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As we await the belated start of the 2020 MLB season and the return of actual baseball, it’s as good a time as any to gaze back.
Specifically, let’s rank the 10 greatest games of the last decade, meaning the 10 seasons between 2010 and 2019.
Obviously, this involves a high degree of subjectivity. There is no statistic or metric that measures the greatness of a single contest. That said, in compiling these rankings, we considered several key factors:
- Rewatchability: If a rerun of this game comes on, how likely are we to drop everything and watch it all the way through?
- Historical significance: Did the game include any rare or never-before-accomplished statistical milestones or feature major stars in iconic situations?
- High stakes: The drama ratchets up in October when every win and loss matters more. Not all of the games featured here were playoff tussles, but most were.
- Memorability: Will people still be talking about this game in another 10 years? Twenty years? Fifty years?
We left out a lot of excellent games and big moments. Some are featured in the honorable mentions section, but here’s betting you can think of others. Fair enough.
Still, you’ll be hard-pressed to argue any of the clashes that made our decade-spanning top 10 weren’t great—and eminently unforgettable.
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2011 NLDS Game 5
In a decade that was largely defined by offense and a leaguewide home run explosion, this one was an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel between a pair of aces: the Philadelphia Phillies’ Roy Halladay and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter. Carpenter prevailed with a three-hit shutout as the Cards won the division series’ decisive game, 1-0, en route to a World Series run.
2014 American League Wild Card Game
The Kansas City Royals wouldn’t win the World Series (their first since 1985) until 2015. But they announced their impending run of two consecutive AL pennants in the 2014 AL Wild Card Game, with a thrilling 9-8 comeback win in 12 innings against the Oakland Athletics.
2016 NL Wild Card Game
In a must-see NL Wild Card Game matchup between San Francisco Giants postseason hero Madison Bumgarner and New York Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard, the score was 0-0 heading into the ninth inning. That’s when unlikely Giants hero Conor Gillaspie laced a three-run homer off Mets closer Jeurys Familia. Bumgarner sealed the win in the bottom of the inning and secured his third postseason shutout in two years.
Vin Scully’s Final Dodger Stadium Call
In October 2016, iconic Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully made his final call after 67 years behind the mic for the Dodgers, beginning when the franchise was still in Brooklyn. On September 25, Scully’s final home game ended, fittingly, on a walk-off 10th-inning home run by Charlie Culberson that clinched the NL West for Los Angeles. After the win, an emotional Scully serenaded the crowd with a recorded rendition of “Wind Beneath My Wings.”
The Perfect Games
Of the 21 official perfect games in MLB’s modern era (the first of them in 1904), five were thrown in the last decade. Each deserves mention here: Dallas Braden, Oakland A’s (May 9, 2010); Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies (May 29, 2010); Philip Humber, Chicago White Sox (April 21, 2012); Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants (June 13, 2012); Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners (Aug. 15, 2012).
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The New York Yankees missed the postseason in 2014, but their final home game had a playoff atmosphere and an ending right out of a too-good-to-be-true screenplay.
Playing for the last time at Yankee Stadium, shortstop Derek Jeter came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth against the Baltimore Orioles with the score tied 5-5 and the winning run on second base.
From the moment the recording of Bob Sheppard making his signature announcement began—”Now batting for the Yankees…No. 2, Derek Jeter…No. 2″—the crowd was on its feet.
Jeter wasted no time, lining the first pitch he saw the other way to right field for a walk-off single, and the Bronx faithful erupted.
In a decade that also saw The Captain collect his 3,000th hit and earn induction into the Hall of Fame, it was arguably the Jeter-est of late-career Jeter moments.
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On the final day of the 2011 season, the Tampa Bay Rays needed a win over the New York Yankees and a Boston Red Sox loss to clinch a wild-card berth.
Through seven innings, the Yankees built a 7-0 lead over the Rays that felt like a death knell for Tampa Bay’s postseason chances. Meanwhile, in Baltimore, the Red Sox held a 3-2 lead over the Orioles before that game went to a rain delay.
