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slant.gif (102 bytes) FTDOTC Special 10-Year Anniversary Edition

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November, 2008

Top 10 Playoff Games in BDBL History

You're looking at a new feature I hope to roll out once a month throughout our 10-year celebration.  Each month (time permitting, of course), I plan to compile a "top ten" list based on some aspect of our league through the first decade.  This month, since we are in the midst of playoffs season, it seems an appropriate topic to look at the top playoff games in league history.

What counts as a "top playoff game?"  Basically, I considered each of the following criteria:

  • Games featuring an exciting nail-biter with several lead changes or dramatic game-changing events.
  • Games featuring historic players performing for historic teams.
  • Games that were controversial for various reasons.
  • Games that are still being analyzed, dissected and discussed years afterward.
  • Games where questionable managerial decisions were made were granted bonus points.

#1) 1999 OLDS, Game 5: Los Altos vs. Litchfield

Our very first OLDS featured a seemingly lopsided match-up between two intense division rivals: the Los Altos Undertakers and Litchfield Lightning.  The Undertakers had finished the 1999 season with a record of 99-61, while the Lightning trailed five games behind at 94-66.  Both teams had allowed 730 runs during the regular season, but the Lightning scored 51 runs more than the Undertakers.

So, if these teams were so evenly-matched, then why was this considered a "lopsided" match-up?  Because, in his zeal to win the OL wild card (which he won by four games), Litchfield manager Phil Geisel had somehow managed to overuse no fewer than ELEVEN players.  By league rules, all eleven players were suspended for the Division Series.  Among those eleven were Litchfield's ace, David Cone (16-10, 2.69 ERA in 244+ IP), #3 starter Hideki Irabu (14-5, 3.38 ERA in 194.2 IP), #5 hitter Scott Brosius (.321/.403/.530, 31 HR, 127 RBIs, 136.7 RC), leadoff hitter Otis Nixon (.284/.341/.337, 61 SB, 9 CS), starting right fielder Marquis Grissom (.266/.289/.365, 66 RC), starting second baseman Eric Young (.268/.333/.384, 61 SB, 30 CS), top lefty setup man Arthur Rhodes (10-5, 4.15 ERA in 91 IP) and middle reliever Armando Reynoso (5-2, 3.94 ERA in 82+ IP.)

Since several other teams also exceeded the usage rules, an emergency rule was immediately created and implemented to allow teams to keep some players who barely exceeded the usage rules by paying a penalty.  Unfortunately for Geisel, only two of the players he overused -- Irabu and Rhodes -- qualified for this loophole.  Geisel paid the $1 million penalty to keep both players, and went into the Division Series with a 21-player roster (as only 21 players on his entire 35-man roster were eligible.)

Despite the long odds against them, the Lightning somehow managed to win the first two games of this best-of-five series.  But with their backs against the wall, the Undertakers won the next two, forcing the deciding Game Five.

The score was tied at 2-2 heading into the sixth inning of that game, when Los Altos seemed to bust it open with a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth.  Undertakers manager Jeff Paulson then turned the game over to his bullpen, which had been the team's dominant strength throughout the entire regular season.

After Undertaker Scott Elarton pitched a perfect seventh, he began the top of the eighth on a shaky note by allowing a leadoff double to Brady Anderson.  He then hit the next batter before finally recording the first out of the inning.  With MVP candidate Barry Bonds stepping to the plate, Paulson handed the ball to his "LOOGY," Travis Miller.  Miller recorded out #2 on a pop fly to left, scoring Anderson from third.

Next, Paulson handed the ball to his dominant, always-reliable closer Trevor Hoffman.  During the regular season, Hoffman had allowed just 34 hits in 79 innings, with 85 strikeouts and a stellar ERA of 1.37.  But in Game One of the series, he had allowed a go-ahead two-run homer to Edgar Martinez that had erased a 1-0 Los Altos lead.  But Paulson was confident lightning would not strike twice.

With his starting third baseman suspended, Geisel was left with no choice but to move real-life DH Edgar Martinez over to the hot corner, and start J.T. Snow at first base.  Snow was a pinch hitter who had amassed just 87 at-bats during the regular season.  He owned severe platoon splits, and was a much better hitter against right-handers than lefties.  But Hoffman was no average right-hander.

Once again, Litchfield defied the odds, as Snow delivered a base hit up the middle.  Mark Grudzielanek motored around third, while Snow advanced to second on the throw home.  The throw was cut off, and Snow was nailed at second for the final out of the inning -- but not before Grudzielanek had crossed the plate with the tying run of the game.

In the bottom of the eighth, Los Altos slugger Mo Vaughn singled to open the inning.  Paulson then replaced him with pinch runner Rich Amaral, who then stole second and third base.  With two outs and Hoffman on deck, Geisel elected to intentionally walk catcher Tony Eusebio to force Paulson's hand.  Paulson was then faced with the tough decision to either allow Hoffman to record the final out, or pull Hoffman from the game.  He chose to stick with Hoffman, who grounded out to short for the final out.

