Bad Beats: Baseball’s Worst Losses, NL Edition

The Washington Nationals may not have suffered a bad beat in 2012 if Stephen Strasburg had been allowed to pitch. (via David King)

It happened in Game Two of the Indians-Yankees ALDS last October. New York had built an 8-3 lead, but Cleveland was threatening with two on and two out in the bottom of the sixth. Chad Green came in tight to Lonnie Chisenhall, and home plate umpire Dan Iassogna ruled a hit-by-pitch. Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez protested that the ball struck the knob of the bat, not Chisenhall, and told manager Joe Girardi so. Girardi declined to challenge the play.  Replays showed it was just as Sanchez had said.

Girardi paid for his passivity. Francisco Lindor hit a grand slam to close the gap to 8-7. Jay Bruce homered in the eighth to tie the game. Girardi finally used a challenge on a 10th-inning wild throw, and lost. Cleveland manager Terry Francona made a challenge in the 11th on a back-pick play at first, and won. The real win came in the 13th, Yan Gomes driving in Austin Jackson to put Cleveland up 2-0 in the series.

In the immediate aftermath, my fellow Yankees fan and sometime THT collaborator Paul Golba stated that this could well be the worst loss in Yankees playoff history. I replied that, if true, this should make it the worst Yankees defeat ever, but the designation would have to wait until New York lost the series, or not. As it happened, the Yankees won three straight and defeated Cleveland, so I couldn’t see my way to calling it their worst loss ever.

This left open the question of what their worst loss was. It also opened the question of what would be considered the worst defeats for all the other teams in baseball. I decided I wanted some answers to this question, but first I needed to think a little about what exactly my question was.

An Anatomy of Anguish

What do I mean by “worst loss ever?” In graphic terms, I mean a loss that tears a team’s fans’ hearts out and stomps on their guts. I mean a loss that makes them lose sleep. I mean a loss they don’t want to think about again, ever—but they can’t help it.

What makes a defeat this awful? There is no formula as such, or at least I’m not concocting one today. Telling criteria are numerous, though, and I will try to cover them briefly.

If the defeat wrecks a team’s postseason aspirations, good*. If it wrecks the team during the postseason, better**. If it ruins the team in the World Series, within reach of the brass ring, best of all***.

* Meaning bad.
** Meaning worse.
*** You can fill in the blank by now.

Losing a big, comfortable lead is always crushing. The bigger the lead, and the later you lose it, the more awful. This counts for leads in the standings before the game, as well as the score in the game. Not to say that a pure where’s-the-mercy-rule trouncing doesn’t count, because it sure does.

A loss where a key blow is delivered by a third party, such as an umpire, is gut-wrenching. A loss where the worst wounds come from your own mistakes, physical or mental, is that much worse.

Losing in what fans at large consider a great and historic game is terrible, because in their enthusiasm they’ll never let you forget it. Losing against your team’s bitterest rival is worse, because in your misery you’ll never let yourself forget it.

Finally, an awful loss can, like a fine wine, mature with age. Defeat stings most in its moment, even if the pain is relieved by offsetting success in a day, a week, or a year. But defeats that aren’t made up, that begin or extend long barren periods, compound the pain like a thorn jabbing your heart with each beat.

It is from that dense list of criteria that I sifted and weighed evidence, carefully considered competing arguments, then just went with whatever games made me wince the hardest.

Calling the Roll

There are too many teams for me to cover in a single article, though you will see soon why that is partly my fault. I will cover the worst defeats of the National League today, saving the American League for a future piece.

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I did limit my scope slightly, beginning with 1901, the year the American League debuted. I then re-expanded it by counting relocated franchises as separate teams, meaning, for example, the Dodgers and Giants show up twice and the Braves three times. For teams that have jumped leagues, I count them in the league where they had their worst defeat, meaning you will see the Astros but not the Brewers with the NL.

And if this litany starts to feel a little too grim—it struck me that way while I was writing it—do remember that most of this horrible stuff is happening to other people’s favorite teams, not yours. So off we go, in alphabetical order.

Arizona Diamondbacks: November 1, 2001

Aptly for someone facing Yogi Berra’s old club, it was déjà vu all over again.

