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.