In the last inning of the 2014 World Series and his team trailing by a run, Royals left-fielder Alex Gordon singled and raced all the way to third on an error by Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco. In an alternate universe Gordon might have attempted to score and propelled the Kansas City to a win. But he stopped at third, the next batter Salvatore Perez popped out to end the game, and San Francisco won its third World Series in five years.
If Gordon had run and scored, he coulda been a hero. One of many guys who could have been World Series heroes, if only things had played out differently.
Maybe there’s a coulda been hero in this year’s World Series. Here’s the past list of guys who didn’t quite make it, dating back to 1912:
2011 – Josh Hamilton – His two-run homer in the top of the 10th in Game 6 appeared to seal the deal for the first championship for the Texas Rangers. However St. Louis rallied to tie the game, then won it 10-9 in the 11th on a home run by David Reese. The Cardinals then won Game 7 easily to take the crown.
2001 – Alfonso Soriano – His eighth inning home run against Curt Schilling gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead and within grasp of their fourth straight championship. But Arizona scratched out a pair of runs against closer Mariano Rivera to pull out a 3-2 win and their first and only championship.
1997 – Tony Fernandez – They’d have built a statue of this guy in downtown Cleveland if only things hard turned out differently in Game 7. Fernadnez hit a two-run single in the third inning that held up until the last of the ninth. The Marlins rallied against Jose Mesa to tie the game, then won it 3-2 in the 11th on Edgar Renteria’s single. The Indians have not won a World Series since 1948.
1986 – Dave Henderson – Hendu was going to be an all-time rock star in New England. His home run in the top of the 10th put the Red Sox on the brink of their first championship in 68 years, since 1918. However the Mets rallied to win Game 6 6-5 in 10 innings as Mookie Wilson’s grounder eluded first baseman Bill Buckner, and then took Game 7 and the title two nights later.
1976 – Thurman Munson – The Yankee captain hit .529, the highest batting average ever for a player on a losing team. However, the Reds, sparked by Johnny Bench, swept the Yankees in four straight games. Less than three years later, after winning World Series in 1977 and 1978, Munson was killed in a plane crash.
1960 – Whitey Ford – He pitched a shutout in Game 3 and another in Game 6. Too bad, this was the year that Bill Mazeroski hit the most dramatic of home runs and the Pirates beat the Yankees 10-9 in Game 7 to win the World Series. Ford continued his shutout string the next year, breaking Babe Ruth’s record for most consecutive scoreless innings pitched in a World Series and won the MVP.
1953 – Carl Furillo – He rallied Brooklyn with a two-run homer in the top of the ninth to tie the score 3-3 in Game 6. However, Yankee second baseman Billy Martin, who had 12 hits and 8 RBIs while batting .500 in the series, knocked in Hank Bauer from second base with the game-winning run in the ninth inning to give the Bombers 4-3 win and a record fifth straight World Championship
1946 – Dominic DiMaggio – Joe’s little brother hit a two-run double in the eighth inning that pulled the Red Sox even with the Cardinals in Game 7. However DiMaggio injured his hamstring rounding first, and was replaced in center field by Leon Culberson. It was Culberson’s weak relay to Johnny Pesky in the bottom of the inning that led to Enos Slaughter scoring the decisive run in a 4-3 victory.
1919 – Dickey Kerr – With eight of his teammates, the infamous Black Sox, attempting to throw the Series, left-hander starts and wins two games. Kerr pitches a shutout in Game 3 and wins 5-4 in a 10-innings in Game 6. However Cincinnati takes the Series in eight games.
1912 – Fred Merkle – The goat of the 1908 NL pennant race for the New York Giants was almost a hero. Fred Merkle singled in the go-ahead in the decisive Game 8 (one game ended in a tie). With the great Christy Mathewson on the mound, the Giants appeared to have the title well in hand. But Giants center fielder Fred Snodgrass dropped a routine fly ball to start the home half of the 10th, and Larry Gardner later hit a deep sacrifice fly, scoring Steve Yerkes with the winning run.
So, what were you doing in 1908? Unless you’re a centenarian you weren’t doing anything, but the Chicago Cubs were on their way to their second straight World Series title in 1908. They haven’t won one since.
You remember 1908. Theodore Roosevelt is President. Mother’s Day is celebrated for the first time. The average cost of a home is $4,500; of a gallon of milk is 38 cents, a stamp is 4 cents. And the average salary for a major league baseball player is $2,500.
In sports, Penn and LSU share the college football championship; there is no BCS. The Montreal Wanderers win the Stanley Cup; James Braid takes the British Open; and Stone Street wins the Kentucky Derby. In the Olympics in London, Italian Dorando Pietri staggers at the end of the Marathon and is assisted across the finish line by officials. Johnny Hayes of the USA is later declared the winner.
In 1908, the Cubs edged out the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Pirates to win a tight, controversial pennant race which hinged on the so-called Fred Merkle boner in late September. The Giants and the Cubs were tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning at New York’s Polo Grounds. With two outs, the rookie Merkle was on first base and Moose McCormick on third when Giants shortstop Al Bridwell singled to center.
Thinking the game was won, and with a crowd of happy fans swarming the infield, Merkle bypassed second base and made for the New York clubhouse. But Chicago second baseman Johnny Evers got the attention of the umpire who, after seeing Evers tag second base with a ball declared Merkle forced out at second, nullifying the winning run.
This ignited a storm of protests, counter-protests, and league hearings. Finally, National League president Harry Pulliam ruled that the game would be replayed after the season if it proved to have a bearing on the pennant race.
It did. New York and Chicago finished in a tie, which was broken when Chicago’s Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, left, defeated Christy Mathewson 4-2 in the make-up game. Matty won 37 games that year, but couldn’t win this one. The Cubs finished with a 99-55 record, one game up on the Giants and Pirates, both at 98-56.
In the American League, a four-team race came down to the wire, with Detroit (90-63) finally slipping past Cleveland (90-64) by .004 percentage points, the smallest margin of victory in AL or NL history. Chicago finished 1 1/2 games back and St. Louis faded late to end up 6 1/2 behind.
For the second straight year, the Cubs won the World Series over the Tigers, this time 4 games to 1. Cubs batters hit .293 off Tigers pitching, while Brown’s 0.00 ERA in 11 innings paced the Chicago staff to a 2.60 ERA. Ty Cobb, the AL batting champion, hit .368 with four RBI and a pair of stolen bases in a losing effort. Cobb, perhaps the greatest hitter in baseball history, never won a World Series.
The Cubs won National League pennants in 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938 and 1945, but lost the World Series each time. They haven’t been back since. And they haven’t won a World Series since 1908.