Players choose their favorite playoff moments

October 22nd, 2018

As the years pass, we forget so much of the postseason experience. We forget the debates over who should be the 25th man on a particular roster. We forget the name of the umpire who called that borderline pitch a ball in a big spot. We forget which form of snack food we consumed while stress-eating in the late innings. We forget the final scores and, heck, some of us even forget actual series outcomes.
What we're more likely to remember are single, signature moments -- huge hits, dramatic dingers, dazzling defensive gems that make us jump or fall out of our chair -- or vague-but-vivid tableaus from the overall experience.
That's the stuff that survives.
So just before the start of another enthralling October, we asked a bunch of active Major Leaguers -- 85 in all, from a wide variety of teams -- for their favorite postseason moment of their lifetime. We got a lot of different answers, from commonly cited moments like the Derek Jeter "Flip Play" for the Yankees against the A's in the 2001 ALDS ("Such a weird, instinctual play," Rockies shortstop said) to not-so-commonly-cited ones like Carlos Guillen's walk-off push bunt to advance the Mariners past the White Sox in the 2000 ALDS ("That one I remember, because I was there with my dad, top deck, right behind the foul pole, with our backs against the glass at Safeco," Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd said) to more general takes on title runs ("Every single night growing up, we were tuned into Channel 23, TBS, to watch the Braves, so it was sick seeing them win it [in '95]," Red Sox pitcher said).
:: World Series schedule and results ::
We can't list every single answer here, so we picked out 10 that elicited either the most or the best responses.
2011 World Series, Game 6: The Game
No surprise that Freese's elimination-game glory has a special place in the hearts and minds of many current players, though it is a little jarring to note how long ago -- in baseball years, at least -- this night really was.
"I was in high school in Venezuela," said Marlins right-hander , emphasizing that point.
Texas was up, 7-5, one strike away from its first World Series title with two aboard and Freese at the plate. But when Freese lifted a fly ball over the head of a leaping in right field to bring home both runners, it was a brand-new ballgame.
"I remember I had a big test the next day," Lopez continued. "I said I was going to go to bed early, but I was like, 'I'm going to watch the ninth inning.' Then it was a tie game, and I stayed up like two extra hours, because I couldn't stop watching that game. To me, that game was just, like, mind-blowing."
With sleep-deprived fans watching every second, Josh Hamilton's two-run homer in the 10th put the Rangers back ahead, but the Cardinals came roaring back again with Lance Berkman's two-out, two-strike, game-tying single in the bottom of the inning. And in the 11th, Freese permanently cemented his place in postseason lore with the leadoff, walk-off winner off to set up Game 7.

"He's pretty humble about it," said Pirates starter , who was a Minor Leaguer at the time but later became teammates with Freese. "But that type of moment can change your life. We were in St. Louis [recently], and they were interviewing people at the Ballpark Village across the street, asking, 'What's your favorite postseason moment?' Every person from age 20 to 80 said David Freese's home run. That's cool."
Nine players we surveyed picked Freese's heroics as their favorite postseason memory, so it "won" this poll.
Although, in the interest of full disclosure, one of those players was Freese himself.
"I'll tell you what," he said, "I enjoyed the triple more. People always talk about the homer, but that triple was sweet. Down to the last strike, last out, got it done. More importantly, the Game 7 finish to cap it off. Game 6 isn't as cool if we don't get it done."
2001 World Series, Game 7: The Luis Gonzalez Game-Winner
At a time when America needed a healthy diversion and distraction most, the World Series certainly delivered, with the D-backs and Yankees going the distance.
"There was a lot of stuff wrapped up in post-9/11 playoff baseball that year," said Nats reliever , one of three players to pick this moment. "So, I feel like the whole country was super invested in the playoffs and World Series, because the Yankees were in it and all of the storylines and everything. It was just such an emotional World Series, emotional playoffs."
And it all came down to the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7, with the score knotted at 2, the bases loaded, one out and arguably the greatest closer in history -- Mariano Rivera -- on the mound. Luis Gonzalez swung at Rivera's 0-1 offering and hit the flare that found the outfield grass.

