What was Willie McCovey’s best walk-off?

Back in the day I used to log and write about Mets walk-off wins. It was a hugely fun project, the remnants of which you can find at MetsWalkoffs.com.  

 I was feeling nostalgic this offseason and thought I’d revisit my past, only make it all-inclusive. As such, I’m going to write about walk-offs, maybe not every day, but regularly. I don’t know how many I’ll do, but my goal is to get something representing each team at least once. I’ll do both memorable games and obscure ones.

 With that said, let’s Make Every Win A Walk-Off

Willie McCovey was a true Giant of the Game.

McCovey died on Halloween night and I thought it would be topical to reminisce. I never saw McCovey play, but I’ve talked to those who did (he was a favorite of my dad’s). He’s a Hall-of-Famer whose career began with 4 hits in a start against another Hall-of-Famer (Robin Roberts). McCovey finished with 521 career home runs and his best-known moment was almost a walk-off — the line drive to Bobby Richardson that ended the 1962 World Series in a harsh 1-0 defeat against the Yankees (“Why couldn’t McCovey have hit the ball just two feet higher” is a famous Charlie Brown wail of anguish). It was almost one of the greatest walk-offs in baseball history. Instead, it was a reminder that sometimes in life we try our best and come up just a smidge short.

It got me wondering — what was the best walk-off of McCovey’s career?

A sentimental choice would be his last one, an RBI double about a week before his final game, against the Dodgers in June 1980. And I’m guessing if you’re a Giants fan in your late 40s or early 50s, this might be the best one you remember.

But I like another one I found. It came against the Mets, a team he owned to a .299/.392/.597 line with 48 home runs in his career (his work against the Mets was resembling of Ryan Howard’s). McCovey, Willie Mays and pitcher Juan Marichal all OWNED the Mets.

Marichal took a 17-0 record against them into a game between the teams on September 17, 1966. He looked to be headed to 18-0 after McCovey homered on a changeup from Dennis Ribant in the 4th inning and another one on a fastball in the fifth inning, this one traveling an estimated 450 feet (the game story in the San Francisco Examiner provided fantastic detail). Marichal also had an RBI single and the Giants led 3-0 after five innings.

Amazingly, the Mets rallied on back-to-back home runs by Ken Boyer and Al Luplow in the sixth and a two-run shot by Luplow in the eighth to take a 4-3 lead. When McCovey popped out to start the home eighth inning, the Mets looked to be in good shape.

Not so fast.

Jim Ray Hart tied the game with a home run with two outs in the ninth inning (after the previous hitter, Cap Peterson had been thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple). The Mets hopes of beating Marichal were done.

With two outs and a runner on second in the 10th inning, Luplow had a chance for his third home run of the game, but he was intentionally walked. Ed Kranepool’s ground out ended the Mets last threat.

In the bottom of the 10th, Willie Mays singled with one out and went to second base on a passed ball. The Mets could have walked McCovey, as the Giants did Luplow, but with lefty Larry Miller on the mound, and the count 1-2, they took their chances.

Bad gamble.

Miller hung a curveball and McCovey one-handed it over the fence for both his third home run of the game and a walk-off winner. It would be a good discussion as to which was more impressive, this one-handed home run, or the one he hit the day before, described as going from 480 to 500 feet.

“I just hope this can get us going again,” McCovey said after the game. Alas, the Giants came up short of the pennant, which was won (again) by the rival Dodgers. But hits like this sealed McCovey’s place in Giants’ fans hearts.

San Francisco baseball FANS love their players. Look at the reverence they have for Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, or even Ryan Vogelsong and Hunter Pence. It’s a tradition and a history that Willie McCovey was an integral part of — and there was a lot more to his career than an almost.

MCCOVEY MINUTIAE
– McCovey led the majors in OPS in 1968, 1969 and 1970. No one would lead the majors in OPS in 3 straight seasons again until Barry Bonds did it from 2001 to 2004.

– McCovey’s best season was 1969 when he hit .320/.453/.656 with 48 home runs and 45 intentional walks, and won the NL Most Valuable Player award. The Mets tried a four-man outfield against him (which worked in one notable win), but he still hit .395/.547/.868 against them.

– McCovey is the only player with two 3-homer games against the Mets. He also hit 3 against them in 1963, though there was no walk-off that day.

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