Past Game 7s in all their glory
LCS has made for great drama and history over the years
BOSTON -- The 13th Game 7 in League Championship Series history will begin tonight at 8 p.m. ET on FOX between the Indians and Red Sox, and now it's time to pause for this break in the action to formally thank those who made it all possible -- all the way back to the mid-1980s.
It was all those voices who clamored for the change back then -- people such as Earl Weaver, Whitey Herzog and Bobby Cox. People who felt that a best-of-five series was just not enough time to justifiably determine a pennant winner.
After the 1984 Cubs somehow lost their last three games in San Diego to bow out in five, the desire for change gained momentum. It was time for the LCS to grow. There were myriad reasons, with on-field competition just one of them.
Major League Baseball was in the midst of a six-year, $1.2 billion television package with ABC and NBC. Expanding the LCS from a best-of-five format to a best-of-seven would mean more revenue in the TV contract, a reported $9 million extra from the networks in '85. It would also mean more viewers for those networks and more ratings. It would mean more gate money for the players' postseason purse. It would mean more concessions and attendance for participating clubs, more dollars in the local economies and more riveting baseball games for fans to watch.
Owners and players agreed, and everyone was happy. If only all moves in baseball worked so well.
Now comes another LCS Game 7, this one to decide which team will open at home on Wednesday against the National League champion Colorado Rockies in the 103rd World Series. One can only imagine what kind of memories will be made now, but there inevitably will be a hero, a goat and a survivor.
"Hey, it's going to come down to Game 7 against the two teams that won more baseball games than anybody in the regular season, two teams that have beat up on each other a little bit over the course of the past week, and that's the way it should be," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "It's something everybody should look forward to."
"Game 7 means you have to be ready to do whatever it takes," said closer Jonathan Papelbon, after the Red Sox's 12-2 rout over the Indians forced a Game 7, his first one. "We've got [Daisuke Matsuzaka] going. I've got to be ready to go two innings or more. I'm not sure what [Terry Francona] has in mind with [Josh] Beckett, but I know we've got a lot of firepower in that bullpen. It's playoff time. I've got plenty of time to rest later."
We remember past LCS Game 7s when: "Sid Slid"; Aaron Boone went deep; Adam Wainwright whiffed Carlos Beltran the Cardinal killer; Danny Cox and Orel Hershiser threw 6-0 shutouts at home; Scott Rolen hit one deep, but had another brought back by Endy Chavez; and Roger Clemens started three times -- leading to victory in the first one, but bad news in the last two.
If you are going to examine LCS history, you might as well start at the beginning.
The Validation Years
Owners and players agreed after the '84 season to expand. The time was now, and the decision was immediately validated.
"People like Whitey were saying then that a best-of-five LCS isn't a fair judge, just like they do now with the Division Series," veteran baseball writer Peter Gammons recalled on Saturday night at Fenway. "The first year, KC went down 3-1 to Toronto and came back and won it. And then you had the '86 Red Sox."
Indeed, there was an LCS Game 7 in each of the first four years.
1985 ALCS: The Royals, who had been swept in three by the Tigers a year earlier, lost the first two games of this series at Toronto's old Exhibition Stadium. Cox, later to become an LCS fixture, was managing a Blue Jays club that had entered via 1977 expansion and finally seemed destined to give Canada its first Fall Classic. Toronto built its lead to 3-1, which would have been good enough before. But George Brett took over the series at the plate (two homers and a double in his first three at-bats in Game 3), and Kansas City won the last three. Jim Sundberg's bases-clearing triple off ace Dave Steib in Toronto would be enough for the Royals, who went on to the first 14-game postseason anyone ever saw.
1986 ALCS: That series between the Red Sox and the Angels is remembered for Game 5, when Dave Henderson homered off Donnie Moore in a pennant-clinching save situation. It went to a Game 7, and Clemens was untouchable, with Dwight Evans and Jim Rice homering on the way to the pennant. Boston was halfway to another 14-game postseason.
1987 NLCS: And yes, a third consecutive 14-game postseason, this one by the Cardinals. Their pitching was the difference at the end of that series, with John Tudor outdueling Dave Dravecky of the Giants in Game 6, and then Danny Cox throwing a 6-0 shutout in the clincher at old Busch Stadium. It was one of the best pitching performances in any of the previous dozen LCS Game 7s. "Into shallow left, Vince Coleman. ... Minnesota-bound!" NBC announcer Vin Scully called for the final out.
1988 NLCS: There would have been no "Miracle Homer" by Kirk Gibson that October if not for Hershiser's dominating performance in Game 7 of this series against the Mets. It was practically identical to what Danny Cox had done one year earlier in that NLCS Game 7; oddly enough, it was another 6-0 complete-game shutout in front of the home crowd. The Bulldog or Cox? Take your pick. Which Game 7 masterpiece was better?
The Tomahawk Years
Bobby Cox managed in the first LCS Game 7 that Toronto loss against Kansas City. He then went 3-for-3 in such games while managing Atlanta in the 1990s, as the Braves became postseason regulars. His four LCS Game 7s became a managerial record, and then that record was matched by Tony La Russa (1996, 2003-04, '06 with St. Louis). It includes one year when the two skippers met in this setting.
