A statistical look at each MLB franchise’s biggest play

Yordan Alvarez’s three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth that won Game 1 of the AL Division Series for Houston.

J.T. Realmuto’s solo shot in the top of the 10th that provided the winning margin for Philadelphia in Game 1 of the World Series.

These are two of this postseason’s most memorable moments so far, but which one was more critical?

There’s actually a way to measure that. It’s a stat called championship win probability added (cWPA) and Baseball Reference publishes it. The idea is to determine how much a particular play increased or decreased a team’s chance of winning that year’s World Series, based on when it occurred in the game — and when that game occurred in the overall context of the postseason.

According to cWPA, Alvarez’s hit improved Houston’s chance of winning it all by 8.58%, while Realmuto’s improved Philadelphia’s chance by 10.75%. Alvarez’s drive turned a two-run deficit into an instant victory, but Realmuto’s hit came two rounds later, so it gets the edge even though that game was tied when he came up.

The cWPA stats are fascinating to compare. With that in mind, The Associated Press looked at each team’s history, trying to determine the franchise’s most crucial play. It’s easy to find the play that resulted in the best cWPA, but we also added a couple caveats:

1. The team had to win the game and the series the play occurred in. If the Astros hadn’t won that ALDS, Alvarez’s hit wouldn’t have changed baseball history all that much.

2. Furthermore, the play has to have occurred during a team’s run to a championship. If the franchise has never won a title, then the play must be from a year when the team at least equaled its deepest postseason run.

In many cases, this exercise confirmed what fans already knew about some of the biggest moments in baseball history — but it also unearthed some obscure plays that perhaps don’t get the attention they should.

Teams are listed using their current names:

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

The play: Tony Womack’s tying double in the bottom of the ninth against the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.

The math: This play increased Arizona’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 49.75%.

Details: Sometimes the play that sets up the winning hit is more important than the winning hit itself. Arizona was down by a run with one out and men on first and second when Womack came up. With Mariano Rivera on the mound, the Yankees still had a good chance to close the game out, but Womack’s liner to right tied it at 2 and put the winning run on third. After a hit batter loaded the bases, there were a number of ways Luis Gonzalez could drive in the winning run. He did so with an RBI single over a drawn-in infield.

ATLANTA BRAVES

The play: Eddie Mathews’ two-run double in the third inning that opened the scoring against the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 1957 World Series.

The math: This play increased Milwaukee’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 19.68%.

Details: The Braves – then representing Milwaukee — went on to win Game 7 at Yankee Stadium 5-0. Since moving to Atlanta, the team’s most famous postseason hit was probably Francisco Cabrera’s pennant winner against Pittsburgh in 1992, but the Braves didn’t win it all that year. Of the franchise’s four World Series titles, 1957 was the only one that came in a seventh game.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

The play: Tito Landrum’s solo home run in the top of the 10th that broke a scoreless tie against the Chicago White Sox in Game 4 of the 1983 ALCS.

The math: This play increased Baltimore’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 10.21%.

Details: Baltimore’s three titles all came in lopsided World Series, but the ALCS in ’83 — at that point a best-of-five — was fairly dramatic. The Orioles led the series 2-1, but Game 4 at Comiskey Park went to extra innings. Then Landrum — who hit 13 homers in 607 regular-season games in his career — swatted a drive to left for the first of three Baltimore runs in the 10th. The Orioles won 3-0.

BOSTON RED SOX

The play: Tris Speaker’s tying single in the bottom of the 10th against the New York Giants in Game 8 of the 1912 World Series.

The math: This play increased Boston’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 50.52%.

Details: That’s not a misprint. The winner-take-all matchup in this World Series was Game 8 after Game 2 ended tied at 6 after 11 innings. In the finale, the Giants led 2-1 in the 10th, but an error by outfielder Fred Snodgrass started Boston’s final rally. With men on first and second and one out, Speaker delivered the key hit off Christy Mathewson, evening the score and putting the winning run on third. After an intentional walk, Larry Gardner hit a sacrifice fly for a 3-2 win and the title.

CHICAGO CUBS

The play: Ben Zobrist’s RBI double in the top of the 10th that put Chicago up 7-6 against Cleveland in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.

The math: This play increased Chicago’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 31.27%.

