What makes a baseball fan throw caution to the wind and risk life and limb when a ball is hit within 50 feet of him? We're not sure, but we do know that there have been many instances over the years where the action on the field has spilled into the stands. With baseball's postseason upon us, here are some especially noteworthy instances of fan interference.
1. Steve Bartman/Moises Alou (2003)
The situation: Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series, with the Chicago Cubs leading the Florida Marlins 3-0 in the bottom of the eighth inning at Wrigley Field. The Cubs were five outs away from their first World Series appearance since 1945.
What happened: Marlins second baseman Luis Castillo hit a high foul ball toward the stands down the left field line. As Cubs left fielder Moises Alou reached for the ball, so did a fan named Steve Bartman. The ball bounced off Bartman's hand and into the stands, and Alou and the Cubs pleaded for a ruling of fan interference to no avail. Castillo walked on the next pitch, starting an eight-run rally aided by a key error by Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez.
The outcome: The Marlins won the game 8-3 to force Game 7, which they won 9-6 to capture their second National League pennant. Florida would go on to beat the Yankees in six games to win its second world championship. Bartman's gaffe became embedded in the lore of a franchise which last won a World Series in 1908.
2. Tony Tarrasco/Jeffrey Maier (1996)
The situation: Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series, with the Orioles leading the Yankees 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning.
What happened: Yankees rookie shortstop Derek Jeter hit a fly ball to deep right field off Orioles reliever Armando Benitez. Right fielder Tony Tarasco backed up to the wall and reached up to make the catch, but a fan -- later identified as 11-year-old Jeffrey Maier -- reached over the fence and tried to catch the ball before Tarasco could do so. Umpire Rich Garcia ruled it a home run despite vehement protests by Tarasco, Benitez and Orioles manager Davey Johnson.
The outcome: The game went into extra innings, and Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams won it in the 11th inning with a solo home run. New York went on to win the series in five games en route to its first World Series title since 1978.
3. Shane Victorino (2009)
The situation: Two outs, bottom of the eighth inning of Game 5 of the 2009 National League Championship Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies, with Philadelphia leading 9-4.
What happened: With a runner on first base, Philadelphia's Shane Victorino hit a deep fly ball to right field off Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario that caromed off the top of the fence. Umpire Ted Barrett quickly ruled that a fan had touched the ball, limiting Victorino to a double.
The outcome: The runner on first, shortstop Jimmy Rollins, scored the final run in a 10-4 Phillies victory that clinched the NLCS and sent Philadelphia to its second straight World Series.
4. Robinson Cano (2010)
The situation: Game 4 of the 2010 American League Championship Series, scoreless in the bottom of the second inning at Yankee Stadium.
What happened: Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano hit a towering drive to right field that bounced off the top of the fence and into the seats for a home run. Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz leaped at the wall trying to catch the ball and claimed that a fan interfered with the play.
The outcome: Umpire Jim Reynolds ruled that the home run would stand. The Rangers, however, would rally and pull away for a 10-3 win and would go on to win the ALCS in six games on the way to their first World Series berth.
5. Nelson Cruz/Matt Holliday (2011)
The situation: Game 3 of the 2011 World Series, with the Cardinals leading the Rangers 14-6 in the bottom of the seventh inning.
What happened: Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz hit a sacrifice fly to his Cardinals counterpart, Matt Holliday. As Holliday camped under the ball, a fan in the left field bleachers tossed another ball onto the field. It landed several feet to Holliday's left. Holliday made the play.
The outcome: The fan was ejected from the game, and the Cardinals went on to a 16-7 win. St. Louis would capture its 11th World Series championship after rallying twice to win a memorable Game 6, then capturing Game 7, 6-2.
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It's March, which means the NCAA Tournament is just around the corner. But before March Madness takes hold, the conference tournaments, which get under way this week, often provide their own share of exciting finishes. Here are five memorable buzzer beaters from conference tournament play.
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