The previous night, the D-backs had carried a two-run advantage into the bottom of the ninth, looking to take a 3-1 lead on the Yankees in the World Series. Byung-Hyun Kim had the mound, and got two outs while allowing one baserunner. Then Tino Martinez clouted a last-chance game-tying home run. Arizona would lose in extra innings, on Derek Jeter’s “Mister November” longball.

This night, the D-backs carried a two-run advantage into the bottom of the ninth, looking to take a 3-2 lead on the Yankees in the World Series. Byung-Hyun Kim had the mound, and got two outs while allowing one baserunner. Then Scott Brosius clouted a last-chance game-tying home run. (In perfect ironic counterpoint, the speakers blared “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”) Arizona would lose in extra innings, this time on a mere Alfonso Soriano single, which had to make D-backs fans feel so much better.

The inevitable result was obvious … until two and three nights later, when it wasn’t. But it sure was a rough 48 hours.

Atlanta Braves: October 23, 1996

Despite the previous night’s setback, Atlanta still held a 2-1 lead over the Yankees in the World Series. They jumped on starter Kenny Rogers early in Game Four, and by the end of the fifth had piled up a 6-0 lead. With a Win Probability at 98 percent, the defending champions were about to get back in the driver’s seat of the Series. Then came the carjacking.

Denny Neagle couldn’t get an out in the sixth, and gave up three runs before he was hooked. The Yankees took a breath, then posted another three-spot in the eighth on Jim Leyritz’s homer to tie. Atlanta escaped a bases-loaded jam in the ninth, but in the 10th, with two gone and Yankees on first and second, intentionally walked Bernie Williams to load the bases. Bobby Cox’s move backfired spectacularly, as pinch-hitter Wade Boggs drew the RBI walk. Then Ryan Klesko, just double-switched into the game, lost a pop-up in the lights and let across the (unnecessary) insurance run.

The Yankees, energized by the biggest comeback in their long postseason history, won the next two tight contests to take the World Series. The Braves, who weren’t even midway through their record string of postseason appearances, haven’t won it all since.

Boston Braves: May 25, 1935

It was the last Ruthian day of Babe Ruth’s career. At Forbes Field in Pittsburgh he clouted three home runs, the final one being the first ball ever batted entirely out of that park. Those blasts plus an RBI single gave him six runs driven in. And the Braves lost, 11-7, dropping their record to 8-20.

Nobody got what they hoped for when Babe signed with the Braves. Ruth was angling for a manager’s position, which the owner never meant to give him. The owner wanted a big attendance boost, which didn’t last long.

The owner, fans, and Braves players alike were hoping for wins. Boston had finished in the first division the past two years, and there was hope that Babe could push the Braves to a pennant. Instead, team chemistry dissolved, and a cascade of losses followed. This loss on Babe’s best batting day in years—where Braves fans didn’t even get to watch it!—delivered a clear message: the plan was a catastrophic failure.

Ruth would be released within a week, his career finished. The Braves would do even worse without him, finishing the year 38-115. They are the last major league team to finish under .250 for a season, and this game was the proof that not even the Bambino could save them.

Brooklyn Dodgers: October 3, 1951

Guest commentary by Russ Hodges, WMCA radio.

Bobby Thomson, up there swingin’. He’s had two out of three, a single and a double, and Billy Cox is playing him right on the third base line. One out, last of the ninth.

Branca pitches; Bobby Thomson takes a strike called on the inside corner.

Bobby hitting at .292. He’s had a single and a double, and he drove in the Giants’ first run with a long fly to center. Brooklyn leads it, 4 to 2.

Hartung down the line at third, not taking any chances. Lockman without too big of a lead at second, but he’ll be runnin’ like the wind if Thomson hits one.

Branca throws.

[crack]

Chicago Cubs: October 12, 1929

More than a century of “cursed” baseball produced numerous candidates. The 1984 NLCS ended with two galling Cubs defeats, from Steve Garvey’s homer and Leon Durham’s boot. The September 9, 1969 game, where the swooning Cubs suffered a black cat crossing the path of their dugout during another loss to the Miracle Mets, has appeal. And there is the infamous Bartman Game, the one-inning collapse triggered by a fan’s grab at a playable foul ball, with the ugliness of other fans turning on him in a horrible sort of autoimmune reaction.