Hoffman rewarded his manager's confidence by pitching a perfect ninth.  But the top of the Undertakers lineup was unable to reach base in the bottom of the ninth, and the game was forced into extra innings.

In the top of the 10th inning, Paulson sent Hoffman out to the mound for the third inning in a row.  He walked a pair of batters and struck out two others.  Bonds then strode to the plate with runners at first and second, and Paulson went against the book, intentionally walking Bonds to load the bases.  That gamble proved immediately disastrous, as Hoffman unleashed a wild pitch, scoring the go-ahead run from third.  Snow then rubbed salt into the wound by plating another run with a base hit.

The Undertakers' franchise player, Albert Belle, was the first to bat in the bottom of the 10th, and he popped out against mediocre Litchfield righty Eric Plunk.  Vaughn would have been next to bat, but since Paulson had pinch run for him, Amaral grounded out to short instead.  And the shocking upset came to a conclusion when Bill Mueller whiffed for the final out of the game.

#2) 2002 World Series, Game 6: Allentown vs. Salem

The 2002 Salem Cowtippers were a good team, having won 112 games during the regular season and outscoring their opponents by a whopping 344 runs.  But the Allentown Ridgebacks were the most dominant team in league history.  They outscored their opponents by a mind-boggling 433 runs that season, and won 113 games (5 fewer than their Pythagorean record.)

No one expected my beloved Cowtippers to be competitive in this series, which is why it was a bit of a shock when Salem took the first two games of the series while playing at home.  But when the series shifted to Allentown, the Ridgebacks reeled off three straight wins to take the series lead.  That put Allentown just one win away from capturing the BDBL championship.

Back on home turf, Salem pounded out a pair of runs in the first inning to take an early lead.  Allentown answered with a run in the third inning, and then scored the tying run on a sacrifice fly in the fourth.  That same inning, Allentown's starting pitcher, Curt Schilling, plated the go-ahead run with a two-out base hit.

Salem battled back against Schilling, tying the game once again in the bottom half of the fourth, and then moving ahead thanks to a triple by Mike Cameron and an RBI single by David Eckstein in the fifth inning.

When the game entered the ninth inning, Salem clung to a 5-3 lead.  With the heart of the ridiculously powerful Allentown lineup (Edgar Martinez, Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez) due to bat, Chad Fox was sent out to the mound for his second inning of work.  Martinez singled, Bonds whiffed and Ramirez walked, putting two runners on base.

Lefty setup man Norm Charlton was then handed the ball, and he struck out pinch hitter Dean Palmer for out number two.  One out away from sending the series to a Game 7, however, Charlton walked Bill Mueller to load the bases.

With light-hitting shortstop Ricky Gutierrez due up, Allentown manager Tom DiStefano turned to pinch hitter Fred McGriff -- a lefty to face the lefty Charlton.  Charlton hit McGriff with a pitch, plating the runner from third.  Allentown was now just one run away from tying the game.

With the pitcher due up, Tom sent catcher Kelly Stinnett to the plate to pinch hit.  I gave the ball to right-hander Paul Wilson to get the final out.  But unbelievably, he, too, hit the batter, which forced home the tying run of the game.

Leadoff hitter Mark Kotsay was the next due to bat, so in desperation I gave the ball to the last man standing in the Salem bullpen, lefty Mike Magnante.  Tom countered by calling Bobby Kielty off the bench, and Kielty responded by popping out to center to end the inning with the bases loaded.

In the bottom of the ninth, Salem's leadoff hitter, Robin Ventura led off with a single.  But Magnante was due to hit next, and Salem had no relievers left in the bullpen.  Forced to hit for himself, Magnante failed to bunt Ventura into scoring position.  With two outs, Tom then called upon John Smoltz to retire Todd Helton with Magnante standing in scoring position.  Smoltz did the job, getting Helton to pop out to second to end the inning and force extra innings.

In the top of the 10th, Magnante was faced with the impossible task of facing Russ Johnson, Martinez and Bonds.  Incredibly, despite his mediocre numbers during the regular season, Magnante got both Johnson and Martinez to pop out to the catcher, and Bonds then lined out to Helton to end the inning.

Smoltz returned in the 10th inning to retire leadoff hitter Sammy Sosa.  Lance Berkman then singled, and advanced to second on a ground ball, putting the game-winning run in scoring position with two outs.  Due up next were Ray Durham and pinch hitter Ken Caminiti, followed again by the pitcher, Magnante.

