The Yankees really lost, but walked off winners

A couple of people have contested my proclamation that the walk-off home run by weak-hitting pitcher Bob Grim produced the strangest walk-off win in the history of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

One game they cite is a favorite of Don Mattingly’s and for good reason, I suppose. It took place on September 18, 1993. The Yankees were in second place, chasing the first-place Blue Jays, three games back with 13 to play. The Red Sox were slightly above .500, but basically out of the race.

Boston played spoiler early. Mo Vsughn’s two-run home run against Jimmy Key in the first inning gave the Red Sox a 2-0 lead. A third-inning bases-loaded walk by Carlos Quintana made it 3-0. Paul O’Neill’s seventh-inning home run against Nate Minchey cut the lead to 3-1, but that’s where the game stayed until there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.

The rally began with the Yankees win probability at two percent when Mike Gallego got hit by a pitch. Than things got goofy. Mike Stanley hit what appeared to be a game-ending popout to left field, except that prior to the pitch, umpire Tim Welke called time because a teenage fan had sprinted onto the field.

The fan did not interfere with the play in any way (Filip Bondy of the Daily News talked to police officers who said the kid was crying, regretted what he did, and was let go). Had play continued, the catch would have counted and the game would have been over. No dice.

Stanley promptly singled to put the tying runs on base. Next came Wade Boggs, whose ground ball in the first base-second base hole was fielded on a dive by Scott Fletcher. Boggs was safe at first and Gallego scored to make it 3-2. Dion James then drew an eight-pitch walk from Greg Harris to load the bases for Mattingly.

On a 1-1 pitch, Mattingly hit a ground-ball single in the hole scoring both pinch-runners Gerald Williams and Andy Stankiewicz to win the game. As Jim Kaat said on the CBS broadcast, never before had a team celebrated so much for a game that it had really lost.

“We were all trying to get the fan in here,” Stanley told reporters afterwards. “He’s probably the MVP of the game.”

This game is well remembered by the diehardest Yankees fans (and Mattingly), but it’s not in my pantheon of all-time Yankees wins. Perhaps that’s because of what happened next.

It might have been baseball karma that bit this team, because the Yankees lost their next five games to fall out of the division race.

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Tony Pérez was a walk-off standout

Tony Pérez had 20 walk-off hits, including 11 home runs, in the regular season, and also won a World Series game with a walk-off single (which you can read about elsewhere), so there’s a lot to choose from.

And I’m going to pick a game from a year that Pérez’s Reds didn’t win a pennant, just because it seems like it was a pretty cool baseball game.

It was Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Giants on July 25, 1974. This was a slugfest from the start, with the Giants scoring three runs in the first inning and the Reds countering with five in the second. The Giants eventually took control with a six-run fifth inning and led 12-7 entering the bottom of the eighth.

Johnny Bench’s two-run home run cut the Giants’ lead to 12-9, but the Giants got a run back in the top of the ninth inning on a home run by Bobby Bonds.

But the Big Red Machine would not consider a four-run deficit entering the ninth inning too much to overcome, not even after Cesar Geronimo struck out to lead off the frame. At that point, per Baseball-Reference, the Reds win probability was one percent.

Sometimes one percent comes through.

A single, walk, and single by Pete Rose produced one run and a ground out by Joe Morgan brought in another. This made is 13-11, but the Reds had only one out left.  Wins like this don’t come without a little help. Johnny Bench hit a ground ball to first base and pitcher Randy Moffitt was late in trying to cover the base. Bench beat the play at first. Rose scored to make it 13-12.

Moffitt (the brother of tennis legend Billie Jean King), then got ahead of Pérez 0-2. His next pitch was in the wrong spot and Pérez crushed it over the center field fence for a game-winning home run. The celebration was described in newspapers as World Series-like, with Pérez jumping around through his trip around the bases.

“I wasn’t trying to hit a home run,” Pérez told reporters afterwards.

It’s kind of cool that Pérez’s next walk-off home run also capped a big Reds comeback, this one on June 11, 1976 against the Cardinals, who led 5-0 after a half-inning and 7-5 entering the bottom of the ninth. But Ken Griffey Sr. singled and Joe Morgan walked to start the rally. Pérez finished it with a three-run home run against Cardinals closer Al Hrabosky.

“I never saw another team that could intimidate a team like this one,” coach Russ Nixon told reporters afterwards.

When you have a guy in your lineup who can do the walk-off thing like Tony Pérez can, you can go a long way.

Tony Pérez Minutiae

– Pérez set a “record” of being the oldest player to hit a pinch-hit walk-off home run when he hit one against the Pirates on September 1, 1984 at age 42 years, 110 days. Jason Giambi broke the mark twice in 2013.

– Pérez had 19 walk-off hits for the Reds, which we’re guessing is a franchise record. It’s at least the mark dating to 1925, which is as far as Baseball-Reference goes back. Next-closest is Frank Robinson with 14.

 

 

 

 

Wade Boggs impressed early and often

Red Sox manager Ralph Houk described Wade Boggs as his secret weapon just 15 games into Boggs’ career. Peter Gammons called him “Boston’s answer to the MX missile – nobody really knows about him, but he’s there for the striking.”