Details: Seeking their first title in 108 years, the Cubs had blown a 5-1 lead when they came to the plate in the 10th. Zobrist’s hit not only put them ahead to stay, it also moved a runner to third with one out, and that man later scored. Chicago ultimately won 8-7.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

The play: Paul Konerko’s grand slam in the seventh that gave the White Sox a 6-4 lead over the Houston Astros in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series.

The math: This play increased Chicago’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 18.58%.

Details: The final glory in this game belonged to Scott Podsednik, who hit a tiebreaking walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth, but it was Konerko who turned the tide two innings earlier with a two-out drive to left. The White Sox ultimately swept the series.

CINCINNATI REDS

The play: Joe Morgan’s RBI single in the top of the ninth that put the Reds up 4-3 against the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of the 1975 World Series.

The math: This play increased Cincinnati’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 33.84%.

Details: The Red Sox forced Game 7 with Carlton Fisk’s extra-inning homer, and it appeared the finale might go beyond nine innings as well. Then Morgan came up with men on first and third and two outs and dropped a single in front of center fielder Fred Lynn for the final run of a great series.

CLEVELAND GUARDIANS

The play: Gene Bearden getting Boston’s Sibby Sisti to bunt into a double play in the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 1948 World Series.

The math: This play increased Cleveland’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 15.57%.

Details: Apologies to Rajai Davis and Tony Fernandez, but their big hits came in years Cleveland fell just short of a championship. The team’s most recent title was in 1948, when the Boston Braves trailed 4-3 in the ninth but put the leadoff man on as they tried to force a Game 7. Instead, Sisti popped up a bunt into a double play, and Bearden would retire the next hitter to wrap up the title.

COLORADO ROCKIES

The play: Matt Holliday’s tying triple in the bottom of the 13th against the San Diego Padres in a one-game playoff for the 2007 National League wild card.

The math: This play increased Colorado’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 5.90%.

Details: The only play on this list that was technically part of the regular season. Colorado trailed 8-7 in the 13th when Holliday connected off Trevor Hoffman to bring home the tying run. The triple also put the winning run on third with nobody out, and Holliday would eventually score on a sacrifice fly to win the game. The Rockies went on to their only NL pennant that year.

DETROIT TIGERS

The play: Jim Northrup’s two-run triple that broke a scoreless tie in the seventh against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 7 of the 1968 World Series.

The math: This play increased Detroit’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 35.92%.

Details: The Tigers rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to win this championship, and they did it by beating Bob Gibson in the finale after striking out 17 times against him in Game 1. Northrup’s hit opened the scoring in a 4-1 victory in Game 7.

HOUSTON ASTROS

The play: Alex Bregman’s RBI single in the bottom of the 10th that beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 13-12 in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series.

The math: This play increased Houston’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 19.34%.

Details: In one of the wildest games in World Series history, the Dodgers blew leads of 4-0 and 7-4, and the Astros led 12-9 before Los Angeles tied it in the ninth. Bregman finally ended it with this two-out hit off Kenley Jansen that gave Houston a 3-2 lead in the series. The Astros split the final two games in Los Angeles to win the championship.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

The play: Dane Iorg’s two-run single in the bottom of the ninth that beat the St. Louis Cardinals 2-1 in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series.

The math: This play increased Kansas City’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 25.01%.

Details: The Cardinals were three outs from the title, but a missed call at first base started the winning rally for Kansas City. St. Louis also misplayed a foul pop and had a passed ball in the inning. Iorg eventually came up with the bases loaded and one out, and his hit forced a Game 7 that the Royals would win in a rout.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS

The play: Garret Anderson’s eighth-inning single that, combined with an error by Barry Bonds, left men on second and third with nobody out against the San Francisco Giants in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series.

The math: This play increased Anaheim’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 14.65%.

Details: This is an obscure one. Facing elimination, the Angels rallied from a 5-0 seventh-inning deficit to win 6-5. Scott Spiezio and Darin Erstad hit big homers during the comeback, but this was the play that finally put Anaheim in good position to win. With the Giants up 5-4, Anderson’s bloop left men on second and third. They’d both score on Troy Glaus’ double (11.45%), and then Anderson delivered a three-run double (13.85%) in the third inning of Game 7.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

The play: Kirk Gibson’s two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth that beat the Oakland Athletics 5-4 in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

The math: This play increased Los Angeles’ chance of winning that year’s championship by 27.31%.