Tom intentionally walked both Durham and Caminiti, as he knew I had no choice but to leave Magnante in the game to hit for himself.  Having had zero at-bats during the prior MLB season, Magnante had no record as a hitter whatsoever.  Yet, in a legendary moment that will forever be remembered in BDBL history, Magnante closed his eyes and connected for a once-in-a-lifetime, walk-off, grand-slam home run off of Smoltz.

Incredibly, the Cowtippers had forced a seventh and final game.  Which just happens to best the next game on this list.

#3) 2002 World Series, Game 7: Allentown vs. Salem

After the wildest and wackiest Game 6 in league history, it seemed that Game 7 would surely be a letdown.  But it was anything but that, as this was the only BDBL World Series Game 7 in league history to be decided in the final inning.

Facing perhaps the greatest post-season pitcher in league history, Roy Oswalt, the Cowtippers took a 1-0 lead in the first inning thanks to a bunt single by David Eckstein.  Eckstein then stole second base, and scored two batters later on a base hit by Sammy Sosa.

With Rolando Arrojo throwing a gem for Salem, the score remained 1-0 until the fifth inning, when Allentown shortstop Ricky Gutierrez led off with a double.  He was pushed to third on a sacrifice bunt, and then scored on a base hit by Mark Kotsay.

Incredibly, that 1-1 score would hold through the next three innings.  Then, in the ninth, Salem called upon lefty Norm Charlton to face the ever-dangerous Barry Bonds.  Bonds responded by flying out to right field for out number one.  And this was when I made a decision that I am still debating to this day.

With Manny Ramirez due to bat, and the left-handed Robert Fick on deck, I wanted to force Tom to go to his bench.  This would allow me to bring in my best reliever, David Weathers, to face the bottom of the Allentown lineup.  I didn't want Ramirez to beat me, either, so I intentionally put the winning run of the game on base with one out.

As Ramirez was a poor runner, I knew it would take an extra base hit to drive him home, and I was confident that Weathers would get the job done.  As expected, Tom pinch hit for Fick, bringing righty Ellis Burks to the plate.  I countered with Weathers, which gave me the match-up I wanted.  But oftentimes, even the best strategies fail, and that is what happened next.  Burks doubled to the gap, and the plodding Ramirez somehow made it all the way around the bases ahead of Lance Berkman's throw.

Allentown took the lead, and in the bottom of the ninth, the legendary Mike Lincoln struck out both Berkman and Craig Wilson, as the Cowtippers typically rolled over and gave the championship away.  Ray Durham recorded the final out of the game on a routine grounder to short.

And that game remains the closest I have ever come to winning that damn trophy.

#4) 2005 OLDS, Game 7: Sylmar vs. Silicon Valley

Have two teams ever been more evenly matched than the 2005 Sylmar Padawans and Silicon Valley CyberSox?  These two teams, playing in the same division, fought an epic battle throughout the 2005 regular season, and finished the season with identical records of 91-69.  Because Sylmar won the head-to-head battle against Silicon Valley (with a 10-6 record), the Padawans were declared as the division champions, while the CyberSox had to settle for the OL wild card.

The 2005 OLDS was another epic battle, as two of the first six games were decided in extra innings, and four of the first five games were decided by two runs or less.  Appropriately enough, after 166 games played, the records of these two teams were still identical.  Which meant that a seventh and deciding game of the series was necessary.

In that game, the CyberSox sent their ace, Chris Carpenter (15-7, 3.35 ERA in 198+ IP), to the hill on three days of rest.  Sylmar countered with their #3 starter, Kris Benson, going on four days rest.  The Padawans jumped out to a 3-0 lead early in the game, but Silicon Valley then evened the score in the fourth inning with one swing of Kevin Mench's bat.

After three scoreless innings, Silicon Valley manager Greg Newgard sent lefty reliever Kent Mercker to the hill to hold the score.  Mercker recorded a pair of outs, but walked a pair as well.  Newgard then asked closer Trevor Hoffman to escape from the jam and record the final out of the inning.  But as he had done so many times in the past, Hoffman crumbled under the post-season pressure.  A base hit by Juan Uribe brought home the go-ahead run for Sylmar, and put them three outs away from the OLCS.

Sylmar's closer, Francisco Rodriguez, opened the ninth by striking out Silicon Valley's cleanup hitter, Adrian Beltre.  Ben Broussard then popped out for out number two.  After a walk to Mench, Slymar manager John Duel turned to Orber Moreno, who allowed a base hit to pinch hitter Mike Lieberthal.  With the tying run now standing in scoring position, Newgard asked pinch hitter Brady Clark for one final miracle.  But Clark proved unworthy of the challenge, as he popped up to the shortstop to end the game.

#5) 1999 EL Wild Card Playoff Game: Bourbannais vs. California

In the league's inaugural season, the Eck League wild card race ended in a tie, as Hrbek Division rivals the Bourbannais Bad Boys and California Storm each finished the regular season with a record of 86-74.  By league rules, this meant the final seed of the playoffs would be determined by one winner-take-all playoff game.