"Infield pulled in, Luis Gonzalez blooper base hit," Tigers catcher said. "I remember that one pretty vividly."
2004 ALCS: The Red Sox Comeback
Think about the gift this Sox team gave not just to Bostonians desperate to end an 86-year World Series title drought, but to a generation of ballplayers who now know nothing on the postseason stage is impossible. Because if a long-cursed club can come back from a 3-0 hole in a best-of-seven series against the juggernaut Yankees, why should anybody roll over?
That's why five players surveyed picked not just any one moment of this comeback (such as Johnny Damon's Game 7 grand slam), but the comeback itself.
"It was just so historic in that rivalry," Padres catcher said. "I always loved the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, and that comeback, I've watched the [ESPN '30 for 30' documentary] on it like five times."

Added Angels pitcher Justin Anderson: "If it's on TV, I'll always stop to watch it."
For Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill, a Boston native, that series was personal both then and now.
"Red Sox winning, with our manager [Dave Roberts] stealing second base," Hill said.
2005 National League Championship Series, Game 5: The Homer
Back in that prehistoric era in which the Astros were still in the NL Central, they played two epic NLCS rounds against the Cardinals in 2004 and '05. The Cards prevailed in a seven-game thriller in '04 that, with the Red Sox and Yankees doing their aforementioned thing over in the AL, didn't get the eyes it deserved. In '05, the Astros got their revenge, but not before Pujols hit a home run bigger than the great state of Texas.
It was 4-2 Astros in the top of the ninth, two on, two out, with Brad Lidge on the hill and Pujols at the plate. Lidge got ahead 0-1, and then "The Machine" flipped on. Pujols hit the ball -- or what was left of it -- to the train tracks at Minute Maid Park to give the Cards the go-ahead run in a 5-4 win.

"People that were there say you could hear a pin drop, that it was dead silence," Brewers first baseman said. "Lidge was the most dominant closer in the game at that time."
That the Astros went on to win Game 6 feels almost trivial here, because, for a couple of surveyed players, the memories of the homer have somehow exceeded the memories of the ultimate series result.
"The swing," Thames said. "Bam! Smell ya! I can imagine being a player on that [Astros] team, and it was like your heart was ripped out."
Taillon -- who, yes, was already quoted earlier in this piece, but couldn't limit himself to just one memory -- was watching on TV from his Houston-area home and can attest to that feeling.
"I was, like, a fan fan, bigtime Astros fan," he said. "That one hurt."
2002 World Series, Game 2: The Barry Bonds Homer
The Giants lost this game. The Giants lost this Series. The "Rally Monkey" and his cohorts on the Angels would have the last laugh.
But when the game's most feared slugger hits a ball an estimated 485 foot for a solo shot in the ninth inning off one of the game's best closers in Troy Percival, people remember.

Rockies outfielder remembered.
"It disappeared in the sky," he said of Bonds' blast.
Actually, it went through a tunnel halfway up the right-field bleachers at Angel Stadium, bouncing off a concession stand.
"That was so impressive," Gonzalez continued. "The Giants are down in the ninth inning, and the guy just silenced the entire stadium when he hit that homer. That's a homer that I'll always remember."
2006 NLCS, Game 7: The Endy Chavez Catch
Back in the days before catch probabilities, the eye test was all we had to evaluate the difficulty of an outfield defensive gem. But we're pretty sure, all these years later, that our eyes did not deceive us on the night of Oct. 19, 2006.
What we thought then is still true now: Chavez's catch, which robbed Scott Rolen of a two-run home run in a 1-1 tie in the sixth, was incredible.

Even though the Mets went on to lose that game after 's uncatchable homer in the ninth, Mets fans will always appreciate Chavez's great glovework and his throw to double up Jim Edmonds at first. And nobody in Shea Stadium that night was more appreciative than the man on the mound, .
"You ask anybody, and they say it's one of the best moments in baseball," a present-day Perez said. "The way he jumped to the ball, that was amazing, because he's a shorter guy [5-foot-11]. To get that ball and get the double play was amazing."
2013 NL Wild Card Game: The Pittsburgh Crowd
When the Pirates advanced to the postseason for the first time in 21 years, it was an occasion fit for a party. But the sold-out crowd at PNC Park was dressed for a funeral, with all-black attire as the go-to garb. Between that intimidating attire and the sheer sound of a crowd expunging two decades of sub-.500 finishes from their memory, it was an atmosphere, from the introductions onward, that those who were on hand won't soon forget.
" kind of led that team to the playoffs," then-Pirates reliever Jared Hughes said. "That moment when they called his name and he tipped his hat to the crowd and they went nuts is what I remember most."
had the unfortunate assignment as the starter for the visiting Reds, who never had an answer for the Pirates or the crowd in a 6-2 loss.