Details: One of the game’s legendary moments — and it also holds up from a cWPA perspective. The homer gave Los Angeles a one-game lead with Orel Hershiser taking the mound in Game 2. The Dodgers would go on to win in five.

MIAMI MARLINS

The play: Edgar Renteria’s RBI single in the bottom of the 11th that beat Cleveland 3-2 in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series.

The math: This play increased Florida’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 34.28%.

Details: Renteria is one of six players to deliver a walk-off victory in a winner-take-all World Series game – and he’s the only one to do it with two outs. He went to the plate with the bases loaded, so a single was enough, and he came through.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

The play: Cecil Cooper’s two-run single in the seventh that put Milwaukee up 4-3 against the California Angels in Game 5 of the 1982 ALCS.

The math: This play increased Milwaukee’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 19.66%.

Details: The Brewers have never won the World Series, so this hit – in a winner-take-all game for the pennant – is as good as it’s gotten. Cooper’s bases-loaded single with two outs was the difference in Milwaukee’s 4-3 victory.

MINNESOTA TWINS

The play: Bucky Harris’ two-run single in the bottom of the eighth for the Washington Senators that tied Game 7 of the 1924 World Series against the New York Giants.

The math: This play increased Washington’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 35.20%.

Details: This franchise has won three World Series, two of them via walk-offs in Game 7s. But remarkably, those hits by Washington’s Earl McNeely (28.47%) and Minnesota’s Gene Larkin (16.47%) don’t score as high as the one by Harris. The game was tied for McNeely and Larkin, while Harris’ bases-loaded single — which came with two outs — pulled the Senators out of a two-run hole. If not for that, McNeely’s title-winning hit in the 12th maybe never happens.

NEW YORK METS

The play: Keith Hernandez’s two-run single in the bottom of the sixth against the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of the 1986 World Series.

The math: This play increased New York’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 22.38%.

Details: With the Mets down 3-0, Hernandez came through with the bases loaded to start a stirring comeback that vaulted New York to an 8-5 victory. The end of Game 6, of course, is far more famous, but that win was really the result of two separate plays – Bob Stanley’s wild pitch that tied the game (22.33%) and Bill Buckner’s error that ended it (21.46%). If you combine those two percentages, it’s fair to say Mookie Wilson had the biggest at-bat in Mets history, but the biggest hit belongs to Hernandez.

NEW YORK YANKEES

The play: Bob Meusel’s go-ahead single in the eighth against the New York Giants in Game 6 of the 1923 World Series.

The math: This play increased the Yankees’ chance of winning that year’s championship by 26.85%.

Details: There are certainly more famous plays for this franchise, but the pennant-winning homers by Chris Chambliss (18.77%) and Aaron Boone (17.81%) don’t quite measure up on the cWPA list. Besides, the Yankees lost in the World Series those years. In 1923, the team was still seeking its very first championship. Up 3-2 in the series but down 4-3 in Game 6, the Yankees had the bases loaded with two outs when Meusel singled. All three runners came in to score on the play, and New York would win 6-4.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

The play: Don Mincher’s tying single in the bottom of the ninth against the Cincinnati Reds in Game 4 of the 1972 World Series.

The math: This play increased Oakland’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 19.98%.

Details: The A’s won a seven-game classic against Cincinnati, and they took a 3-1 lead in the series when they scored twice in the ninth for a 3-2 victory in Game 4. Mincher’s hit tied the game and advanced the winning run to third with one out. Angel Mangual would then provide the winning hit.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

The play: Manny Trillo’s two-run triple in the top of the eighth that gave the Phillies a 7-5 lead against the Houston Astros in Game 5 of the 1980 NLCS.

The math: This play increased Philadelphia’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 19.79%.

Details: The NL pennant came down to the finale of this best-of-five series, and Trillo’s hit capped a five-run eighth for Philadelphia. Houston would actually score twice in the bottom of the eighth to tie it, but the Phillies finally prevailed 8-7 in 10 innings and went on to win their first World Series title.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

The play: Hal Smith’s three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth that put Pittsburgh up 9-7 against the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.

The math: This play increased Pittsburgh’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 63.62%.