But I had to choose Game Four of the 1929 World Series. The Cubs carried an 8-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh, and were about to pull even in the series against the Philadelphia A’s. Then the A’s started coming back. They tallied three runs before Max Bishop lofted a fly to center that should have been the easy second out. But Hack Wilson lost it in the sun, and it dropped for an RBI single. Wilson had forgotten his sunglasses—and didn’t go to the bench now to retrieve them. Mule Haas then hit a fly that Hack lost again, this time for an inside-the-park home run.

The Phillies didn’t stop scoring until they were ahead 10-8, which was the final. Chicago bowed out of the series the next day, and Cubs fans may have wondered for the first time if they could ever win the big one.

Cincinnati Reds: October 4, 1964

Opportunity had fallen into their laps. Trailing the Phillies by 8.5 games on September 15, the Reds had gone on a tear. Their nine-game winning streak overlapped almost totally with the Phillies’ 10-game slide—not coincidentally, as Cincy handed Philly its first three defeats in that string. The Reds took a one-game lead before a rough patch against Pittsburgh and a close loss to Philadelphia put them in a tie with St. Louis, with one to play. Beat Philadelphia on the final day—the reeling, collapsing Phillies—and they’d have no worse than a playoff for the pennant.

They never had a chance. Rookie phenom Dick Allen homered twice off Reds relievers, and Jim Bunning, the Phillies ace so infamously overused during his team’s swoon, finally found his feet with a six-hit shutout. Cincinnati got trounced, 10-0.

The Reds’ only hope now was that St. Louis would lose and create a three-way tie for the NL lead. St. Louis was hosting the New York Mets that day. The 1964 Mets. The result, in retrospect, seems inevitable: an 11-5 Cardinals win, a pennant for St. Louis, and heartbreak in Cincinnati.

The Reds had wanted to win the flag for Fred Hutchinson, their erstwhile manager now suffering the late stages of cancer. After the game, players went to his cot in the clubhouse and shook his hand. He would be dead in six weeks.

Colorado Rockies: October 12, 2009

Two years after an improbable Rock-tober run, Colorado returned to the playoffs after the team’s best regular season ever. The Rockies drew the defending champion Phillies in the first round, though, and fell behind two games to one after reliever Huston Street gave up the go-ahead run to Ryan Howard in the ninth.

Game Four was shaping up as a close-fought defeat, 2-1 Phillies through seven. However, a critical Jimmy Rollins error extended the eighth. Jason Giambi and Yorvit Torrealba pounced to drive in three unearned runs. Street came in with a 4-2 lead, to redeem himself.

He nearly did, getting a whiff and a force-out around Rollins’ single, bringing the Rockies one out away. He lost Chase Utley on a walk, and this brought up Howard. This time his hit only tied the game, but Jayson Werth completed the rally by driving him in. Philly had gotten the three runs back, and led 5-4.

Colorado got a couple of hits in the last of the ninth from Carlos González and Todd Helton, but Brad Lidge entered and sent Troy Tulowitzki down swinging to eliminate the Rockies. Tulo never got a chance to make it up to them.

Florida/Miami Marlins: October 25, 1997

It’s strange, but the Marlins have never really had their hearts broken on the baseball diamond. The worst moments in franchise history—the dismembering of their first championship team, the death of José Fernández, anything involving Jeffrey Loria—have taken place off the field. The only two times they’ve made the playoffs, they won it all, and when they’ve missed, it’s never been oh-so-close.

Perhaps the closest a game has brought Marlins fans to despair was Game Six of the 1997 World Series. It was a fairly ordinary 4-1 defeat, Cleveland tying the Series at three and forcing Game Seven. What could have wilted Marlins’ fans hearts was two-fold. First, their pitching ace Kevin Brown absorbed the loss, yielding four runs in his five innings. It was his second loss in that World Series, a heavy disappointment. Secondly, Brown had been beaten, once again, by … Chad Ogea.

Chad who?

Yes, that’s the point. A near-anonymous pitcher who’d have fewer than 100 career starts got two of them in the World Series, and beat the formidable Kevin Brown both times. This non-entity was the guy who was going to stop them short? For a while, Marlins rooters had to wrestle with that dire possibility, but only a very little while.

