10 of the most memorable Championship Series moments from the last decade
If the World Series is baseball's Christmas Day, then the Championship Series is Christmas Eve. Players and fans, are on the precipice of what they've been dreaming of, making every big moment the difference between an October date with destiny and a long, cold winter.
Today, let's look back at 10 of the biggest and most memorable plays from the last decade -- the ones that made it well worth staying up past your bedtime to see how it would all play out.
10. Jimmy Rollins doubles in the winning run - Game 4, 2009 NLCS
Up two games to one, Game 4 in Philadelphia gave the Phillies a chance to really push the Dodgers to the wall. After LA scratched out four runs against Joe Blanton (who has taken on hero status in Dodgerland this season), the boys in blue held a narrow 4-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth.
Closer Jonathan Broxton had already entered the game in the eighth to get Jayson Werth out and end a Phillies threat, but soon found himself in trouble in the ninth. With runners at first and second, and two outs, Jimmy Rollins stepped into the box. Rollins laced Broxton's 1-1 pitch to the gap, and Carlos Ruiz, who is not known for his speed, raced around the bases to win the game.
9. Kenny Lofton stops - Game 7, 2007 ALCS
Kenny Lofton was very fast. He stole 622 bases during his career, with another 34 in the postseason. But with the Indians trailing, 3-2, in the top of the seventh of the winner-take-all Game 7 against Boston, Lofton was on second base when Franklin Gutierrez hit a single into the corner. After the ball hit the angled wall and bounced into left field, Lofton stopped after rounding third.
As Lofton rounded third, he suddenly was plagued by a bout of indecision:
The Red Sox would score eight more runs in the next two innings to blow out the Indians, 11-2, and finish off their comeback from a three-games-to-one deficit. But would everything have been different had Cleveland managed to tie the game? Perhaps …
8. Alex Rodriguez ties it in the 11th - Game 2, 2009 ALCS
After the Angels tied the Yankees at 2 in the fifth inning, the game went scoreless for six more.
Leading off in the bottom of the 11th, Rodriguez fell behind in the count, 0-2, to Brian Fuentes. It wasn't a great count to do much with, especially as A-Rod had been in 32 0-2 holes in the regular season that year and hadn't homered in any of them. This time would be different, though, as Rodriguez hammered the high fastball just over the Yankee Stadium wall and the leaping Bobby Abreu:
While Rodriguez was rounding the bases, Joe Girardi started pointing to something on the field. What was it? And why was his coach so scared? Answer: Yankees Ghosts. Had to be, right?
The game would stay tied until the bottom of the 13th when a wild throw at first base allowed Jerry Hairston Jr. to come around and score to hand the Yankees sweet victory.
7. Juan Uribe's jazz hand of glory - Game 6, 2010 NLCS
Juan Uribe is a fan favorite wherever he goes. Sure, part of it is his sense of humor and seeming ability to be the friendliest, funniest player in baseball. But he's also got a penchant for big hits -- and that's the fastest way to make an entire fanbase fall in love with you.
After helping the White Sox win their first World Series in nearly 90 years, and years before helping the Dodgers escape the NLDS, Uribe helped kick-start the Giants' even-year magic.
With the Giants-Phillies game tied at 2 in the top of the eighth, Ryan Madson's cutter caught too much of the plate, and Uribe went the other way:
6. Nelson Cruz's grand slam - Game 2, 2011 ALCS
Long before Cruz had his chance to win the game, the Rangers were in some trouble. With the game tied at 3 thanks to Cruz's first home run, the Tigers managed to load the bases on a single, a double from Donnie Kelly Baby and an intentional walk to Miguel Cabrera in the top of the ninth. With Victor Martinez at the plate, Neftali Feliz ran his fastball up over 100 mph and got Martinez to pop out.
The score would remain knotted until the bottom of the 11th. After the Rangers loaded the bases with none out, chances were quite high that they'd score. That Cruz would do it so spectacularly -- with a ball that seemed to scrape the stratosphere -- was less certain.
5. Lorenzo Cain puts on the afterburners - Game 6, 2015 ALCS
When Jose Bautista hit a two-run homer to tie the game at three in the top of the eighth, you would be forgiven if you were prepared for an extra innings affair. But Lorenzo Cain didn't want to go to extra innings.
After working a difficult eight-pitch walk, Cain was on first base when Eric Hosmer singled down the line to Jose Bautista. Note: I said he singled. Players don't normally score from first on singles. Except that Cain did -- rounding the bases in only 10.5 seconds and sending the Royals to their second consecutive World Series.
4. Matt Stairs goes deep - Game 4, 2008 NLCS
While he started his career as a second baseman, Stairs found his greatest success as a slugger and pinch-hitter who looked like the type of throwback player that would happily drink a few beers with fans after the game.
The high point of his career came in Game 4 of the Phillies-Dodgers matchup, though. After Shane Victorino tied the game at 5 with a two-run homer earlier in the inning, Stairs got his chance to break the game open. On a 3-1 pitch, Broxton left a fastball over the plate. Transforming from his relaxed stance into a coiled machine of fury, Stairs launched a dinger deep into the night:
It fits his #brand:
"I'm not going to lie: I try to hit home runs, and that's it. I'm not going to hit a single and steal second base. God knows that," the slugger said later in his career.
3. Adam Wainwright gets Carlos Beltran looking - Game 7, 2006 NLCS
It's a game that Mets fans know all too well. With the game tied at 1 in the top of the ninth, Yadier Molina came to the plate with Scott Rolen on first. He then deposited Aaron Heilman's pitch into the left-field chasm for a 3-1 Cardinals lead.
But it wasn't over for the Mets. New York managed to load the bases with two outs when Beltran came to the plate --the same Beltran who had hit eight home runs in the 2004 postseason with the Astros and had already hit three home runs against the Cardinals in the series. Unfortunately for the Mets, Wainwright got ahead 0-2 and then unleashed the curveball that would define his career. Mighty Beltran had struck out:
Beltran's strikeout didn't just end the Mets' season -- it also relegated Endy Chavez's amazing home run robbery of Rolen in the sixth to a mere footnote:
2. Travis Ishikawa goes deep - Game 5, 2014 NLCS
After the hulking beast that is Michael Morse tied Cardinals-Giants Game 5 with a home run in the bottom of the eighth, the stage was set. With two on, the one-time 21st-round Draft pick -- with all of 22 career big league home runs to his name -- stepped to the plate.
And, just as he had done throughout the postseason, Ishikawa succeeded again:
Ishikawa said after the game:
1. David Ortiz proves that clutch exists - Game 2, 2013 ALCS
Given that David Ortiz helped engineer the greatest comeback in postseason history and end an 86-year-old World Series drought in one postseason, you'd think he couldn't possibly top that. He may not have topped it, but he certainly tried.
Having been nearly no-hit in a 1-0 loss against the Tigers in Game 1, things were looking dire for the Red Sox in Game 2. Detroit had opened up a 5-0 lead before Dustin Pedroia clawed one back in the bottom of the sixth.
That was the score when Ortiz stepped to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth against Joaquin Benoit. The hulking DH didn't give the Tigers reliever any time to adjust to the game. On his first pitch -- an 86-mph changeup that Ortiz was ready for -- Big Papi took a swing and launched it out to right.
Torii Hunter did his best to bring it back, but all he managed to do was create one of the greatest memes in baseball history:
Be sure to tune in for Game 1 of the ALCS between Toronto and Cleveland at 8 p.m. ET on Friday on TBS and Sportsnet (in Canada).