For this crucial game, the Bad Boys handed the ball to their ace, Al Leiter (11-7, 2.43 ERA in 196+ IP), while the Storm went with Chris Carpenter (15-10, 3.44 ERA in 191+ IP.) However, after throwing just 41 pitches, Leiter was forced out of the game with an injury in the middle of the third inning.  Boubannais reluctantly turned to #2 starter Kerry Wood, and Wood delivered with 1 2/3 innings of scoreless pitching.  Lefty spot starter Terry Mulholland then took over to start the fifth after Wood was lifted for a pinch hitter in the top half of the inning.

After five scoreless innings, Bourbannais slugger Paul O'Neill singled with one out in the sixth.  Brett Boone then followed with a double, scoring O'Neill all the way from first.  That 1-0 lead held through the seventh inning, as Mulholland settled into a groove.  But in the eighth, the wheels fell off, and Mulholland allowed a walk and an RBI double to Vladimir Guerrero to start the inning.  He then uncorked a wild pitch, putting the go-ahead run 90 feet away.  Two batters later, Derrek Lee grounded to first, and Bourbannais manager Chris Witt opted to get the out at first, allowing the go-ahead run to score.

California manager Mike Stein, who, oddly enough, was managing his first game of the season after taking over the franchise just days before, then turned to his closer, Matt Mantei (2.24 ERA in 64+ IP, 27 SVs during the regular season), to hold the 2-1 lead in the ninth and lock up a spot in the playoffs.

But Mantei got off to a shaky start, allowing a walk and a single to the first two batters he faced.  After a pop-fly out, Shane Mack then plated the runner from second with a base hit, tying the game once again.  The next batter, pinch hitter Bernie Williams, then drove home two runners with another single.  And the next batter, Mike Benjamin, also singled, but this time center fielder Moises Alou came up firing, and the runner was nailed at the plate.  But the damage had been done, and the Bad Boys had taken a 4-2 lead with three outs remaining.

Bourbannais closer Billy Wagner entered the game and allowed a pair of runners on a walk and a single.  But with two outs, Storm slugger Vladimir Guerrero struck out to end California's season.

Stein would find himself in the same exact situation a year later, managing a one-game playoff to decide the EL wild card.  Once again, he would benefit from a fluke injury to the opposing starter.  And once again, his team would blow a late-game lead and lose.  It would be another eight years before Stein finally made it to the post-season.

#6) 2001 ELCS, Game 3: Akron vs. Kansas

The 2001 ELCS featured a match-up between the league's greatest offense ever assembled and perhaps the greatest starting pitcher in league history.  The 2001 Kansas Law Dogs broke nearly every record in the book, hitting .321/.398/.580 as a team, with 364 home runs and 1,282 runs scored.  (No, those aren't misprints.)  That same year, longtime Akron ace Pedro Martinez went 23-3, with a 3.23 ERA in 231 innings, just 168 hits and 36 walks allowed, and an astounding 334 strikeouts.

The first two games in the series were oddly normal, with Akron winning both games by scores of 6-2 and 6-5.  But when the series shifted to the comfy confines of Kansas' Fields of Tombstone, so did the momentum.

In Game 3, Kansas' bats finally busted out, and they carried an 11-1 lead into the eighth inning.   But after seven stellar innings of pitching (7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 10 K), Kansas manager Chris Luhning pulled his ace, Darryl Kile, out of the game after 98 pitches, and handed the ball to his bullpen.  A parade of NINE Kansas pitchers followed, with mixed results.

The first of those nine pitchers, Albie Lopez, walked the bases full, and then walked home a run.  After allowing an RBI single, Luhning turned to B.J. Ryan to put out the fire.  Instead, Ryan served up a grand slam home run to pinch hitter Jay Payton.

Still leading by five runs, Luhning tried four different pitchers to record the final three outs of the game in the top of the ninth.  But after Akron scored another run on an RBI single by Adrian Beltre, Kansas reliever Matt Anderson served up another grand slam home run -- this time to Jay Buhner.  Suddenly, Kansas' comfy 10-run lead had vanished, and the game was sent into extra innings.

In the top of the 14th, Akron loaded the bases on an error and two walks, but failed to score a run when Terry Adams got Jay Payton to ground out.  Meanwhile, Akron relievers Mark Wohlers and Trevor Hoffman were busy holding the powerful Kansas lineup in check.

Finally, in the bottom of the 15th, Kansas catcher Ivan Rodriguez stepped to the plate to face Hoffman, and on his 18th pitch of the game, Hoffman allowed yet another crucial post-season home run.  Rodriguez's walk-off gave Kansas their first win of the series, and the Law Dogs eventually went on to win the series in seven games.

