Fall Classics: Cubs-Indians rare World Series decided in the most dramatic way possible

Using the standard that the most scintillating Series is one that isn't decided until the final play, with the outcome hanging in the balance, only 11 previous World Series meet that standard heading into tonight's Game 7 between the Cubs and the Indians.
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EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the outcome of Wednesday night's Game 7.

When the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series title in 108 years on Wednesday night, by defeating the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in extra innings in Game 7, they earned a rare distinction. They became only the 12th team in the 112-year history of the Fall Classic to triumph in the most scintillating way possible—on a single play in the home half of the last inning, with the outcome teetering.

That strict criteria honors the conceit that the best, most exciting and most dramatic Series is one that goes down to the final frame of the final game. It is the ultimate aphrodisiac for baseball lovers of high stakes drama and late game heroics. Thus, an excruciating six-game Series doesn’t qualify as the “ultimate” in thrill appeal because it didn’t reach the ultimate situation, a Game 7. As we saw again this year, a 4-3 Series is, by definition, more balanced and provides more ebb and flow than a 4-2 Series, no matter how riveting the Game 6 may have been. The stakes and the drama are even greater if the outcome doesn’t reveal itself until the last possible moment—and that can only occur in a Game 7, when the champagne is chilling in both locker rooms.

That explains why Joe Carter's walk-off homer that won the 1993 World Series for Toronto over Philadelphia, Billy Martin's walk-off single for the Yankees in 1953 against Brooklyn, and Goose Goslin's Series-winning single for the Tigers against the Cubs in 1935 don't get a mention here. All three happened in a Game 6. And if you're wondering why 1975 (Reds vs. Red Sox) and 1986 (Mets vs. Red Sox) aren’t included, it’s because Boston did not create a winning opportunity for itself in the ninth inning of the former Series, and New York didn't need to come to bat in the ninth inning of the latter. 

Baseball in Wonderland: History, title on line in Game 7 that will be unlike any ever played

The Fall Classics that do qualify for this list, however, represent seven different decades and a rich variety of game situations—pitching, hitting, defense, base running—and feature some of the pastime’s most renowned players. Here's a snapshot of the 11 Fall Classics that meet our stringent requirements:

1912: In one of the most evenly matched World Series ever, between a Red Sox team that won 105 games and a Giants team that won 103, Boston beat New York 3-2 in what was officially Game 8 (Game 2 had ended in a 6-6 tie, due to darkness). The Red Sox trailed 2-1 entering the bottom of the 10th in the Series finale, but a dropped flyball by centerfielder Fred Snodgrass opened the way to a two-run inning. Hall of Famer Tris Speaker tied the score with a run-scoring single and a sacrifice fly by Larry Gardner won it; both runs came off of the legendary Christy Mathewson. This was the first of four World Series in which the dramatics occurred in extra innings.

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1924: The Washington Senators, with an aging Walter Johnson starring in relief, beat the Giants 4-3 with one out in the bottom of the 12th on rookie Earl McNeely’s bad-hop single over the head of another rookie, 18-year-old third baseman Fred Lindstrom.

1926: The Cardinals held on to beat the Yankees 3-2 when Babe Ruth, who had drawn a walk from Grover Cleveland Alexander, inexplicably tried to steal second base with two out, while cleanup hitter Bob Meusel stood at the plate and Lou Gehrig knelt on deck. Ruth, who was successful on barely half his steal attempts both that season and in his career, was thrown out by Bob O’Farrell, and the game came to a shocking, inglorious conclusion.

1960: The Pirates beat the Yankees 10-9 on Bill Mazeroski’s home run over the fence (and Yogi Berra’s head) in leftfield leading off the bottom of the ninth against Ralph Terry. This is still the only Game-7 walk-off homer in World Series history.

SI VAULT: It Went All The Way, by Roy Terrell (Oct. 24, 1960)

1962: The Yankees held on (literally) in Game 7 to beat the Giants 1-0 when, with the tying run at third and the winning run at second in the bottom of the ninth, second baseman Bobby Richardson snared Willie McCovey’s vicious line drive off the aforementioned Ralph Terry. It was New York's second straight title and would be its last for 15 years.

1972: After the Reds cut their deficit to a run in the bottom of the eighth on a sacrifice fly by Tony Perez off A’s reliever Rollie Fingers, they put the tying run on base in the ninth when Fingers hit Darrel Chaney. But Fingers nailed down a 3-2 victory by inducing Pete Rose, who already had two hits in the game, to fly out to Joe Rudi for the first of three straight Oakland championships.

1991: The Twins' 1-0 win over the Braves in Game 7 is remembered best for Jack Morris's complete game shutout, but it didn't end until pinch-hitter Gene Larkin delivered a bases loaded single, in his first Series appearance, over a drawn-in outfield with one out in the bottom of the 10th. It was the third extra-inning game of that year's Fall Classic and a fitting conclusion to what many consider to be the best World Series ever.

SI VAULT: A Series to Savor, by Steve Rushin (11.04.1991)

1997: The five-year-old Marlins beat the Indians 3-2 in Game 7 on a two-out, bases-loaded single in the 11th inning by Edgar Renteria that scored Craig Counsell, who had reached base on an error by Indians second baseman Tony Fernandez. Cleveland had been two outs from victory in the bottom of the ninth when Florida rallied to tie. The Indians wouldn't make it back to the World Series for another 19 years.

SI VAULT: Happy Ending, by Tom Verducci (11.03.1997)

2001: The four-year-old Diamondbacks beat the three-time defending champion Yankees 3-2 in Game 7 when Luis Gonzalez blooped a bases loaded single over a drawn-in infield off Mariano Rivera with one out in the bottom of the ninth.

2014: With two out in the ninth inning of a 3-2 game, the Royals' Alex Gordon lined a single into left-centerfield, and when Giants outfielder Gregor Blanco misplayed it, Gordon wound up at third as the potential tying run. But San Francisco’s starter-turned-reliever Madison Bumgarner induced Salvador Perez to foul out to third baseman Pablo Sandoval to seal the Giants' third title in five seasons. That out also capped Bumgarner's MVP performance in which he followed a four-hit shutout in in Game 5 by tossing five scoreless innings and gave up just two hits two days later in Game 7.

2016: The Cubs seemingly had this one in hand, leading 6-3 with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, when the Indians rallied to tie the game, the big hit coming on Rajai Davis’ two-out, two-run homer off Aroldis Chapman. After a scoreless ninth and a brief rain delay, the teams advanced into the fifth extra-inning Game 7 ever. Chicago quickly put up two runs in the top of the 10th, with Ben Zobrist and Miguel Montero delivering RBI hits. But in the home half, with two out, Brandon Guyer walked, took second on defensive indifference and then scored on Davis’ single to center off Carl Edwards Jr. Suddenly, it was a one-run game. With Davis at first, and the potential winning run at the plate, reliever Mike Montgomery came in to face little-used Mike Martinez. Martinez swung at Montgomery’s second pitch and sent a slow grounder to third baseman Kris Bryant, who slipped, but still threw out the runner to end the game.