Ham City Kev’s Top Ten All-Time MLB League Championship Series

I’m a baseball fanatic, so please excuse another non-nostalgia posting and indulge me on the eve of the 2009 NLCS.

Since 1969, the Championship Series for the American League and National League have played Second Bananas to the World Series. While this is necessary and understandable, I often feel it unfair that even though there have been many great LCS’s, so few retain their shine in popular history. This year marks the 79th and 80th installments of the League Championship Series, so you know they can’t all be mediocre or boring. There is classic baseball buried in there, I promise.

Now, as a child of 1980 I fully admit to appreciating some of the following baseball from boxscores and hearsay only. I understand that sometimes there’s more drama than the numbers show and vice versa. It’s certainly not the best system to come up with a top ten, but shit, being born in 1980 isn’t my fault–and it’s not like MLB Network is putting together a Prime 9 to properly honor these Series. I may not be fully qualified to put together a list like this, but the way I see it, it’s me or nobody. Might as well listen to me, right?

So, without further ado, I present my Top 10 All-Time MLB League Championship Series. Click to links to read about the awesomeness of these series in greater detail on Wikipedia, otherwise enjoy my cliff notes.

Honorable mentions: 1984 NLCS – Padres def Cubs 3-2; 2008 ALCS – Rays def Red Sox 4-3.

10. 1986 ALCS – Red Sox def Angels 4-3
Infamous Red Sox from-the-dead miracle comeback (well, the first one anyways). After the Sox blow Game 4 to trail the Series 3-1, the Angels historically blow Game 5 and never recover. Angels closer Donnie Moore, tormented by fans over the Game 5 loss, kills himself 3 years later.

9. 1972 NLCS – Reds def Pirates 3-2
The best of the 4 NLCS’s played between the 2 best National League teams in the 1970′s. Roberto Clemente, in his penultimate game in the Major Leagues, was the only thing stopping Ross Grimsley from pitching a no-hitter in Game 4. The Reds win it in the bottom of the 9th in the deciding Game 5 off a solo home run from Bench to tie, and a run-scoring wild pitch to win it.

8. 1991 NLCS – Braves def Pirates 4-3
Everyone remembers the drama behind Francisco Cabrera’s game-winner for the Braves in 1992, but nobody remembers the insane pitching clinic of this series. 4 shutouts, 3 of which have a final score of 1-0. The Braves pitching staff, led by an untouchable Steve Avery, holds the Pirates scoreless in the final 22 innings of the series, lowering their collective series E.R.A. to 1.57–and they still lost 3 games!

7. 2004 NLCS – Cards def Astros 4-3
“The Best Series that Nobody Watched?” Perhaps. While the nation’s attention focused on the other LCS (more on that in a sec), this series saw the home team win every game, with Carlos Beltran hitting a home run in each of the first 4 and finishing the series with a sick 1.521 OPS–and yet he was somehow outperformed by Albert Pujols and his OPS of 1.563. Game 5 had both teams pitching one-hitters into the 9th until Jeff Kent won it with a 3-run walkoff homer. Astros tie Game 6 in the 9th but strand potential Series-winning runs on 2nd and 3rd, Cards later win it on a Jim Edmonds 2-run walkoff homer in the 12th. Cardinals win pennant in Game 7 by defeating Roger Clemens in his “final” game.

6. 2004 ALCS – Red Sox def Yankees 4-3
Does this really need an explanation? Well, in case you’ve been in a coma the past 5 years, this actually happened: the Red Sox beat the Yankees. Not only that, they did it in a way that has never ever been done before or since in the long storied history of Major League Baseball–by winning 4 straight after being down 3-games-to-none (and down down to their final 3 outs, to boot). After tying the game off Mariano Fucking Rivera 2 nights in a row, the Sox win Games 4 and 5 in extra innings courtesy of David Ortiz. Curt Schilling wins Game 6 while constantly bleeding from the foot. I was on the phone with Gord as the Game 7 blowout ended, convinced the Yankees would somehow score 8 runs and win–it was that fucking hard to believe.

5. 1972 ALCS – A’s def Tigers 3-2
Some of baseball’s greatest names litter this Series, which was somewhat of a crazy palendrome through 4 games. The Tigers blow an 11th inning lead, then get shut out. The A’s get shut out, then blow a 10th inning lead. Oakland squeaks a 2-1 victory in the deciding Game 5 thanks in part to Reggie Jackson scoring and tearing his hamstring on a double-steal of home in the second. But perhaps most memorably, Bert Campaneris throws his bat at Lerrin LaGrow in Game 2.

4. 1999 NLCS – Braves def Mets 4-2
Braves win Game 1 by the score of 4-2, and that proves to be the biggest blowout of the series. Each of the remaining games would be decided by one run. Down 3-games-to-none, the Mets win Game 4 in their final at-bat, then use 23 players to win the epic Game 5, 15 inning marathon off Robin Ventura’s infamous “Grand Slam Single”. Braves win dramatic, see-saw Game 6 in the 11th with achingly anti-climactic bases loaded walk from Kenny Rogers to advance to the World Series.

3. 1986 NLCS – Mets def Astros 4-2
Mike Scott takes MVP honors despite being on the losing team after allowing only 1 run in 18 innings against the best offense in the league–with the alleged help of a scuffed ball. Mets win Game 3 on a 2-run walkoff homer from light-hitting Lenny Dykstra, then win Game 5 after a 12th inning walkoff base hit from Gary Carter. But let’s be honest, this Series ranks as high as it does because of the epic of LCS epics: the 16-inning Game 6.

2. 2003 ALCS – Yankees def Red Sox 4-3
If you check the box scores of this series, it doesn’t add up to some of the entries above. The numbers, however, are not what this series was about. This was edge-of-your-seat history in the making. This was about 2 incredibly matched teams renewing a great rivalry. It was about the Red Sox standing up for themselves and surprisingly hanging in there against a Yankee team that would normally steamroll them. It was about the benches clearing in Game 3 and Pedro Martinez tossing 72-year-old Don Zimmer on his head. Most memorably, it was about Boston once again tricking everyone into thinking they were going to pull it off in Game 7–until the other shoe dropped late, and Aaron Boone won the series with an 11th inning, walkoff home run. It was the highest of high for the winners, and the lowest of low for the losers.

1. 1980 NLCS – Phillies def Astros 3-2
How this series is not constantly celebrated is beyond me. Game 1, a 3-1 victory for the Phillies, was not only the sole game to feature a home run, but the only game out of 5 that was wrapped up in the regulation 9 innings. The remaining 4 games were back and forth, back and forth; runners stranded, plays at the plate, 3 10th inning victories and one in the 11th, the Astros blowing the first pennant in their franchise’s history and the Phillies winning their first in 30 years. There really aren’t any words that can properly capture the excitement of this series. Click on the link above to see for yourself.

What can be in store for us this year, the 40th anniversary of the League Championship Series? One or two new entries to this list, perhaps? Well, we can hope so. The 4 Divisional Series were wrapped up quickly, but each had a flair for the dramatic. Perhaps it’s a good sign. Hey, it’s a flawed playoff system (imo), but this year we’re actually getting what we’re supposed to get: the 2 legitimately best teams in each league facing eachother to determine a champion. I may not like who’s left to root for, but I applaud the victory for baseball fans everywhere.

Here’s hoping these 100 players provide games to celebrate for 100 years.

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