The phrase “history is written by the victors” applies to baseball, too. Every postseason sees its share of incredible plays and performances, but only so many of them can fit on highlight packages. Champions ultimately get those spots.
But as enough years pass by, there’s also time to reflect on the October legends who didn’t raise the Commissioner’s Trophy. Here is a look back at some would-be postseason legends that gave everything they could individually, but saw their teams fall short in the end.
Zack Greinke, Astros
The moment: 2019 World Series Game 7
For six efficient innings, it looked as though the Astros truly had made the title-winning trade that many speculated when they acquired Greinke from Arizona at the Deadline. He was carving up the Nationals, needing just 28 pitches to complete the first three innings and facing the minimum through four. Greinke’s slow curve was fooling Washington’s hitters, and he was making play after play on the mound that showed why he was a six-time Gold Glove Award winner.
"He was incredible. Absolutely incredible," said manager AJ Hinch. "I think he did everything we could have asked for and more."
But the Astros failed to take advantage of multiple scoring chances against Max Scherzer, and everything changed when Anthony Rendon homered with one out in the seventh to cut Houston’s lead to 2-1. Greinke walked Juan Soto, and Hinch decided to bring in one of his ace relievers, Will Harris, to snuff out the rally. But Howie Kendrick greeted Harris with his go-ahead homer off the foul pole, and the Nationals were on their way.
Rajai Davis, Indians
The moment: 2016 World Series Game 7
One fanbase was going to walk away from the 2016 World Series with hearts sunk and a championship drought still intact, and Indians fans knew that going into Game 7. But man, did it ever seem like momentum was on Cleveland’s side after Davis -- the Tribe’s speedster who hit all of 12 homers in the regular season -- took Aroldis Chapman’s 98 mph fastball out to the pavilion in left to tie it up in the eighth. Progressive Field was shaking. LeBron James was going nuts. The tide had seemingly turned.
“It just felt like, this is going to be a fight that I'm going to win," Davis said of that at-bat postgame in the somber Indians locker room. He would have been a hero twice over, having also delivered a two-out RBI single amid Cleveland’s last gasp in the bottom of the 10th. But only one team could shed the monkey, and on that night, it was the Cubs.
Josh Hamilton, Rangers
The moment: 2011 World Series Game 6
An incredible road of struggle, recovery and redemption had led Hamilton back to the top of the mountain, first as the American League MVP in 2010 and then just a pitch away from being a world champion a year later. David Freese’s game-tying heroics, which had taken the champagne out of the Rangers’ clubhouse in the bottom of the ninth with Texas a strike away from its first World Series title, were seemingly wiped away when Hamilton crushed a two-run homer in the top of the 10th.
It was Hamilton’s first homer in a span of 82 at-bats, and it was set to be the perfect cherry on top of his remarkable career turnaround. Surely the Cardinals couldn’t come off the ropes again when down to their final strike ... but of course that’s just what they did, when Lance Berkman tied it back up in the bottom of the 10th with a two-out single. Freese played hero again the next inning, putting Hamilton’s homer on the backburner.
Chase Utley, Phillies
The moment: 2009 World Series
Utley was a terrific postseason performer, finishing his Phillies tenure with a .902 OPS in October competition. But while Utley helped Philadelphia capture a long-awaited World Series title in 2008, it’s hard to imagine him doing much more the following year while trying to help his Phillies go back to back. Philly’s beloved second baseman tied the great Reggie Jackson with five home runs against the Yankees in the ‘09 Fall Classic -- including two apiece in his team's wins in Games 1 and 5 -- but the Phils still fell short in six contests.
Endy Chavez, Mets
The moment: 2006 NLCS Game 7
Everything was on the line when Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen dug in against Mets reliever Oliver Pérez with Game 7 locked in a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning. Rolen clubbed a long fly ball that looked destined to push the Cardinals into the lead and send them on to the World Series. And then, Chavez made a spectacular leap and reached over the wall to bring it back, making the catch that seemed like it would send the Mets to the Fall Classic.
History had flipped in the span of seconds, or so it seemed. Fate had other plans, helping Yadier Molina hit a homer that, cruelly, went past Chavez’s reach in the top of the ninth. And then Chavez stood on second base in the bottom half, representing the tying run, when Carlos Beltrán watched Adam Wainwright’s curveball tumble in for strike three. The series was over, but Chavez is still asked about that catch all the time.
Mark Prior, Cubs
The moment: 2003 NLCS Game 6
The Cubs and their workhorse, Prior, were cruising as the second-year phenom entered the bottom of the eighth with a 3-0 lead on the Marlins. Prior picked up a quick out and, after a double by Juan Pierre, appeared to potentially have his second out when Luis Castillo lofted a fly ball down the left-field line.