1991 NLCS: The Braves finished off this series in Pittsburgh, 4-0, with John Smoltz beginning his legend as one of the best postseason hurlers of all time with a six-hit shutout. The Tomahawk chant was hot. The Braves were in the World Series, but lost to the Twins in seven games.
1992 NLCS: If you have to pick one of the previous 12 LCS Game 7s to put at the top of the heap, then here you go. Atlanta 3, Pittsburgh 2. After being blanked over eight innings by Doug Drabek, the Braves scored three in the bottom of the ninth inning, capped by Francisco Cabrera's two-run single off Stan Belinda, when Sid Bream -- not exactly Deion Sanders on the bases -- made his way around and slid under the tag for the NL pennant-clinching run. "Sid Slid" remain two words in every Braves fan's lexicon.
1996 NLCS: It was the ugliest beating of any LCS Game 7. The Braves capped a 3-1 series comeback against La Russa's Cardinals, winning the last three games, 14-0, 3-1 and 15-0. The Braves scored six in the first of this final game, capped by winning pitcher Tom Glavine's bases-loaded triple. Had they not expanded the LCS format, who knows what might have happened.
The Golden Era
An unmatched boom in baseball really had its roots in the 2002 season, when long-term labor peace became a reality followed by an all-Wild Card World Series. Then it was truly manifested in 2003-04, emerging as a "golden era" in the frequent expression of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. There was a gradual emergence of competitive balance, where any team seemingly could go all the way. All metrics of baseball popularity went sky high, from the start of a four-year overall attendance record run to shattered MLB.com traffic and ticketing records. On the field, postseason baseball was never quite as good, with tradition-rich clubs contending and with back-to-back years that amazingly provided a Game 7 in all four LCS opportunities.
That's one-third of all LCS Game 7s in history entering this year -- all grouped into back-to-back, mesmerizing autumns.
2003 ALCS: Boone etched his name into the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry's lore with his 11th-inning walk-off homer off Tim Wakefield. The Yankees scored three in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie it. Pedro Martinez was left in to start the eighth, and after one out, he gave up (in this order), a double, single, double, double before being taken out by Sox manager Grady Little in a 123-pitch outing. Clemens started this game and was raked over three innings.
2003 NLCS: Not one of your more memorable Game 7s in LCS history, because when you think of that Cubs-Marlins series, you think of Game 6 and the eight runs Florida somehow scored in the top of the eighth. Cubs fans still thought they were due the next night with Kerry Wood starting, but they had to wait till 2004. Beckett, only three days after his Game 5 shutout in Miami, threw four innings of one-hit ball in relief to help the Marlins advance, 9-6.
2004 ALCS: Even though the game itself wasn't close, the circumstances were all that mattered. This is the game when the Red Sox completed the greatest comeback in Major League history against the Yankees, recovering from a 3-0 series deficit. Johnny Damon hit a quick grand slam off Yanks starter Javier Vazquez, and the Sox won Game 7, 10-3. That grand slam came exactly three years to the date before a future Boston outfielder named J.D. Drew would hit a grand slam off Fausto Carmona to help force a Game 7.
2004 NLCS: The home teams won every game in this series, and the last game was played at Busch. Clemens, who had bombed in that LCS Game 7 just one year earlier, was beaten in this one as an Astro. Albert Pujols doubled in a run off him, and then scored on Rolen's homer. The most stunning play, however, was turned in by Jim Edmonds, the graceful center fielder. He chased down one deep fly to center, diving headlong toward the wall to save the day -- one night after he hit a walk-off homer to make a Game 7 possible.
The Modern Run
The decision to expand the LCS after the 1984 playoffs was immediately validated over the first four years of opportunity. And the reasons continue to pile up today, as Sunday will make it another two straight Octobers of LCS Game 7s. The more baseball you can watch, the better for everyone.
2006 NLCS: It's dangerous to say that any postseason game was better than another (Game 6 of the '75 World Series will have the most proponents), because there's always going to be a game that makes you feel like you just witnessed the best. Some were saying that after Game 7 at Shea Stadium last season between the Cards and Mets. Chavez made perhaps the catch of the year by robbing Rolen to bring back a homer to left field, Yadier Molina broke a 1-1 tie with a two-run jack in the ninth off Aaron Heilman, and then Wainwright worked out of a seemingly hopeless jam by retiring Beltran -- the ultimate thorn in the Cardinals' side -- on a called third strike with the bases loaded.
2007 ALCS: The 2007 postseason has included a record four sweeps: three of them in the Division Series round, along with the Rockies' elimination of the Diamondbacks in the NLCS. But the Red Sox and Indians have done their part to add some pathos and endurance. How will this one unfold? Whose image will be etched forever in history? Will there be a play at the plate like when "Sid Slid?" Will Matsuzaka replicate what Danny Cox and Hershiser did in back-to-back LCS Game 7s at home? Or will the Indians do what the Marlins did in 2003 and break hearts at another of baseball's old cathedrals?
This is why they expanded the LCS back then.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.