Still, Chad Ogea has the last laugh. He can brag to his grandkids that the Indians should have started him three times in the World Series.

Houston Astros: October 15, 1986

It could easily be Game Five of the 1980 NLCS, when Houston lost a 5-2 eighth-inning lead to a Nolan Ryan meltdown, then tied it up only to lose the pennant in extras. It could easily be Game Two of the 2005 World Series, when they blew a two-run lead late, scrambled back to tie, only to get walked off by a Scott Podsednik homer.

But it has to be Game Six of the 1986 NLCS. They took a 3-0 lead in the first inning, and held it there through eight. Beat the Mets today, and tomorrow Houston would send Mike Scott against them. He had them so psyched out with his splitter, that they were convinced was an illegal scuff-ball (Psst. They were right.), that they’d have no chance, and Houston would go to the World Series for the first time ever.

Instead, the Mets broke through with three in the ninth to tie, and the game continued, on and on. When the Mets inched ahead in the 14th, Houston saved its season with Billy Hatcher’s homer to pull back to 4-4. The three-run New York 16th, fueled by two Jeff Calhoun wild pitches, seemed to be the end, until Houston bats revived against a gassed Jesse Orosco. The Astros pushed across two, had the tying run on second and the winning run on first—and Orosco struck out Kevin Bass.

No Game Seven. No Mike Scott. Nothing.

Los Angeles Dodgers: October 3, 1962

Eleven years to the day after the Shot Heard ‘Round the World, it happened again. The Giants came from behind in the ninth inning to defeat the Dodgers in the deciding game of the National League playoff. This time, there was no climactic home run, just the slow drip of the Dodgers falling apart.

Up 4-2 entering the ninth, an exhausted Ed Roebuck loaded the bases on a hit and two walks with just one out. A Willie Mays liner then went off his glove, knocked in a run, and knocked him out. Stan Williams came in, allowed a sacrifice fly that tied the game, uncorked a wild pitch, gave an intentional walk, then walked Jim Davenport unintentionally, putting San Francisco ahead. Ron Perranoski came in and got a ground ball, but Larry Burright booted it at second, and the Giants had their insurance run.

All the while, manager Walter Alston refused to send in a tired but willing Don Drysdale, meaning to save him for the first game of the World Series. Coach Leo Durocher had loudly called for Drysdale, but Leo was angling for Walt’s job, and Alston turned a deaf ear to him.

Everywhere the Dodgers could have disintegrated—pitching, fielding, and managing—they had. Then their batters went down in order in the ninth, to make it total.

Milwaukee Braves: September 29, 1959

Milwaukee still had a chance to capture its third straight pennant. First, it had to win this game against the Dodgers, to force a decisive Game Three in the NL playoff. The Braves surged ahead in the first on Frank Torre’s two-run single, struck back promptly twice against L.A. scores, and carried a 5-2 lead into the ninth. They got the bases loaded that frame on Sandy Koufax’s three walks (wild kid; never gonna amount to anything), but even without cashing in that chance, they were sitting pretty.

Four straight Dodgers singles broke the spell, putting the tying run at third and the pennant-winner on first. Carl Furillo’s sac fly got the equalizer home, but Milwaukee’s Joey Jay just barely stranded the game-winner on third. The Braves loaded the bases in the 11th and couldn’t score, then stranded the Dodgers in the same spot in the bottom half. L.A. put together a two-out rally in the home 12th, bringing up Furillo. His apparent infield single turned into more when shortstop Felix Mantilla threw wide of first, letting Gil Hodges scramble home with the decisive run.

The Dodgers got one last glory run from their remaining Boys of Summer. The Braves of Aaron, Mathews and Spahn would never win another pennant.

Montreal Expos: October 19, 1981

They call it Blue Monday in Canada, for two reasons. The Monday showdown was Game Five of the NLCS, Montreal’s second and last chance to put away the Dodgers and reach the Expos’ first World Series. A cold day in Montreal brought a tight, low-scoring contest, each team scraping together just one run over the first eight frames.

