Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ranking: World Series of the 1990s

A random list to herald HoF day.  Because, you know, why not?  Also, congrats to Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven.  My extended thoughts on this year's vote to come tomorrow.

1. 1991: Minnesota Twins vs. Atlanta Braves (4-3)
I wasn't a baseball fan at the time (to be fair, I was less than a year old), but I still love watching old highlight footage of this one.  You'll know it for a few notable events: Mark Lemke's hook slide; Lonnie Smith's failure to score from first on Terry Pendleton's double in game six; Kirby Puckett's walk-off home run in game six; and, of course, John Smoltz and Jack Morris' pitching duel for the ages in game seven.  Game seven is often talked about as one of the greatest games in baseball history, and that's no exaggeration.  The Smoltz/Morris match-up was exciting for any baseball fan, and the drama with Lonnie Smith in the eighth inning gave the Series a "what could have been?" aura that would enhance any sporting event.  Though the last two games are what make this World Series one of the greatest of all-time, the first five games didn't lack for drama either.  Games 2-4 were all decided by only one run, and game three went into the twelfth inning.  The series as a whole was also unique in that, in 1990, both the Twins and the Braves had finished last in their respective divisions.  It just goes to show: sometimes you don't need a big market team to have a good World Series.

2. 1993: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Philadelphia Phillies (4-2)
Joe Carter.  That's really all I need to say about this Series, but I'll go on anyway.  For the first three games, this one seemed pretty routine.  The teams exchanged wins, with Toronto ahead, and none of the games were particularly close.  That changed in game four, which was conceivably the beginning of the end for the Phillies.  A slugfest that saw the Phillies ahead 14-9 going into the top of the eighth, Larry Andersen and Mitch Williams combined to give that lead back to the Blue Jays (and Toronto won, 15-14).  Interestingly, while the Phillies hit three home runs in the game, the Blue Jays didn't hit any.  Anyway, the first elimination game for the Phillies turned out rather well for them: Curt Schilling pitched a gem and the Phillies won 2-0.  But really, game six is what makes this series.  Back at the SkyDome, Toronto took an early 3-0 lead on hits from Paul Molitor and (newly minted Hall of Famer) Roberto Alomar.  Eventually Philadelphia would take the lead back, setting up the bottom of the ninth.  With the Phillies up 6-5, they once again turned to their closer Mitch Williams.  And like in game five, the Wild Thing couldn't get the job done.  Next thing you knew Tom Cheek was screaming "touch 'em all Joe!" and one of the best World Series of all-time was over.

3. 1992Toronto Blue Jays vs. Atlanta Braves (4-2)
Nobody remembers this one, probably due to the fact that 1993 was much more exciting, but it had its moments.  Game two, for instance, was a compendium of a few such moments.  Atlanta took a 4-3 lead into the top of the ninth, but Jeff Reardon allowed a two-run home run to Blue Jays reserve Ed Sprague.  The Jays almost gave the lead back in the bottom of the inning, allowing Terry Pendleton to come to the plate with two runners on and two outs, but Jays' closer Tom Henke was able to seal the deal.  Game three saw the Blue Jays again take the lead back from the Braves in the late innings, with Reardon once again yielding the winning run.  Game six, in which the Jays clinched the Series, was an epic pitching duel between Steve Avery and David Cone, and this time it was the Jays who first blew the lead, allowing Otis Nixon and the Braves to send the game to extra innings.  Unfortunately for the Braves, Toronto took the lead in the top of the eleventh on a two-run Dave Winfield double.  Despite their best efforts to cough it back up to the Braves, the Jays managed to hang on to end one of the most dramatic and underrated World Series.