#7) 1999 OLCS, Game 7: Stamford vs. Litchfield

Stamford GM Paul Marazita and Litchfield GM Phil Geisel had a long history of intense rivalry, dating back to their days together in the old CBL.  It seemed appropriate, then, that one final winner-take-all game would decide which of these two ancient warriors would advance to the first-ever BDBL World Series.

With Stamford's dominant, Cy Young-caliber ace, Kevin Brown, taking the hill for Stamford on three days of rest, Geisel knew run-scoring would be scarce.  What he didn't count on was that Marazita's odd selection of Luis Alicea to bat leadoff in his lineup would play such a huge factor in this crucial game.  Alicea had played just 28 games for Stamford during the regular season, with just 61 at-bats, and he hit a paltry .180 during that time.  But the Baseball Gods always favored the Zoots in the post-season, and this game would be no exception.

Alicea hit not one -- but TWO -- home runs off of Neagle.  Both were solo shots, and those two runs were the only runs scored by Stamford in the game.  But that was enough, as Brown allowed just one unearned run through 6+ innings.  Dennis Cook, C.J. Nitkowski, Dan Miceli and John Wetteland then closed out the final 2 2/3 innings without allowing a hit.

The Lightning managed one final gasp in the bottom of the ninth, when Brady Anderson walked with one out, and then stole second.  But Wetteland then struck out both Mark Grudzielanek and pinch hitter J.T. Snow to end the game, the series, and Phil Geisel's dream of beating Paul Marazita in the post-season.

#8) 2003 OLDS, Game 4: Bear Country vs. Los Altos

The rivalry between Los Altos manager Jeff Paulson and Bear Country manager Matt Clemm dates back for decades, and this was the first-ever meeting between these two managers in the BDBL playoffs.  The Undertakers took the first two games of this series, and the Jamboree battled back for a one-run win on their home turf in Game 3.

Los Altos built a 3-1 lead through five innings in Game 4, and Bear Country cut that lead to one run with the help of three singles in the sixth inning.  But thanks to the stellar relief pitching of Chris Nichting and Joey Eischen, the score was frozen at 3-2 heading into the ninth.

With two outs in the top of the ninth, and a runner at third, Bear Country reliever Jim Mecir put his team even further away from victory by uncorking a wild pitch.  That made it a 4-2 game with just three outs remaining.  And in those pre-Eric-Gagne days in Los Altos, that meant the arrival of Mike Remlinger into the game to close it out for the Undertakers in the bottom of the ninth.

Remlinger walked the first two batters he faced, and Mike Mordecai then bunted both runners into scoring position.  With the tying run standing on second base, however, Bear Country's all-star slugger Jim Thome whiffed for out number two.

That put the fate of the game into Brian Buchanan's hands.  Buchanan was a pinch hitter who'd amassed just 114 at-bats during the regular season, hitting .298/.388/.482, mostly against lefty relievers like Remlinger.  Unfortunately for Remlinger and the Undertakers, his 15th pitch of the game landed deep into the bleachers for a walk-off, three-run home run.

That victory evened the series at two games apiece.  The Jamboree then won the next two games to advance to the OLCS, while Jeff Paulson was once again left stunned as to why his bullpen -- the strength of his franchise for so many years -- had failed him in the post-season once again.

#9) 2003 BDBL World Series, Game 4: Stamford vs. Allentown

Perhaps no playoff game in this league's history will be remembered more often than this one.  This series featured a match-up between two owners who had gained a reputation as a "Sith," due to their apparent abilities to control the Dark Side of the Force at the trading table and convince their fellow owners to make trades that would benefit them in no way whatsoever.  The original Dark Lord, Stamford GM Paul Marazita, had used his powers to win the league's first three championships in a row.  His "apprentice," Allentown GM Tom DiStefano (who, for reasons unknown was dubbed "The Emperor"), was seemingly en route to building his own Zoots-like dynasty, having won the 2002 championship and appearing in his second straight World Series.

The match-up alone made this a memorable series.  However, it was Marazita's decision to start Clay Condrey in Game 4 that made this series legendary.  At the time, the league rulebook specified that any starting pitcher with fewer than 100 MLB innings was limited to only five innings in any round of the playoffs.  And any starting pitcher with fewer than 30 MLB innings was ineligible for the post-season roster.

The purpose of these rules was clear-cut and universally understood.  The league did not wish for short-usage pitchers with misleadingly dominant stats to play a key role in the most important series of the season.  Basically, these rules were established in order to "fix" the flaw in the Diamond Mind engine that allows short-usage superstars to perform just as well as established stars.

Earlier in the season, however, it was brought to the league's attention that there was a loophole in the rulebook that could be exploited by a manager who was unscrupulous enough to exploit it.  Because of the definition of the term "starting pitcher," it was possible for a pitcher with fewer than 30 MLB innings to not only start in the playoffs, but pitch an unlimited number of innings.  The league debated this issue, and it was recommended by the league's Rulebook Secretary (who also happened to be Marazita) that the rule not be changed until after the season.

