When Boston’s Chris Sale struck out Manny Machado of the Los Angeles Dodgers to end the 2018 World Series, it marked the 22nd time that a Fall Classic ended with a strike three.
A baseball game can end in any number of different ways, from a foul popup to a strikeout to a game-winning home run; World Series have ended in all of these ways. But the ending of the World Series signifies something more to most baseball fans: a championship for one lucky team, of course, but also the end of a grueling seven-month campaign and the start of the long, cold winter (a.k.a. the offseason). The final pitch of the World Series is always a memorable one.
Did you know only one World Series in history has ended on a strikeout dropped by the catcher? That was in 1956, and the play involved two Hall of Famers: the batter, Brooklyn’s Jackie Robinson—in the final at-bat of his Major League career—and the catcher, Yogi Berra of the Yankees. Robinson swung at a sinker in the dirt from 23-year-old right-hander Johnny Kucks, who finished off a three-hit shutout of the Dodgers in Game 7 at Ebbets Field. Berra picked up the ball and threw it to first baseman Moose Skowron to clinch New York’s 17th championship.
Afterward, Kucks said, “It was a fastball and it really sank. . . . I can’t ever remember when it behaved any better for me. That was the greatest kick I’ve ever had in baseball.”
There’s no greater thrill than to be on the mound or at the plate with the World Series on the line. It’s the subject of every aspiring ballplayer’s greatest fantasy: get the game-winning hit or make the game-winning play to bring home a championship. But there’s always another side to that story. Someone else has to give up the winning hit or make the season’s final out.
As we look ahead to the 2019 World Series, here are some of the most memorable stories about the final pitch in the first century of Fall Classics.
Of the more than 19,000 Major League players in history, only 11 of them can say they’ve fulfilled the universal dream to stand in the batter’s box and win the World Series on the final pitch of the year.
The most famous of these were the World Series–winning home runs by Bill Mazeroski (1960 Pirates) and Joe Carter (1993 Blue Jays). As Toronto broadcaster Tom Cheek poignantly proclaimed, Carter would never hit a bigger home run in his life—how could he, after that memorable line drive to left field off Philadelphia Phillies closer Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams?
Two other players have won the World Series with extra-base hits in the final at-bat. In 1924, Washington’s Earl McNeely delivered the capital’s first (and only) championship with an RBI double in the 12th inning of Game 7 that struck a “pebble” and bounced over the head of New York Giants rookie third baseman Freddie Lindstrom, a future Hall of Famer. Five years later, Bing Miller of the Philadelphia A’s doubled home Hall of Famer Al Simmons to cap off a three-run, ninth-inning comeback to win Game 5 of the 1929 World Series against the Chicago Cubs.
Mazeroski and McNeely are among a small group of players to ever record a walkoff hit in a Game 7: Luis Gonzalez (2001 Diamondbacks), Edgar Renteria (1997 Marlins), and Gene Larkin (1991 Twins) each capped off one of the most memorable World Series of my lifetime and perhaps yours, as well. Few fans now remember the game-winning singles recorded by Hall of Famer Goose Goslin of the Detroit Tigers to win the 1935 World Series and Billy Martin of the New York Yankees in the 1953 World Series, both in a Game 6, but they were widely celebrated in their day.
Goslin is one of just three players in history to stand at the plate for the final pitch in two different World Series; in addition to his 1935 heroics, he also made the final out of the 1925 World Series—watching a called strike three by the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Red Oldham in a wet and wild Game 7 against the Washington Senators.
Edgar Renteria was also on the winning and losing sides to end two separate Series. Seven years after the Florida Marlins shortstop delivered a dramatic 11th-inning single to beat the Cleveland Indians in 1997, Renteria (now with the St. Louis Cardinals) made the final out of the historic 2004 World Series—a groundout to Boston pitcher Keith Foulke to end the Red Sox’s 86-year championship drought.
The only batter to make the final out in two different World Series was Charley “Boss” Schmidt, the Detroit Tigers catcher in 1907 and ’08 when they lost in five games apiece to the Chicago Cubs (who, of course, haven’t won a World Series since).
There have been only two double plays to end a World Series. In 1947, Yankees ace reliever Joe Page induced the Dodgers’ Bruce Edwards to bounce into a routine 6–4–3 to end a closely fought seven-game World Series at Yankee Stadium. One of the weirdest endings in World Series history happened in 1921, when Hall of Famer Frank “Home Run” Baker of the Yankees grounded into a rare 4–3–5 double play to end Game 8 (the final year that baseball tried a best-of-nine experiment). Giants second baseman Johnny Rawlings made a tremendous diving stop of Baker’s grounder in the hole and, while still on the ground, threw him out at first. But Yankees baserunner Aaron Ward, who assumed Baker’s hit would make it to the outfield and never stopped running, was thrown out at third by Giants first baseman George “High Pockets” Kelly to complete the Series-ending double play.