Of course, Cubs fans remember that moment -- the Steve Bartman play -- vividly. Castillo stayed alive and walked. Ivan Rodriguez singled home Pierre and then, when Prior induced the potential double-play ground ball he was looking for on his 118th pitch of the night, Alex Gonzalez booted it to extend the rally. Derrek Lee’s ensuing two-run double knocked Prior from the game, and the Cubs’ meltdown only continued from there.
Russ Ortiz and Barry Bonds, Giants
The moment: 2002 World Series
The Giants were eight outs away from the title, and Ortiz had redeemed himself. The righty had gotten just eight outs while surrendering seven runs in Game 2, but he had a 5-0 lead at his back and one out in the bottom of the seventh with the Giants in position to clinch in Game 6 before he surrendered back-to-back singles to Troy Glaus and Brad Fulmer. Still, everything seemed fine when Giants manager Dusty Baker came out to replace Ortiz with reliever Félix Rodríguez, with the skipper handing the ball back to his starter as a memento to take to the dugout.
But things went south for San Francisco immediately. Scott Spiezio ended a long at-bat with a three-run homer off Rodriguez, and by the bottom of the eighth the Angels had completely erased the five-run deficit to force a Game 7, which they would also win. Bonds, who had waited 16 years to finally play in a World Series, hit .471 and homered four times in those seven games, but it wasn’t enough.
Alfonso Soriano, Yankees
The moment: 2001 World Series Game 7
Curt Schilling looked untouchable for much of Game 7, outpitching Roger Clemens by a hair in a classic pitchers' duel that’s now somewhat overshadowed by what happened at the end. Schilling carried a 1-0 lead into the top of the seventh before Tino Martinez knocked a game-tying single to right, and he was still looking strong enough that D-backs manager Bob Brenly decided to let Schilling hit for himself in the bottom half of the inning.
So when Soriano, a rookie, greeted Schilling in the eighth with a leadoff home run, it looked as if Brenly would have a lot of questions to answer, and Soriano would potentially be the hero of all heroes during the Yankees’ incredible postseason run. It was Soriano who had walked off the mighty 116-win Mariners with a homer in Game 4 of the ALCS, and he was lined up for the game-winner in the last game of the season.
All that remained was a six-out save by Mariano Rivera -- an outcome that happened so many times before -- but Tony Womack, Luis Gonzalez and the scrappy Arizona lineup had other plans in the bottom of the ninth.
Jaret Wright, Indians
The moment: 1997 World Series Game 7
The 21-year-old Wright was pitching well beyond his years in October 1997, winning three of his first four postseason starts including Game 4 of the World Series. Veteran starter Charles Nagy seemed the probable choice to start the decisive Game 7 in Miami, but Wright’s pitching convinced Indians manager Mike Hargrove to roll the dice and hand the ball to his rookie.
Wright made Hargrove look like a genius when he departed with one out in the bottom of the seventh with a 2-1 lead over the Marlins. But the home club would rally back with the game-tying run in the bottom of the ninth, and Edgar Renteria won it two innings later with a walk-off single off Nagy. Cleveland would have to keep waiting for its first championship since 1948.
Dave Henderson and Bruce Hurst, Red Sox
The moment: 1986 World Series Game 6
Had the bottom of the 10th never gone down the way it did on the night of Oct. 25, 1986, at Shea Stadium, there might very well be a statue of Henderson standing outside Fenway Park. It was Henderson who had homered to bring the Red Sox back from their final strike in a win-or-go-home Game 5 of the ALCS against the Angels, and it was Henderson who gave Boston the lead it would relinquish in the most painful of ways when he homered in the top of the 10th in World Series Game 6.
Hurst, meanwhile, had already been voted MVP of that World Series, thanks to his wins in Games 1 and 5 of the Series, before the champagne and plastic coverings were quickly removed from the Red Sox clubhouse.
Billy Hatcher and Mike Scott, Astros
The moment: 1986 NLCS
How about hitting a game-tying homer off the foul pole in the bottom of the 14th inning -- keeping your team alive in a win-or-go-home contest with a World Series berth on the line -- only to see your team fall short and your season come to an end two innings later? That’s the heartbreak Billy Hatcher experienced in Game 6 of this classic NLCS.
And don’t forget about Scott, who rattled off one of the most dominant three weeks of pitching beginning with the final week of the regular season and stretching through two sensational complete-game victories in the NLCS (18 innings, 19 strikeouts, one walk and one earned run allowed), only to see his team lose the other four games in which he wasn’t involved. Scott, who still won the series’ MVP Award despite the Astros’ loss, would have surely gotten the ball in a Game 7.
George Brett, Royals
The moment: 1976 ALCS Game 5
The Royals’ franchise star did his best to keep his team alive, knocking a three-run, game-tying homer off Grant Jackson with Kansas City down to its final six outs in a game where the pennant was on the line.
But the night ultimately belonged to Chris Chambliss, who launched Mark Littell’s first pitch in the bottom of the ninth over the wall to set off a party at Yankee Stadium.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.