Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

These are October's most legendary homers

@RichardJustice
October 20, 2019

Bobby Thomson will be forever young, joyously rounding third and skipping toward home plate as broadcaster Russ Hodges captured it all with the most famous call in history: "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" All these years later, you cannot listen to the audio or watch

Bobby Thomson will be forever young, joyously rounding third and skipping toward home plate as broadcaster Russ Hodges captured it all with the most famous call in history: "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"

All these years later, you cannot listen to the audio or watch the video and not feel the emotion.

Kirk Gibson is forever associated with the enduring images of awkward, painful warmup cuts followed by one magical swing into immortality. As Jack Buck put it so eloquently: "I don't believe what I just saw."

In the years since Thomson, Kirby Puckett had a moment like that, and so did Joe Carter and Aaron Boone, Bucky Dent and David Ortiz. All of us have memories of home runs that touched or tortured, all of them embedded in our hearts and minds. That's especially true of home runs in October, when the stakes are high and the spotlight is bright.

Some of baseball's greatest players have achieved superhero status with postseason jacks. Reggie Jackson did not need three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series to punch his ticket to the Hall of Fame, but to millions of fans, that performance clarified his greatness and his ability to thrive when the games counted the most. That's true of Carlton Fisk, Ozzie Smith, Derek Jeter and a long list of others who used the October spotlight to enhance their reputations.

For others, though, one swing made them instant legends. Dent, Carter and others came to understand that everything else they accomplished in their careers would be a backdrop to their October moments. Virtually all of them have grown comfortable with this, thankful that they will be remembered for helping to shape the history of their game.

If you polled 10,000 baseball fans, you might get 9,000 different answers about the October home run they best remember. There'd be one answer in New England -- take a guess -- and another in the Bronx, and yet another in Southern California. Let's take a crack at our 20 favorites:

1. Kirk Gibson wins Game 1 of the 1988 World Series
This list will have home runs that ended World Series and clinched pennants. This one by Gibson did neither. Yet for so many of us, it tops the list -- because of the backstory and the sheer improbability of it having ever happened. This was Gibson's only at-bat of the 1988 World Series, thanks to leg and knee injuries that left him barely able to walk. When he heard Vin Scully say on the live broadcast of the game that he was nowhere to be seen on the bench and not available for the game, Gibson took it as a dare, and he began taking practice swings in the clubhouse, sending word to Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda that he would be available to pinch-hit. Gibson stepped into the on-deck circle like a scene from "The Natural," and then, through obvious pain, he delivered a gut punch to the heavily favored Athletics, turning the Dodger's 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 victory.

2. Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World" in 1951
Decades later, it lives on, debated by fans on both sides. Did the Giants steal signs that day? How did the Dodgers let a 13-game lead slip away? For both men -- Thomson, who hit the homer that won the NL pennant, and Ralph Branca, who surrendered it -- that day overshadowed everything else they did in their careers. They appeared together dozens of times in the years after the homer, and as Branca once said, "Nobody remembers that, at 21, I won 21 games. Nobody remembers that, at 25, I had 75 wins. All they remember is the homer."

3. Joe Carter wins the 1993 World Series
This is a moment that will live forever for Blue Jays fans -- one that was memorialized with a huge mural in downtown Toronto. The Blue Jays trailed the Phillies, 6-5, in the bottom of the ninth in Game 6, and the series appeared to be headed for a deciding Game 7 when Carter suddenly, emphatically, ended it with a monster three-run homer to left. He danced around the bases, thrusting his fists into the air as the home fans nearly blew the roof off SkyDome. Blue Jays announcer Tom Cheek captured it succinctly: "Touch 'em all, Joe Carter. You'll never hit a bigger home run in your life."

4. Carlton Fisk waves it fair to end Game 6 of 1975 World Series
In a Fall Classic for the ages -- a World Series captured by Pete Rose stepping into the batter's box at one point in Game 6 and saying to Fisk, "This is some kind of game, isn't it?" to which Fisk nodded and said, "Some kind of game." -- Fisk ended Game 6 by leading off the bottom of the 12th inning with a shot down the left-field line that seemed to be hooking foul. Fisk took a few steps down the first-base line and began leaping and attempting to wave the ball fair. The baseball ticked off the left-field foul pole as fans poured onto the field while Fisk rounded the bases.

