All posts by Mark Simon

I am a researcher and writer at Sports Info Solutions in Bethlehem, Pa.

Wade Boggs impressed early and often

Red Sox manager Ralph Houk described Wade Boggs as his secret weapon just 15 games into Boggs’ career. Peter Gammons called him “Boston’s answer to the MX missile – nobody really knows about him, but he’s there for the striking.”

Though Boggs only hit .258 in those 15 games, he clearly did something to impress. Among that which he did was hitting a walk-off home run.

It was June 22, 1982 and to that point in the season, things were going pretty well for the Red Sox. Though the Brewers and Orioles would surpass them, at this point, it was possible to dream about meaningful October baseball, as the Boston 9 were in first place.

But in this game against the Tigers, they trailed 4-2 after Detroit scored twice in the eighth. That would not be enough for the Tigers to win. With a man on first and two outs in the ninth inning, Dwight Evans hit a dramatic home run against Tigers starter Milt Wilcox to tie the game.

The Red Sox lineup carried some significant heft. It included Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Evans and Tony Perez.

But Boggs would be the one to leave his mark on the night. In the 11th inning, he homered over the Green Monster in left field to win the game. It was the first home run of his MLB career. In the AP story, he notes that he almost tripped over first base watching it.

“Dwight had told me back in the eighth that if I got the ball out there I should try to drive it that way,” said Boggs (quotes via Gammons’ story in the Boston Globe. “So that’s just what I did.”

Wade Boggs Minutiae
– Boggs hit three walk-off home runs in his career, two with the Red Sox (the other in 1991) and one with the Yankees. By coincidence, the one for the Yankees in 1993 was his first home run with them and also came against the Tigers.

– Boggs didn’t have a walk-off in the World Series, but he did do something one of a kind. He has the only go-ahead walk in the ninth inning or later in World Series history (1996 Game 4 – Yankees vs Braves)

– One of my favorite things about Boggs is his guest-star appearance in the “Bar Wars” episode of Cheers. Boggs didn’t have a walk-off moment, but he did have a ran-off and a pants-off. Remember that he came to the bar as a reward for Cheers winning the prank battle with Gary’s Old Town Tavern. But the folks at the bar didn’t believe it was really Boggs, so they chased him out of the bar.

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This might be the Yankees weirdest win vs the Red Sox

There have been some amazing Yankees-Red Sox games in the last couple of decades. But I’ve got one with which you’re probably not familiar that may be the weirdest of them all.

It comes from September 5, 1957. The Yankees were trying to hold off the White Sox for the American League lead (they would) but had hit a little funk. They were without Mickey Mantle and trailing the Red Sox 2-0 entering the bottom of the eighth.

Mantle would make an appearance as a pinch-hitter with one on and two out in the eighth inning, drawing a controversial walk (the Red Sox thought they had strike three). The inning extended and the Yankees would eventually tie the game on Gil McDougald’s two-run single.

Closer Bob Grim replaced Bob Turley for the ninth inning and got into immediate trouble, allowing a leadoff double to Jackie Jensen, who advanced to third on a ground out. But Grim escaped, getting a comebacker and then a fly to right from opposing pitcher Willard Nixon. Yes, the pitcher batted in a key spot in the ninth inning. In fairness, Nixon was a good hitter. He batted .293 in 75 at-bats that season.

Perhaps Casey Stengel was inspired in seeing this. Or perhaps the Yankees were short bodies, having already used three pinch-hitters and a pinch-runner. In the bottom of the 10th, after Jerry Lumpe singled and Enos Slaughter walked with two outs, Grim was left in to bat for himself.

Grim was not Nixon. The Yankees pitcher was 4-for-his-last-61 at the plate, including 0-for-7 this season after going 1-for-16 in 1956. Stengel would later note that if he pinch-hit with Andy Carey, he’d have been forced to use a pitcher in the outfield because of the defensive changes. So Grim was left to bat with the game on the line.

But this is baseball, a sport in which the impossible and unbelievable happens with a greater frequency than is meant to be. Sure enough, Grim homered, an opposite-field shot into the first row in right field, giving the Yankees a walk-off win. “I was dumbfounded” he told reporters after the game, unable to identify the type of pitch he hit.

