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  • Sunday night was nothing short of wild. Where does the epic bout stand amongst World Series history?
By Jay Jaffe
October 30, 2017

The Astros’ 13–12 win over the Dodgers in Game 5 of the World Series was one of the wildest postseason contests ever: a five hour and 17 minute rollercoaster ride abetted by an extra-wide strike zone, slick baseballs, gassed bullpens, and deep lineups that refused to roll over when faced with deficits of three or four runs, Sunday’s matchup was one fans won’t soon forget. We'll find out soon whether the Dodgers can recover to at least push the series to seven games, or whether the Astros will fulfill their date with destiny. In the meantime, as we inventory our remaining brain cells and nerve endings, it's worth thinking about that game's place in history.

The 25-run game—tied for second in World Series history, matching Game 3 in 1997 (Marlins 14, Indians 11)—brought to mind Game 4 of the 1993 World Series, won by the Blue Jays 15-14; while the agony of the Dodges’ defeat recalled Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, won by the Cardinals at the Rangers' expense. Neither game is an exact parallel to Game 5, of course; in the latter, the Rangers were a strike away from clinching a championship that still hasn't arrived. But by at least one measure, Sunday night's game can hang with both. No, not total hearts broken, but total Win Probability Added (WPA), a quantification of the incremental changes in game state.

MLB
Historic World Series Home Run Rate may be Result of Slicker Baseballs

To many fans, it’s enough to acknowledge that Game 5 belongs in the company of other classics like those above, and let the debates continue until the end of time without taking the trouble to pin every butterfly down. But for those who like to measure the distance between the ups and downs, WPA is a handy tool. 

At any given point in the game, each team’s chances of winning can be estimated by the inning, position of the baserunners (if any), number of outs and score margin (note that it’s a generic estimate, which doesn’t account for the skills of each player).

To get an idea of how WPA works (via Baseball-Reference's accounting), consider a few examples from Game 5. Logan Forsythe's bases-loaded, two-run single in the first inning, which kicked off the scoring, improved the Dodgers' chances of winning by about 17%, from 52% to 69%, so he's credited with +0.17 WPA. Yuli Gurriel's game-tying three-run homer in the fourth inning bumped the Astros' chances from 30% to 53%, thus producing +0.23 WPA, while Alex Bregman's walkoff single, which came when the Astros had a 61% chance of winning, produced +0.39 WPA (1.00 – 0.61). Of course, WPA goes in both directions; Corey Seager's lineout following Chris Taylor's game-tying single in the ninth dropped the Dodgers chances by 6%, thus -0.06 WPA.

The Dodgers and Astros combined for a net of 2.14 WPA, which is to say that game should have been won a couple times over. That’s good enough to crack our top five countdown, which follows, with some of the major plays highlighted.

5. 1993 World Series Game 4: Blue Jays 15, Phillies 14

Total WPA: 1.70

This sloppy slugfest was the double bacon cheeseburger of World Series games, every bit as heart-healthy as you might expect. The two teams combined to score in every inning but the ninth, because of course, and the game featured innings with one, two, three, four, five and six runs.

The Blue Jays rolled to a 3–0 first-inning lead against Phillies' starter Tommy Greene, capped by Tony Fernandez's two-run single (+0.15 WPA) but the Philles answered back with four against Toronto starter Todd Stottlemyre; the first four Phillies to reach base did so by walking, and Milt Thompson cleared them with a triple (+0.27). Philadelphia extended the lead to 6–3 via Lenny Dykstra's two-run homer in the second (+0.14), but the Blue Jays scored four in the top of the third, with Devon White's two-run single providing the go-ahead runs (+0.19). Philadelphia answered with a run in the fourth and then five in the fifth via Darren Daulton's two-run homer (+0.2), a Thompson RBI and another two-run homer by Dykstra, all against Al Leiter.

