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Sunday, October 9

Editor's note: By popular demand of fans, skeptics, retirees and people who love to mock other people, Second Guessing returns for more October baseball.

David Schoenfield: I'm drained and I only watched for 18 innings. My heart is racing -- in awe of Roger Clemens, excited for Chris Burke, aching for Joey Devine. I'm listening to Phil Garner in the postgame press conference -- he was on the losing side in the previous longest playoff game ever played, Houston's 16-inning loss to the Mets in 1986. As Astros fans know, this game can rip you apart sometimes. And then it delivers this.

Maybe I'm caught up in the instant history of the moment, but do we rank this as the greatest playoff game of all time, non-World Series version?

Eric Neel: It's 1 or 1A. There are some gaffes "early" on in this one -- Marcus Giles and Julio Franco pulling their feet off the bag to extend innings; Adam LaRoche not busting it around third for what would have been the difference-making run -- and it doesn't have the swings of the Mets-Astros in '86, either. Remember, the Mets scored three in the ninth to tie that one, went up in the 14th and Billy Hatcher tied it, then the Mets went up again in the 16th, and the Astros got back to within a run, with the tying run on second, when it finally ended. This one was all pitchers in the extras, which was mighty impressive (Chad Qualls, Dan Wheeler and Clemens were remarkable), but it didn't have that same back-from-the-brink flavor that the '86 game did.

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So I think, 18 innings and all, I still give that earlier game the slight edge. That said, the very presence of Roger Clemens in this game, first in the batter's box and then on the hill, makes this game ripe with history and folklore. We've seen Orel Hershiser and Randy Johnson do something like what Roger did today, but not in the 18th inning, and not with the very real prospect of pitching another four or five innings if he'd had to. So maybe, given that, and given that it was clinched with a home run, from a kid who's been waiting patiently behind Craig Biggio all year (in what was supposed to be his year) & maybe you should forget what I just said about '86 &

David: I remember coming home from school in '86 and the game was in the eighth inning. It went on forever. Remember, the Mets had won 108 games and seemed invincible. Houston had Mike Scott ready to win Game 7. Talk about invincible, Scott was going to win that game, so it really was a life-or-death situation for the Mets even though it was only Game 6. Of course, it was played in the Astrodome with the silly rainbow unis, so maybe it loses a few bonus points because of that. But it did feature the rotund figure of Aurelio Lopez getting the loss. And I mean rotund. Don't miss it next time it airs on ESPN Classic.

But ... I think you're forgetting two games of recent vintage, Eric, and I suspect you may be forgetting on purpose, only because you West Coasters never pay attention to what happens back east. Your dislike of all things Red Sox and Yankees is clouding your normally astute judgment. Aaron Boone? Big Papi? These names ring a bell?

The Aaron Boone Game ... curses, managerial blunders, comebacks, Pedro, Rocket, extra innings, a game-winning homer to win the series. You're not saying a Game 6 actually tops that one, are you?

Eric: So I see my rhetorical use of hyperbole didn't sway you, eh? The Boone Game is fantastic, no doubt. Top 3, no doubt, but it only went 11, brother. There are curses, managerial controversies, comebacks, Pedros, Rockets, and there are home runs, but there is absolutely no substitute for the creeping, turn-of-the-screw passage of inning after inning and hour after hour. The Boone Game went 11; 11 was like intermission in the two Astros games.

Jim Caple: One thing I consider -- I love extra innings, but was there anything great going on in those innings apart from a lot of guys overswinging and trying to end the game with one shot?

Eric: That's a good point, and like I said, today lacked for dramatic swings (if not for overswings), but as the game wears on, as inning follows inning, you get a chance to take the measure of the thing, to consider the long, tortured Atlanta history, to reflect on how insane it is that Clemens is doing what he's doing, etc.

David: I think we have to consider the Sid Bream Game from '92. The Pirates, having lost the NLCS the previous two years, enter Game 7 with a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth and lose it. That one comes with a high degree of pain factor.

And something else: We have the Aaron Boone Game or the Sid Bream Game. Does this game go down as the Chris Burke Game? I don't think so.

Eric: Why not? Because we don't think about the Astros that way? I mean, when the Braves won the Bream game they weren't yet the Braves. The Astros have advanced to two straight NLCS now, I don't see why we can't think of them, and of Burke, as pretty legit and memorable at this point.