Heading into Game 4, the Zoots were trailing two games to one in the series.  During his first three championship seasons, Marazita routinely used a three-man starting rotation throughout the playoffs.  But in 2003, the Zoots' starting rotation did not include the same type of workhorses who could handle such a workload and still remain effective.  Marazita's options for Game 4 included his #4 starter throughout the regular season, Danny Wright (who actually led all Stamford starters in ERA at 3.24, and went 14-5 with just 144 hits allowed in 172+ innings) and mid-season trade acquisition Chuck Finley (11-7, 4.52 ERA in 197+ IP.)

Instead, Marazita made the infamous decision to start Condrey -- a pitcher who started three of his nine MLB games, making him (by the exact wording of the rulebook) a reliever by league rules.  Condrey posted a 1.69 ERA in just 26.2 MLB innings in 2002, making him the most egregious example of a "short-usage superstar" as any in league history.

Facing off against Allentown ace Curt Schilling, Condrey was predictably brilliant, allowing just one unearned run through six innings of work.  Not only was he brilliant on the mound, but at the plate as well.  Stamford built a 2-1 lead through six innings, thanks to a clutch two-out RBI single by Condrey in the fourth inning.

In the seventh, Stamford extended their lead to 3-1 via a bases-loaded walk.  Still trailing 3-1 in the ninth, Allentown's leadoff batter Corey Koskie singled off of Byung-Hyun Kim in the top of the ninth.  Marazita then made the unconventional decision to intentionally walk Barry Bonds, putting the tying run on base with Manny Ramirez stepping to the plate.  All Ramirez had done that season was hit .345/.419/.642 with 33 homers in just 447 at-bats following his mid-season trade acquisition.

But Marazita's good fortune in the post-season knew no bounds, and Ramirez grounded out to short -- one of five outs in the game recorded by Ramirez.  Larry Walker then stepped to the plate with two runners in scoring position and one out, and he walked to load the bases.  Pinch hitter Rob Mackowiak plated a run on a ground-out, making it a one-run game.  But Craig Wilson then struck out to end the game.

The Zoots went on to win the BDBL championship -- their fourth championship in five seasons.  But Marazita's reputation had been tarnished irrevocably.  As a result of Marazita's decision to start an illegal player in the playoffs, an asterisk was permanently added to his team's championship listing on the league's History page, and the hard feelings generated by that asterisk eventually led to Marazita's resignation in the middle of the following season.

#10) 2004 ELCS, Game 6: Chicago vs. Allentown

For the second time in the post-season (see the "honorable mentions" section below), the Black Sox won an extra-innings game in come-from-behind fashion.  In this game, Chicago led in the series three games to two.  Fighting to even the series and advance to their third World Series appearance in a row, the Ridgebacks jumped out to a 3-0 lead after two innings.  Chicago scored a pair of runs in the third inning, and after four and a half innings, the score was 4-2 in favor of Allentown.

But in the bottom of the fifth, Chicago jumped all over Ridgebacks starter Sidney Ponson, scoring six runs on two singles, two doubles, two walks and a three-run homer by Nomar Garciaparra.  But despite being staked to a comfortable 8-4 lead, the Chicago bullpen fell apart, and Allentown managed to battle their way back into the game, tying the score in the eighth inning on a three-run homer by pinch hitter Sammy Sosa off of Ugueth Urbina.

After a scoreless 9th and 10th innings, Allentown gained the lead on a solo blast by Corey Koskie in the top of the 11th.  Ridgebacks manager Tom DiStefano then handed the ball to Rod Beck to close it out.  Instead, Beck committed a costly error, allowing leadoff hitter Jason Kendall to reach on a nubber back to the mound.  Chipper Jones followed with a double, pushing Kendall to third.  And Manny Ramirez then brought an end to the game, and the series, by doubling home both runners.

The Black Sox advanced to the BDBL World Series, where they were heavily favored over the Ravenswood Infidels.  But the Infidels were the team of destiny that year, and they would eventually win the "all-Chicago" series in five games.

 

I found it EXCEEDINGLY difficult to narrow down this list to just ten games.  So, if you're hungry for more, here are some games that deserve honorable mention:

-- 1999 ELDS, Game 5: Bourbannais vs. Oakville.  In the fifth and deciding game, the two teams headed into extra innings with a 0-0 tie.  Bourbannais turned to their lefty closer, Billy Wagner, to hold that score in the bottom of the 10th inning, but Oakville slugger Ken Griffey, Jr. ended the game -- and the series -- with a walk-off homer.  It is the only series-ending walk-off in BDBL history.  But the kicker to this story is that neither manager was present for this game.  Just prior to the game, both the Oakville and Bourbannais managers announced they would be resigning at the end of the post-season.  Rather than wait, I simply told them to resign immediately, and had the MP manage both sides for the final game of the series.

