10 Worst Calls in MLB Playoff History

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Athlon counts down the most controversial calls in baseball

Worst Calls in MLB Playoff History

10. Matt Holliday misses home, 2007 NL West Play-In

This Wild Card tie-breaker isn't really a playoff game, but we're including this game 163 in our countdown since it came after the regular season. In the bottom of the 13th inning, the Rockies' Matt Holliday was at third when Jamey Carroll then hit a line drive to right fielder Brian Giles. Holliday tagged up at third and slid headfirst on a close play at home plate. Home plate umpire Tim McClelland ruled Holliday safe on the sacrifice fly, and the Rockies won the game 9–8. Controversy arose after the game as to whether Holliday had actually touched home plate or if catcher Michael  Barrett had successfully blocked him. Upon further review it does appear that Holliday never touched home. The Rockies went on to win the National League pennant thanks in part to this play.

9. Joe Mauer fair ball, 2009 ALDS (Game 2)

The Yankees and the Twins were in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the ALDS.  Joe Mauer of the Twins led off the inning with a hit deep into left field. The ball bounced off right fielder Melky Cabrera's glove in fair territory, and then bounced out of play, which should have resulted in a ground rule double — but umpire Phil Cuzzi called the ball foul. Mauer ended up with a single later in the at bat. The two batters following him also hit singles, but the inning ended with Mauer on third. The Yankees went on to win the game and sweep the series.

8. Infield-Fly Rule, 2012 NL WC Game

The Cardinals were leading the Braves 6-3 when a fly ball by the Braves' Andeltron Simmons fell in between Matt Holliday and Pete Kozma. Left-field umpire Sam Holbrook had made what appeared to be a late infield fly ruling, calling Simmons out and leaving runners at second and third. Braves fans began throwing bottles, cups and other items on the field in protest, creating a 19-minute delay. The Braves went on to make an early exit from the playoffs in what would be Chipper Jones' last game.

7. Reggie Jackson's hip, 1978 WS (Game 4)

The Dodgers had a 3-1 lead in the sixth inning and the Yankees had runners on first and second when Lou Piniella hit a line drive at Los Angeles shortstop Bill Russell. Russell dropped the ball, picked it up and stepped on second for the force out. He attempted to turn the double play with a throw to first, but the ball wound up in right field when Jackson, standing in the base line, appeared to stick his hip out to deflect the throw. A run scored on the play, and the Yankees tied it with a run in the eighth before winning it in the 10th on Piniella's RBI single to even the series at 2-2.

6. Chuck Knoblach's phantom tag, 1999 ALCS (Game 4)

What is now known as the phantom tag happened in the 1999 ALCS between the Yankees and the Red Sox was one of the worst calls in playoffs history. In game 4 of the ALCS, Red Sox' Jose Offerman was running between first base and second base. Chuck Knoblauch reached out to tag Offerman and then threw to first for the double play.  The umpire called Offerman out, but it was clear that Knoblauch had missed the tag. The Yankees went on to win the pennant on their way to winning their second consecutive World Series.

5. Eric Gregg's strike zone, 1997 NLCS (Game 5)

This isn't a call as much as a game-long nightmare for the Atlanta Braves. In game 5 of the 1997 NLCS between the Braves and the Florida Marlins, Eric Gregg was the home plate umpire, and for the game's duration, he gave Livan Hernandez a monstrous and expansive strike zone. Gregg called several of Hernandez's pitches that were clearly balls as strikes, some of which looked to be almost a foot off the plate. With two out in the top of the ninth and the Marlins leading 2-1, Fred McGriff came to bat as the last chance for the Braves in game 5. With two strikes, Hernandez through a pitch up and outside to McGriff, and Gregg punched him out to end the game and give the Marlins a 3-2 series lead. Florida closed out the series the next game and advanced to the World Series.

4. Jeffrey Maier, 1996 ALCS (Game 1)

This is one call nearly everyone is familiar with. In the first game of the ALCS, the Yankees were losing 4-3 when Derek Jeter drove the ball toward the right field wall. Baltimore Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco went back for the catch at the wall, but 12-year-old Yankees fan Jeffrey Maier reached out and pulled the ball into the stands. The right-field umpire, Rich Garcia, missed the fan interference, giving Jeter a home run that tied the game. The Yankees would ultimately win on a home run in the 11th inning and later take the series four games to one.

3. Armbrister-Fisk collison, 1975 WS (Game 3)

In game three of the 1975 World Series, the Reds were leading Boston 5-1. The Red Sox made a comeback and tied it up, sending the game into extra innings. With a runner on first in the bottom of the 10th inning, Ed Armbrister laid down a bunt that Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk went to field. Armbrister collided with him, forcing a wild throw to second.  Armbrister wasn't charged with interference as the runners moved to second and third.  Thanks to the no-call, the Reds scored on a sacrifice fly. Cincinnati went on the win the series in seven games, solidifying their status as the Big Red Machine.

2. Ron Gant's leg, 1991 WS (Game 2)

In Game 2 of the 1991 World Series series, the Twins were up 2-1 when  Ron Gant came to the plate in the top of the third inning with two outs. With a runner on base, Gant was looking to even up the score, and he ripped a single into left field, taking a long turn around first before returning to the base. The Twins relayed the ball to first baseman Kent Hrbek. As Gant stepped back on first, Hrbek seemingly pulled Gant's leg off the base. The umpire called Gant out. This was the last real threat the Braves were able to mount all game. Minnesota went on to win the series in seven games.

1. Don Denkinger, 1985 WS (Game 6)

This is the undisputed worst call in playoff history. In fact, it may just be the worst in MLB history. The Cardinals had a 3-2 lead in the series with a 1-0 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth. Jorge Orta hit a ground ball to Cardinals first baseman Jack Clark. Clark threw to pitcher Todd Worrell, who was covering first. Worrell beat Orta to the base, but first base umpire Don Denkinger called him safe. Replays clearly show that Orta was out by at least a step. Denkinger's blown call led to the Royals scoring two in the ninth to win game 6. They closed the series out the next night for their first championship in team history.

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