It takes a ton of effort, fortune, and good luck for a team to not only reach the postseason but then advance all the way to the World Series. But even once they arrive at the World Series, there’s no guarantee of winning. Having the better record or being the heavily favored team doesn’t always give you an advantage. History is loaded with heavy favorites that lost the World Series, as well as underdogs that pulled off victories out of nowhere. Here are the six biggest World Series upsets of all time.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks (2001)
Back in 2001, terrorist attacks sent the country — and specifically the city of New York — into a tailspin. Part of the healing process involved the conclusion of baseball season. It looked like the New York Yankees had destiny on their side. They won 95 regular-season games and then beat Oakland and the 116-win Seattle Mariners in the AL playoffs. Things looked good as they matched up against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series.
But it wasn’t meant to be. New York lost the first two games, then rallied and won the next three games in New York. After losing Game 6 15-2, they planned to close things out in Game 7 in Arizona. New York took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning with the greatest closer in the history of the game, Mariano Rivera, heading to the mound. But the D-Backs forged a rally, scoring two runs and walking off with the World Series trophy.
2. St. Louis Cardinals (2006)
In 2006, the Detroit Tigers went 95-67. They finished in second place behind the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central — good enough to win the wild card. After taking down the New York Yankees in four games in the ALDS, the Tigers swept the Oakland A’s in the ALCS. They were red hot heading into the World Series, and their matchup against the 83-78 St. Louis Cardinals — and home-field advantage — made them huge favorites to win.
Detroit made eight fielding errors in five games against the Cardinals, including five by their pitching staff, leading to eight unearned runs in the series. St. Louis shortstop David Eckstein went 8-for-22 with three doubles and four RBI, winning the World Series MVP. It’s hard to comprehend how the Tigers lost to that Cardinals team, especially when you consider that they held Albert Pujols to just 3-for-15 hitting.
3. New York Mets (1969)
The 1969 Baltimore Orioles were one of the best regular season teams of all time. They finished the season 109-53, tearing through the American League behind legendary manager Earl Weaver and outfielder Frank Robinson. They swept the Minnesota Twins in three games in the ALCS, moving on to face the New York Mets in the World Series. It was hard not like their chances, especially after Baltimore even won the first game of the series.
But the Mets got in the way. They weren’t such a bad team either. New York had gone on a massive late-season run to upend the Chicago Cubs from their seat in first place and storm their way to the playoffs. New York lived up to their “Miracle Mets” title; they won the final four games of the series and took home the World Series trophy.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers (1988)
The Oakland A’s were the best team in baseball back in 1988. Behind the young power-hitting duo of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire they won 104 games. Oakland easily swept the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS, moving on to the World Series to face the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers weren’t a bad team by any stretch, finishing the regular season 94-67. But they barely escaped the NLCS, winning in seven games over the New York Mets.
Oakland took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 1, with star closer Dennis Eckersley on the mound. That helped create one of the all-time amazing moments in baseball history, with injured slugger Kirk Gibson hitting the walkoff home run. Setting the tone for the series, the Dodgers won in four games behind starting pitcher Orel Hershiser. He pitched 18 innings and only allowed two earned runs.
5. Kansas City Royals (1985)
The 1985 St. Louis Cardinals ran away from the pack in the regular season, winning 101 games and looking like the dominant team in Major League Baseball. They faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS but didn’t have much trouble with them, winning the series in six games after falling behind 0-2 in the first two games. They even got a classic moment, with the game-winning Game 5 home run from shortstop Ozzie Smith.
The Cardinals took a 3-1 series lead in the World Series over the Kansas City Royals, who finished 10-games back of the Cards in the overall standings. It would’ve been hard to imagine St. Louis losing the final three games of the series, but it happened. Kansas City took Game 5. Then, a blown call at first base in Game 6 helped them rally in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Cardinals were never even close in Game 7, losing by a score of 11-0 and watching the Royals steal the World Series from them.
6. Cincinnati Reds (1990)
After the disappointment of the 1988 World Series loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Oakland A’s made a second trip to the World Series in ’89 and beat the San Francisco Giants. They entered the 1990 season as the favorite yet again, and they didn’t disappoint in the regular season. Oakland won 103 games with much of the same team as the previous two years. Just like in ’88, they swept the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS and faced the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series.
The Reds were 91-71 in 1990; the team can thank manager Lou Piniella, starting pitcher Jose Rijo, and shortstop Barry Larkin for getting into the playoffs. Cincinnati beat the favored Pittsburgh Pirates and Barry Bonds in the NLCS. In the World Series, most people viewed the Reds as the underdog. Rijo started two games in the series, tossing 15 1/3 innings and allowing just one earned run, shocking Oakland with a four-game sweep. Rijo was named the MVP of the series.