10 Most Improbable World Series Champs

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In late August and early September, nobody expected the Cardinals to reach the playoffs, let alone reach the World Series. With 31 games remaining in the season, they were 10.5 games back. With five games remaining in the season, they were three games back. Benefiting from a favorable matchup against the league's worst team and some help from the Phillies, who they would eventually defeat in the NLDS, they secured an opportunity to make another improbable World Series run, one that could be akin to their 2006 journey. The following World Series champs beat the odds to claim the Commissioner's Trophy — whether it was from a late season comeback, playoff series comeback or other obstacles — proving that baseball is the most unpredictable sport.

  1. 1954 Giants

    Three years after the "Shot heard 'round the world," the Giants completed an incredible upset sweep over the heavily favored, 111-win Cleveland Indians. A dominant rotation consisting of Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, and Mike Garcia made defeating them in four games seem like an impossible task. The Giants, who finished in fifth place the previous season, won the pennant as Willie Mays claimed his first of two MVP awards. His memorable over-the-shoulder catch in deep center field in Game 1 prevented the Indians from breaking a 2-2 tie, and enabled the Giants to go on to win the game 5-2. For the remainder of the series, the Giants' bats came through and the Indians' bats didn't, giving New York yet another baseball title.

  2. 1960 Pirates

    During the '50s, the Yankees were essentially a yearly World Series participant. Led by stars Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, they boasted more offensive firepower than the Pirates and it certainly showed during the series. Upon completion of seven games, the Yankees outscored the Pirates 55-27 — yet they lost. Pittsburgh won its four games by a total of seven runs, and lost Games 2, 3, and 6 by 10 runs or more. Game 7 featured Bill Mazeroski's walk-off homerun in the bottom of the ninth, the first walk-off homerun in the history of the World Series. The Yankee's Bobby Richardson was named series MVP, an indicator that his team truly outplayed and outmanned their victorious opponent.

  3. 1969 Mets

    Prior to the 1969 season, the Mets exemplified baseball futility. Fans were caught by surprise when the team finally managed to string together a few wins, as it finished the season 38-11, boasting a final record of 100-62. Despite the impressive resume, they were still big underdogs to the vaunted Orioles, who won 109 games, 63 of which were credited to pitchers Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, and Jim Palmer. After dropping the first game of the series to Cuellar, the Mets proceeded to win the next four games, including one-run victories over McNally and Palmer. Jerry Koosman, Tom Seaver, and Gary Gentry outperformed the Orioles rotation, shutting down the American League's second-most productive offense. "The Miracle Mets" carry the distinction of being the first expansion team to win the Fall Classic.

  4. 1985 Royals

    En route to their World Series title, the Royals didn't demonstrate the convincing dominance of teams from years past, but they certainly earned their stripes. In the ALCS, the first year it was a best-of-seven series, they fell behind to the Blue Jays 3-1. They avoided elimination in Game 5 when Danny Jackson tossed a shutout and in Game 6 when George Brett and Hal McRae accounted for most of the offensive output. After a 6-2 road victory in Game 7, completing the comeback, the Royals returned home to host their intrastate rivals, the Cardinals. John Tudor and Ken Dayley promptly shut down their offense in Games 1 and 2, and the teams traded wins in Games 3 and 4. Once again in a 3-1 hole, Jackson delivered another clutch Game 5 performance, allowing only one run. Game 6, of course, featured the infamous Don Denkinger blown call. With the Cardinals up 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth with no outs, he called the Royals' Jose Orta safe when the Cardinals' Jack Clark clearly tagged the bag first. Dane Iorg eventually blooped in the tying run and series-winning run, giving the Royals the improbable win. In Game 7, their offense dominated Tudor, providing Brett Saberhagen with 11 runs of support — he didn't need more than one, however, as he shutout the Cards.

  5. 1987 Twins

    Seventeen years after they last appeared in the postseason, the Twins came out on top of a jumbled AL West with 85 wins despite being outscored during the regular season — when they upset the 98-win Tigers in the ALCS, they became the first team to reach the World Series while holding that distinction. Making the most of their home-field advantage, they won Games 1, 2, 6 and 7, the first time a team won every home game of the series. The final game was a closely-fought affair in which the Twins' Fran Viola surrendered two early runs and then buckled down, allowing just two hits in the following eight innings. His performance garnered him the World Series MVP award.

