Dwight Evans: a man of walks, and one good walk-off

I had been meaning to do a walk-off blog on Dwight Evans as a bit of a hello to my former boss at ESPN, but had briefly forgotten until a current colleague mentioned Evans’ Hall of Fame candidacy recently, as it is one that sabermetrician Bill James strongly supports.

Evans was one of those players who teeters between the Hall of Fame and the Hall of Very Good, with more teetering done the way of the latter. He was a star, but not a superstar. He’s someone who would have thrived in this era of MLB, given his combination of getting on base and hitting for power. He hit .272/.370/.470 with 385 home runs. He led the AL in walks three times, more than he led it in any other prominent offensive category.

Over a nine-year period from 1981 to 1980 he averaged 26 home runs and 95 walks per season, along with an .886 OPS. In that time, he’s one of the best hitters in baseball. Earlier in his career, he was one of the game’s top defensive outfielders, as he ranked top-two in outfield assists in four different seasons.

As far as walk-offs go, Evans isn’t known most for a walk-off he hit, but more one that he helped happen. He made a great catch in the 11th inning on a fly ball hit by Joe Morgan that he turned into a double play in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. An inning later, Carlton Fisk homered to win the game for Boston, one of the most famous home runs in World Series history.

Evans’ best walk-off moment came on June 23, 1990 in his final season with the Red Sox. This should be known as the day that Dwight Evans would not let the Red Sox lose.

Boston fell behind 2-1 in the eighth inning when second baseman Jody Reed made an error that allowed a run to score against ace pitcher Roger Clemens. In the bottom of the eighth, Evans came up with two outs and belted a game-tying home run against Orioles pitcher Dave Johnson.

The game went into extra innings, at which point Clemens departed for Rob Murphy, who allowed a go-ahead home run to Mickey Tettleton in the top of the 10th. The Orioles could have done further damage, but Joe Orsulak was thrown out at third base on a double steal.

In the Red Sox 10th, the first two hitters went down against Orioles closer Gregg Olson. But Tom Brunansky singled and pinch-runner Randy Kutcher advanced to second on a wild pitch with Evans at the plate.

The count on Evans went to 2-2. It should be noted that Olson hadn’t allowed a home run in more than a year. He was tough to hit with a sinker and a devastating curveball. But he threw Evans a high fastball, and Evans hit it over the Green Monster for a game-winning home run.

Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan compared Evans to Roy Hobbs. The Red Sox would go on to win the AL East, though they got swept by the Athletics in the ALCS. But Evans who was going to turn 39 that November was unceremoniously released.

The Orioles, perhaps liking what they saw from that walk-off, brought Evans in for the 1991 season. That was the final year of his career. And Evans got a little measure of revenge against his former team that September, recording a walk-off to beat them. Perhaps appropriately, it was a walk-off walk.

One of the resources I used for this blog was a game story written by Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. Nick died last week and though I didn’t know him, I did work with his son when I was at ESPN, and have read nothing but great things about him. My condolences to his family.

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