5. Bill Mazeroski ends the 1960 World Series
No discussion of the greatest game ever played is complete without this one. In terms of impact, no home run meant more than this walk-off in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 that gave the Pirates a 10-9 victory over the heavily favored Yankees -- a club that won 10 of 16 World Series between 1947-62. The Yankees lost the '60 World Series despite outscoring the Pirates, 55-27, and out-hitting them, 91-60. Yankee Bobby Richardson is the only World Series MVP Award winner from a losing team. Mickey Mantle sat in the visiting clubhouse at Forbes Field and cried after Mazeroski's homer.

6. Bucky Dent finishes off the Red Sox in 1978
When the Red Sox played late in the 1978 season, the Boston Globe's Peter Gammons wrote that it was the first time in history when the first-place team (Red Sox) was chasing the second-place team (Yankees). The Yanks trailed by 14 games on July 19, but they were tied on Oct. 2, when the AL East was settled in a one-game playoff at Fenway. The Yankees trailed, 2-0, when Dent lifted a fly ball over the Green Monster with two runners on in the top of the seventh. That has become one of the defining moments of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. "I didn't realize it when that ball went out of here, but that home run changed my life," Dent said years later. "It changed my life because … people are still talking about it. It's one of the greatest baseball games ever. It's history."

7. Aaron Boone wins the pennant for the Yankees in 2003
The Red Sox had a 4-0 lead and Pedro Martinez on the mound in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series That's when it got crazy. That's when it came undone for the Red Sox. Yankees manager Joe Torre's smartest move was handing the baseball to Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning of a tie game, and then getting three shutout innings from arguably the greatest closer of all-time. Boone stepped to home plate in the bottom of the 11th inning with knuckleballer Tim Wakefield on the mound. His pennant-winning home run sailed into the Bronx night, making him an instant legend. "Not a week goes by that I'm not reminded of how big the New York Yankees are or how big their reach is," Boone said. "I've had hundreds of stories told to me about where people were or what side they were on."

8. Kirby Puckett forces a Game 7 in 1991 World Series
"And we'll see you tomorrow night." That's how Buck called it as Puckett's home run sailed over the fence to end Game 6. That it was Puckett with the hit seemed appropriate, since he was the heart and soul of the Twins, and before the World Series he'd loudly announced, "Jump on my back."

9. Reggie Jackson's three-homer night in Game 6 of 1977 World Series
When he stepped into the batter's box in the bottom of the eighth inning, Yankee Stadium had become one wild block party. The Yankees had control of the game and were three outs from winning the World Series. All that remained was another Reggie moment, which he delivered. It surprised no one. "I felt like Superman," Jackson said that night.

10. David Ortiz, 2013 ALCS, Game 2
Ortiz may have been the greatest postseason performer of all-time. He batted .455 in 14 World Series games. and he had 17 home runs in 85 postseason games. It's hard to choose his best moment, but Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS stands out. The Red Sox trailed, 5-1, in the bottom of the eighth inning and were on the verge of going down, 2-0, in the series, with Tigers ace Justin Verlander scheduled to start Game 3 back in Detroit. That was the scenario Tigers fans were dreaming of until Ortiz launched a pitch into the home bullpen at Fenway Park, an image made iconic by right fielder Torii Hunter flipping over the wall trying to make the play. That grand slam changed the game and the series, setting the Red Sox on a path to winning their third World Series in 10 seasons.

11. Dave Henderson, 1986 ALCS, Game 5
The Angels were one out from winning Game 5 -- and the series -- when Henderson launched a two-run home run to left field that turned a 5-4 deficit into a 6-5 lead for Boston. The Red Sox would return to Fenway Park and capture Games 6 and 7 to win their first pennant in 21 years. "I looked over at the Angels' dugout, and the whole team was standing on the top step ready to jump on the field," Red Sox first baseman Dave Stapleton remembered years later. "They had horses and cops surrounding the stands, and then [Henderson] kept fouling off all these pitches, and then he had that incredible swing."