Relieving Ray Burris to open the ninth, Expos rotation stalwart Steve Rogers set down Steve Garvey and Ron Cey, but adrenalin was making him overthrow. He fell behind Rick Monday 3-1, then threw him a sinker that didn’t. Monday hammered it to center, and the cold air guaranteed to make homers die at the track could not contain this one. Two walks from Fernando Valenzuela gave Montreal a chance at redemption in the last of the ninth, but Bob Welch in relief coaxed a bang-bang ground-out that killed the Expos’ hopes and their season.

The Montreal Expos would never reach the playoffs again. You will see below that their successor franchise has not been much more fortunate.

New York Giants: October 8, 1908

They thought the pennant should already be theirs. They were convinced the tie against the Cubs on September 23, when Fred Merkle nullified the winning run by failing to touch second base, was a travesty of justice. The Giants nearly refused to play the make-up game that would decide the pennant, out of sheer pride. But that pride convinced them that they’d beat the Cubs (again) anyway, so they played.

And they lost. Christy Mathewson, pitched to exhaustion the last five weeks of the season, ran empty in the third inning. A Joe Tinker triple over the head of center fielder Cy Seymour—who had just ignored Mathewson’s signal to play back—opened a four-run Chicago rally, putting the Cubs ahead 4-1. The Giants would load the bases with nobody out in the seventh, but cash in just one run, and the game ended 4-2.

Manager John McGraw, who won 10 pennants with the Giants, would claim to his dying day that it was really 11, that the Giants won it fairly in 1908, and lost it crookedly. He, and fellow Giants, never blamed Fred Merkle. Everyone else did.

New York Mets: October 19, 2006

Game Seven of the NLDS, knotted 1-1, seemed to turn in the top of the sixth. With one on and one down, Cardinal Scott Rolen hit a ball deep to left. Endy Chávez retreated to the wall, leaped, and with more than half his arm extended over the fence, caught the ball. His throw back to the infield doubled up the runner.

Manager Willie Randolph turned to his bench coach Jerry Manuel and said, “We’re going to the show, man.” A standout play in such a big game is so often a marker of destiny. Chávez’s home-run robbery, if the Mets had won, might be remembered today as the greatest catch in baseball history.

But come the ninth, Yadier Molina refuted destiny with a two-run homer to move St. Louis ahead 3-1. New York got its first two batters aboard in the home ninth—Endy was one of them—and after two outs, loaded the bases. Up came Carlos Beltrán with the tying run on second and the pennant-winning run on first. Beltrán had seven career playoff home runs against St. Louis.

And Adam Wainwright set him down on three pitches, the last a curve that Beltrán just watched.

Many people think Carlos Beltrán is going to the Hall of Fame. Many Mets fans think they’re full of it.

Philadelphia Phillies: September 30, 1964

You’ve seen part of this story already. The Phillies led the National League by 6.5 games as late as September 20, 12 games from season’s end. Then they began losing. And kept losing. Nothing manager Gene Mauch did could help, but sending his aces Jim Bunning and Chris Short out on repeated short rest, trying to stop the skid, if anything worsened it.

Their slide at nine, they faced the now-frontrunning Cardinals to end a three-game set. Win this, and Philly would pull within half a game, and maybe there’d be a chance. That hope died horribly. Bunning, pitching on two days rest for his second straight start, had nothing. He was battered out in the fourth, an inning that ended 8-0 St. Louis. The Phillies teased their shell-shocked fans with some late runs, but the game ended with their tying run on deck, and their losing streak at 10 games.

It wasn’t technically over—mathematically they could still tie, and came surprisingly close to doing so—but fans of a team that had never won the World Series hadn’t the capacity for such hope. For them, the Phillie Phlop was already history.

Pittsburgh Pirates: October 14, 1992

It was Pittsburgh’s last chance. The small-market Pirates had lost star outfielder Bobby Bonilla to free agency the winter before, and were going to lose Barry Bonds and ace starter Doug Drabek this winter. If their three-year reign atop the NL East was going to produce a pennant, it had to be now.

It looked like it would be now. They led Atlanta 2-0 in the seventh game of the NLCS. Drabek had cruised through eight scoreless frames, putting the Bucs three outs from the World Series.