The Boston Globe shared a funny quote from Stengel afterwards.

“When he got to second base, he didn’t know what to do. He slowed down and looked over to the bench to see if he should keep on running for our first feller had already crossed home plate.”

It should be noted that Grim had three extra-base hits in his nine-year career. All of them were home runs.

1980 Phillies had a vital walk-off win in their World Series path

I’ve noted before that I enjoy walk-offs with a 6-5 final score, since that was the final score of the greatest walk-off of them all (the 1986 Mets beating the Red Sox in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series).

Turns out that the 1980 Phillies can stake a claim to a pretty cool 6-5 walk-off win on their way to a championship.

I’m referring to their 156th game of the season. They entered their game against the Cubs trailing the Expos by ½ a game in the standings after losing two of three to Montreal. A Bill Buckner (!) RBI double tied the score at two in the seventh inning and Steve Dillard’s RBI ground out put the Cubs ahead. But the Phillies tied the game in their half of the seventh on Pete Rose’s RBI grounder. That would be the last scoring for a while.

Among those who pitched in relief and pitched well were Hall-of-Famers Lee Smith and Bruce Sutter for the Cubs, and standouts Tug McGraw and Sparky Lyle for the Phillies. There was no more scoring in this one until the top of the 15th when the Cubs plated a pair of unearned runs, set up by an error by pitcher Dickie Noles.

But the Phillies weren’t done. Lonnie Smith led off the home 15th with a walk and Pete Rose followed with one as well. A wild pitch advanced each runner a base, and Bake McBride brought home Smith with a ground out.

Next up was Mike Schmidt, who won NL MVP that season and delivered countless big hits along the way. Not this time. With Rose representing the tying run on third base and one out, Schmidt popped out to second base.

The Phillies were undaunted. Down to their last out, they tied the game on Gary Maddox’s single. It should be noted that Maddox had been benched with Greg Luzinski and Bob Boone that day for manager Dallas Green for recent offensive struggles. The three were not happy, with Maddox going as far as to blame an article by young Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter Jayson Stark for his benching (seriously??). But Maddox redeemed himself. And after a hit by Keith Moreland and a walk to Larry Bowa, Manny Trillo singled home Maddox with the winning run.

This was a vital win for the Phillies, one needed to keep pace with the Expos, who won that night. The Phillies would go on to edge out the Expos in the final weekend of the season to win the division title. It probably wouldn’t have been possible without this win.

If you want to hear Jayson Stark’s take on this game, listen to this interview he did a few weeks ago

Roberto Clemente & the 1971 Pirates just wouldn’t lose

When I look back at a championship team, I like to try to find a game from their season that tells you that the championship was meant to be. Admittedly, it’s a bit contrived on my part, but I am a believer that championships are won long before the last pitch is thrown or last swing is taken.

In the case of the 1971 Pirates, I don’t profess to know them that well, but in looking at the box score of their game with the Padres on July 15, I’m of the belief that probably was their game to savor.

The Pirates trailed by a run in the bottom of the ninth inning. They trailed by a run in the bottom of the 13th inning. And they trailed by a run in the bottom of the 16th inning. And they won the game

The ninth-inning tying run came home on a sacrifice fly by Gene Alley. But the tying run in the 16th was a little more exciting. Padres pitcher Al Severinsen struck out the first two batters and then faced Willie Stargell, who had struck out four times and popped to third. But remember, this is Hall-of-Famer Willie Stargell and in what was a Hall-of-Fame kind of moment, Stargell homered to tie the game.

Richie Hebner had a similar moment, albeit this one with one out in the 16th inning, also homering to tie the game.

Since the Padres seemingly refused to win this one (their 61-100 record makes sense), it was left to another Hall-of-Famer to end this one. Roberto Clemente came up with one out in the bottom of the 17th inning. He was 0-for-7 for the game. Guess what?

He homered to right field to win the game.