That made it 12–7, Phillies. The Blue Jays chipped away with two in the sixth, answered by yet another Thompson RBI in the bottom of the frame, and the Phillies pushed the lead to 14–9 with another run in the seventh via a single, two walks and a Daulton bases-loaded plunking. The five-run lead was not Wild Thing-proof; Mitch Williams, who had somehow notched 43 saves for the Phillies while walking 6.4 per nine, came on in relief of Larry Andersen, who had allowed one run to score and put two more on base, and proceeded to yield a pair of singles, a walk and a triple while retiring just one batter. Rickey Henderson's bases-loaded two-run single, which trimmed the lead to 14–13, added 0.13 WPA, while White's ensuing two-run triple, which returned the lead to Toronto, added a game-high 0.51 WPA—a big blow, but not as big as the 0.66 from Joe Carter’s three-run walkoff blast off Williams to clinch the series in Game 6.

4. 1908 World Series Game 1: Cubs 10, Tigers 6

Total WPA: 1.77

This one is all but forgotten thanks to its surroundings. To get to the World Series, the reigning champion Cubs—who had beaten the Tigers in 1907—had to beat the Giants in the makeup game for the tie produced by Fred Merkle's infamous baserunning mistake, which they did. Once they won this series, the Cubs wouldn't win another for 108 years.

The game was a wild one thanks to the weather. Via the Chicago Tribune: "The battle took place under the most wretched conditions imaginable, as it was started in the early stages of a rain storm which never ceased and it was finished on a field so soggy that footing was insecure and the base lines nearly two inches deep in mud.”

The Tigers scored in the first inning against Cubs starter Ed Reulbach, with Ty Cobb driving in the run. The Cubs answered with four in the third, chasing Tigers starter Ed Killian with a four-hit flurry that included Harry Steinfeldt's two-run single (+0.18). Neither team scored again until the top of the seventh, when Chicago tacked on another run via a Johnny Evers single, a sacrifice, an error, and then a Steinfeldt sacrifice fly. Cobb sparked a rally in the bottom of the seventh, beating out an infield single, taking third on Claude Rossman's single, and scoring on a groundout. With two outs, Red Downs' single and then Ed Summers' double (+0.12) trimmed the Cubs' lead to 5-4. 

The Tigers took the lead in the bottom of the eighth. After Orval Overall (!) walked Sam Crawford to lead things off, Cobb reached when the Cubs botched his sacrifice bunt attempt, with first baseman Frank Chance dropping the throw and Crawford taking third; that play produced 0.26 WPA. Rossman's two-run single (+0.3) gave the Tigers a 6–5 lead heading into the ninth. Summers retired Johnny Evers to lead off the ninth, but then surrendered four straight singles to Frank Schulte (+0.08), Chance (+0.11), Steinfeldt (+0.18) and Solly Hoffman (+0.46), with two runs scoring on the last of those. The Cubs kept the line moving, adding three more runs, and they never looked back, sweeping the Tigers in four games.

3. 1960 World Series Game 7: Pirates 10, Yankees 9

Total WPA: 2.01

Best remembered for Bill Mazeroski's walkoff homer, this one kept ratcheting up the drama. The Pirates jumped out to a 4-0 lead early thanks to Rocky Nelson's two-run homer off Yankees starter Bob Turley (+0.19) in the first inning and Bil Virdon's two-run single off reliever Bill Stafford (+0.12) in the second; the latter was a huge break for the Bucs after starter Vern Law had hit into a double play (-0.1). The Yankees got on the board in the fifth with Moose Skowron's solo homer, then took the lead with a four-run sixth that included Mickey Mantle's RBI single (+0.13) and Yogi Berra's three-run homer (+0.34); both were hit off reliever Roy Face, who had replaced Law after he allowed the first two batters to reach.

The Yankees furthered their lead to 7-4 in the eighth, but in the bottom of the frame, the Pirates collected three straight singles against reliever Bobby Shantz, with Dick Groat driving in the first run (+0.14). Three batters later, Roberto Clemente brought home the second (+0.11) and then Hal Smith hit a three-run homer (+0.64) to give the Pirates a 9-7 lead going into the ninth.

