Bobby Bonds was a walk-off immortal

Before there was Barry Bonds, there was Bobby Bonds, and if you’re reading this you probably know that Bobby was a terrific player whose best years were almost entirely with the Giants. His potential to be an all-time great went unfulfilled, with alcoholism being one of the reasons why.

But we’re here to focus on more positive things and besides having a cool statline (332 home runs, 461 stolen bases), Bobby Bonds had a penchant for walk-offs in improbable Giants victories.

The first of those came on August 29, 1970 against the Pirates. The Pirates had one of their top pitchers pitching, Steve Blass. The Giants started a rookie, Skip Pitlock.

The early outcome was thus not too surprising. The Pirates led 5-0 after 3 ½ innings and 9-2 after Al Oliver’s RBI single in the eighth.

In the Giants eighth Blass started to falter. He allowed a two-run home run to Bonds’ mentor, baseball legend Willie Mays, then was hooked after a one-out double by Dick Dietz.

Pirates closer Dave Giusti saved 26 games that season, but couldn’t get the job done on this Saturday afternoon. He allowed a two-run home run to the first batter he faced, Jim Ray Hart. That cut the Pirates lead to 9-6. Giusti was then hooked after allowing a two-out double to Ron Hunt.

Pirates reliever Joe Gibbon looked like he was going to get out of the inning, inducing a ground ball from Willie McCovey. But an error by Pirates third baseman, ex-Giant Jose Pagan extended the inning and brought Bobby Bonds to the plate at the tying run.

Bonds would get his chance against the fourth pitcher of the inning, rookie John Lamb, who was in quite the predicament for his ninth career appearance. Bonds came up clutch, hitting a three-run home run against Lamb to tie the game.

The game remained tied until the bottom of the 10th. Hart’s single got the rally started and a bunt pushed him to second. With men on first and second and two outs, Bonds came up again. This time he singled, bringing in Hart with the winning run.

Flash forward three years later to May 1 1973. The Giants were 18-6 and looking impressive, though you wouldn’t know it by the 7,972 in attendance at Candlestick Park. This was a little more favorable pitching matchup for the Giants, with Ron Bryant facing Bob Moose of the Pirates.

But again, the early results favored the Pirates. Willie Stargell’s first- inning double brought home the first run. Subsequent Stargell hits extended the lead to 4-0 and 5-1, and by the bottom of the ninth, the Pirates had a seemingly insurmountable 7-1 lead. Their win probability was less than one percent.

Bonds led off the ninth with a walk, but two forceouts later, the Giants had only one out remaining. The last out never came.

Two walks loaded the bases for pinch-hitter Chris Arnold, who whacked his first career grand slam against Ramon Hernandez. A double by Gary Matthews and two walks loaded the bases for Bonds, with the Giants trailing 7-5 and Giusti trying to get the final out. Bonds was battling a virus and was eager for the game to end.

He ended it. Bonds smashed a double, scoring all three runs, making the Giants 8-7 winners.

Amazingly, on September 3 of that season, the Giants and rival Dodgers squared off in San Francisco. The Dodgers led that game 8-1 after 6 ½ innings. Guess what happened!

The Giants scored six runs in the bottom of the seventh, with Bonds driving in one with a ground rule double. That cut the Dodgers lead to 8-7.

Then, in the bottom of the ninth, a walk and two bunts that the Dodgers botched loaded the bases for Bonds with nobody out. Bonds’ grand slam was his fifth walk-off hit and third walk-off home run of the season. It knocked the Dodgers out of sole possession of first place in the NL West. The Reds would beat them out for the division.

To close our story, let’s fast forward to September 9, 1979, near the end of Bonds’ career. Now with the Indians, his team trailed the Blue Jays by five runs entering the bottom of the fourth inning.

The Indians scored five in the fourth, took the lead, then fell behind 10-9 in the eighth inning.

In the bottom of the ninth, Mike Hargrove’s RBI single tied the game. With runners on second and third and one out, Rick Manning was intentionally walked. Guess who was coming up next!

Bonds obliged with a walk-off grand slam, giving the Indians a 14-10 victory. This was a good day for Bonds to get on track. He’d met with management earlier in the day about issues with which he was dealing, along with his baseball struggles.

I feel like the current generation of baseball fans views David Ortiz as the standard setter for walk-off moments. And that’s a perfectly fair sentiment.

But before Ortiz, there were others, and one of them was Bobby Bonds.

Bonds may not be a baseball immortal, but he’s definitely a walk-off immortal in my book.

Notable Walk-Offs for Bobby Bonds
Team Situation Bonds did what
1970 Giants Trailed 9-2 in 8th Single in 10th
1973 Giants Trailed 7-1 in 9th 3-run double in 9th
1973 Giants Trailed 8-1 in 7th Grand slam in 9th
1979 Indians Trailed 6-1 in 4th Grand slam in 9th
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