Jim: They are definitely legit. And the pain they've suffered is off the chart.

Eric: Yeah, to me, with Burke hitting the home run, and Jose Cruz and Phil Garner among those greeting them, this is a mighty special afternoon, and not just in Houston.

David: You're right; maybe I'm underselling the Astros and Mr. Burke. And Jim's right, their suffering is too often ignored by baseball fans and media. This game, henceforth, shall be known as the Chris Burke Game.

Jim: Except in Atlanta, where it's the Kyle Farnsworth Game.

By the way, this is now 27 one-run playoff games, nine one-run extra innings games for Atlanta in the Cox era. And that does not include the World Series.

Eric: Those numbers actually add a kind of tragicomic depth to what went on this afternoon, don't they? I argued earlier that the Braves losing was hardly news, and therefore kind of counted against this game, but given what Jim brings up here, maybe the very fact that it was the Braves who lost today makes this game even richer, more interesting and significant.

David: What about M's-Yankees from '95? You guys know I have to squeeze that one in here. And that Game 5 topped off a series in which four of the five games were classics, including a 15-inning affair won by Jim Leyritz's homer in the rain.

Eric: Great series, great Game 5 and bolstered by the fact that it ended 417 years of Mariners wandering in the desert.

Jim: Absolutely. Games 4 (Edgar Martinez won it with a grand slam in the eighth) and 5 were the most exciting I've covered, though my own personal feelings enter into that. And I think that's what it ultimately comes down with so many great ones to choose from -- what did it mean for you?

David: True, you can't tell a Red Sox fan that Games 4 and 5 against the Yankees last year weren't the greatest ever played. He's likely to make jokes about your mother and then steal your baseball cards. I'm a Mariners fan, so Game 5 from '95, with Griffey popping his smile from underneath the pile at home plate, makes my list of top five.

Eric: If we're talking about games that "meant something" to me, let me include here the Dodgers over the Mets in Game 4 of the 1988 NLCS; Orel Hershiser on in relief, after Mike Scioscia takes Doc deep to tie the game in the ninth.

Jim: Game 5, 1980 NLCS. Phillies over Astros. Seven lead changes. Nolan Ryan with the lead in the eighth of a clincher.

David: A true classic, the fourth straight extra-inning game of the series. And nobody ever talks about it. Unbelievable.

Jim: A golden oldie for Eric. I'm not nominating it, but just to remind my favorite Dodger fan -- 1985, Game 5 NLCS.

Eric: Yeah, I still send Tom Niedenfuer a dead fish wrapped in newsprint every Christmas.

Jim: This is an exercise that is as frustrating as it is fun. I mean, how do you narrow the list?

David: OK, let's finish up with everyone listing their top five playoff games.

My list:
5. 1992 NLCS, Game 7: Braves 3, Pirates 2 (the Sid Bream Game)
4. 1980 NLCS, Game 5: Phillies 8, Astros 7 (10 innings)
3. 1986 NLCS, Game 6: Mets 7, Astros 6 (16 innings)
2. 1995 ALDS, Game 5: Mariners 6, Yankees 5 (11 innings)
1. 2003 ALCS Game 7: Yankees 6, Red Sox 5 (11 innings)

Eric: My list:
5. 1995 ALDS, Game 5 and 1999 NLCS, Game 5 (Mets, 4, Braves 3, 15 innings, The Robin Ventura Game)
4. Game 4, 1988 NLCS: Dodgers 5, Mets 4 (12 innings)
3. The Aaron Boone Game
2. The Chris Burke Game
1. 1986 NLCS, Game 6

Jim: My five:
5. 2004 ALCS, Game 4: Red Sox 6, Yankees 4 (12 innings; Big Papi wins it)
4. The Aaron Boone Game
3. 1995 ALDS, Game 5
2. 1986 ALCS, Game 5: Red Sox 7, Angels 6 (11 innings; The Dave Henderson/Donnie Moore Game)
1. 1986 NLCS, Game 6

Previous Second Guesses
Oct. 8: Braves' bullpen stinks it up

Oct. 7: Unit left in too long

Oct. 6: Jumpin' on the White Sox bandwagon

Oct. 5: Why leave Wang in the game?

Oct. 4: Colon over Lackey ... say what?