He got them no closer. A double, a José Lind error, and a walk loaded the bases and chased Drabek. Reliever Stan Belinda got two outs, but one run came across and the bases were re-loaded. Atlanta’s depleted bench, down to two backup catchers, produced Francisco Cabrera as a pinch-hitter for the pitcher. Pirates center fielder Andy Van Slyke urged Bonds to play in, and got an obscene gesture (hidden by Bonds’ glove) in return.

Cabrera lined the 2-1 pitch into left. Bonds ranged far to scoop up the hit and throw it in, a little up the line. Sid Bream, the slow-footed winning run, the one-time Pirate, chugged and churned and just beat the lunging tag by Mike LaValliere.

The Pirates’ window slammed shut. They would suffer losing records for the next 20 seasons. That string was broken by another three-year window of success, which has since closed, with three early exits and no pennants, again.

St. Louis Cardinals: October 26, 1985

The Cardinals had lost a chance to close out the 1985 World Series against Kansas City two nights before, but still brought the confidence that comes with a 3-2 lead into Game Six. Memories of the freak tarpaulin accident that ended rookie sensation Vince Coleman’s season during the NLCS were fading toward footnote status—but bizarre circumstance was about to strike St. Louis again.

The Cards broke a scoreless pitcher’s duel in the top of the eighth on a Brian Harper single, and their 1-0 lead held to the last of the ninth. Rookie closer Todd Worrell faced lead-off pinch-hitter Jorge Orta, who chopped one to Jack Clark, who fed Worrell covering in time. Only umpire Don Denkinger saw it differently, calling Orta safe.

From there, the wheels came off. Steve Balboni popped the next pitch into foul ground where Clark, fearing a collision with catcher Darrell Porter, lost the ball. Balboni, reprieved, would single. Worrell got a force at third on Jim Sundberg’s attempted sacrifice, but lost the benefit to a Porter passed ball. One intentional walk later, Dane Iorg hit the single that drove in the tying and winning runs.

Teams can rebound from hard-fought losses, but when the defeat is self-inflicted, or aided by a third party, the hill to climb can loom like a cliff. The Cardinals fell off the cliff, imploding in an 11-0 defeat the next night. They lost the Series, and being able to blame it on Denkinger never relieved the misery.

San Diego Padres: October 1, 2007

San Diego’s two trips to the World Series produced hard knocks aplenty, but those defeats were a relentless grind. No single event took shining hope and burned it to ashes. The 13th inning of the 2007 Wild Card tiebreaker against the Colorado Rockies did that.

Knotted at six through nine innings, then through 12, the Padres pounced for two runs in the top of the 13th. With Trevor Hoffman coming in to close, their 8-6 lead had to feel safe—but no lead is safe at Coors Field. A volley of three extra-base hits greeted Hoffman, tying the game and putting the winning run at third, with nobody out.

An inconsequential intentional walk brought up Jamey Carroll, who hit a liner that Brian Giles caught in right field. Matt Holliday tagged and ran for home. Catcher Michael Barrett couldn’t handle the short-hop throw, but his left foot blocked Holliday off the plate. Barrett corralled the ball and tagged an unmoving Holliday—just after umpire Tim McClelland called him safe.

The missed call insured San Diego would miss the playoffs. They haven’t reached them since.

San Francisco Giants: October 16, 1962

October is a small sample. The 1962 Giants’ luck in must-win games (see L.A. Dodgers above) wasn’t fated to even out, but it did anyway.

Game Seven of the World Series was coiled tighter than a spring. Yankees starter Ralph Terry set down the first 17 Giants he faced. Giants hurler Jack Sanford allowed just one run, on a double-play grounder in the fifth, and when he loaded the bases with nobody gone in the eighth, Billy O’Dell bailed him out to keep the game 1-0.

San Francisco got a Matty Alou single to open the last of the ninth. Terry struck out the next two Giants, but that brought up Willie Mays, who could easily win it himself. He didn’t, but his double put the winning runs in scoring position for Willie McCovey, with Orlando Cepeda behind him. The spring fairly vibrated with the tension.

