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This is the first of three articles that attempts to discuss -- and rank -- the greatest hits in post-season history. Not the greatest games, per se, but the most important individual hits that were the most pivotal in baseball playoff history.

This installment covers the Division Series, which occurred on a one-time basis in 1981 and has been a permanent part of the baseball landscape from 1995 through the present.

Comments -- and debate -- are most welcome!

There were only two ground rules I considered:

1. To be truly "pivotal," the hit had to be on behalf of the team that won the series. In other words, Carlton Fisk's home run, dramatic though it was, will not be eligible in light of his team's Game 7 defeat in 1975.

2. No more than one hit per game can be considered. In other words, if Tony Womack's game-tying double off Mariano Rivera is considered, then Luis Gonzalez's game-winning single cannot make the list.

I considered the importance of the in-game situation, the importance of the game and the likelihood or unlikelihood of the hit actually happening. Without further ado, here's how I rate the top ten hits in Division Series History:

Honourable Mentions
* 1995, Game 4: Edgar Martinez's eighth-inning grand slam to pull the M's even with the Yankees.

* 1996, Game 4: Roberto Alomar's twelfth-inning homer to hand the Orioles the Division Series victory over the Tribe.

* 2004, Game 2: Alex Rodriguez's game-tying double in the twelfth inning off Joe Nathan, which turned the series around for the Yanks against the Twins.

The Top Ten

10. Brian Jordan, 1996 Game 3
Facing Trevor Hoffman in his prime (88 IP, 111 K), Jordan came up with one on, one out in the ninth inning of a 5-5 tie...and untied it with a home run. His two-run shot shocked the crowd at "The Murph" and sealed the series win for the Cards -- a series that, under the then-effective scheduling system, would have featured both Games 4 and 5 in San Diego.

9. David Justice, 1998 Game 4
The Indians had won two of the first three games, but the Red Sox held a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning when Jimy Williams summoned Tom "Flash" Gordon, the league leader in saves, from the Fenway pen for a six-out closing assignment. After recording one of those outs, Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel singled before Justice ripped one into the gap, plating the only two runs the Tribe would need to nail down the series.

8. David Ortiz, 2003 Game 4
Although Game 3 would be the true turning point of this series (see #2 below), Papi needed to come up big for the Red Sox to survive Game 4 -- and he did. Facing future teammate Keith Foulke and a 4-3 deficit in the eighth inning with two outs and runners on the corners, Ortiz whacked a clutch double to right to plate the tying and winning runs.

7. Todd Pratt, 1999 Game 4
In the bottom of the tenth inning, Todd Pratt -- substituting for the injured Mike Piazza -- faced ace reliever Matt Mantei, who was sharp but entering unfamiliar terrain in his third inning of work. Pratt ensured that Mantei wouldn't put any more strain on his arm -- for the rest of the year, in fact. He lofted a fly ball that carried out to deep centre, and the Shea Stadium faithful seemed to pause for a split-second before realizing that the Mets had just walked off with not only the game, but the series.

6. David Ortiz, 2004 Game 3
Big Papi makes the list again. After coughing up a 6-1 lead, Boston seemed to have no momentum in the tenth inning. Johnny Damon led off with a single, but a terrible bunt by Mark Bellhorn forced him at second and Manny Ramirez struck out looking. Mike Scioscia went to lefty Jarrod Washburn to replace a tiring K-Rod, but Ortiz threw the matchup "book" out the window by blasting a two-run home run to win the game and clinch the series.

5. Tony Womack, 2001 Game 5
Talk about instant atonement. With first and third, one out, bottom of the ninth in both a tie game and a tie series, Womack failed to reach a low and outside pitch on a squeeze play, leaving Midre Cummings dead to rights at the plate. But Bob Brenly atoned for his failed risk by wisely pinch-running Danny Bautista for Greg Colbrunn, who had alertly taken second on the squeeze attempt. Then Womack himself atoned for his poor execution with a jam-shot bloop single to left off Steve Kline, and Bautista raced home with the run, the game and the series.

4. Ivan Rodriguez, 2003 Game 3
Pudge played like a man possessed in the 2003 postseason, and this game was no exception. Down 3-2 in the bottom of the eleventh, Jeff Conine reached on an error by Jose Cruz Jr., whose Gold Glove award was undoubtedly bittersweet after his atrocious fielding performance in the playoffs. With the bases loaded and one out, Tim Worrell coaxed a comebacker from Luis Castillo and nailed Conine at the plate on the force. But Pudge was up next, and he ripped a single to right that scored both the tying and the winning runs in dramatic fashion. In Game 4, Rodriguez would clinch the series by winning two collisions at the plate: he dislodged the ball and scored in the eighth inning, and he hung on for the tag against J.T. Snow in the ninth to preserve the win.

3. Sandy Alomar, 1997 Game 4
In a tight, tense Game 4, Joe Torre gave the ball to Mariano Rivera to nail down the five final outs of a 2-1 ballgame, with the Yankees leading the series by an identical count. After dispatching Matt Williams, Mo fired off a 94-mph cutter up and away to Sandy Alomar. Alomar connected, driving the pitch the other way; the ball carried just enough, landing on top of the outfield fence and bounding into the delirious Jacobs Field crowd. The improbable game-tying shot turned both the game and the series around, as Cleveland would take out the defending champs in five.