That wild finish was only a prelude to the most famous and ill-advised stolen-base attempt in any World Series, the only other instance when a player was thrown out on the bases to end the Fall Classic. This time, the Yankees’ goat was Babe Ruth, whose foolish attempt to steal second base with two outs in the ninth inning of Game 7 and the powerful Bob Meusel at the plate handed the 1926 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Another unique World Series ending took place one year later in 1927, when the “Murderers’ Row” Yankees finished off a four-game sweep of the Pirates on a wild pitch by Johnny Miljus to score Hall of Famer Earle Combs from third with the winning run. Another Hall of Famer, Tony Lazzeri, was at the plate ready to be the hero when Miljus heaved one to the backstop. No other World Series has ended on a wild pitch. That’s also the only time in 27 tries that the Yankees have clinched a championship with a walkoff World Series victory.
Seventeen Hall of Fame batters have stood at the plate for the final pitch of a World Series—and 14 of them have made the final out, not including Miguel Cabrera, who will likely end up in Cooperstown someday. Joining him in that inglorious World Series–ending club are stars like Honus Wagner (1903); Home Run Baker (1921); Goose Goslin (1925); Frank Frisch (1928); Billy Herman (1938); Earl Averill (1940); Pee Wee Reese (1952); Jackie Robinson (1956); Red Schoendienst (1958); Luis Aparicio (1959); Willie McCovey (1962); Carl Yastrzemski (1975); Tony Gwynn (1984); and Mike Piazza (2000).
The only three matchups of Hall of Fame batter against Hall of Fame pitcher to end a World Series were: 1928 (Yankees’ Waite Hoyt vs. Cardinals’ Frank Frisch); 1938 (Yankees’ Red Ruffing vs. Cubs’ Billy Herman); and 2000 (Yankees’ Mariano Rivera vs. Mets’ Mike Piazza.)
Rivera, the legendary Hall of Fame closer, has been on the mound to end the most World Series. He closed out the 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009 Series, and also watched helplessly as Luis Gonzalez poked a single over second base to win the 2001 World Series for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
On the mound, there have been 20 Hall of Fame pitchers who have thrown the final pitch of the season. Only two have done it in a loss: Rivera in 2001 and Christy Mathewson, who served up a game-winning sacrifice fly to the Red Sox’s Larry Gardner in the 1912 World Series.
Mathewson also recorded the final out of the 1905 World Series, a groundout to short by Philadelphia’s Lave Cross, to complete his record-setting third consecutive shutout against the A’s. He is one of a handful of pitchers to be on the mound for multiple World Series endings, a group that includes three Hall of Famers: Sandy Koufax (1963, ’65), Bob Gibson (1964, ’67), and Rollie Fingers (1972, ’74), along with Johnny Murphy (1936, ’39), Joe Page (1947, ’49), Bob Kuzava (1951, ’52), Ralph Terry (1960, ’62), and Will McEnaney (1975, ’76).
The other Hall of Famers, besides those mentioned above, to throw the final pitch of a World Series are: Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown (1907); Chief Bender (1911); Eddie Plank (1913); Red Faber (1917); Stan Coveleski (1920); Grover Cleveland Alexander (1926); Waite Hoyt (1928); Herb Pennock (1932); Dizzy Dean (1934); Lefty Gomez (1937); Red Ruffing (1938); Hal Newhouser (1945); Goose Gossage (1978); Bruce Sutter (1982); and Dennis Eckersley (1989).
Another Yankee pitcher, Ralph Terry, was on the mound for two of the most memorable World Series endings of all-time: Bill Mazeroski’s game-winning home run off him in Game 7 of the 1960 Series at Forbes Field is one of the most replayed highlights in baseball history. But two years later, Terry experienced the other end of the celebratory spectrum by pitching a four-hit shutout in Game 7 against the San Francisco Giants. The final out of his 1–0 victory was recorded by Hall of Famer Willie McCovey on a line drive to second baseman Bobby Richardson with the tying and winning runs in scoring position. The play inspired a famous series of “Peanuts” cartoons by Charles Schulz in which a despondent Charlie Brown cries, “Why couldn’t McCovey have hit the ball just three feet higher?”
We don’t yet know how the 2019 World Series will end, but you can bet it will be memorable — for the pitcher who throws the final pitch, for the batter at the plate, and for all of us watching.
Note: An earlier version of this article was originally published at TheNationalPastimeMuseum.com on October 15, 2014; it is reprinted here by permission.