-- 1999 OLDS, Game 5: Stamford vs. Salem.  This was a series ten years in the making.  After all those years of intense rivalry with Marazita in the old CBL, this was my chance to redeem myself and finally beat Marazita on the virtual ballfield.  Game 5 featured a match-up between Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux -- two of the best pitchers in the BDBL through the league's first decade.  With the score tied at 2-2 in the eighth, Rafael Palmeiro launched a two-run blast off of Maddux, ending my season and any dreams of sweet revenge.  Marazita then went on to win the BDBL championship trophy -- the first of three in a row, and four in five seasons.

-- 1999 World Series, Game 5: Stamford vs. Southern Cal.  With the series tied at two games apiece heading into Game 5, the Zoots scored two runs in the eighth inning to go ahead by a score of 2-1.  Stamford manager Marazita then handed the ball to his sure-thing closer, John Wetteland, to close it out and put his team one win away from winning the first-ever BDBL championship.  But instead, Wetteland allowed a leadoff home run to Travis Fryman, tying the game.  The teams then played a scoreless 10th and 11th.  Then, with two outs and the bases loaded, Tino Martinez stepped to the plate for SoCal, facing Stamford reliever Dan Miceli.  Martinez hit a grand slam home run.  Just one win away from winning the championship, however, with three games left to play, the Slyme weren't able to seal the deal.  Stamford won the next three games in a row to capture the league's first championship.

-- 2000 ELDS, Game 1: Wapakoneta vs. Southern Cal.  In a playoffs match-up of father vs. son, the father built a 6-1 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh inning.  But the son's team refused to let the old man off that easily, and scored an astounding SIX runs in the bottom of the seventh to take a 7-6 lead.  Doug Brocail then closed out the final two innings for the Hippos without allowing a hit, giving Wapakoneta the win.  The Hippos would eventually sweep the series in three games.

-- 2000 OLDS, Game 5: Stamford vs. Litchfield.  The second straight post-season match-up between Marazita and Geisel resulted in another series that went the distance.  In this game, Litchfield rookie Lance Berkman hit a three-run homer off of Stamford ace Kevin Brown in the top of the sixth to give the Lightning a 5-2 lead.  But the Zoots battled back to score four runs in the bottom of the sixth, giving them a 6-5 lead.  And thanks to the stellar relief pitching of John Wetteland, Yorkis Perez and Bobby "Shotgun" Chouinard, that's how the game -- and the series -- would end.

-- 2000 World Series, Game 7: Stamford vs. Chicago.  In a series that was wrapped up at approximately 3:00am ET, the Stamford Zoots achieved the seemingly impossible by overcoming a three-games-to-none deficit in a best-of-seven series.  After losing the first three games of the series, the Zoots reeled off four wins in a row, giving Paul Marazita his second straight BDBL championship.  John Smoltz -- who had been added mid-season in a somewhat controversial trade -- earned the win with 6+ shutout innings, despite pitching the entire post-season on three days of rest.  Chouinard, Donne Wall, Perez and John Johnstone then combined to hold the powerful Chicago lineup scoreless through the final 2 2/3 innings, as Stamford cruised to an easy 3-0 win.

-- 2002 ELDS, Game 2: Akron vs. Chicago.  In an exciting back-and-forth game, the Black Sox took a 2-0 lead in the first inning, but Akron then tied the game in the third inning.  Chicago went ahead in the fifth, and Akron tied it once again in the sixth.  The game then stretched into extra innings, when pinch hitter Brian Jordan singled home a run for Akron in the top of the 12th inning.  But in the bottom of the 12th, Chicago tied the score on a single, a walk, a wild pitch, and a ground-out.  Ronnie Belliard then stepped to the plate and grounded back to the mound.  The runner at third (Vernon Wells) took off for home, and made it across the plate just ahead of the throw.  Chicago eventually won the series in six games.

-- 2002 OLDS, Game 1: Stamford vs. Salem.  The Zoots Curse was finally broken in 2002, when the Cowtippers stepped over them in the Division Series en route to their first World Series appearance.  In NINE previous post-season series, the Zoots had won all nine.  And in this game, Stamford clobbered Salem ace Brad Penny early in the game.  But the Cowtippers fought back against Stamford ace Mark Buehrle, and took a 9-7 lead in the seventh inning.  David Weathers and Chad Fox then slammed the door, setting the momentum for the rest of the series.

