For fabulous finishes in sports history, it’s hard to top Stefon Diggs’s 61-yard touchdown catch on Sunday, as time expired, to lift the Minnesota Vikings over the New Orleans Saints and into the NFC championship game. As my colleague Ben Shpigel noted, it happened on the site of the old Metrodome in Minneapolis, where the Twins won the final two games of the 1991 World Series in extra innings.
Ben would know; he’s a former baseball writer. And as much as I love watching the NFL, I try to relate everything to my favorite sport. So when the question of a baseball equivalent to Diggs’s catch arose on Twitter, I tried to think of a precise match.
A few people, including the former All-Star center fielder Mike Cameron, suggested Joe Carter’s home run to win the 1993 World Series for Toronto. Others cited Bill Mazeroski’s blast to win the 1960 World Series for Pittsburgh. Uproarious finishes, to be sure, but not quite right. To put the Diggs catch in the proper context, we can’t equate it with the final round. It was only the divisional playoffs, after all, not the Super Bowl.
The Vikings won a berth in the league-championship round. Since it was an elimination game — as all NFL playoff games are — the baseball version would have to be Game 5 of the best-of-five division series, with the winner advancing to the LCS. After a strike-year cameo in 1981, that round made its debut for good in 1995.
Other games — officially counting as part of the regular season — have resulted in the winner advancing to the LCS. Think of the New York Yankees, propelled by a Bucky Dent homer, eliminating Boston at Fenway Park in 1978. But if we limit this to the 96 division series in baseball history, we find one-third (32) that have gone the full five games.
The finality of Diggs’s catch (let’s forget the kneel-down on the extra-point attempt) means the baseball precedent would have to be a game-ending play. Because of the structure of baseball, with the home team batting last, that means this happens only when the home team wins. Somewhat surprisingly, the home team has won just 13 of those 32 Game 5s.
Now our pool gets a lot smaller. How many of those 13 games ended on so-called walk-off plays? Just three: the 1995 series between the Yankees and the Seattle Mariners; the 2001 series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Arizona Diamondbacks; and the 2011 series between the Diamondbacks and the Milwaukee Brewers.
But here’s an added wrinkle. When Case Keenum found Diggs for the winning touchdown, the Vikings were losing. In 2001, when Tony Womack singled to win it for Arizona, and in 2011, when Nyjer Morgan singled to win it for Milwaukee, the games were tied.
That brings us to 1995, at the Kingdome in Seattle. As the Yankees’ Jack McDowell delivered the final pitch of that game, the Mariners were losing, 5-4. By the time the play was over, the Mariners had won. Edgar Martinez ripped a double into the left-field corner, scoring Joey Cora with the tying run and Ken Griffey Jr. with the winning run. The Yankees went home and the Mariners rolled into the American League Championship Series.
Seems like a match, doesn’t it? Yet it’s not quite perfect. There were no outs when Martinez connected, so the game would have continued if he had made an out. Likewise, when the New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson homered to vanquish the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951 — the fabled “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” — there was one out, not two.
That homer comes pretty close, though, as the Giants also went from losing to winning on the final play. It sent the Giants to the World Series, so there was more at stake than there was in Minnesota on Sunday.
Here’s another that almost works: Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series in Atlanta. It’s the wrong round, of course, but everything else lines up. The Pittsburgh Pirates were winning, 2-1, with two outs and two on when Francisco Cabrera stepped up against Stan Belinda. If Cabrera had made an out, the Braves would have been eliminated. Instead, he singled in both runners to win the pennant.
Elimination game? Yes. Winning to losing on the final play? Yes. Game over if Cabrera fails? Yes. Just one round too late. There’s even a bonus connection: Both moments were aided by a defensive blunder. In 1992, the tying run reached base on an error by Jose Lind. On Sunday, Marcus Williams missed the tackle on Diggs.
I could be missing a similar situation from generations past. If so, please let me know. In any case, it’s fun to think about, and it’s one way to unite baseball, football and basketball. In those sports, unlike hockey or soccer, you can go from losing to winning on the final play — an exquisite kind of euphoria for the winner and torture for the loser.
And while I can’t precisely match the Diggs catch to baseball, one precedent absolutely works. As my pal Gar Ryness, better known as Batting Stance Guy, pointed out on Twitter, we had seen another player wearing No. 14 catching the final ball of a postseason victory in a domed stadium in Minnesota.
Indeed, when the Twins won their first championship, in Game 7 of the 1987 World Series at the Metrodome, the final out nestled in the glove of the big first baseman Kent Hrbek. He wore No. 14, just like Diggs at the same site more than three decades later.