4. 1997: Florida Marlins vs. Cleveland Indians (4-3)
Although this series went to seven games, I had to give the edge to 1993 due to Joe Carter's home run.  Still, 1997 was not without its exciting moments.  The first Series to feature a wild card team (Florida), 1997's best game before its legendary game seven was game three, which saw Florida take a 14-7 lead (after being tied) in the ninth inning, and them almost cough it up in the bottom of the inning.  Anyway, jump ahead to game seven: the series was obviously tied, with the Indians just having denied the Marlins a chance at glory the night before.  Game seven had it all: a pitchers duel (the final score was 3-2), moments of agony (Jose Mesa's blown save, Tony Fernandez' error in the eleventh that allowed the Marlins to eventually score the winning run), and a moment of glory (Edgar Renteria's hit with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eleventh, of course).  That game alone makes this series one of the best of all-time, let alone the 1990s.

5. 1995: Atlanta Braves vs. Cleveland Indians (4-2)
Here we get to the... lesser Series of the 1990s.  On paper, this series should be one of the best.  Five of its six games were won by just one run.  It featured Glavine-Maddux-Smoltz in their prime.  And, speaking of which, it was the only Series during their run of NL East dominance that the Braves actually managed to win.  But in spite of all that, 1995 just doesn't have any moments that people are still talking about today.  Tom Glavine shut down the Indians in the clinching game six?  I'm a huge baseball fan, and not even I knew that.  Maybe 1995 isn't as well known because each of its teams played in a much more exciting Series at some other point during the decade.  Still, I'm sure it was fun to watch at the time.

6. 1996New York Yankees vs. Atlanta Braves (4-2)
Notable for being the beginning of the Yankees' run of dominance, the Braves actually won the first two games (both in New York).  The Yankees won game three fairly comfortably, but it then seemed like the Braves would go up three games to one by winning game four.  However, despite being down 6-0 in the top of the sixth, the Yankees would roar back into action, and tied the game at six in the top of the eighth (thanks to a three-run Jim Leyritz home run).  The Yankees would then complete their comeback in the top of the tenth by scoring two runs off of the once-great Steve Avery, tying the Series at two and swinging the momentum back to the Yankees.  Despite the fact that both games five and six were only won by one run each, there weren't any all-time great dramatics.  There was some drama in game six, as John Wetteland almost blew the save that won the Yankees the Series, but he got the job done, and the Yankees dynasty was more or less born.

7. 1998: New York Yankees vs. San Diego Padres (4-0)
In spite of this being a sweep, 1998 was surprisingly dramatic.  Perhaps that's just a relative term, however.  The drama here was "could the Yankees actually lose, after having won 115 regular season games?"  The answer turned out to be a resounding no, but for the first six and a half innings of the Series that answer seemed to be in doubt.  Kevin Brown shut down the Yankees, as David Wells struggled to subdue the Padres.  Then in the seventh the floodgates opened, and the Yankees scored seven runs to go up 9-5 (and would eventually win the game 9-6).  They would only spend one more inning (over the next three games) trailing, though that too was a good game.  Game three saw the Padres take another early lead, only to have their bullpen (including a surprisingly shaky Trevor Hoffman) cough it up.  This Series was good partly for the great games one and three, and partly because it's fun to speculate on how great of a Series it would have been had the Padres closed the deal in those same games.

8. 1999: New York Yankees vs. Atlanta Braves (4-0)
Ho-hum.  After each of these teams had featured in their fair share of Series throughout the decade, 1999 was pretty boring.  The only game that was won by fewer than three runs was game three, in which Chad Curtis hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the tenth.  Still, despite that exciting moment, the rest of the Series was basically just a Yankees coronation.  If you're looking for a good Yankees-Braves series, look at 1996.

9. 1990: Cincinnati Reds vs. Oakland Athletics (4-0)
Wow, what a great Series!  The Swingin' A's and the Big Red Machine played seven excellent games, and we got to see Joe Morgan, Catfish Hunter, Frank Robinson, Pete Rose, and Rollie Fingers, too!  Wait, no, that was 1972.  1990 was devoid of any drama, save for a Dennis Eckersley blown save in game two, and was clearly the worst Series of the 1990s.

10. 1994: Montreal Expos vs. New York Yankees

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