Details: This is the most obvious instance where the math and the legend differ. The Pirates won this World Series on Bill Mazeroski’s solo homer in the bottom of the ninth – a play worth 36.74% in cWPA. But Smith’s drive an inning earlier, which came with two outs and turned a one-run deficit into a two-run lead, produced an even bigger swing. It’s been forgotten because the Yankees tied it in the ninth, but Smith’s home run has the largest cWPA value in postseason history. (This 10-9 Pittsburgh victory includes three of the top 10 cWPA plays on record.)

SAN DIEGO PADRES

The play: Tony Gwynn’s two-run double in the seventh that put San Diego up 5-3 over the Chicago Cubs in Game 5 of the 1984 NLCS.

The math: This play increased San Diego’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 14.04%.

Details: In the final year that the LCS was a best-of-five, the Padres beat the Cubs 6-3 in the deciding game. San Diego tied it on first baseman Leon Durham’s error, but Gwynn’s smash past second baseman Ryne Sandberg was the biggest blow of the Padres’ four-run seventh.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

The play: Carl Hubbell getting Washington’s Cliff Bolton to hit a double play grounder that gave the New York Giants a 2-1 victory over the Senators in Game 4 of the 1933 World Series.

The math: This play increased New York’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 19.86%.

Details: A rare defensive play on this list. New York was clinging to a one-run lead in the bottom of the 11th when Bolton came up with the bases loaded and one out. Hubbell, who went the distance for the Giants in this pivotal game, got Bolton to hit into a 6-4-3 double play, giving New York a 3-1 lead in the series. The Giants would close it out with another extra-inning win in Game 5.

SEATTLE MARINERS

The play: Edgar Martinez’s two-run double in the bottom of the 11th that beat the New York Yankees 6-5 in Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS.

The math: This play increased Seattle’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 8.12%.

Details: This is the only current franchise that has never reached the World Series, but Martinez’s hit put the Mariners in the ALCS for the first of three times in a seven-year span. This best-of-five finale against the Yankees was a crossroads in baseball history. It was Don Mattingly’s final game, Alex Rodriguez’s postseason debut (as a 20-year-old pinch-runner) and a coming out party of sorts for Mariano Rivera. Ken Griffey Jr. tore around the bases on Martinez’s hit to score from first, giving Seattle the victory and Randy Johnson the win in relief.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

The play: Harry Walker’s RBI double in the bottom of the eighth that scored Enos Slaughter from first and gave the Cardinals a 4-3 lead over the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series.

The math: This play increased St. Louis’ chance of winning that year’s championship by 31.95%.

Details: “Slaughter’s Mad Dash” from first put the Cardinals three outs away from a championship they would indeed win. Boston’s Johnny Pesky was blamed for holding the ball too long on the relay, a charge he long denied.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

The play: Randy Arozarena’s two-run homer in the first that opened the scoring against the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the 2020 ALCS.

The math: This play increased Tampa Bay’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 8.39%.

Details: Tampa Bay has never won it all, but this big hit in a winner-take-all game for the AL pennant was a highlight of Arozarena’s spectacular 2020 postseason. He put the Rays ahead to stay in a game they’d win 4-2.

TEXAS RANGERS

The play: Bengie Molina’s three-run homer in the sixth that put the Rangers up 5-3 against the New York Yankees in Game 4 of the 2010 ALCS.

The math: This play increased Texas’ chance of winning that year’s championship by 7.55%.

Details: Molina’s drive was a turning point in this important game, which Texas went on to win 10-3. The Rangers took a 3-1 lead in the series and would eventually close it out in six for their first pennant. A 36-year-old catcher playing his final season, Molina had just five homers during the regular season that year before hitting two in the playoffs.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The play: Joe Carter’s three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth that gave Toronto an 8-6 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series

The math: This play increased Toronto’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 30.28%.

Details: No surprises here. The Blue Jays were staring down the possibility of a Game 7 before Carter connected off Mitch Williams with one out in the ninth to give Toronto its second straight title.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

The play: Howie Kendrick’s two-run homer in the seventh that put Washington ahead of the Houston Astros 3-2 in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series.

The math: This play increased Washington’s chance of winning that year’s championship by 32.90%.

Details: With one swing, Kendrick turned a one-run deficit into a one-run lead, and the Nationals never looked back, pouring it on late and winning 6-2. Only Kendrick and Hal Smith have hit a home run to turn a deficit into a lead in the seventh inning or later in Game 7 of the World Series.

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Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister

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