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Friday, October 17, 2003
Most painful losses in baseball history

By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff

All we can say is: Red Sox and Cubs fans, we feel your pain and bleed with your agony. Baseball is the cruelest of sports.

Bill Buckner
The Red Sox couldn't recover from their Game 6 collapse.

1. Game 6: 1986
Who can forget? The Red Sox led three games to two and 5-3 with two men down and nobody on in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the World Series. Then the Mets rallied. With Mookie Wilson at the plate, Bob Stanley fired one far inside, and it got away from catcher Rich Gedman. Kevin Mitchell scored the tying run on the wild pitch, and the Mets won when Mookie Wilson hit a routine grounder that went between first baseman Bill Buckner's legs, scoring Ray Knight all the way from second.

The Sox had a day off to regroup, but it didn't help; two days later, the Mets took the seventh game, 8-5, and Buckner, one of the best players of his era, ended up being better known for what he didn't do (catch the ball) than what he did (2,715 career hits).

1A. Red Sox lose 5-2 lead, Game 7 of 2003 ALCS
You saw it. Did it really happen?

2. Branca gets the call: Dodgers lose 1951 playoff
The flip side of "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" was, obviously, the Dodgers lose the pennant. On Aug. 11, with only 49 games left to play, the Dodgers led the second-place Giants by 13½ games. Then, it all started to unravel. The Giants swept the Dodgers in a mid-August three-game series and went on a tear, winning 16 in a row in August and then seven in a row to end the season. The Dodgers played well -- they never lost more than two in a row after that August sweep -- but the Giants caught them on the next-to-last day of the season.

New York's two most beloved baseball teams then started a three-game playoff at Ebbets Field. They split the first two games. Then, in Game 3, at the Polo Grounds, the unbelievable happens. The Dodgers led 4-1 going into the ninth, but surrender a run on Whitey Lockman's double, then, famously, three more runs on Thomson's home run off Branca, the "shot heard 'round the world."

3. Cubs implode in Game 6 of 2003 NLCS
Mark Prior was cruising along, Cubs leading the Marlins 3-0, five outs to go, Wrigley going crazy, 1945 about to put to bed ... what could go wrong?

Everything.

4. Giants can't hold 5-0 lead in Game 6, 2002 World Series
The Giants were seven outs away from winning their first World Series since moving to San Francisco in 1958. Russ Ortiz was pitching a gem against the Angels. Then, with one out in the seventh, Troy Glaus singled. Brad Fullmer singled. Dusty Baker went to the bullpen for Felix Rodriguez. In an epic at-bat, Scott Spiezio fouls off several pitches before launching a three-run homer. The next inning, Darin Erstad homers off Tim Worrell. The lead was down to one run. Tim Salmon singles. Garret Anderson singles. Robb Nen in the game. Troy Glaus doubles. Angels 6, Giants 5. Never before had a team blown such a big lead in potential World Series-clinching game. Game 7 goes to the Angels.

5. 16 innings of agony: Astros lose to Mets in 1986 NLCS
New York finished the season with a 108-54 record, moving into first place in the NL East on April 22 and never looking back. The Mets finished 21½ games ahead of the second-place Phillies. The Astros didn't have a shabby regular season, either -- they went 96-66 and finished 10 games on top of the second-place Reds.

With starting pitchers Mike Scott, Bob Knepper and Nolan Ryan, and hot reliever Charlie Kerfeld, it looked as if Houston might have a chance in the short NL championship series, and indeed, they did. Scott shut out the Mets in Game 1, striking out 14. The Mets took Game 2. It looked like the Astros would win Game 3, but Len Dykstra hit a walk-off two-run blast in the bottom of the ninth and the Mets won 5-4. Mike Scott again came through in Game 4, shutting down the Mets on only three hits, as the Astros tied the series at two games apiece. Game 5 went 12 innings, as Gary Carter hit the game-winning homer, ruining a fine nine innings of two-hit ball by Ryan.

