Hometown Hrbek a walk-off king

Loyal reader and Twitter follower Jim Passon suggested this player as a subject.

I like a hometown boy makes good story in baseball. You know what I like even more? When a hometown boy makes good with walk-offs.

One really good example of that is Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek, a Minneapolis product who went from 17th-round pick to a key player on two World Series championship teams.

Hrbek impressed enough to jump from Class-A to the major leagues in 1981 and made an immediate impact, hitting a game-winning home run in the 12th inning at Yankee Stadium in his first major league game.

But here we’re concerned with walk-offs and Hrbek has a significant distinction. In 1987, when the Twins won their first title since moving to Minnesota, Hrbek had a franchise single-season record five walk-off RBIs. The mark has not been matched or bettered since, not by Kirby Puckett, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, or Joe Mauer.

If you were looking for a sign that this was going to be the Twins season, you might have found it on Opening Day when the Twins faced the Athletics. Center fielder Kirby Puckett had a highlight-show kind of game, hitting a home run and robbing Mickey Tettleton of a go-ahead home run in the 10th inning. But it was Hrbek who had the final say.

First, he drove Puckett in from third with the tying run on a groundout in the eighth inning. Then, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th, he singled to left center off reliever Bill Krueger to win the game.

What did manager Tom Kelly tell Hrbek before he got to the plate?

“Not to try to be Superman,” Hrbek told reporters after the game.

Supermanning when it came to walk-offs was a team effort.

The 1987 Twins won 16 games via walk-off, one shy of the most in the time for which Baseball-Reference has data (1908 to 2018). Hrbek, the hometown guy, was their leader in walk-off magic.

Most Walk-Off Wins (1908-2018)

(* = won World Series)

1977 Pirates 17
1959 Pirates 17
1997 Marlins 16*
1987 Twins 16*
1943 Yankees 16*
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