2023 has been the year of the shock in the world of American sports. In the NBA, the Miami Heat made headlines the world over as they scraped into the playoffs as eighth seeds but proceeded to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. Their victory in the opening round against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks is considered perhaps the greatest shock in the history of the postseason, while further victories against the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics were good enough for a spot against the eventual Champion Denver Nuggets in the Finals series.
Over in the NHL, the Heat's stately neighbors the Florida Panthers also stunned the world as they reached the Stanley Cup finals. The Florida Panthers entered the postseason wildcards; however, they too knocked off the top seeds in the form of the Boston Bruins in a seven-game thriller. They then edged the Canadian giant Toronto Maple Leafs before victory against the Carolina Hurricanes set up a Stanley Cup date with the Vegas Golden Knights.
This season's MLB campaign has been no different. The Arizona Diamondbacks were the bottom seeds in the National League; however, they have already defeated the NL Central champion Milwaukee Brewers and the NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers, sweeping the latter by three games to zero. Over in the Atlantic League, the fifth-seed Texas Rangers have set up a meeting with the powerhouse Houston Astros with a spot in the World Series on the line. And it seems that the Texans have convinced the online sports betting fans that they are now genuine contenders, with bookmakers pricing them as +300 joint second favorites.
As both the Rangers and the Diamondbacks will tell you, anything can happen in the MLB. Here are some of the biggest shockers the postseason has ever produced.
Let's start with the 1969 New York Mets: the poster boys for underdog stories. The Mets, who had only been around for about 7 years at this point, were entering the playoffs as wild cards. The Baltimore Orioles, on the other hand, were already World Series champions and heavily favored to take it again. But wouldn't you know it? The Mets swept Baltimore, becoming the first expansion team to win a World Series.
In 1988, the Oakland A's had the best record in baseball and were heavily favored to win the World Series. They met their match, however, in the showpiece series in the form of their Californian rival Los Angeles Dodgers, who had a mediocre season up until that point. The mighty A's had won the World Series just two years prior and were looking to lift the famous trophy once more.
The Dodgers were huge underdogs, but they had one thing going for them throughout the regular season: Kirk Gibson. Unfortunately for them, however, their star man got injured and sat on the bench for the entire series. But with two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 1, he was called on to pinch-hit. And what did he do? He hit a game-winning home run, hobbling around the bases and pumping his fist in the air. That would trigger the Dodgers to go on to win the series in dramatic fashion.
The New York Yankees were the defending champions and were expected to cruise through the AL playoffs in 1995. However, the Seattle Mariners had other plans. Down 2-0 in the best-of-five series, they won three straight games to reach their first AL Championship Series.
They weren't expected to do much that year, but they found themselves in the playoffs facing off against the MLB's resident behemoths. The Yankees won the first two games of the series, and it was looking like business as usual. But then the Mariners won the next three games, including Game 5 which went into an extra inning. It was the first time a team had come back from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-five series.
The Boston Red Sox had not won a World Series since 1918, and fast forward to 2004, they were in the midst of a near century-long drought. That year, though, they made it back to the AL Championship Series where they would come face-to-face with their bitter rivals, the New York Yankees. The Massachusetts-based outfit inexplicably found themselves three games down and looking down the barrel at an embarrassing humbling at the hands of their nemesis. Somehow, they managed to pull off four straight wins and advance to the World Series.
And what did they do there? They swept the St. Louis Cardinals, lifting the so-called "Curse of the Bambino” in the process.
One of the more recent upsets happened in 2016 when the Chicago Cubs ended a curse of their own. The Illinois side hadn't won a World Series since 1908, and they were facing off against the Cleveland Indians, who were in their own drought, last winning in 1948. The Indians took a 3-1 series lead, and it looked like it was all over, but then they did the unthinkable: winning three straight games, including a nail-biter Game 7 that lasted 10 innings.
The remarkable narrative of 2023 does not merely stand as a testament to the unpredictable nature of sports, but it underscores a deeper, enduring narrative that has long defined Major League Baseball's postseason saga. The tales of unexpected triumphs and the toppling of Goliaths in the MLB have etched an indelible mark on the ethos of American sports, where the narrative of the underdog challenging the established elite resonates profoundly. This year's astonishing run by the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Texas Rangers has not only entertained and galvanized fans, but it has also echoed the time-honored tradition of upsets that throw a wrench in the seemingly pre-ordained order, reminding us once again of the profound unpredictability inherent in baseball's playoff theatre.
The spectacles of the 1969 Mets, the 1988 Dodgers, the 1995 Mariners, the 2004 Red Sox, and the 2016 Cubs, each bearing their unique imprints of defiance against the odds, have found their spirits rekindled in the 2023 MLB season. The fabric of these upsets is woven with the threads of relentless endeavor, the sheer unpredictability of sports, and the insatiable drive of athletes and teams to defy expectations and reach for the extraordinary, even when the odds are stacked against them.
Moreover, the 2023 narrative underscores the essence of why we are enthralled by sports: the inherent drama, the clash of destinies, and the raw, unscripted unfolding of human endeavor on the grand stage. The annals of MLB playoff history are rich with these narratives, rendering a tapestry of tales where the unexpected becomes the legend. As the saga of 2023 unfurls, it adds yet another vibrant chapter to the storied legacy of upsets in the MLB playoffs, reiterating the age-old adage: in the world of sports, and particularly in the MLB postseason, expect the unexpected.
Chris Sloan is a former baseball league commissioner and travel baseball coach who has made significant contributions to the sport. In 2018, he founded selectbaseballteams.com, a website that helps parents find youth and travel baseball teams in their local areas. Since its launch, the website has experienced impressive growth, offering a wealth of resources including teams, news, tournaments, and organizations. Chris's unwavering passion for baseball and his innovative approach to connecting parents with quality baseball programs have earned him a respected reputation in the baseball community, solidifying his legacy as a leading figure in the world of youth and travel baseball.
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