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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

June 14, 2011 at 10:18 AM

Nothing like a Game 7 for the championship, and NHL has the most

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(Both photos are by Associated Press. Top shows Bill Mazeroski after his game-winning homer in the 1960 World Series. The bottom photo shows Manny Malhotra of the Vancouver Canucks celebrating the goal by teammate Maxim Lapierre that was the difference in Vancouver’s 1-0 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals.)

I know I’m not the first to point this out, but this year’s Stanley Cup finals is hockey’s version of the 1960 World Series. In the three games they won that year, the Yankees annihilated the Pittsburgh Pirates by scores of 16-3 (Game 2), 10-0 (Game 3) and 12-0 (Game 6). But the Pirates squeaked out a 6-4 win in Game 1, and won 3-2 in Game 4, 5-2 in game 5, and then, of course, had an epic 10-9 victory in Game 7. That was highlighted by Bill Mazeroski’s game-winning homer, that capped one of the greatest games ever played, World Series or otherwise.

The Yankees out-scored the Pirates 55-27 overall (and clobbered them 38-3 in their wins), much like the Boston Bruins have outscored the Vancouver Canucks 19-8 overall, and 17-3 in their three victories. And yet the series is tied heading into Wednesdays’ Game 7, setting up what could be a classic showdown in Vancouver. Someone on the Canucks (or Bruins) has the chance to become hockey’s Bill Mazeroski if the game is as close as all the others in Vancouver have been.

Which gets me to the real point of this post: to sing the praises of Game 7. There is nothing like it in sports, and each one is something special to be savored. I truly believe that one reason baseball seems to be experiencing a lag in popularity is because its World Series of late have been duds. The last seven-game World Series occurred way back in 2002, when the Angels won the final two games to take down Barry Bonds and the Giants. Since then, there have been three four-game sweeps, three five-game series, and two six-game series. Those simply don’t build up the kind of mounting excitement that captivates the nation — even the non-fans — and culminates in a crescendo of drama in Game 7. There’s a carry-over effect, too. Many people credit the classic seven-game World Series of 1975 between the Red Sox and Reds, featuring an unbelievably compelling Game 6 (ended by Carlton Fisk’s home run) with revitalizing baseball from the rut it was in at the time. It could use another one like that.

MLB, in fact, hasn’t had a Game 7 in the postseason since the Red Sox and Rays went the distance in the 2008 ALCS. The only other series to go the distance in that span was the best-of-five Rays-Rangers Division Series last year. The last time baseball had two seven-game series in the same postseason was 2004, when the Red Sox capped their comeback from three games down to beat the Yankees in the ALCS, and the Cardinals edged by the Astros in the NLCS.

I did a little research (WARNING! DANGER AHEAD! NUMBERS! ) and baseball actually stacks up pretty well with the NBA when it comes to producing Game 7s over the last decade. Going back to 2000, MLB has played 33 seven-game series, and nine of them have gone all seven — 27 percent. Two of the last 11 World Series (the Diamondbacks-Yankees in 2001 was the other one besides Angels-Giants) have gone the distance (18 percent). Looking at the NBA playoffs since the 2000-2001 season, there have been 149 seven-game series, and 29 have gone to seven games –19 percent. The percentage of NBA finals going the distance is the same as the World Series: two of the last 11 (the Spurs-Pistons in 2004-05, and the Lakers-Celtics in 2009-10).

The NHL has been kings of Game 7, however. In the past 11 postseasons (of which there was none in 2005 because of a lockout), there have been 165 seven-game series in the postseason, and 46 of them have gone to Game 7 (including seven this year!). That’s 28 percent, right in line with baseball’s average. However, of the last 11 Stanley Cup finals (including this year’s), six have gone to Game 7 — a whopping 55 percent.

There are those who say that a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup finals is fraught with more drama than any other sport’s decisive game. I’ll take my chances with Game 7 of the World Series, where the possibility of a close game in the ninth inning, or a tie game in extra innings, provides every bit the drama of a tight hockey title game. But any way you slice it, Game 7s are the epitome of everything that’s great about sports. The more, the better for everyone.

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