  6. 1988 Dodgers

    With a lineup that posted a sub-.250 average during the regular season, the Dodgers weren't expected to overcome Doc Gooden and the 100-win Mets, who ran way with the NL East by 15 games. Kirk Gibson, the heart and soul of the Dodgers, provided the heroics in Game 4, when he hit a 12th inning game-winning homerun. Orel Hershiser, who finished the regular season with 59 consecutive scoreless innings, earned the Series MVP honors, as he made four appearances, the most notable of which was his Game 7 complete game shutout. Heading into the World Series against the favored 104-win A's, Gibson's availability was severely in doubt because injuries he suffered in the NLCS. He wasn't expected to appear in Game 1, in which the Dodgers' beleaguered lineup faced A's ace Dave Stewart. Jose Canseco's grand slam gave the A's two-run lead in the second, and by the bottom of the ninth, they held on to a one-run lead. Tasked with closing the game, closer Dennis Eckersley tallied two outs, and then walked Mike Davis to bring up the pitcher's spot. To everyone's surprise, Gibson walked up and proceeded to hit the walk-off homerun to left field, entirely using the strength of his upper body. The Dodgers went on to shock the A's in a sweep.

  7. 1990 Reds

    Short on star power, the Reds lineup wasn't exactly feared by opposing pitchers, but it was certainly good enough to win the team a few games. The pitching staff was solid top-to-bottom, headlined by Jose Rijo, and the bullpen was elite, headlined by the "Nasty Boys" — Norm Charlton, Randy Myers, and Rob Dibble. Each unit did its jobs versus the Pirates in the NLCS, in which four of the six games were decided by one run and no games were decided by more than three runs. During the World Series versus the defending champion A's, Rijo emerged as the team's top performer, earning two wins while posting a 0.59 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 15.1 innings. The Reds swept the A's, an outcome no experts had predicted.

  8. 1991 Twins

    It was a season of redemption for the participants in the '91 World Series. A year earlier, the Twins finished at the bottom of the AL West and the Braves finished at the bottom of the NL West, accumulating baseball's worst record. Evenly matched, they battled through three extra innings affairs, five one-run games, and four walk-off at-bats in the Fall Classic, which was the longest ever. Game 6 is best remembered for Kirby Puckett's leaping catch against the Metrodome's Plexiglas fence and walk-off homerun that elicited Jack Buck's famous call, "And we'll see you tomorrow night!" Game 7 belonged to Jack Morris, who outlasted John Smoltz in a pitchers' duel for the ages. Given the immense drama that transpired wire-to-wire, many baseball historians consider this World Series the best ever.

  9. 2003 Marlins

    Like so many Marlins teams throughout the franchise's history, the 2003 squad got off to a slow start. This time, however, it was deemed unacceptable due, in large part, to the high-profile transactions made during the offseason, such as acquiring Ivan Rodriguez and trading for Juan Pierre. Manager Jeff Torborg was fired and replaced by 72-year-old manager Jack McKeon, who in turn guided the team to 91 wins and a Wild Card berth. In the NLDS, they upset the 100-win Giants, winning Game 3 in extra innings with a Pudge hit and Game 4 with a Pudge tag-out of JT Snow at home plate. More close games followed in the NLCS versus the Cinderella Cubs. Two of the first three games ended in extra innings, with the teams trading wins. Down 3-1, the Marlins relied on their young ace Josh Beckett to force the series back to Chicago. Game 6, the infamous "Bartman" game, featured an eight-run eighth inning by the Marlins, who were five outs from elimination. The Cubs showed their resilience by taking the lead in Game 7, but the Marlins tallied nine runs, enough to punch their ticket to the World Series, where they defeated the favored Yankees in six games.

  10. 2006 Cardinals

    Rarely do teams that almost squander 8.5-game leads with two weeks remaining in the season go on to win the World Series. But, the Cardinals, who got cold at the wrong time and finished with a 83-78 record, got hot at just the right time. They eliminated the Padres in four games during the NLDS, and traded wins with the Mets in each game of the NLCS. Yadier Molina's two-run homerun in the ninth inning of Game 7 gave the Cardinals the lead, and they staved off the Mets' final rally in the bottom of the inning. They defeated the Tigers in five games in the World Series, outscoring them by 11 runs.

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