, and then threw it to the plate underhand.

It was a poor throw. It wasn’t remotely the worst thing the Pirates did in that inning.

Somehow, Bonds is remembered more than starter Doug Drabek, who came into the ninth with a 2-0 lead and allowed a leadoff double and then a walk before he was pulled. Bonds is remembered more than closer Stan Belinda, who inherited a bases-loaded, no-outs situation and almost pulled it out, sandwiching a pair of outs around a walk before surrendering the fateful hit. Most egregiously, Bonds is remembered more than second baseman Jose Lind, who booted a routine ground ball with a man on second and no one out, allowing Cabrera to bat in the first place.

That’s not to take anything away from Cabrera, who amassed just 92 hits in his brief career — Baseball-Reference lists his primary position as “Pinch Hitter” — yet delivered the biggest pinch-hit ever. This was the biggest play in history that wasn’t in Game 7 of the World Series, let alone the World Series itself. Unfortunately for Cabrera, it was also the biggest play in history that didn’t result in a team winning a championship.

3. Bill Mazeroski Homers for the Win

Setting: 1960 World Series, Game 7 (Pittsburgh 3, New York Yankees 3)
Score: 9-9
Situation: Bottom of the ninth, none out, none on
Win Probability Beforehand: 63 percent
Event: Bill Mazeroski homers to win the series
Win Probability Afterward: 100 percent
Championship Probability Added: 37 percent

A play this famous needs little embellishment. Among other things, this home run is probably the reason Mazeroski is in the Hall of Fame.8 But here’s something you probably didn’t know: It wasn’t the most important play in this game.

2. Tony Womack’s Game-Tying Double

Setting: 2001 World Series, Game 7 (Arizona 3, New York Yankees 3)
Score: 2-1, New York
Situation: Bottom of the ninth, one out, men on first and second
Win Probability Beforehand: 35 percent
Event: Womack doubles to tie the game and move the winning run to third base
Win Probability Afterward: 85 percent
Championship Probability Added: 50 percent

Yes, that Tony Womack. The one who had a career line of .273/.317/.356, good for a 72 OPS+. The one who played 13 years in the majors and managed only 2.3 bWAR for his entire career.

But with the Diamondbacks down a run in the ninth against The Greatest Closer Who Ever Lived, Womack came through. Mark Grace had started the rally with a leadoff single, and then Mariano Rivera threw the ball away on a sacrifice bunt attempt, putting men on first and second with none out. Rivera partially redeemed himself when the next hitter bunted and Rivera got the lead runner at third base, bringing up the light-hitting Womack. Rivera’s cutter was death on left-handed hitters. The Yankees were still favored to win.

Then Womack somehow kept his hands back on an inside cutter and pulled it down the right-field line. The game was not only tied — the winning run was on third base with just one out. Rivera then hit Craig Counsell with a pitch to load the bases, and with the infield drawn in, Luis Gonzalez was able to fist a pitch into short left field to end the series.

The best reliever ever, the best postseason pitcher ever, against a really bad hitter. And the hitter won. That’s baseball. That’s why we watch.

1. Hal Smith. Hal Smith? HAL SMITH!

Setting: 1960 World Series, Game 7 (Pittsburgh 3, New York Yankees 3)
Score: 7-6, New York
Situation: Bottom of the eighth, two outs, men on first and third
Win Probability Beforehand: 30 percent
Event: Smith hits a three-run homer to give Pittsburgh a 9-7 lead
Win Probability Afterward: 93 percent
Championship Probability Added: 64 percent

The biggest play in major league history — by a significant margin — and it’s almost forgotten today. But that’s the kind of game this was. After Yogi Berra’s three-run homer gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead in the sixth, New York tacked on two more runs in the top of the eighth. But down three runs with six outs to go, Pittsburgh rallied. Gino Cimoli and Bill Virdon singled to lead off the bottom of the eighth, and Dick Groat singled to make it 7-5. A sacrifice bunt was followed by a shallow fly ball, and then, with two outs, Roberto Clemente beat out an infield single while driving home Virdon to make it 7-6.

That’s when Hal Smith, a lifelong second-string catcher — this was his first at-bat of the game; he had only in only after starter Smokey Burgess was taken out for a pinch runner in the seventh — clubbed a three-run homer to left field, making it 9-7, Pittsburgh. This is about as big as a hit can be without being a walk-off: turning a deficit into a lead with two outs in the eighth inning. The Pirates went from being underdogs to having the game in hand.

They didn’t, though, because the Yankees rallied for two runs in the top of the ninth: Mantle drove in the first with a single and Berra tied the game with a groundout. All of which set the stage for Mazeroski, not Smith, to be remembered forever. Mazeroski got the glory. Smith, however, had the biggest hit of the game, the series, and — to this point, at least — all time.

And that’s what’s most fascinating: 112 years after the first World Series was played, we still haven’t maxed out the drama. Baseball has seen walk-off home runs with a team down to its final out (Kirk Gibson). It has seen walk-off home runs in Game 7 of a World Series (Bill Mazeroski), and to win a championship after the home team had been losing (Joe Carter). It has seen a walk-off hit with a team down to its final out in Game 7 … of an NLCS (Francisco Cabrera). It has seen a go-ahead home run in a Game 7 with the home team losing and down to its final out … of the eighth inning (Hal Smith).

But the sport has yet to put all of those elements together. We have yet to see a World Series Game 7 won on a walk-off hit in the bottom of the ninth with the home team losing. Home teams have come back in the bottom of the ninth inning or later in a Game 7; they did so in 1912, 1997, and 2001. But each time, the game-tying and game-winning hits were separate events.

That’s what made last season’s finish more memorable for what didn’t happen than for what did. Nate Silver was right: If Alex Gordon had tried to score and been safe, the CPA for that play would have been 48 percent, making it the third-biggest play (behind only Womack’s double and Smith’s homer) in major league history.

But not only was it the right move to hold Gordon at third base, it opened the door for something even more dramatic. Salvador Perez batted representing both the final out of the season and the potential championship-winning run. Not only has no one ever come through with a walk-off hit with his team losing in Game 7, Perez was only the fourth player in history to even bat with his team down to its final out but with the ability to win the series with one swing. (The others were Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, back-to-back, in 1962, and Pete Rose in 1972.)9

Perez didn’t come through, but that he even had the chance to try was rare enough that it deserves to be remembered. Baseball has given us so many signature moments over the years. It seems only inevitable that one day, in the not-so-distant future, it will finally present us with the signature moment we’ve been denied so far.

This article has been updated to correctly identify the teams in the 1924 World Series. The Senators beat the Giants in seven games.

Filed Under: 2015 MLB Playoffs, MLB, World Series, Baseball History, Bobby Thomson, David Freese, Yogi Berra, Joe Carter, Bill Mazeroski, Joe Morgan, Kirk Gibson, Willie Stargell, Cookie Lavagetto, Sid Bream, Edgar Renteria, Jim Northrup, Francisco Cabrera, Tony Womack, Hal Smith


Rany Jazayerli runs the Rany on the Royals website. He is one of the founders of Baseball Prospectus, and works as a dermatologist in suburban Chicago.

Archive @ jazayerli