Though Boggs only hit .258 in those 15 games, he clearly did something to impress. Among that which he did was hitting a walk-off home run.

It was June 22, 1982 and to that point in the season, things were going pretty well for the Red Sox. Though the Brewers and Orioles would surpass them, at this point, it was possible to dream about meaningful October baseball, as the Boston 9 were in first place.

But in this game against the Tigers, they trailed 4-2 after Detroit scored twice in the eighth. That would not be enough for the Tigers to win. With a man on first and two outs in the ninth inning, Dwight Evans hit a dramatic home run against Tigers starter Milt Wilcox to tie the game.

The Red Sox lineup carried some significant heft. It included Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Evans and Tony Perez.

But Boggs would be the one to leave his mark on the night. In the 11th inning, he homered over the Green Monster in left field to win the game. It was the first home run of his MLB career. In the AP story, he notes that he almost tripped over first base watching it.

“Dwight had told me back in the eighth that if I got the ball out there I should try to drive it that way,” said Boggs (quotes via Gammons’ story in the Boston Globe. “So that’s just what I did.”

Wade Boggs Minutiae
– Boggs hit three walk-off home runs in his career, two with the Red Sox (the other in 1991) and one with the Yankees. By coincidence, the one for the Yankees in 1993 was his first home run with them and also came against the Tigers.

– Boggs didn’t have a walk-off in the World Series, but he did do something one of a kind. He has the only go-ahead walk in the ninth inning or later in World Series history (1996 Game 4 – Yankees vs Braves)

– One of my favorite things about Boggs is his guest-star appearance in the “Bar Wars” episode of Cheers. Boggs didn’t have a walk-off moment, but he did have a ran-off and a pants-off. Remember that he came to the bar as a reward for Cheers winning the prank battle with Gary’s Old Town Tavern. But the folks at the bar didn’t believe it was really Boggs, so they chased him out of the bar.

This might be the Yankees weirdest win vs the Red Sox

There have been some amazing Yankees-Red Sox games in the last couple of decades. But I’ve got one with which you’re probably not familiar that may be the weirdest of them all.

It comes from September 5, 1957. The Yankees were trying to hold off the White Sox for the American League lead (they would) but had hit a little funk. They were without Mickey Mantle and trailing the Red Sox 2-0 entering the bottom of the eighth.

Mantle would make an appearance as a pinch-hitter with one on and two out in the eighth inning, drawing a controversial walk (the Red Sox thought they had strike three). The inning extended and the Yankees would eventually tie the game on Gil McDougald’s two-run single.

Closer Bob Grim replaced Bob Turley for the ninth inning and got into immediate trouble, allowing a leadoff double to Jackie Jensen, who advanced to third on a ground out. But Grim escaped, getting a comebacker and then a fly to right from opposing pitcher Willard Nixon. Yes, the pitcher batted in a key spot in the ninth inning. In fairness, Nixon was a good hitter. He batted .293 in 75 at-bats that season.

Perhaps Casey Stengel was inspired in seeing this. Or perhaps the Yankees were short bodies, having already used three pinch-hitters and a pinch-runner. In the bottom of the 10th, after Jerry Lumpe singled and Enos Slaughter walked with two outs, Grim was left in to bat for himself.

Grim was not Nixon. The Yankees pitcher was 4-for-his-last-61 at the plate, including 0-for-7 this season after going 1-for-16 in 1956. Stengel would later note that if he pinch-hit with Andy Carey, he’d have been forced to use a pitcher in the outfield because of the defensive changes. So Grim was left to bat with the game on the line.

But this is baseball, a sport in which the impossible and unbelievable happens with a greater frequency than is meant to be. Sure enough, Grim homered, an opposite-field shot into the first row in right field, giving the Yankees a walk-off win. “I was dumbfounded” he told reporters after the game, unable to identify the type of pitch he hit.

The Boston Globe shared a funny quote from Stengel afterwards.

“When he got to second base, he didn’t know what to do. He slowed down and looked over to the bench to see if he should keep on running for our first feller had already crossed home plate.”

It should be noted that Grim had three extra-base hits in his nine-year career. All of them were home runs.

1980 Phillies had a vital walk-off win in their World Series path

I’ve noted before that I enjoy walk-offs with a 6-5 final score, since that was the final score of the greatest walk-off of them all (the 1986 Mets beating the Red Sox in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series).

Turns out that the 1980 Phillies can stake a claim to a pretty cool 6-5 walk-off win on their way to a championship.

I’m referring to their 156th game of the season. They entered their game against the Cubs trailing the Expos by ½ a game in the standings after losing two of three to Montreal. A Bill Buckner (!) RBI double tied the score at two in the seventh inning and Steve Dillard’s RBI ground out put the Cubs ahead. But the Phillies tied the game in their half of the seventh on Pete Rose’s RBI grounder. That would be the last scoring for a while.

Among those who pitched in relief and pitched well were Hall-of-Famers Lee Smith and Bruce Sutter for the Cubs, and standouts Tug McGraw and Sparky Lyle for the Phillies. There was no more scoring in this one until the top of the 15th when the Cubs plated a pair of unearned runs, set up by an error by pitcher Dickie Noles.