McCovey lashed Terry’s first pitch deep, and foul. Terry fired again, and McCovey hit a bullet—right where second baseman Bobby Richardson, positioned perfectly, could snare the line drive. Giants fans who had leaped from their seats in elation saw their season die before their feet touched ground again.

Washington Nationals: October 12, 2012

Stephen Strasburg had helped get them here: a 98-win season, the best in baseball, and the team’s first postseason series since the franchise was the Expos in 1981. The young pitcher was supposed to do more, to win playoff games, to bring Washington a pennant, a title.

Instead, he was a spectator. Management had put an innings limit on his already-repaired pitching arm early that year. The team’s sudden year-early surge to the top of the standings did not shake GM Mike Rizzo’s resolve. Strasburg’s season ended on September 7.

Five weeks later, Nationals fans watched a six-run lead over St. Louis in Game Five of the NLDS get chipped away and chipped away, until a ninth-inning rally wiped it out. They all had to be wondering, “What if?” The only solace left to them was that they had traded this postseason for others, for years when a healthy Strasburg would mow them down from April to September, and October too.

To date, the Washington Nationals have never won a postseason series.

And this is where I must leave you for now. Fans of the American League, your team’s turn will come.

Also, if any of you have disagreements with my choices … great. Give us your picks and your reasons in the comments. I might even be persuaded by you … or I’ll just play you off another person who disagrees with both of us. Let’s find out which.

References and Resources

  • Baseball-Reference
  • Retrosheet
  • Joshua Prager, The Echoing Green
  • The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2013
  • Jonah Keri, Up, Up, & Away
  • Johnny Evers and Hugh Fullerton, Touching Second
  • Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders
  • The New York Times
  • MLB Network, Prime 9, “LCS Games”
  • Recording of Russ Hodges’ 10/3/1951 broadcast taken from the CD Baseball’s Greatest Hits
  • MLBClassics channel on YouTube
  • Various radio broadcast files accessed from Internet Archive


A writer for The Hardball Times, Shane has been writing about baseball and science fiction since 1997. His stories have been translated into French, Russian and Japanese, and he was nominated for the 2002 Hugo Award.
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Jesse
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Jesse

Don’t forget about my personal favorite aspect of the Chad Ogea legend: he had two hits off Brown, including a double and drove in two runs. RBIs are cool if they are credited to Chad Ogea in game six of the World Series off of Kevin Brown.

Also, Joe Morgan was doing color and imploring Chad Ogea not to swing the bat.

GoNYGoNYGoGo
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GoNYGoNYGoGo
Really great article Shane, and an interesting subject. For the Cubs, I would think either the 1984 game or the Bartman game, because they were more recent, would be the more painful ones. I understand (and learned) why you picked the 1929 World Series one. For the Giants, Merkle’s game was more than a century ago. How close was the 7th game of the 1962 World Series to being your selection? That was the 7th game and a frozen rope hit an inch either higher or to the left or right would have given the Giants their first World Series… Read more »
TimBasuino
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TimBasuino

The fact that the Scott Spezio HR off of Felix Rodriguez is not part of the worst defeat in SF history says something (personally I’d argue for this one).

Sleepy
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Sleepy

From 2010 to 2014, the Giants somehow won three rings and ten consecutive postseason series despite averaging just 87 wins per season over that span.

They no longer qualify for the “bad beat” category.

Joe Joe
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Joe Joe

I wonder how far down the list Games 2 and 5 in last season’s World Series rated for the Dodgers.

mando3b
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mando3b
Great, great article, Shane! As a Cubs fan, 1929 will always resonate with me, even though it happened 22 years before I was born. The twist of the Game 4 knife was Game 5, when they blew a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth to lose the game and the Series. As bad as that was for Cubs fans alive, dead and as yet unborn, though, the absolute worst for me will forever remain 2003. That was the year that all that “Lovable Loser” crap was beaten out of us forever. I’d like to add a couple of… Read more »
Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider

It’s interesting how many bad losses the Giants had in the World Series under John McGraw. Some crazy things.

John Edwards
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John Edwards
If I may, I’d like to leave what was almost certainly the Nationals’ worst regular-season loss. Lord knows that they’ve had plenty of awful postseason losses (hell, that’s about all that they have as far as postseason memories go), but I think there was one regular season game that was particularly brutal. It was September 8, 2015. The Nationals, who had been in cruise control for most of the season rolling to what looked like another easy postseason berth, had been annoyed by the upstart Mets. The Nationals had an 81% chance of making the playoffs as late in the… Read more »
John W.
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John W.