12. José Altuve, 2019 ALCS, Game 6
This game nearly went south for the Astros after DJ LeMahieu hit a game-tying, two-run homer for the Yankees in the top of the ninth, and threatened to push the series to a winner-take-all Game 7. But Altuve, Houston's heart and soul, refused to let his team wallow in disappointment for long, knocking a towering, two-run, walk-off dinger off Aroldis Chapman to send the Astros to the World Series. This ALCS was a showdown of superpower teams and superstar talent, and one of the biggest stars of all rose to the occasion.

13. Chris Chambliss, 1976 ALCS, Game 5
Chambliss hit the first pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning out of the park to send the Yankees past the Royals and to the World Series for the first time in 12 years. Years later, he remembered that so many fans stormed the field that he was unable to have the traditional celebration at home plate. In fact, he never made it around the bases, returning to the field later to touch the spot where home plate (which was gone) had been.

14. Ozzie Smith, 1985 NLCS, Game 5
This is why we love it. This is why we show up. Because you never know what's going to happen. Because you especially never know when a great player is going to do something magical. The Wizard had never homered in 3,009 at-bats as a left-handed hitter when we stepped into the batter's box in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tied NLCS Game 5. And then he did, drilling a Tom Niedenfuer pitch off a concrete pillar behind the right-field wall at Busch Stadium to give the Cardinals a 3-2 victory. "I'm dumbstruck," Lasorda said that night. "In all my years in baseball, you learn one thing -- never expect the expected to happen. This is what makes baseball so great."

15. Scott Brosius, 2001 World Series, Game 5
The Yankees were one out away from trailing the World Series, 3-2, when Brosius delivered a game-tying home run that rattled the ghosts of Yankees past -- this home run from the same guy who had hit a pair to lift the Yankees in Game 3 of the 1998 World Series. "I just remember running around the bases and thinking to myself, 'No way did that happen twice,'" Brosius remembered. "It was a great moment."

16. Babe Ruth's called shot, 1932 World Series, Game 3
We'll debate this one forever, and that makes the legend even better. What seems clear is that the Babe did point toward the center-field bleachers in the fifth inning, just before he hit a towering home run there. And what's indisputable is that the Cubs' bench was riding him, and that Babe was barking back. So why not?

17. Chris Burke, 2005 NL Division Series, Game 4
One of the great -- and sometimes overlooked -- postseason moments ever. The Astros rallied from a 6-1 deficit against the Braves in the eighth and ninth innings, and then played an extra nine frames until Burke finally ended the five-hour, 50-minute epic with a walk-off in the bottom of the 18th to send the Astros to the NL Championship Series.

18. Derek Jeter's walk-off, 2001 World Series, Game 4
Tino Martinez had tied it in the bottom of the ninth inning, giving Jeter the opportunity to walk it off an inning later -- moments after midnight, making him "Mr. November." "I don't really know if I can describe how it felt going around the bases," Jeter would say years later. "It feels like you're floating."

19. Mike Scioscia, 1988 NLCS, Game 4
Everything that happened to the Dodgers later that October -- Gibson's World Series home run, winning the Fall Classic -- was put into motion in the top of the ninth inning of Game 4 of the NLCS, when a catcher who had 35 home runs in 8 1/2 seasons up to that point, drilled a Dwight Gooden fastball over the right-field wall to stun the Mets.

20. Jose Pujols, 2005 NLCS,Game 5
Lance Berkman's three-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning had given the Astros a 4-2 lead, and for the next half-hour, Minute Maid Park rocked with the expectation of the Astros' first pennant. And then, in the top of the ninth inning, Albert Pujols delivered a three-run gut punch of a home run, turning a wild street party into silence. "I still get asked about it when I'm in Houston," Pujols said. "People come up and say, 'We forgive you.'" The Astros did win Game 6 to wrap up the series, but that barely dampened the horror of what Pujols had done to the hometown team.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.