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The recent history of World Series Game 7s

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Will the Nationals and Astros give us a classic or a clunker?

MLB: World Series-Washington Nationals at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 Major League Baseball season is down to just one game remaining on its schedule, a combination of words that evoke some of the great memories and hopes of what this provide can provide — Game 7 of the World Series.

How the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros got here is as strange a path as we have ever seen in the Fall Classic. The road team has won all six games, the first time any World Series has featured six road victories. That the Astros — who during the regular season were the first team to win 60 home games in 21 years — have lose three straight times at Minute Maid Park is surprising.

But in major league history a road triumph is fairly common. Home teams are just 18-21 (.462) in winner-take-all Game 7s in the World Series, compared to the .546 winning percentage for all home games in the history of the Fall Classic. The last three World Series Game 7s were won by the road team.

In recent World Series history, there have been some absolutely wonderful Game 7 moments that will be remembered for decades. But there have also been some duds. Let’s look at the eight Game 7s from the last 30 years of World Series play.

The walk-offs

1991 — Twins 1, Braves 0 (10 innings): One of the truly great games in baseball history, this was a pitchers duel to the extreme, with Jack Morris providing potent ammo for his Hall of Fame case with a remarkable 10 shutout innings. John Smoltz was in his first of what would be many postseasons in his career, and the 24-year-old was up to the challenge with scoreless ball into the eighth inning. A Dan Gladden double to lead off the 10th inning led to a pair of intentional walks, loading the bases with nobody out. Gene Larkin’s pop fly would have been a sacrifice fly had it been caught, but instead dropped behind a shallow outfield for a single. Either way, the Twins were champions. That series was the polar opposite of this year, with the home team winning all seven games.

2001 — Diamondbacks 3, Yankees 2: A fourth straight Yankees championship (and a fifth in six seasons) was thwarted in Phoenix, thanks to the only postseason loss by unanimous Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera. The winning run was scored on a soft line drive by Luis Gonzalez over a drawn-in infield, giving Arizona a championship in just its fourth season as a franchise. Much like the two World Series teams this year, the D-backs were fueled by a dynamic duo atop their rotation. Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling combined for a ridiculous 1.30 ERA and 103 strikeouts that postseason, and got all but one out in Game 7. They shared World Series MVP honors.

World Series GM7 X

1997 — Marlins 3, Indians 2 (11): Another quick expansion success story! Wayne Huizenga’s Marlins got good fast by spending money, and though more known for the tear down that followed, this championship flag flies forever. The Indians had a fantastic three-year run that featured two pennants, and held a one-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 7, only to have Jose Mesa cough up the lead. Craig Counsell drove in the tying run in the ninth then scored the winning run in the 11th on a single up the middle by 21-year-old shortstop Edgar Renteria.

The road nail-biters

2016 — Cubs 8, Indians 7 (10): This game had just about everything, including a go-ahead home run by veteran catcher David Ross, who within three years would be named to manage Chicago (with brief sojourns in the broadcast booth and a dancing competition television show in between). It was a battle of curses, with the Indians looking for their first title in 68 years, though that paled in comparison to the 108-year wait for the Cubs. Rajai Davis hit a game-tying home run in the eighth to get the Cleveland crowd jumping, and drove in another run in the 10th. But it wasn’t enough, as RBI hits by Ben Zobrist and Miguel Montero in the top of the frame provided the cushion Chicago needed for its long-awaited championship.

2014 — Giants 3, Royals 2: This was the postseason when Madison Bumgarner became a legend, pitching more than anybody ever has in the postseason (52⅔ innings) while posting a minuscule 1.03 ERA. In the World Series he was even more stingy, allowing one total run in 16 innings in his two starts, including a shutout in Game 5. Then on just two days rest the Giants ace pitched five more shutout innings, this time in relief to close out the win and San Francisco’s third title in five years. He even survived late drama when Alex Gordon singled with two outs and advanced to third on an error in the outfield. But he was left stranded 90 feet from home, forcing Kansas City to wait (all of one more year) to end its own championship drought.

The calm after the Game 6 storm

2002 — Angels 4, Giants 1: The Halos won their first championship by winning the final two games of the World Series at home, but the more memorable of the two was a comeback win the night before in Game 6. Dusty Baker removed Russ Ortiz from the game up 5-0 with a pair of runners on in the seventh inning, famously handing his starting pitcher the ball as he walked off. The Angels rallied for six late runs to stay alive, then scored all four of their Game 7 runs in the first two innings, making for a rather boring finale (except for the home fans celebrating the win, of course).

2011 — Cardinals 6, Rangers 2: Texas was one strike away from its first title when David Freese flew out to right field tripled over the head of Nelson Cruz to tie the game in the ninth inning of Game 6. Freese then ended it in the 11th with a walk-off home run, giving us the familial homage call from Joe Buck, “We’ll see you tomorrow night.”

Tomorrow night was another Cardinals win, though with little dramatics. St. Louis won relatively easily, with Freese again providing a spark with a two-run double. Freese will never have to pay for a meal in St. Louis again thanks to his 2011 postseason, during which he hit an absurd .397/.465/.794, setting postseason records with 14 extra-base hits and 21 RBI.

The clunker

Astros 5, Dodgers 1: Our most recent World Series Game 7 was rather anticlimactic. Houston scored all five runs in the first two innings, chasing a pitch-tipping Yu Darvish for the second time in the series. Overall this series was exciting, though its two signature contests were Game 2 and Game 5, both extra-inning affairs won by the Astros. This game two years ago at Dodger Stadium, which won the Astros their first championship, featured both teams using two starting pitchers in relief.

Might we see some similar shenanigans on Wednesday between the Nationals and Astros? It is Game 7 after all, with all winter to rest up.