"The crowd was electric," then-Pirates catcher remembered. "They were chanting Cueto's name, and Cueto ended up fumbling the ball on the mound and kind of started laughing. The next pitch, I hit a home run to extend our lead, 2-0. … The energy and the sound of the crowd as I was rounding the bases? I'll never forget that. It felt like the ground was shaking beneath me."
2015 ALDS, Game 5: The Bat Flip
The Blue Jays and Rangers had staged a scintillating series, and it was 2-2 in the top of the seventh of the Game 5 finale, when the Rangers took the lead in the weirdest way imaginable (or, really, unimaginable). Martin, at catcher, was throwing the ball back to pitcher , and the ball hit 's bat and rolled toward third. hustled home from third, and, after an 18-minute review of the situation, the umpires ruled it was, indeed, a live ball and the run counted.
"Just to think about the way they scored the go-ahead run," said Blue Jays center fielder . "I had never felt lower on a baseball field."
But in the bottom of the inning, Bautista hit the three-run home run that they'll be talking about in Toronto for an eternity, with a bat flip that would both cause future fracases and cement his legend up north.

"Then, I had never been higher," Pillar added.
Heck, even at least one member of the losing team still gets goosebumps over this one.
"You felt the crowd, and it was special," then-rookie Ranger said. "We lost, but I had a great time."
2010 NLDS, Game 1: The Roy Halladay No-Hitter
Sometimes the thing that's not supposed to happen happens. Lineups that advance to October are, by default, good, and they have ample time to prepare for an opposing pitcher or, at the least, adjust to what he's doing in-game. It was one thing when Don Larsen, of all people, was perfect in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series. But given the increasingly sophisticated video and statistical scrutiny of the opposition in the modern day and the overall decline of the complete game itself, an October no-hitter in more modern times just felt pretty impossible.
Until Roy Halladay did it on Oct. 6, 2010.

"I was watching that game, and that was, like, unbelievable," Marlins third baseman said. "I was watching that one all the way, watching how he attacked each hitter. I think that was really special to watch."
Halladay's gem has taken on added gravity in the wake of his tragic death last winter.
"I just remember him being part of so many underperforming teams and never being able to shine in the spotlight," Mets reliever said. "Then he gets a chance in the postseason and really proves what type of pitcher he is and on what level he is."
2016 World Series, Game 7: The Homer, and the Cubs' Curse-Breaking 10th
Take a World Series matchup that features both 108-year and 68-year championship droughts, add a Game 7 that goes to extra innings, sprinkle in a little recency bias and it's no surprise that what happened at Progressive Field on the night of Nov. 2, 2016, garnered eight votes in our survey, including a few votes even from players who had nothing to do with it.
"I was in San Diego, sitting outside, and it was like 75 degrees," Pirates pitcher said. "Sitting outside on my parents' patio with a group of my family and a few of my friends watching the game, then the game was just incredible."
No moment from that game was more incredible than Davis' game-tying, did-that-really-just-happen dinger off in the bottom of the eighth. End result aside, that's still the moment that best defines the insanity of that evening.

"That was a good pitch, 100 [mph] down and in, and he turned on it for a homer," White Sox pitcher said.
Added Twins catcher Chris Gimenez, who was with the Tribe then: "Everyone in the dugout blacked out. Nobody remembers it. I mean, we remember it, but next thing you know, we were on the field celebrating like we won the World Series."
In a true "fish in a barrel" situation, we asked Davis for his favorite postseason moment of all-time.
"That's my best one," he said with a smile. "I'm not being biased. It's just my favorite moment. If I told you how many times I've watched it, it wouldn't look good for me."
Knowing Davis' homer was bound to be the pick of every Indians player who was around in 2016, we thought we might get a little variety by posing our question to rookie pitcher Shane Bieber, who was still in the Minors back then.
"Raj's home run," he said, beaming. "I was losing my mind that game. I was in San Jose at my buddy's house. I was just absolutely losing my mind between that homer and then the back and forth and the rain delay. The whole thing was crazy."
And of course, we surveyed a few Cubs, too. So… care to guess which moment 2016 World Series MVP went with as his postseason pick?

"Getting that hit down the line [to score the go-ahead run in the 10th]," Zobrist said. "They play it at Wrigley on the video before we run out on the field, and, every time I see it, I still get chills from that moment. It still reminds me of rounding first and getting to second and not being able to contain yourself, feeling the elation. I always think of that when I see it."
That's why we watch. And that's why we remember.