2. Trot Nixon, 2003 Game 3
The heroics-laden Yankees-Red Sox 2003 ALCS, culminating in the "Aaron Boone Game," frankly shouldn't even have taken place. The Oakland A's had a commanding 2-0 series lead and had plenty of opportunities to put the series away in Game 3, but Eric Byrnes and Miguel Tejada committed two of the worst baserunning blunders in postseason history. Consequently, the game remained knotted at 1 in the 11th inning. With one on and one out, Grady Little asked Trot Nixon to pinch-hit for Gabe Kapler against young Canadian flamethrower Rich Harden. Nixon whacked an outside fastball to straightaway centre, and Byrnes' awful night got worse as he tracked the ball until it cleared the 23-foot high fence. Nixon's two-run shot was the first pinch-hit walk-off Division Series homer since George Vuckovich did it in 1981, and the Red Sox would come all the way back to advance to the ALCS.

1. Edgar Martinez, 1995 Game 5
To say Edgar Martinez was "locked in" against the Yankees in the 1995 ALDS would be a colossal understatement. All he did was put up a .571/.667/1.000 line...and he saved his most memorable heroics for extra innings in the deciding fifth game. After battling back from a 2-1 deficit in the fourth and a 4-2 deficit in the eighth -- both against David Cone -- the M's found themselves trailing yet again in the eleventh, after a Randy Velarde RBI single capped off a well-manufactured go-ahead run for New York in the top half of the inning. With Jack McDowell on the mound, Joey Cora drag-bunted his way on and Ken Griffey, Jr. singled him to third. With that level, balanced, picture-perfect swing, Edgar than waited on a McDowell slider and lined it into the left-field corner. Cora scored easily to tie the game, and Griffey raced around the bases to win it. This clutch hit -- which notched RBI numbers 9 and 10 in the series for Edgar -- capped off arguably the finest Division Series individual performance in history, and won arguably the finest game in the relatively brief history of the Division Series.

The Post-Season Clutch Hits Project: Division Series | 11 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
CaramonLS - Sunday, October 09 2005 @ 04:13 PM EDT (#129901) #
Brad Ausmas might warrent some consideration depending on the outcome of the game today.

Bottom of the 9th, 2 outs, and he hits a game tieing Home run.
Willy - Sunday, October 09 2005 @ 05:40 PM EDT (#129903) #
Surely Robbie Alomarís 9th inning homer off the hitherto unstoppable Dennis Eckersley in Game 4 of the 1992 ALCS against Oakland deserves mention? It tied the game--which the Jays then won 7-6 in the 11th--and enabled them to return to Toronto with a 3-1 margin in the series, to win the ALCS in Game 6, and then go on to the World Series. Arguably the biggest hit in Jays' history?
Matthew E - Sunday, October 09 2005 @ 07:16 PM EDT (#129906) #
Yeah, but that's an LCS hit. We're talking LDS here.
Willy - Sunday, October 09 2005 @ 08:02 PM EDT (#129909) #
Ah, sorry about that; and thanks, Matthew. I had a suspicion there must be a good reason why it wasn't mentioned. My bad.
Jim - Sunday, October 09 2005 @ 09:19 PM EDT (#129912) #
2002 ALDS. Anaheim at NY. Game 2

New York leads the series 1-0 and the game 4-3 in the top of the 8th.

Orlando Hernandez begins his fifth inning of relief by giving up the tying home run to Garret Anderson. The next hitter (Glaus) also homered giving the Angels a 6-5 lead that they turn into a 8-6 win.

Mike D - Sunday, October 09 2005 @ 10:24 PM EDT (#129914) #
Yowza. Just got back to a computer.

So, which hit from today's epic affair in Houston makes the list -- Berkman's slam? Ausmus's last-chance homer? Burke's 18th-inning walk-off?

And once we choose the specific hit...where does it rank on this list? I'm inclined to say #4 or so, primarily because Houston would live to play another day had they not pulled it out today.
James W - Sunday, October 09 2005 @ 10:29 PM EDT (#129915) #
Hard to pick one as being more important than the others. Without Ausmus' HR, Burke never gets the chance though. And without Berkman's...

#4 seems the appropriate place for the chosen hit though.
CaramonLS - Sunday, October 09 2005 @ 11:55 PM EDT (#129918) #
Last chance from a guy with like 56 HRs or something like that, with Bagwell on the bench. Amazing.
Mike Boehm - Monday, October 10 2005 @ 12:53 AM EDT (#129920) #
Ausmu's hit this week deffinately qualifies for this list.
Gitz - Monday, October 10 2005 @ 03:07 AM EDT (#129924) #
I'd put Ausmus's HR third, which precipitates the following move: putting Nixon's blast fourth, thus making the new top three Edgar (grrrrrrrrrr, as I was a Yankees fan then), Alomar, and Ausmus, in that order.
Mike D - Monday, October 10 2005 @ 02:18 PM EDT (#129928) #
I had given Trot bonus points for (a) coming off the bench as a pinch-hitter, and (b) playing for a team facing elimination.

That said, I wouldn't object to placing Ausmus ahead of him, because as far as in-game context goes, it's hard to top Ausmus. (Unless you're Edgar Martinez, of course.)
The Post-Season Clutch Hits Project: Division Series | 11 comments | Create New Account
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