MLB’s rarest pitching matchup: 20-game winners facing off in Game 7

New York Yankees starting pitcher Roger Clemens winds up for a pitch to the plate in the first inning of Game 7 of the World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix 04 November 2001. AFP PHOTO/Timothy A. CLARY (Photo by Timothy A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)
New York Yankees starting pitcher Roger Clemens winds up for a pitch to the plate in the first inning of Game 7 of the World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix 04 November 2001. AFP PHOTO/Timothy A. CLARY (Photo by Timothy A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Willie McCovey, the pivotal figure in the 1962 World Series. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images) /

1962: Jack Sanford vs. Ralph Terry

Game 7 of the 1962 World Series at Candlestick Park may be the most under-appreciated great game ever played.

Through 120 seasons of World Series play, it remains the only time when both teams had a chance to win the championship based on the outcome of the final at-bat.

The game pitted Yankee pitcher Ralph Terry (23-12) against San Francisco’s Jack Sanford (24-7). Sanford had beaten Terry 2-0 in Game 2, but Terry got even with a 5-3 win in Game 5 played on October 10.

Then several days of rain intervened, allowing the two aces to be fully rested for the decisive seventh game. Through four innings, neither pitcher gave up much of anything. Sanford allowed only a third-inning Tony Kubek single while Terry was working on a no-hitter.

In the top of the fifth, the Yankees got what would turn out to be the decisive break, and it came in the most harmless way imaginable. After Bill Skowron and Clete Boyer singled, Sanford walked Terry to load the bases.

The next batter, Bobby Richardson, hit a routine double play grounder to shortstop Joe Pagan, who turned it as Skowron crossed home with the game’s first run. Neither team would score again.

But they came close, most dramatically in the bottom of the ninth inning. Matty Alou, San Francisco’s diminutive center fielder, dropped down a leadoff bunt single to put the tying run on base. Terry steadied to fan both Felipe Alou and Chuck Hiller, then stared in at Willie Mays.

The Giants all-time greatest player smashed a double toward the right field corner. But Alou, who appeared to get a bad two-out jump, opted to pull up at third base rather than try to score.

With Willie McCovey the next hitter, an unprecedented situation loomed. If McCovey made an out, the Series would be over and New York would win 1-0. If McCovey got a hit, Alou and May would score and the Giants would win.

The future Hall of Famer lined a bullet foul down the right field line, then zeroed in on Terry’s next pitch and shot it viciously on a low line toward right-center. It was a cinch game-winning hit, except that Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson stood perfectly positioned to snare the drive for the out that clinched the 1-0 Series-winning victory for the Yankees.