The Pirates went on to win the World Series, beating the Orioles in 7 games. They won Game 7 in Baltimore to clinch the series, with Clemente hitting the go-ahead home run. They knew that was doable from winning games like this one.

The night Reggie Jackson won an epic Yankees-Red Sox game

Before Reggie Jackson was Mr. October, he was Mr. September.

I’m referring to a classic game between the Yankees and Red Sox from September 14, 1977. The Yankees had a 2 1/2 game lead over Boston and a 3-game lead over Baltimore in the division race, with 17 left to play (the Red Sox had 18, the Orioles had 19).

It was the middle game of a three-game series, the Yankees having won the night before. The younger generation doesn’t remember this game, but for fans a little older than I am, I imagine it’s an instant classic.

For the first eight and a half innings, the game was dominated by great defensive plays, of which Jackson had two including one that might have been a home run robbery, and missed opportunities, of which the Red Sox had many. The Red Sox were 0-for-5 with a man on third base in this game against Ed Figueroa, with the outs coming from Carl Yastrzemski (twice), Butch Hobson, Carlton Fisk, and Fred Lynn. The most frustrating of those was Lynn’s bases-loaded no-outs double play in the fifth inning.

The score stayed even until the bottom of the ninth when Thurman Munson singled. The next at-bat was a second-guessers delight on a couple of fronts. On the Boston side, many wondered why Don Zimmer stuck with Reggie Cleveland instead of going to top reliever Bill Campbell to pitch to Reggie Jackson. On the Yankees side, Jackson being asked to bunt, not once but twice, was a puzzle. He hadn’t bunted in a regular season game since the 1972 season.

The bunt sign came off by the time the count was 3-2 and Jackson followed with a 430-foot walk-off home run. It was the kind of moment the Yankees paid big money for when they signed him.

“We’re going to win the pennant,” said Yankees manager Billy Martin to the media afterwards. “I never doubted that. This is the kind of team that rises to the big occasion.”

None was better at that than Jackson, from whom the postgame comments (recorded by Michael Farber of the Bergen Record) were priceless.

“It’s like a fairy tale,” Jackson said. “It’s exciting. You feel everybody loving you. Everyone appreciating you … The more talent someone has, the more someone gets involved and the more he needs to be appreciated … Steinbrenner gave me a lot of bread. I went for the money. I went to New York and tonight was a situation in which I almost had to do something. In the on-deck circle, I prayed to God to let me hit one out and that I would tell everyone you did it. I hit it right on the screws, right on the joy spot.”

A walk-off binds Babe Ruth and the 1919 White Sox

Babe Ruth hit 12 walk-off home runs. I like the first one the best.

It came in the final home date of the season for the 1919 Red Sox, who failed to defend their World Series title. They were playing the White Sox, the team that was about to dethrone them as AL champs (and the team that would later deliberately lose the World Series to the Reds). The White Sox needed only one win in these two games to clinch the pennant.

But while there would be a celebration in Fenway Park that day, it would not be one for the visiting team.

The Red Sox took an early 3-0 lead in a game that Ruth started on the mound. He couldn’t hold it. He moved to left field with the score 3-3 in the sixth inning. The score stood that way until the home ninth when Ruth faced Lefty Williams (one of the “8 Men Out”).  Ruth’s opposite-field home run, over the high fence in left field ended the game. The ball was said to have gone through a window in a building across Landsdowne Street.

Wrote James O’Leary of the <em>Boston Globe:</em>

“…the efforts of the Roman populace were only murmurs compared with the vocal explosion with which upward of 31,000 baseball fans expressed their feelings at Fenway Park yesterday afternoon when Babe Ruth made his 27th home run of the season. Nothing like this demonstration was ever heard in Rome or anywhere.”

The home run being the 27th was notable in this regard. It tied the single-season record for home runs set by Ned Williamson of the Chicago White Stockings in 1884 (that was a fluke record – Williamson never hit more than nine home runs in any other season in his 13-year career).

In-between games, Ruth was honored by the Knights of Columbus for his remarkable season (little did they know, he’d be headed elsewhere in the offseason). Both teams participated in the ceremony (which I find fascinating). Ruth also donated the bat with which he hit the homer to the Liberty Loan Newsboys’ Association where it was to be auctioned for a memorial fund for a newsboy killed in World War I.

