Astros beat Yankees, and other single-game upsets from history

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

The thing about baseball is anyone can win on any day, and there are a whole lot of days.

Nobody expected the Astros to be any good, and they have happily obliged with expectations, winning eight of 26 games and boasting the second worst record in all of baseball. That's a 50 win pace, by the way. But for one brief, shining moment last night, we got to enjoy watching them absolutely plant the Yankees into the ground with a 9-1 win that somehow seemed even more lopsided than it was. Lucas Harrell continued to pitch like an actual major-league pitcher, something he's done essentially since the moment the Astros claimed him off waivers from the White Sox. Plus, 29- year-old backup catcher Carlos Corporan had what is likely to be the game of his life, collecting four hits -- including a homer and a double -- and four RBI.

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Obviously, none of us should take anything away from this random win other than it's fun to watch perhaps the worst team in the game beat up on the Yankees. This is the kind of thing that happens in baseball. Bad teams beat good teams a lot, actually. Occasionally, they wallop them.

For funsies, and in honor of the Astros big win on Monday, I thought I'd look at the biggest single-game upsets in modern history, when baseball's sad sacks briefly rose up and took revenge on the biggest, baddest bullies in the league. A couple notes on methods: I defined these upsets as any time a club that finished with more than 100 losses beat a team with more than 90 wins by at least 8 runs, as I think we all assume the Astros did last night. There are only 93 such games in 112 seasons that I could find since 1901, which is pretty interesting in and of itself. For one thing, it's hard to lose 100 games (especially these days) and obviously bad teams don't actually beat the tar out of good teams all that often.

Again, this is strictly for our own amusement, so save your angry letters for the next time, when I actually screw up something important. "What's the point?" I hear you asking from afar. Baseball is just fun sometimes, especially when weird, unexpected stuff happens. (A 19-inning game, anyone?) With that in mind, here are the five biggest upsets, in no particular order:

September 10, 1977: Toronto Blue Jays 19, New York Yankees 3

Late in the Blue Jays inaugural season, 21-year old rookie Jim Clancy -- who would go on to win 140 games in his career -- stood tall against a hurting and aging Catfish Hunter at Yankee Stadium. In the third, with the Jays already up 2-0, Roy Howell and Ron Fairly hit back-to-back solo homers. Howell would add another homer in the seventh, and two doubles on his way to a five-hit, four-run, nine-RBI day. Fairly wound up with four hits of his own. Eight of the 19 runs were unearned thanks to four Yankee errors. I'm quite certain that manager Billy Martin had nothing to say about that after the game, given that the loss allowed the Red Sox to cut the Yanks' AL East lead down to two games. In spite of the buzz saw they ran into, the Yankees did finish with 100 wins on the button, 2.5 ahead of the Sox and Orioles. The Jays would lose 107.

June 21, 1906: Boston Beaneaters 10, Chicago Cubs 1

The Cubs only lost 36 times in 1906, against 116 wins. It was the most dominant season in baseball history. But they couldn't get past the last place Beaneaters, who would lose 102 games that year and finish 66.5 games back. Unfortunately, I don't have a boxscore available for this game, but I bet it was a doozy. Tinker, Evers, Chance, and Three-Finger Brown all must have had the day off.

Photo credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

July 19 and August 13, 1961 Washington Senators 12, New York Yankees 2 (both times)

These were the expansion Senators who debuted the season that the original club bolted for Minnesota. The new Senators were, as was traditional, last in the American League, and these were the Mantle-Maris Yankees that won 109 games and may have actually been the best team in baseball history. But Washington caught them napping twice in 1961, both times at Griffith Stadium. The first contest, the second half of a double-headers, started normally enough, with Al Downing retiring the side in order. But then, to start the second, he allowed a single, then walked the next two batters, hit Dale Long, and then walked Chuck Cottier. Without recording an out, he was removed. Two singles and two errors scored five more, and by the end of the inning, the Yanks were down 7-0. At least Mickey Mantle launched his 36th homer.

In the August game, Mantle and Maris both homered (their 45th and 44th, respectively), but Jim King and Chuck Hinton matched them with their eighth and sixth, respectively. The game was actually tied at one until the sixth inning, when the Senators exploded for six, and then for another four in the seventh. Bennie Daniels got the complete game win, and will lead the 61-100 Senators that year with 12 wins. These were actually the most lopsided losses of the Yankees' entire season.

April 26, 1932 Boston Red Sox 10, Philadelphia A's 2

These were lean times for the Sox. It was by far their worst individual season, and part of a stretch where they lost at least 90 games in eight straight years, including five seasons of more than 100 losses. Given that they'd only win 43 games, and they'd score just 3.7 runs per game in a league that averaged 5.2, the fact that they beat the tar out of Lefty Grove in this game counts as a minor miracle. Even though they'd allow the most runs in the American League, almost six per game, righty Ed Durham was downright heroic against a lineup that included Jimmie Foxx (0-for-4), Mickey Cochrane (1-for-3), and Al Simmons (2-for-3). After the first, the A's just couldn't get anything going against him. Grove took a 2-0 lead into the sixth, when the Sox unloaded, scoring six runs thanks to 10 hits, a homer by Earl Webb, and three A's errors.

Dishonorable Mention

I swear, I remember the Twins of the early 2000s being pretty good. But in 2002, they got beat 16-3 and 12-4 by the 100-loss Royals, and also tripped up 10-2 and 9-1 by the 106-loss Brewers and Devil Rays, respectively. In 2004, the Royals won just 58 games, but three of them were against the Twins, by a combined score of 34-7. This is, by far, the highest frequency for this kind of loss that I can find, and I wonder, as we look back at those Twins teams, if we should keep in mind that, because of the level of competition they faced in their division and the unbalanced schedule, they probably weren't as good as we think they were. Something to think about the next time someone talks about how they choked against the Yankees in all those playoff appearances.

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