Five Games Teams Wish They Could Replay
(originally written 6/4/13)
On June 3, the favored Miami Heat broke a close game open in the second quarter and coasted to an Eastern Conference Finals Game 7 victory over the underdog Indiana Pacers.
If you read my articles with regularity you know that I'm not just a fan of my chosen teams (S.F Giants/49ers, and Golden State Warriors)—I'm also a fan of sports in general, and the sports fan in me was rooting for Indiana to return to the Finals after a 13-year absence.
Besides, ever since The Decision, it's nearly impossible to tune in to any sports network for five minutes without an update on Erik Spoelstra's team. "Coming up: Longtime Braves outfielder Andruw Jones has decided to play in the Japan League in 2013; we'll get Udonis Haslem's thoughts after the break."
(Of course, had Miami lost to Indy we'd be subject to weeks of coverage dedicated to their collapse, LBJ's pending free agency, D-Wade's frustration, Spoelstra's job status, etc. so perhaps their advancement is a blessing in disguise.)
Indiana gave Miami all it could handle with an offense that wasn't all that even before Danny Granger got hurt. Too bad there's no 24-hour magic wand—the Pacers could go back in time and sink more free throws, cover Ray freaking Allen beyond the arc, box out Miami's offensive rebounders, and sink what few open shots they lucked into.
...but what if there was?
Once the game was put out of reach my mind began to drift. "If I had a magic wand, and could J.R. Ewing any five games in history, what would they be?" (Hope you get the reference because I'm not here to talk about the past.)
Here's what I came up with:
5. 2003 NLCS: Florida Marlins vs. Chicago Cubs, Game 6 1 OF 5
(Also known as the "Steve Bartman Game")
You know the story. Chicago Cubs, no titles since 1908, no World Series since 1945, curse, goat, yada yada. But this Mark Prior-Kerry Wood-Sammy Sosa-Dusty Baker-led bunch seemed poised to at the very least get back to the Fall Classic.
Up three games to two against the shocking Marlins and ready to trot out two of the league's best starters in Game Six—and Seven if necessary—no pundit gave Florida a chance. The Cub duo had gone a combined 32-17 with 511 K in the regular season—who could blame them?
In Game 6 the Cubs led 3-0 and stood five outs away from the NL pennant. It was at that moment Bartman became possibly the most hated fan in baseball history (unfairly). Long story short: Bartman's "interference" and a crucial error helps Florida knot the game at 3-3 and they went on to upend Chicago 8-3.
Still, Chicago had sturdy Wood ready to nail Florida—except, he didn't. The Cubs fell behind 3-0 and eventually lost 9-6, leaving some fans openly sobbing at Wrigley Field.
4. 2007 ALCS: Cleveland Indians vs. Boston Red Sox, Game 7 2 OF 5
This one made the list partially for the baseball fan in me that wished to see the Indians end their 59-year championship drought—but mostly because at the time, I really despised the Boston Red Sox.
Since winning the title in '04, from every crack in the sidewalk emerged Boston Red Sox bandwagoners who previously could not have distinguished Kevin Youkilis from Kevin Garnett. Boston "fans" began to overrun every MLB park the Sox traveled to—the Oakland Coliseum (my then-girlfriend was a huge A's fan) became unbearable.
So I wanted Boston out. However, C.C. Sabathia, my old high school classmate (and a good guy) and the 2007 Cy Young award winner, wasn't able to close them out in Game 5, nor was Fausto Carmona in Game 6—and Jake Westbrook just didn't have it in Game 7. Boston beat him up pretty good in completing a comeback from 3-1 down in the series.
The Red Sox made quick work of the Rockies in the World Series before gradually slipping into mediocrity; by 2012 they actually "earned" my pity.
3. 1997 World Series: Cleveland Indians vs. Florida Marlins, Game 7 3 OF 5
As a baseball fan this one broke my heart, but also set the stage for one of pro sports' most bizarre, childish feuds ever.
The 1995 Cleveland Indians were the best offensive team I ever saw, scoring 840 runs in a 144-game season. But the more experienced Braves dispatched them in six World Series games.
The 1997 squad, though less explosive, nonetheless enjoyed a great year; the play of catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. was one of the top stories in baseball that year. Cleveland returned to the Fall Classic and went into the ninth inning of Game 7 up by a run. They'd overcome prior nasty snowstorms and an Eric Gregg strike zone the size of an end zone to be in that position.
Jose Mesa was given the task of closing the Marlins out, but he permitted the tying run to score; in the 11th, young Edgar Renteria drove in the Series-winning hit for Florida—extending Cleveland's title drought to 49 years.
Indians SS Omar Vizquel later wrote an autobiography in which he described Mesa's eyes as "vacant," basically accusing him of not being up to the challenge of wrapping up Game 7. Mesa vowed to plunk Vizquel whenever they faced each other for the rest of their careers and for a while he did exactly that—until faced with league fines and suspensions.
2. 2002 West Finals: Sacramento Kings vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Game 6 4 OF 5
Game 6 of this series was officiated so poorly, for a while more conspiracy theories surrounded it than the JFK assassination. Of course, now we know why.
I saw a lot more Sacramento Kings basketball in 1999-2002 than a Warriors fan should have. One of my then-best friends was a die-hard Kings fan who, had their move to Seattle taken place, would have probably strapped himself to Arco Arena in protest. So whenever we hung out, which was often, Sac basketball was on.
Those Kings put on quite a show. Jason Williams (then Mike Bibby), Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic and friends not only won games—they dazzled crowds. Since my Warriors in those days were usually eliminated from playoff contention in December, I pulled for those Kings during their playoff runs.
Including 2002 against the two-time defending champion Lakers.
In the aforementioned Game 6, Kobe Bryant elbows to Mike Bibby's mug were allowed, while slight brushes of Shaq O'Neal's uniform stitching by Vlade Divac's arm hair were not. I remember a steady march of fourth-quarter free-throw trips for L.A. while no Sac big man was permitted to defend his position at all.
The screw-job administered by the refs allowed the Lakers to pull out a four-point win; they won Game 7 and the NBA Championship soon after.
1. 2011 World Series: Texas Rangers vs. St. Louis Cardinals, Game 6 5 OF 5
Texas was outplayed and possibly overmatched in its 2010 World Series clash with the San Francisco Giants—its first Fall Classic appearance since moving to Texas from Washington D.C. in 1972—but in 2011 they should have won.
Up three games to two against a scrappy St. Louis lineup (albeit one also featuring three of the NL's top sluggers), young Rangers CL Neftali Feliz seemed poised to put Game 6 in the books.
The situation: ninth inning, two on, two out and two strikes on third baseman David Freese. The pitch that could have won the World Series for Texas ended up being driven for a game-tying triple. Texas went back up in the top of the 10th, only to fall back into a tie in the bottom half. In the 11th, Freese homered to finally end Game 6.
The Cards pulled out Game 7 relatively easily. Again, the baseball fan in me wished to see another long title drought end; I was a fan of Nolan Ryan (former Rangers pitcher, now Rangers executive) and besides, St. Louis just won a title in 2006. Parity!