The second game didn’t feature a walk-off, but the <em>Globe</em> tells a story that I deem worth repeating. Ruth thought he had the record-breaking home run in that game, but umpire Bill Evans said the ball landed in play, then bounced a short fence in the outfield, behind which a few thousand people were crowding in. The paper describes an argument that took place later between the umpire and “a sergeant of the military guard” who brought with him a written statement from a fan saying that call should have been a home run.

“It would be well for you to attend to your police duties and leave the umpiring to me,” Evans said.

Ruth hit the record-breaking home run at the Polo Grounds a few days later against the Yankees.  This one was a game-tying home run in the ninth inning. This too was a mammoth shot, described by W.O. McGeehan of the <em>New York Tribune</em> as both the first ball to clear the right field roof of the Polo Grounds and the longest home run ever hit (!)

The 1919 White Sox clinched the AL pennant that same day. They would be bonded by their shared celebrity for the moment, but there was much more ahead for the Bambino and the Black Sox. That story had not yet been written.

Ruth minutiae

-Babe Ruth hit 5 of his 12 walk-off home runs against the White Sox. That included two in a three-day stretch in 1922 and a grand slam when down by three runs in 1925.

Ruth broke his home run record again in 1920. After finishing 1919 with 29 home runs, he walloped 54 in his first season with the Yankees. That time he tied the record with a walk-off home run against the St. Louis Browns and broke the mark with a home run against … the White Sox.

Note: If any of this was covered in Jane Leavy’s or Leigh Montville’s biographies of Ruth … I don’t have either book. This was just something I noticed that I thought was cool

Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that walk-off?

Jackie Robinson’s most memorable moment in the 1955 baseball season was a steal of home against the Yankees in the World Series. It’s a famous play, one that Yankees catcher Yogi Berra disputed until his death, claiming that Robinson should have been called out.

I’ve got a play from 1955 that involves Jackie Robinson touching home plate that is pretty cool, and there’s no disputing it.

It comes from a regular season game with the Cardinals on June 6. The Dodgers had already made the race for the NL pennant a runaway, winning 37 of their first 49 games. But it looked like on this day that the Cardinals had their number. They had a 4-1 lead through five innings and 28—year-old rookie standout Luis Arroyo on the mound.

Though the Cardinals were 20-26, Arroyo had been awesome, going 6-0 with a 1.56 ERA in his first eight appearances. This is the same Arroyo who was the closer on one of the greatest teams of all-time, the 1961 Yankees. But that was then and this is now.

The Dodgers rallied for two runs in the sixth, with Pee Wee Reese homering for one and an RBI ground out by Frank Kellert producing the other. Arroyo stuck it out and got through the seventh and eighth innings unscored upon to take a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth.

In today’s game, Arroyo would have been long gone and a parade of relievers would have tried to finish the Dodgers off. In 1955, Harry Walker let Arroyo stay in the game, even after walking Gil Hodges to lead off the home ninth.

What’s funny here is that if Robinson had done what he intended to do, Arroyo might have escaped unscathed. But Robinson’s two bunt attempts both went foul. The third try was a normal swing and turned out to be the charm – Robinson hit a game-winning home run to left center field.

It marked the third time in two seasons that Robinson beat the Cardinals with a walk-off hit, the second time he’d done it with a come-from-behind-walk-off home run. Difference being that this one is another chapter in the most memorable season in Brooklyn Dodgers history.

Robinson Minutiae

You would have thought that Robinson would have had a walk-off steal of home in his career, but he never did. The Dodgers didn’t have a walk-off steal of home in Robinson’s tenure. They did have one a year after he retired – Jim Gilliam had one against the Cardinals in 1957.

Robinson did a pretty good job tormenting the Cardinals, posting a .342 batting average against them, the highest for him against any team. Coincidentally, 1955 was his worst season against them. He hit .282.

The title of this blog post is a tribute to a song about Jackie Robinson called “Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?”