Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Top 10 World Series Defensive Plays

Honorable Mentions:

Sam Rice, Washington Senators vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, 1925 Game 3.

Joe DiMaggio, New York Yankees vs. New York Giants, 1936 Game 2.

Carl Furillo, Brooklyn Dodgers vs. New York Yankees, 1952 Game 5.

Joe Rudi, Oakland Athletics vs. Cincinnati Reds, 1972 Game 2.

Willie McGee, St. Louis Cardinals vs. Milwaukee Brewers, 1982 Game 3.

Kirby Puckett, Minnesota Twins vs. Atlanta Braves, 1991 Game 6.

Devon White, Toronto Blue Jays vs. Atlanta Braves, 1992 Game 3.

Andy Pettitte, New York Yankees vs. Atlanta Braves, 1996 Game 5.

10. Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies vs. Tampa Bay Rays, 2008 Game 5. Easily the most recent entry on this list, so perhaps it hasn't sunk in yet. Utley's throw to the plate, knowing he didn't have a play at first, stopped the Rays' last gasp and kept the Phils on track to win the first World Championship by any Philadelphia team in a quarter of a century.

9. Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees vs. Brooklyn Dodgers, 1956 Game 5. Fans who say Mays was a better player than Mantle usually cite Willie's defense, but Mickey was pretty good in center field also. He used just one hand, and a backhanded catch at that, to rob Gil Hodges of a 420-foot extra-base hit and preserve Don Larsen's perfect game.

8. Al Gionfriddo, Brooklyn Dodgers vs. New York Yankees, 1947 Game 6. He robbed Joe DiMaggio by the bullpen gate in deep left center at the pre-renovation original Yankee Stadium, with a distance marker reading 415 feet. It preserved a Dodger win and sent the Series to a Game 7, although the Dodgers lost.

Like Game 4 heroes Cookie Lavagetto of Brooklyn and Bill Bevens of New York, Gionfriddo never played in the majors again after the '47 Series.

7. Dwight Evans, Boston Red Sox vs. Cincinnati Reds, 1975 Game 6. True, the Sox ended up losing the Series, but this catch, like the ones at Numbers 1 and 3, was the opening half of a double play that kept a team in position to win. Evans would spend the next 15 years battling Dave Winfield and Dave Parker for the perception of best-fielding right fielder in baseball.

He also hit 385 home runs. His teammate Jim Rice hit 382 and wasn't a good fielder, and is in the Hall of Fame. So why isn't "Dewey"?

6. Graig Nettles, New York Yankees vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, 1978 Game 3. Five separate plays, including 3 that snuffed out rallies, saving the Yankees' bacon when they were down 2 games to none. He also made a great stop against the Dodgers in Game 1 in 1980.

5. Tommie Agee, twice in Game 3, and Ron Swoboda, Game 4, New York Mets vs. Baltimore Orioles, 1969. Gotta put these together: If any of them is not made, perhaps the O's put an end to the "Miracle."

4. Brooks Robinson, Baltimore Orioles vs. Cincinnati Reds, 1970 several plays. He redefined how the position of 3rd base is judged, and gained one of the great sports nicknames, the Human Vacuum Cleaner.

3. Sandy Amoros, Brooklyn Dodgers vs. New York Yankees, 1955 Game 7. Bottom of the 6th of Game 7, and the Dodgers had never won the World Series before: 0-for-7, 5 of those losses against the Yankees. That makes this easily the most critical of these plays, because if Amoros doesn't make that catch, and then throw back to the infield to finish the double play, the Yankees probably tie the game, and might have gone on to win. It preserved the 2-0 Dodger lead and the Dodgers went on to win their only World Series in Brooklyn.

2. Bill Wambsganss, Cleveland Indians vs. Brooklyn Dodgers, 1920 Game 5. The only triple play in Series history, and he turned it unassisted. I can't rank it Number 1 simply because the Indians were going to win the Series by this point anyway. Which is not the case for Number 1.

1. Willie Mays, New York Giants vs. Cleveland Indians, 1954 Game 1. "The Catch," off Vic Wertz -- usually cited as 460 feet away from home plate but probably more like 440, as that wall was about 450 -- was great all by itself. The throw afterward saved a run and preserved a tie. Essentially, this play set the stage for an entire Series, just as did Kirk Gibson's homer in 1988 and Paul O'Neill's walk in 2000.

Whether this is the greatest catch in baseball history is debatable, but it is easily the most celebrated defensive play in the history of sports. Unless you're a Chowdahead: "Johnny Havlicek stole the ball!"

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