But the Phillies weren’t done. Lonnie Smith led off the home 15th with a walk and Pete Rose followed with one as well. A wild pitch advanced each runner a base, and Bake McBride brought home Smith with a ground out.

Next up was Mike Schmidt, who won NL MVP that season and delivered countless big hits along the way. Not this time. With Rose representing the tying run on third base and one out, Schmidt popped out to second base.

The Phillies were undaunted. Down to their last out, they tied the game on Gary Maddox’s single. It should be noted that Maddox had been benched with Greg Luzinski and Bob Boone that day for manager Dallas Green for recent offensive struggles. The three were not happy, with Maddox going as far as to blame an article by young Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter Jayson Stark for his benching (seriously??). But Maddox redeemed himself. And after a hit by Keith Moreland and a walk to Larry Bowa, Manny Trillo singled home Maddox with the winning run.

This was a vital win for the Phillies, one needed to keep pace with the Expos, who won that night. The Phillies would go on to edge out the Expos in the final weekend of the season to win the division title. It probably wouldn’t have been possible without this win.

If you want to hear Jayson Stark’s take on this game, listen to this interview he did a few weeks ago

Roberto Clemente & the 1971 Pirates just wouldn’t lose

When I look back at a championship team, I like to try to find a game from their season that tells you that the championship was meant to be. Admittedly, it’s a bit contrived on my part, but I am a believer that championships are won long before the last pitch is thrown or last swing is taken.

In the case of the 1971 Pirates, I don’t profess to know them that well, but in looking at the box score of their game with the Padres on July 15, I’m of the belief that probably was their game to savor.

The Pirates trailed by a run in the bottom of the ninth inning. They trailed by a run in the bottom of the 13th inning. And they trailed by a run in the bottom of the 16th inning. And they won the game

The ninth-inning tying run came home on a sacrifice fly by Gene Alley. But the tying run in the 16th was a little more exciting. Padres pitcher Al Severinsen struck out the first two batters and then faced Willie Stargell, who had struck out four times and popped to third. But remember, this is Hall-of-Famer Willie Stargell and in what was a Hall-of-Fame kind of moment, Stargell homered to tie the game.

Richie Hebner had a similar moment, albeit this one with one out in the 16th inning, also homering to tie the game.

Since the Padres seemingly refused to win this one (their 61-100 record makes sense), it was left to another Hall-of-Famer to end this one. Roberto Clemente came up with one out in the bottom of the 17th inning. He was 0-for-7 for the game. Guess what?

He homered to right field to win the game.

The Pirates went on to win the World Series, beating the Orioles in 7 games. They won Game 7 in Baltimore to clinch the series, with Clemente hitting the go-ahead home run. They knew that was doable from winning games like this one.

The night Reggie Jackson won an epic Yankees-Red Sox game

Before Reggie Jackson was Mr. October, he was Mr. September.

I’m referring to a classic game between the Yankees and Red Sox from September 14, 1977. The Yankees had a 2 1/2 game lead over Boston and a 3-game lead over Baltimore in the division race, with 17 left to play (the Red Sox had 18, the Orioles had 19).

It was the middle game of a three-game series, the Yankees having won the night before. The younger generation doesn’t remember this game, but for fans a little older than I am, I imagine it’s an instant classic.

For the first eight and a half innings, the game was dominated by great defensive plays, of which Jackson had two including one that might have been a home run robbery, and missed opportunities, of which the Red Sox had many. The Red Sox were 0-for-5 with a man on third base in this game against Ed Figueroa, with the outs coming from Carl Yastrzemski (twice), Butch Hobson, Carlton Fisk, and Fred Lynn. The most frustrating of those was Lynn’s bases-loaded no-outs double play in the fifth inning.

The score stayed even until the bottom of the ninth when Thurman Munson singled. The next at-bat was a second-guessers delight on a couple of fronts. On the Boston side, many wondered why Don Zimmer stuck with Reggie Cleveland instead of going to top reliever Bill Campbell to pitch to Reggie Jackson. On the Yankees side, Jackson being asked to bunt, not once but twice, was a puzzle. He hadn’t bunted in a regular season game since the 1972 season.

The bunt sign came off by the time the count was 3-2 and Jackson followed with a 430-foot walk-off home run. It was the kind of moment the Yankees paid big money for when they signed him.

“We’re going to win the pennant,” said Yankees manager Billy Martin to the media afterwards. “I never doubted that. This is the kind of team that rises to the big occasion.”

None was better at that than Jackson, from whom the postgame comments (recorded by Michael Farber of the Bergen Record) were priceless.

“It’s like a fairy tale,” Jackson said. “It’s exciting. You feel everybody loving you. Everyone appreciating you … The more talent someone has, the more someone gets involved and the more he needs to be appreciated … Steinbrenner gave me a lot of bread. I went for the money. I went to New York and tonight was a situation in which I almost had to do something. In the on-deck circle, I prayed to God to let me hit one out and that I would tell everyone you did it. I hit it right on the screws, right on the joy spot.”

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