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We get caught up in “best ever” discussions just about every day. Whatever happens today must be better than what happened before. Never mind Johnny Unitas or Otto Graham, Tom Brady is the best quarterback ever. Forget about Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Michael Jordan, LeBron James is the best ever. We know it because it is right there in front of us.
In this spirit, some of us were wondering whether the 2017 World Series might be the best Fall Classic of all time after Houston’s epic 13-12 win over the Dodgers in Game 5 last Sunday. Now, after a dull Game 7 (the Astros took a 5-0 lead in the second inning and won, 5-1), the 2017 Series seems a tad stale — entertaining but perhaps artificially inflated by weary bullpens and juiced baseballs.
I started covering major league baseball in 1975 and have been to 30 World Series. In chronological order, these are the best World Series I have seen with my own eyes:
■ 1975. Reds over Red Sox in seven. Even young New Englanders know about this one. It’s been drummed into them like “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.’’ This was the Series that had El Tiante shutting out the 108-win Big Red Machine in Game 1, then throwing 163 pitches and dazzling them with guile in Game 4.
It had Game 6, which would later be made really famous by Matt Damon and Robin Williams in “Good Will Hunting.’’ That game had Bernie Carbo’s three-run homer and Dwight Evans’s catch and Carlton Fisk’s midnight moonshot off the foul pole.
It was the Series that rescued baseball from sterile ballparks, artificial surfaces, and the rise of “Monday Night Football.”
■ 1977. Yankees over Dodgers in six. OK, this was not a great series, but it’s a personal favorite. Reggie Jackson hit three homers in the clincher, and when Mr. October was interviewed on ABC in the crammed clubhouse after the game, I got jostled into the middle of Bill White’s Q&A with him. It was my Forrest Gump moment, the original photobomb. A 24-year-old me still appears regularly on the YES Network every time they replay Reggie’s game for the ages.
■ 1979. Pirates over Orioles in seven. An underrated Classic. Led by Willie Stargell, the Pirates fell behind, three games to one, and had to win back-to-back-to-back against Mike Flanagan, Jim Palmer, and Scott McGregor.
It was a horrible week for Earl Weaver. He’d been haunted by losing to the Pirates in the ’71 Series and hated Pittsburgh’s William Penn Hotel. Earl thought it was bad luck when the Orioles returned to the same quarters in ’79 and told the check-in clerk, “This hotel is so old, I think William Penn was named for the hotel!’’
■ 1986. Mets over Red Sox in seven. Sorry, but this hideous loss that scarred some of us for life remains the shocking defeat against which all others must be measured. It was worse than Bucky Dent, worse than Aaron Boone.
Primed to shed 68 years of hardball heartbreak, the Sox led the Series, three games to two, and held a 5-3 lead with two outs and nobody aboard in the bottom of the 10th when a ghoulish series of events cut our hearts out.
Calvin Schiraldi Eyes. The three straight Mets singles. The Steamer and the wild pitch. Finally, Buckner.
It’s often forgotten that the Sox led, 3-0, in the sixth inning of Game 7 two days later.
■ 1987. Twins over Cardinals in seven. Homer Hankies in the Metrodome. Possibly the loudest venue I’ve been in. The home team won every game and the Twins won for the first time since they were the Washington Senators in 1924.
■ 1991. Twins over Braves in seven. This one had three extra-inning games and five one-run games. Both teams had finished in last place a year earlier. Game 7 featured Jack Morris over John Smoltz, 1-0, in 10 innings. There was no pitch count, no Dave Roberts taking Rich Hill out after four fine innings. The Twins improved to 8-0 at the Metrodome in the World Series.
■ 2001. Diamondbacks over Yankees in seven. Before he became a tinfoil-hat social media menace, Curt Schilling was a really good baseball player, never better than in this Series, when he was co-MVP with Randy Johnson.
This Series had President George W. Bush throwing the greatest first pitch in history, a defiant strike while wearing a bulletproof vest in the wake of 9/11. There were two extra-inning games and four one-run games. It was a walkoff orgy, won on Luis Gonzalez’s bloop single off Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7.
■ 2004. Red Sox over Cardinals in four. OK, not much of a World Series, but it’s immortal because of the sheer magnitude of what this Red Sox team did. They vaporized the 86-year-old curse and sent New Englanders to graveyards to deliver champagne and flowers to forebears who never lived to see it happen.
■ 2016. Cubs over Indians in seven. This was like watching the Red Sox in 2004, but it was actually a good World Series. Terry Francona’s Indians bolted to a three-games-to-one lead, only to be overwhelmed by Theo Epstein’s Cubs in the final three games.
The scene outside Wrigley Field before and after all three games was unlike anything I have witnessed. It was almost frightening.
Unlike this year, Game 7 did not disappoint. The Cubs won, 8-7, in 10 innings, rallying after a post-midnight rainstorm interrupted play. A 108-year drought was over. Biblical.
■ 2017. Astros over Dodgers in seven. We had a series-record 25 homers. We had two games decided by one run, three games decided by two runs, and another game tied in the ninth. We had the cartoonish, extra-inning, homerlicious Games 2 and 5.
The Astros won their first World Series in the franchise’s 56-year history. One small step for baseball, one giant leap for hurricane-ravaged Houston.
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