Those of us who like sabermetrics tend to like a stat known as Win Probability Added (WPA).
WPA is a storytelling stat. It tells you which player’s actions contributed most to winning and losing the game, based on historical win probabilities. If your down is down by a run with two outs in the ninth inning and has a 5 percent chance of winning, but you hit a home run to up their chance of winning to 50 percent, you get credit for the difference between 50 percent and 5 percent (45 percentage points). Add all your plays together (positive and negative) and you get a number that represents your value to that win.
That brings us to the highest Win Probability Added in a walk-off, per Baseball-Reference.com’s statistical database. It belongs to Hall-of-Famer Kiki (pronounced KYE-KYE) Cuyler of the NL champion 1932 Cubs. He did it against the Giants on August 31 in what was a game worth recapping (for me) and reading about (for you).
It looked like a day that was going to go against the Cubs, who entered having won 11 straight games. Starting pitcher Lon Warneke faced five Giants and retired none before exiting down 3-0. Hall-of-Famers Bill Terry and Mel Ott accounted for the three Giants runs. Terry accounted for another with an RBI hit in the second inning.
Cuyler’s first moment of significant impact came in the third inning when he tripled in Hall-of-Fame teammate Billy Herman, then scored on a double by Riggs Stephenson. The Cubs trailed after three innings, 4-2, with rain briefly halting the contest. Each team scored once in the fourth and the 5-3 Giants edge held through seven innings.
In the eighth inning, Cubs player manager Charlie Grimm doubled in Stephenson, cutting the Giants lead to 5-4, though the rally died when Marv Gudat (pinch-hitting for Hall-of-Famer Gabby Hartnett) grounded out. I’m going to mention something rather innocuous here, but for a reason. Stan Hack pinch-ran for Grimm in the eighth and Zack Taylor filled Grimm’s spot in the lineup, replacing Hartnett behind the plate. I’ll explain why I reference this shortly, but understand that things will get a little kooky (not to be confused with Kiki, pronounced KYE-KYE).
Giants pitcher Freddie Fitzsimmons took that one run lead into the bottom of the ninth and got two outs, sandwiched around a hit by Frank Demaree. Woody English then singled Demaree to third, bringing Cuyler to the plate with the tying run 90 feet from scoring, but one out from defeat.
Cuyler came through with a game-tying single. For those curious, the Cubs’ win probability went from 20 to 61 percent. It dropped back to 50 after they failed to score another run in the home ninth. It was on to extra innings.
The top of the 10th was one wacky half inning. Cubs pitcher Guy Bush hit two batters and wild pitched in a run. The Giants scored four runs and could have had more but for Terry getting thrown out attempting to go to second on his single, and Hughie Critz being thrown out at home plate trying to score on Ott’s fly to left. But even though the Giants led by four runs, the top of the 10th had NOTHING on the bottom of the 10th.
Billy Jurges led off the bottom of the 10th for the Cubs against reliever Sam Gibson. By the way the game had gone, that meant he was hitting for Taylor. Jurges grounded out to third base and Gudat popped to third. Up came Mark Koenig, best known as the shortstop on the 1927 Yankees. He made like a member of Murderer’s Row and kept the game alive with a home run. This brought up pitcher Leroy Herrmann, who relieved Bush.
Except that it didn’t. For some reason unbeknownst to anyone, Taylor came to bat (the Baseball-Reference box score lists him in 2 spots!) And somehow, Terry, the Giants manager, didn’t notice. The Chicago Tribune devoted an entire article to this, sans quotes (funny that below an article largely about umps and rules was a story about a pro roller skater named Joe West!)
Taylor’s single extended the game a little longer. Singles by Herman and English followed, and suddenly the Cubs had their man Cuyler up, down by two runs with two on and two outs in the 10th.
And Cuyler came through! His three-run home run won the game for the Cubs. It upped the Cubs chance of winning from 9 percent to 100 percent. Cuyler tormented the Giants all season, driving in 25 runs in 21 games. There are a few postscripts from this game. One is that Gibson and Cuyler would meet again in the 11th inning on September 15 and Cuyler would hit a game-winning home run. It was the next-to-last game of Gibson’s career.
Edward Burns wrote the game story in the Tribune, and I’ll close with his open. He described it as “as ferocious a rampage as baseball fans ever beheld” and noted that Cuyler was mobbed by fans after the game. “He was rescued by ushers with some difficulty.”