I love sad fun.

francis_soyer
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francis_soyer

The Joba Chamberlain “Midge game”

Paul G.
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Paul G.
While I do not disagree with the Mets selection, Game 4 of the 1988 NLCS is certainly in the running. Mets are up 4-2 in the 9th and up 2-1 in the series. Gooden walks the lead-off hitter and then gives up a home run to Mike Scioscia of all people. I remember watching the game and the announcers were going on and on that this was a really good match-up for Scioscia and this was a dangerous at-bat and, yay, there is goes. The Dodgers took the lead in the 12th on a Kirk Gibson home run. The Mets… Read more »
Paul G.
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Paul G.

CORRECTION: Carter hit a triple with NO outs.

mother
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mother
I like the concept. It must have been interesting* and fun** to try and find each team’s worst loss. However, most Phillies fans would say that you missed the most obvious and most painful of Phils collapses: the Joe Carter 3-run homer served up by Mitch Williams in the bottom of the 9th of Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. Phils up 6-5, looking to take it to Game 7, and the Wild Thing implodes and gives up a Series-ending walk-off. Philadelphia fans–and from accounts, some of his teammates–have never forgiven him for it. (*a hell of a lot… Read more »
Ryan DC
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Ryan DC

I don’t think I’ve ever been more depressed in my life than walking out of Nats Park after that Game 5. The psychic voodoo from that game has tainted the franchise ever since. But maybe this year we’ll finally win a playoff series!

Ryan DC
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Ryan DC

Although it’s weird to talk about Strasburg given that the pitcher who replaced him, Ross Detweiler, actually won his playoff start, and Game 5 was started by Gio in his career year Cy Young finalist season.

Will H.
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Will H.
I agree, Ryan. The Hardball Times annual from one year had multiple articles bashing the Strasburg decision… and yeah, Detwiler replaced him well. Not saying it didn’t possibly change things, but still. More to the point, were I to pick a Nats’ 2012 postseason loss, it would be Game 4 when Storen got squeezed on what should have been the winning pitch, then agony. BUT I wouldn’t choose 2012 (not least because who the hell knows what would have happened if Stras had pitched), it would be Game 5 of 2017. I was in line at the bathroom after the… Read more »
Ryan DC
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Ryan DC

Yeah 2017 was brutal. That 2012 Storen meltdown was Game 5 too btw, Game 4 was the Werthquake victory

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac
This is really interesting. Anyway, your choice is probably better, but for the Atlanta Braves don’t forget about September 28, 2011 (which is also a contender for the Red Sox were it not for Game 6 of the 1986 World Series). The Braves had an 8 1/2 game lead in the NL Wild Card race over the Cardinals at the end of August, only to completely collapse and cough it up (including a 3-game sweep by the Cardinals themselves). Yet the two teams were tied entering the final day of the regular season. The Cardinals struck first by blowing out… Read more »
tramps like us
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tramps like us
Great, great article, with fantastic research. So much fun trying to guess the game before I had read the actual choice! However…… I am more than tired of Bartman being scapegoated for the game 6 loss by the Cubs in 2003. First, I am pretty sure that ALL of us would have done what he did. I’m also pretty sure Alou wouldn’t have caught it. Beyond that….after the play, the Cubs let 3-0 with 5 outs needed to close it out. And one man on base. And the Cubs’ best pitcher, Mark Prior, still on the mound, who then walks… Read more »
AJB857
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AJB857

I’ve been an Astros fan forever and I think the 1980 game was worse. Both terrible but in 80 they were 6 outs away, 3 run lead and Ryan pitching. In 86 they still had to win Game 7. Sure Mike Scott was pitching but it’s baseball and anything can happen.

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider

I think the Nats did the right thing. If they had pitched Strasburg and he got hurt, what would people say? The fact is, Gio Gonzalez was a more than competent pitcher and should have been able to hold a six-run lead. Of course, he has shown that he is the last pitcher in the world you want pitching in a big game.