-- 2002 OLCS, Game 5: Salem vs. Los Altos.  With the Zoots comfortably out of the way for the first time in league history, the Cowtippers and Undertakers met to decide who would be representing the Ozzie League in the BDBL World Series.  With the series tied at two games apiece, this game was forced into extra innings when Los Altos hitter Jose Bautista drove home a run with a two-out hit against Salem closer David Weathers.  In the bottom of the 11th, Los Altos skipper Jeff Paulson asked his lights-out closer, Juan Moreno (42 IP, 10 H, 0.64 ERA during the regular season, with lefties hitting just 1-for-24 against him), to hold the score.  Instead, Salem's lefty-hitting third baseman Robin Ventura drove home the game-winning run with a base hit up the middle.  Salem would eventually win this series in seven games.

-- 2005 ELDS, Game 7: Allentown vs. Atlanta.  To say the Ridgebacks were heavily favored in this series would be a gross understatement.  No one expected Atlanta to win a single game in this series, and yet they shocked the world by winning the first three games.  Unfazed, Allentown then reeled off three wins in a row to tie the series and force a seventh and final game.  Atlanta went with Ted Lilly, while Allentown turned to Roy Oswalt -- perhaps the greatest post-season pitcher in league history.  Oswalt didn't disappoint, allowing just one run through six-plus innings.  The Ridgebacks built a 5-1 lead through seven innings, aided by seven walks allowed by Lilly in just three innings.  Atlanta fought back for a pair of runs in the eighth, but came up short.  Allentown had accomplished the seemingly impossible feat of overcoming a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series -- the second time it had happened in BDBL history.

-- 2005 World Series, Game 1: Salem vs. Allentown.  The Ridgebacks clobbered Salem starter Roger Clemens for six runs in six innings, but the Cowtippers managed a stirring come-from-behind victory, fueled by original Salem favorite John Olerud's pinch-hit, two-run homer in the eighth inning.  The Cowtippers eventually won in extra innings on a walk-off triple by Trot Nixon, but it was all downhill from there for Salem, who lost the next four games in a stunning upset.

-- 2006 ELDS, Game 4: Akron vs. South Carolina.  In a series that included three extra-inning games out of six played, Game 4 stood out as the most exciting of them all.  Akron took a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning, and South Carolina responded with four runs (on two two-run homers by Hank Blalock and Nick Johnson) in the bottom of the first.  Akron then scored SEVEN runs over the next two innings, to take a seemingly comfortable lead of 10-4.  But with the Ryche still leading by a score of 10-5 heading into the eighth, the Sea Cats pounded out four runs in the bottom of the eighth, and then tied the game in the ninth on a fielder's choice.  The game remained tied through FIVE extra innings before Akron finally untied it in the top of the 15th when Omar Vizquel made a costly two-out error for the Sea Cats.  But in the bottom of the 15th, little Luis Castillo stepped to the plate for South Carolina and plated both the tying and winning runs of the game with a triple.  The Sea Cats eventually took the series in six games.

-- 2006 ELCS, Game 6: South Carolina vs. Villanova.  With the Mustangs holding a three-games-to-two advantage heading into this game, the score remained tied at 1-1 after eight innings.  In the top of the ninth, South Carolina's Andruw Jones led off with a double.  But when Gary Sheffield singled to left two batters later, Jones was gunned down at the plate by Reggie Sanders.  The Sea Cats then loaded the bases with two outs, but pinch hitter Sal Fasano then popped out for the final out.  And for the sixth time in twelve post-season games, the Sea Cats were forced to play extra innings.  In the bottom of the 10th inning, Villanova put two runners on with two outs.  South Carolina reliever Ricardo Rincon then threw a wild pitch, allowing both runners to advance into scoring position.  Pinch hitter Casey Kotchman then hit a ground ball somewhere in the infield, but the throw home was too late.  And thus, this was the only playoff series in BDBL history that ended on a walk-off fielder's choice.

-- 2007 OLDS, Game 4: Salem vs. Ravenswood.  Through eight seasons of bitter disappointment in the post-season, it seemed as though things couldn't get any lower for the Cowtippers franchise.  But then, Game 4 of the 2007 OLDS came along and quickly erased that notion.  The Cowtippers dominated the BDBL throughout the regular season, and were the only team in the BDBL to win 100+ games.  But that didn't matter, because for the second time in four seasons, they were upset in the playoffs by a fourth-seeded Infidels team.  And this game just seemed to rub a truckload of salt into Salem's wounds.  Leading by a score of 2-1 in the fifth inning, Salem starter Jeremy Bonderman allowed an RBI double to Luke Scott with one out, putting runners at second and third.  Robinson Cano then followed with a pop fly to the infield, and Salem third baseman Miguel Cabrera tripped over the pitcher's mound while trying to field it.  The runner at third somehow scored on the play.  The next batter popped out to the catcher for what should have been out number three.  Instead, the inning was extended for Eric Hinske, who clubbed a three-run homer.  Ravenswood eventually scored TEN runs in the innings, and won the series in just five games.