The Rays began to bite into the Yanks’ lead and eventually tied the game, sending it to extra innings.
The rain abated at Camden Yards, and the Orioles mounted a comeback against Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon a few minutes before Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria launched a walk-off home run against the Yankees’ Scott Proctor.
It was high drama spread across two cities, and likely part of the reason MLB decided, beginning in 2015, to schedule all games on the season’s final day for the same start time.
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If you like long innings and epic bat flips, this is the game for you.
In 2015, the division series tussle between the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers went the distance, with the deciding Game 5 held at the Rogers Centre.
The weirdness began in the top of the seventh when a return throw to the mound by Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin caromed off the bat of Texas batter Shin-Soo Choo, allowing Rougned Odor to score from third base and giving the Rangers a 3-2 lead.
A nearly 20-minute delay ensued as the umpires debated the call and angry Toronto fans hurled things onto the field.
In the bottom of the seventh, a series of misplays by Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus allowed the Jays to tie the game, and Toronto slugger Jose Bautista broke the tie with a big home run and even bigger bat flip.
The benches would later clear after a verbal altercation between Rangers pitcher Sam Dyson and the Blue Jays’ Edwin Encarnacion.
The drama-packed inning finally ended after 53 minutes. And, oh, yeah, Toronto won the game, 6-3, and the series.
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In 2016, Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez died in a boating accident. The 24-year-old was a two-time All-Star and one of the best up-and-coming pitchers in baseball. It was a devastating blow to the Marlins, their fans and the MLB world as a whole.
On Sept. 26 of that season, Miami played its first game after Fernandez’s death at home against the New York Mets. Every Marlins player wore Fernandez’s name and No. 16 on the back of his jersey.
In the bottom of the first inning, light-hitting second baseman Dee Gordon stepped to the plate. A close friend of Fernandez’s, Gordon took the first pitch of his at-bat from the right side, Fernandez’s side, and imitated the pitcher’s stance.
Then, Gordon did something he hadn’t done all season: He hit a home run.
As he rounded the bases, tears welled in Gordon’s eyes. He would finish the game with four hits and two RBI, and the Marlins won, 7-3.
Of course, the moment was much bigger than any box score. After the final out, the Marlins players piled their hats on the mound next to a stenciled-on No. 16 in a powerful tribute to Fernandez.
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If the past decade of baseball was about one thing, it was home runs. MLB set a record with 6,105 homers in 2017 and broke that mark with 6,776 in 2019.
Whether it’s juiced baseballs, a change in leaguewide hitting approach or some combination of factors, hitters have been clearing the fence with historic regularity.
That trend was exemplified in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series. In a slugfest for the ages, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros combined for seven home runs, an all-time Fall Classic record.
Between them, Houston and L.A. came back from at least three runs down three separate times. Long balls will do that for you.
Los Angeles tied the game in the ninth inning with a three-run rally that included (what else?) a home run by Yasiel Puig.
The Astros ultimately won, 13-12, on a walk-off single by Alex Bregman in the 10th. But this one was all about the dingers—and, in hindsight, the sign-stealing scheme that may have helped Houston hit some of theirs and win the series in seven games.
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On May 28, 2019, the Washington Nationals sat at 22-32 and had less than a 0.1 percent chance to win the World Series, according to MLB Stats.
But after making the playoffs as a wild card, they went on a postseason tear that culminated in an inspired, fittingly come-from-behind World Series Game 7 victory.
Heading into the seventh inning, the Houston Astros led 2-0. Astros right-hander Zack Greinke was pitching brilliantly, and ace Gerrit Cole was available in the bullpen. The safe money was on the ‘Stros to hoist their second Commissioner’s Trophy in three seasons.
Then, in the seventh, Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon launched a solo homer to make it 2-1. Later that same inning, veteran Howie Kendrick lined an opposite-field two-run homer off the right field foul pole to make it 3-2 Nationals.
Washington would pad its lead and win the game by a healthy 6-2 margin to claim the first title in franchise history.
