Dusty’s frustrating playoff sagas, ranked

November 3rd, 2021

Dusty Baker is one of MLB's most colorful characters, full of stories and baseball wisdom from a lifetime around the game. But the Astros skipper also has experienced more than his fair share of playoff heartbreak.

After coming oh-so-close yet again, he's still seeking his first World Series title, after 24 seasons as a manager and 11 postseason appearances with five different teams.

The Astros' loss to the Braves in the 2021 Fall Classic was Dusty's second loss in the World Series, after his Giants fell to the Angels in 2002. Around those two World Series appearances, nine other playoff runs have fallen short.

Here are Baker's frustrating playoff sagas, ranked.

1) 2002 Giants -- Lost World Series to Angels in Game 7

Baker's first trip to the World Series was the worst of his postseason heartbreaks. The Giants, led by peak Barry Bonds, were eight outs away from a championship and ahead 5-0 in the seventh inning of Game 6 when it all came apart. Baker made the controversial decision to take out starter Russ Ortiz, who was shutting out the Angels into the seventh, after Ortiz allowed a pair of one-out singles. Reliever Felix Rodriguez came in and allowed a three-run homer to Scott Spiezio, the very first batter he faced. The Angels completed their comeback in the eighth on big hits by Darin Erstad and Troy Glaus, held on to win Game 6 and then beat San Francisco in the winner-take-all Game 7.

2) 2003 Cubs -- Lost NLCS to Marlins in Game 7

Baker was on the losing end of one of the most memorable comebacks in postseason history: the Marlins' rally over his Cubs at Wrigley Field in the Bartman Game. Chicago was five outs away from a National League pennant as it took a 3-0 lead into the eighth inning of Game 6 of the NLCS, an almost eerily similar situation to the Giants the year before. That's when the infamous play happened -- as Moises Alou tried to catch Luis Castillo's foul popup along the left-field line, Cubs fan Steve Bartman reached over him and deflected the ball. The Marlins went on to score eight in the eighth to win Game 6 and knocked around Kerry Wood in Game 7 to advance to the World Series. Baker and the Cubs went home.

3) 2021 Astros -- Lost World Series to Braves in Game 6

This was the closest Baker had come to a championship in nearly 20 years. After the Giants' loss in 2002, Dusty finally made it back to the World Series in 2021. But even with one of the deepest lineups in baseball, Baker's Astros came up short against a Braves team that was at its hottest at the perfect time. Atlanta's pitching staff stifled Houston's offense in the Fall Classic, with Jose Altuve hitting the Astros' only two home runs, and even though the Astros forced the series back to Houston with a win in Game 5, the Braves clinched the World Series in Game 6.

4) 2012 Reds -- Lost NLDS to Giants in Game 5

The 97-win Reds were ahead two games to none against the Giants in the NLDS with the next three games at home at Great American Ball Park. But San Francisco squeaked out a 2-1 win in extra innings in Game 3 and took Game 4 behind a brilliant relief effort by Tim Lincecum to force a winner-take-all Game 5. The game went scoreless into the fifth inning, but that's when the Giants erupted for six runs against Mat Latos, with soon-to-be NL MVP Buster Posey belting a grand slam that broke the game wide open.

5) 2017 Nationals -- Lost NLDS to Cubs in Game 5

The Nats had forced a Game 5 at home by winning Game 4 on the road in Chicago, and they went ahead early behind homers from Daniel Murphy and Michael A. Taylor off Kyle Hendricks. To protect a one-run lead in the fifth, they brought in ace Max Scherzer in relief. Scherzer got two quick outs but couldn't finish off the inning. He allowed three straight hits, with Addison Russell's two-run double giving Chicago the lead, and the Cubs scored twice more after catcher Matt Wieters let a would-be inning-ending Strike 3 to Javier Báez go through his legs and to the backstop. Even then, the Nationals nearly rallied late in the game, but with the go-ahead runs on base in the eighth, Jose Lobaton got picked off first base to end the inning, and in the ninth Wade Davis struck out Bryce Harper to end the series.

6) 2016 Nationals -- Lost NLDS to Dodgers in Game 5

In the first of back-to-back five-game NLDS losses in Washington, Baker had the Nationals ahead two games to one in the '16 DS against the Dodgers. Los Angeles won a tight one in Game 4 to force a winner-take-all game, but it was still at Nationals Park, and Scherzer was on the mound. Mad Max was dominant for most of the game, taking a shutout into the seventh inning as the Nats led 1-0. But Joc Pederson led off the seventh with a game-tying home run, and when Baker went to the bullpen, the Dodgers scored three more times in the inning. The Nats rallied to within, 4-3 though, and put two runners on in the ninth inning with NL MVP runner-up Murphy at the plate. That's when the Dodgers pulled their closer, Kenley Jansen, and brought in ... Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw won the battle with Murphy, getting him to pop out, and he struck out Wilmer Difo to clinch the series.

7) 2020 Astros -- Lost ALCS to Rays in Game 7

After two years out of the game, Baker returned to manage the Astros in 2020 and took them to the ALCS despite a 29-31 record. There, facing the Rays, they nearly pulled off a historic comeback. Down three games to none in the series, Houston won three games in a row to force a winner-take-all Game 7. But they were stymied by former Astro Charlie Morton -- who had clinched the Astros' championship three years earlier as the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series -- and a late rally fell short as Tampa Bay won the pennant.

8) 1997 Giants -- Lost NLDS to Marlins in Game 3

The 1997 Marlins shocked the world when they won the World Series as the NL Wild Card in their first time making the postseason; their first victim along the way was the Giants in Baker's first postseason as a manager. The first two games of the series were walk-offs, with the Giants on the wrong end of both -- the NL West champs lost Game 1 on a walk-off single by Edgar Renteria and Game 2 on a walk-off single by Moises Alou. The Marlins completed the sweep behind Devon White's grand slam in Game 3 in San Francisco.

9) 2000 Giants -- Lost NLDS to Mets in Game 4

The 2000 Giants won a Major League-best 97 games and were facing the Wild Card Mets in the first round of the playoffs. They cruised in Game 1, but that was the last game they won. New York took Game 2 in 10 innings, spoiling J.T. Snow's game-tying pinch-hit three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth -- Bonds struck out looking to end that game -- and won Game 3 in 13 innings on a walk-off homer by Benny Agbayani. San Francisco was one-hit in Game 4 and eliminated.

10) 2013 Reds -- Lost NL Wild Card Game to Pirates

There wasn't a lot of heartbreak here, even though it was a winner-take-all game. The Reds were the low seed and the Pirates took care of business at home, never looking back after a pair of early home runs off Johnny Cueto.

11) 2010 Reds -- Lost NLDS to Phillies in Game 3

The Phillies were just the better team. They'd won an MLB-best 97 games and had a dominant starting rotation with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. Halladay threw the second postseason no-hitter in history against the Reds in Game 1 of the NLDS, Hamels pitched a shutout in Game 3, and the Phillies rolled to a sweep.