The 25 most decisive plays in World Series history

Oct 24, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; The Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) and right fielder Brett Phillips (14) celebrate Phillips hitting the game winning two run walk off single against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the ninth inning in game four of the 2020 World Series at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 24, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; The Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) and right fielder Brett Phillips (14) celebrate Phillips hitting the game winning two run walk off single against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the ninth inning in game four of the 2020 World Series at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /
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The scene at forbes Field at the conclusion of the 1960 World Series. (Photo by Robert Riger Collection/Getty Images)
The scene at forbes Field at the conclusion of the 1960 World Series. (Photo by Robert Riger Collection/Getty Images) /

1. Game 7, October 13, 1960. New York Yankees at Pittsburgh Pirates

Hal Smith vs. Jim Coates. Change in Championship Probability: 63.62 percent

The 1960 World Series is obviously remembered for Bill Mazeroski’s home run. More than six decades later, it remains the only walk-off homer to decide a seventh World Series game.

In fact that game yields three of the eight most decisive moments in World Series history: Mazeroski at 5 and Yogi Berra at 8. Statistically, though, Mazeroski’s blast was not the Series’ most pivotal play. That came, anonymously in retrospect, one inning earlier off the bat of an obscure part-time catcher.

The Yankees appeared to have a firm grasp on the Series as that eighth inning opened. They led 7-4 with veteran Bobby Shantz cruising into his sixth inning of what to that point had been scoreless relief.

But pinch hitter Gino Cimoli opened the eighth with a bloop single in front of Roger Maris in right field, and when Bill Virdon followed with a bad-hop single off the throat of Yankee shortstop Tony Kubek, Dick Groat came to the plate representing the tying run.

Groat grounded a single through short, scoring Cimoli and ousting Shantz in favor of right-hander Jim Coates.

Coates got two quick outs, the first on a sacrifice bunt and the second on Rocky Nelson’s fly to right. He nearly retired the side, but Roberto Clemente reached on a weak grounder between first and second that scored Virdon.

The score now stood 7-6 with two out, and Smith next up. The backup to Smoky Burgess. Smith had batted .295 during the regular season with 11 home runs in 258 at bats, so he had some power. Smith had taken over for Burgess in the top of the eighth; this was to be his first and only at bat.

With the tying run at third and the go-ahead run at first, Smith worked the count to 2-2, then got a belt-high fastball and leaned on in. When the ball cleared the left field wall for a three-run home run, giving Pittsburgh a 9-7 lead entering the ninth, Smith fairly pranced around the bases. “I thought I’d won the World Series,” he said.

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About that, and that only, Smith was wrong. The Yankees tied the game in the ninth, setting the stage for Mazeroski. From a statistical standpoint, however, Smith’s home run constituted the greater turning point.