The Yankees refused to go quietly, tying the score in the top of the ninth against Bob Friend and Harvey Haddix thanks to a trio of singles, the last by Mantle (+0.21) and then an RBI groundout by Berra. Leading off the bottom of the ninth, Mazeroski—best known for his defense, which helped him carve a spot in the Hall of Fame—hit his fateful shot. Because it was a tie game with nobody on base, the +0.37 WPA was less than that of Smith's homer, but it's the one that's remembered, and rightly so, for it was the first World Series-ending homer.

2. 2017 World Series Game 5: Astros 13, Dodgers 12

Total WPA: 2.14

Close but no cigar when it comes to the top spot on the list. What's remarkable about this game from a WPA standpoint is that it had six plays that moved the needle by at least 0.2 WPA: in ascending order, Gurriel's homer (+0.23), Cody Bellinger's RBI triple in the seventh (+0.26), Bellinger's go-ahead three-run homer in the fourth (+0.28—a bigger blast, but with more baseball still to play), Taylor's ninth-inning RBI single (+0.31), Jose Altuve's game-tying three-run homer in the fifth (+0.34) and finally Bregman's hit (+0.39).

I'm not sure if that's a record, but the five players with at least 0.3 WPA in the game, for all of their plate appearances combined, is: Altuve (0.55), Bregman (0.42), Bellinger (0.42), Taylor (0.31) and George Springer (0.31). The only other World Series game with four such players is the aforementioned 1908 game, while seven contests, including the 11-inning Game 2 from this series, had three.

1. 2011 World Series Game 6: Cardinals 10, Rangers 9

Total WPA: 2.25

This one was like JAWS—not my Hall of Fame evaluation system but the movie; I distinctly recall tweeting, "We're going to need a bigger boat" before tackling my writeup for Baseball Prospectus. The Cardinals overcame leads of 1-0, 3-2, 4-3, 7-4, and 9-7, staving off elimination when they were down to their final strike twice, and they held the lead for just one half inning all night prior to David Freese's walkoff homer, following which Joe Buck channeled his father's famous call from 1991, "We'll see you tomorrow night," said first after the Twins’ Kirby Puckett homered to set up Game 7 against the Braves.

The Rangers got things started with a run in the top of the first against Jaime Garcia, but the Cardinals answered back with Lance Berkman's two-run homer (+0.21) off Colby Lewis in the bottom of the first. Ian Kinsler's RBI double (-0.11) evened things up in the next half inning, and the teams traded runs in the fourth as well. Michael Young's RBI double (+0.17) following Freese's drop of a pop fly (one of three St. Louis erros), gave the Rangers a 4-3 lead that carried into the sixth inning. After Lewis walked Freese to load the bases (+0.11), reliever Alexi Ogando walked Yadier Molina (+0.16) to force home the game-tying run.

MLB
After a Game 5 for the History Books, the Astros and Dodgers Wonder About Those Slick Baseballs

The Rangers began the seventh with back-to-back homers by Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz (+0.21 and +0.12, respectively), and added another run before the inning was out for a 7-4 lead. Allen Craig's eighth-inning homer off Derek Holland didn't seem like much at the time, particularly an inning later, when Neftali Feliz struck Craig out to put the Rangers on win a way from a championship. But with two on and two strikes, Freese's game-trying triple over Cruz's head (+0.54) gave the Cardinals new life, sending the game into extra innings.

In the 10th, Josh Hamilton's two-run homer off Jason Motte (+0.43) was answered by a rally that capped with Berkman's RBI single (+0.47) off Scott Feldman—again, when the Cardinals were down to their final strike—and in the 11th, Freese's walkoff homer sent the series to Game 7, matching Mazeroski's +0.37 WPA along the way.

A definitive list? Probably not, particularly as it doesn’t account for where in the series the classic occured. Still, it’s a fun one to chew on, and if you’re looking for more, here are the next five in the rankings:

• 1957 Game 4: Yankees 7, Braves 5, 1.7 WPA

• 1986 Game 6 (the Bill Buckner game): Mets 6, Red Sox 5, 1.35 WPA

• 2005 Game 2: White Sox 7, Astros 6, 1.13 WPA

• 1925 Game 7: Pirates 9, Senators 7, 1.11 WPA

• 2004 Game 1: Red Sox 11, Cardinals 9, 1.05 WPA

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