They kept us on the edge of our seats and brought us to our feet.
They sent us into joyful celebration or left us in anguished disbelief.
When we look back at 2014, these are some of the games — not to mention stock car races, tennis finals and golf rounds — we’ll remember the most.
IRON MAN BUMGARNER
So much for pitch counts and pampered arms. Madison Bumgarner almost single-handedly pitched the San Francisco Giants to their third World Series title in five years with three masterful performances against the upstart Kansas City Royals. He won the opener with seven innings of one-hit ball and pitched a four-hit shutout with 117 pitches in Game 5. But the drawling left-hander will be remembered most for his performance in Game 7, when he threw five innings of scoreless relief on two days rest for a decisive 3-2 victory. The last of his 68 pitches came with the potential tying run at third, resulting in a series-ending popup. “You know what?” he would say about a half-hour later. “I’m a little tired now.”
SHOOTOUT IN SOCHI
T.J. Oshie was one of the last choices to the U.S. Olympic hockey team, but he sure came up big in Sochi. Facing the Russians and their screaming hometown crowd, including President Vladimir Putin, Oshie scored on four out of six chances in a shootout to give the Americans a thrilling 3-2 victory. Oshie scored in the first round and the shootout was still tied after three attempts by each team. At that point, under international rules, the same shooter can be used over and over again. The Americans kept turning to Oshie, five times in a row, before he put a forehand through the goalie’s legs for his fourth goal in six chances. “At some point, you think, ‘Does he have any more moves left?’” U.S. captain Zach Parise said.
For a soccer-mad nation hosting the World Cup for the first time since 1950, it was championship or bust. Oh, what a bust it was. Brazil was blown out by Germany 7-1 in the semifinals, the biggest rout ever that far along in the tournament. The Germans were unstoppable, scoring five goals in the first half-hour — four of them in a seven-minute span. “It was very important to stay calm, cool and courageous in facing Brazilian passion,” said the winning coach, Joachim Loew, whose team went to capture the title that was supposed to go to the home team. For Brazil, there was nothing but heartache, a nation plunging into mourning at the unimaginable result. “We apologize to all Brazilians,” defender David Luiz said.
WILD NIGHT IN WACO
In a Big 12 showdown, neither team played a lick of defense until Marcus Mallet returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown with 11 1-2 minutes remaining, giving TCU a seemingly comfortable 58-37 lead over Baylor. Turns out, no lead was safe against Bears quarterback Bryce Petty. He led three lightning-quick touchdown drives to tie the game, then drove Baylor into position for Chris Callahan’s 28-yard field goal as time expired for a beyond-improbable 61-58 victory. “I just knew looking at guys’ faces that we were going to come back in that game,” Petty said. “Twenty-one points isn’t a big deal for us.”
Speaking of comebacks, the Colts pulled off a memorable one of their own in an AFC wild-card playoff game. Kansas City led 38-10 early in the third quarter, but Indianapolis scored 35 second-half points for the second-biggest rally in NFL postseason history. Andrew Luck threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns, shaking off three interceptions. He also scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery. The teams combined for 1,049 yards, a playoff record. Not enough, it turned out, for Kansas City to end a 20-year drought since its last playoff win.
Wichita State had not lost since the previous year’s Final Four and took a 35-0 record in its third-round game against Kentucky, a team that had underachieved after starting the year ranked No. 1. The game went back and forth the entire way, the margin never more than five points over the final 18 1-2 minutes. The Wildcats finally went ahead for good, 73-71, when James Young knocked down a 3-pointer with less than 2 minutes to go. The Shockers had a chance to win it and stay on course to be the first unbeaten national champion since Indiana in 1976. Fred VanVleet’s 3-pointer bounced off the side of the rim as the horn sounded. Kentucky 78, Wichita State 76.
DURANT BRINGS THE THUNDER
Memphis had a 98-93 lead in Game 2 of the NBA playoffs with just under 20 seconds remaining. But Oklahoma City had Kevin Durant, who came up with what might be shot of the year — a towering 3-pointer from the corner as he was tumbling out of bounds. Nothing but net. Plus, he was fouled by Marc Gasol and knocked down the free throw to complete a four-point play. The Thunder wound up sending the game to overtime, but the Grizzlies bounced back from the shock of Durant’s amazing shot to win handily, 111-105.
Novak Djokovic was on the verge of finishing off Roger Federer in the fourth set of the Wimbledon final. The 33-year-old Swiss star would not go that easy. With Djokovic serving for the match at 5-3, Federer broke for the first time all day. He would go on to win five straight games, forcing a decisive set that pushed this one into classic territory. Djokovic held on after nearly four hours of momentum shifts, winning 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4 to deny Federer his record eighth title at the All-England Club. “I respect your career and everything you have done,” Djokovic told Federer afterward. “And thank you for letting me win today.”
WINNING IN THE GLOAMING
After golf’s first three majors failed to produce much drama, the PGA Championship turned out to be a pure theater with an All-Star cast. Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson all held a share of the lead on the back nine. The final two hours were filled with eagles and birdies, with tension and chaos. Finally, with darkness threatening to push the finale to the next morning, McIlroy knocked in a 10-inch putt that gave him a one-stroke victory over Mickelson. It was Boy Wonder’s second straight major title and fourth overall, making him just the fourth player in the last century to win that many before his 26th birthday. The other three? Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Bobby Jones. Not bad company.
RACE FOR THE TITLE
While it may seem a bit like pro wrestling in the way it tries to manipulate the results, NASCAR got what it was looking for in the latest version of the Sprint Cup championship. Kevin Harvick pulled off a relentless dash through the field, going from 12th to first over the final 15 laps to claim his first title in the final race of the year at Homestead. He beat three other drivers also seeking their first titles: Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano. “If you want to win the championship, you’re going to have to figure out how to win races,” Harvick said. “In the end, that’s what it came down to.”