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Entering Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, the Texas Rangers needed just one win to secure the franchise’s first championship.
David Freese and the St. Louis Cardinals had other plans.
With the score knotted 9-9 in the bottom of the 11th, Freese launched a walk-off home run over the center field wall to send the series to a seventh game.
That came after the Cardinals third baseman hit a game-tying triple in the ninth and a series of other big hits by the Rangers and Cardinals toggled the lead back and forth.
Freese hit a key two-run double in Game 7 as the Cardinals came back to win their only Fall Classic of the decade. Overall, he hit .348 with seven RBI over those seven games and won World Series MVP honors.
But it’s his heroics in the pivotal Game 6 that will always be remembered—fondly by Cards fans and bitterly in Arlington.
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The San Francisco Giants had already won titles in 2010 and 2012 when they faced the Kansas City Royals in the 2014 Fall Classic.
But that third series would feature arguably the most memorable game of the Giants’ magical even-year trifecta.
Coming into Game 7 in Kansas City, San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner had already thrown 47.2 mostly brilliant innings in the ’14 postseason. He’d pitched a complete-game shutout in Game 5 but was theoretically available on two days’ rest.
Theory became reality when MadBum trotted out of the bullpen in the fifth inning with the Giants clinging to a 3-2 lead.
The big lefty mowed through the Royals lineup, at one point retiring 14 in a row. Then, in the ninth, things got dicey.
With two outs, Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco misplayed a bloop single off the bat of Alex Gordon and allowed the ball to roll to the wall. Kansas City third base coach Mike Jirschele held Gordon at third.
That’s as close as K.C. would get, as Bumgarner got catcher Salvador Perez to pop out, sealed another trophy for San Francisco and cemented himself as one of the greatest pitchers in postseason history.
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Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Roy Halladay was brilliant in 2010. He led baseball with 250.2 innings pitched, posted a 2.44 ERA with nine complete games, four shutouts and a perfect game and won the NL Cy Young Award.
What to do for an encore? How about throwing the second no-hitter in big league playoff history?
That’s exactly what Doc did on Oct. 6 in Game 1 of the division series matchup between the Phils and the Cincinnati Reds.
Facing a potent Reds lineup anchored by 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto, Halladay was in command from the first pitch to the last.
Over nine stellar frames, he struck out eight. Only one walk stood between him and perfection.
Halladay joined the Yankees’ Don Larsen, who authored a perfect game in the ’56 World Series, as the only men to toss a postseason no-no.
Seen through the lens of Halladay’s untimely death in a 2017 plane crash, the game takes on even more significance and stands as a high point in a Hall of Fame career.
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What else were you expecting?
In 2016, the Chicago Cubs made it to the World Series. They were four wins away from their first title since 1908. Legends of billy goats and memories of Steve Bartman hung in the cold Windy City air.
As if the series needed more intrigue, the Cubbies faced the Cleveland Indians, who hadn’t won a title since 1948, the second-longest active drought in MLB.
One long-suffering fanbase was going to celebrate, and another was going to keep suffering.
The Cubs fell behind in the series, 3-1. But they came back to win the next two and set the stage for a Game 7 in Cleveland.
The Cubs jumped out to a 5-1 lead and were up 6-3 heading into the eighth inning. Fireballing closer Aroldis Chapman, acquired in a midseason trade from the New York Yankees, was on the hill for Chicago.
Cleveland plated a run on a two-out RBI double by Brandon Guyer to make it 6-4 before Rajai Davis pulled a game-tying two-run homer to left on a 98 mph fastball.
After a 17-minute rain delay during which Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward reportedly delivered an inspirational speech, Chicago scored two runs in the top of the 10th on a double by Ben Zobrist and a single by Miguel Montero.
In the bottom of the 10th, Davis cut the lead to one with an RBI single, but Cubs pitcher Mike Montgomery induced a groundout by Cleveland’s Michael Martinez to end the game and the Cubs’ 108-year streak of futility.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.