Game 6 turned out to be the real heartbreaker, though. The Astros led by three going into the ninth, but the Mets scored three to tie the game and send it into extra innings. Seven innings later, the Mets scored three again, and it looked as if the longest game in playoff history would soon be over. But the Astros fought back and scored two runs in the bottom of the 16th. It was not enough. The rally fell short as Jesse Orosco fanned Kevin Bass to give the Mets a 4-2 series win.

6. Bucky who? Red Sox lose to Yankees in 1978 playoffs
The Sox blew a 14-game lead in the AL East, then rebounded to win eight straight games at the end of the season, tying the Yankees for first place in the AL East. In a one-game playoff at Fenway Park, light-hitting Bucky Dent lifted one over the Green Monster for a three-run homer. Reggie Jackson also homered, and the Yankees led 5-4 going into the bottom of the ninth. Rick Burleson managed to make his way to third base, and represented the tying run with two down and Carl Yastrzemski at the plate. But Yaz fouled out, the Yankees won the AL East pennant, and Boston fans hunkered down for another long winter.

7. Angels lose heartbreaker to Red Sox, Game 5 1986 ALCS
Before the Sox lost the heartbreaker of all heartbreakers to the Mets, they inflicted some serious fan-pain themselves. Leading the best of seven ALCS three games to one, the long-suffering Angels looked World Series-bound for the first time in history. California led 5-4 with two outs until the top of the ninth when Dave Henderson hit a two strike two run shot off Donnie Moore to give the Sox an edge. The Angels would tie in the bottom of the ninth but the 11th inning made Henderson a hero once again as his sac fly sealed the game five win for the sox on their way to the series victor and an AL flag.

8. Pirates lose shocker to Braves, Game 7 1992 NLCS
It may be hard to remember, but the Pirates almost had a dynasty going in the early 1990s. The key term here is "almost." In 1990, Pittsburgh lost the NLCS in six games, to the Reds. In 1991, the Pirates led the Braves three games to two, but Braves pitchers Steve Avery (Game 6) and John Smoltz (Game 7) shut them out twice in a row to take the series.

But 1992 looked like it would finally be the Pirates' year. In Game 6 of their NLCS rematch against the Braves, they crushed Atlanta 13-4 to tie the series. Then, in Game 7, the Pirates led 2-1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Francisco Cabrera came up to pinch hit, and his single brought in the tying and winning runs.

Andy Van Slyke was so stunned and defeated that he remained sitting in center field, barely able to move, as the Braves and the fans at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium went wild. Barry Bonds, who fielded Cabrera's single, was down on one knee, in disbelief. The Pirates become only the third team to lose three league championship series in a row. Then Bonds left and they never contended again.

Florida Marlins
The 1997 Marlins celebrated their World Series victory, then scattered about the major leagues.

9. Indians lose Game 7 to Marlins in 1997 World Series
The Indians won the AL Central with an 86-75 record, come back from a two-games-to-one deficit to beat the Yankees in the ALDS, then dispatching the O's in six games to take the AL pennant. In the World Series against the Onederful Marlins, it went like this: Florida won Game 1, Cleveland Game 2, Florida Game 3, Cleveland Game 4, Florida Game 5, Cleveland Game 6.

In Game 7, the Indians led 2-0, and it looked like they'd win their first World Series since 1948. Then, in the bottom of the ninth, the Marlins' Craig Counsell tied the game with a sacrifice fly. In the bottom of the 11th, Counsell scored the winning run, and the Tribe's hopes were dashed again.

10. The ball goes through Durham's legs: Cubs lose 1984 NLCS
After winning the first two games of the NLCS, the Cubs lose the next two to the Padres. They lead winner-take-all Game 5 3-0 going into the bottom of the sixth with Cy Young winner Rick Sutcliffe on the mound. The Padres scored twice in the sixth. In the seventh, with one out and a runner on second, Tim Flannery hit a routine groundball to first baseman Leon Durham. The run scored to tie the game. Alan Wiggins singled on an 0-2 pitch. Tony Gwynn doubled in two runs. Steve Garvey singled in Gwynn. Padres win 6-3.