Category Archives: Make Every Win A Walk-Off

Lou Whitaker was master of the walk-off comeback hit

In the last 50 years, 2 players have 7 regular season walk-off hits that came when his team was trailing. Those are what we could call “walk-off comeback hits.”

I think it’s pretty cool that the players were teammates for a time – Lou Whitaker and Kirk Gibson.

I’m going to focus on Whitaker and save Gibson for another time, because of the pertinence with the recent Hall of Fame election. Whitaker is a highly-worthy candidate for induction. He’s not a perfect candidate, but he’s quite good and compares favorably to other second basemen both historically and within his era.

And he has the added bonus of being awesome at walk-offs.

Whitaker totaled 20 walk-off RBIs in a 19-year career that spanned nearly 10,000 plate appearances. And as noted, he had seven walk-off RBIs in situations in which his team trailed at the time of the plate appearance.

What’s amazing about Whitaker’s seven is how he clustered them. He had three as a rookie in 1978 and three in the final two seasons of his career.

I like his last walk-off hit because it was the last of the 2,369 hits recorded in his major league career.

It came on September 13 1995 in a game against the Brewers. The game itself was relatively meaningless. Neither the Tigers nor the Brewers were anywhere close to the division lead (the Brewers were on the outer edge of the Wild Card race). There were fewer than 9,000 fans in the stands on a Wednesday afternoon, a few weeks before the season was set to end. Whitaker and Trammell each got a rare start as it seemed to be known their time was coming to an end.

But this was a sentimental day of sorts, one in which Whitaker and Alan Trammell played in their 1,915th game as teammates, breaking an AL mark set by George Brett and Frank White. “We’ve been together longer than lots of husbands and wives,” Whitaker told reporters.

The Brewers took a 3-1 lead in the seventh inning when David Hulse hit a two-run home run. Phil Nevin got a run back in the home half when he homered, but the Tigers failed to tie after putting runners on first and second with nobody out.

The score remained 3-2 going into the home ninth. Nevin led off with a single against Mike Fetters. John Flaherty got down a successful bunt to push pinch-runner Todd Steverson to second base. Chad Curtis walked on a 3-2 pitch to bring Whitaker to the plate.

It didn’t take long for the game to be resolved. Whitaker hit a three-run home run into the second deck in right field.

“I was just hoping I remembered what to do out there,” Whitaker told reporters.

The front page headline of the Detroit Free Press sports section got it right.

“SWEET!”

Lou Whitaker Minutiae
– Whitaker hit eight walk-off home runs. Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index dates to 1925. Whitaker has the most of any Tigers player in that span.

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One more unusual Yankees-Red Sox walk-off

Alright, let’s do one more from the weird walk-offs file in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

The Yankees-Red Sox game on September 28, 1987 was a doozy. A meaningless doozy, but a doozy nonetheless. Neither team was in the race for the division lead. Based on my reading of the next day’s newspapers, it’s safe to say both squads were playing out the string.

The Red Sox scored five runs in the top of the first inning, and neither team would have probably minded if the game had stopped right there. Attendance was sparse, at least per the Boston Globe which likened it to a crowd from the Horace Clarke 1960s days. Mike Greenwell doubled in two runs. Jody Reed tripled in three. After Sam Horn homered in the fourth inning, the score was 7-0 Red Sox.

The Yankees chipped away gradually. Rickey Henderson homered in the sixth inning. Willie Randolph and Don Mattingly each drove in a run in the seventh. The score was now 7-3. The Red Sox didn’t help themselves, failing to score with the bases loaded and no outs in the seventh and after putting the first two men on base in the eighth inning.

It was still a four-run lead for Boston entering the bottom of the ninth. But not for long. A double and walk started things for the Yankees and chased Jeff Sellers in favor of Wes Gardner. That didn’t help.

Gardner walked Willie Randolph to load the bases. Don Mattingly followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 7-4. Dave Winfield then doubled and suddenly it was 7-5. Out went Gardner, in came Joe Sambito to pitch to Mike Pagliarulo try to close the deal (Sambito’s an agent now). Yankees manager Lou Piniella countered with veteran infielder Jerry Royster as a pinch-hitter. Royster came through, doubling home two runs to tie the game.

How many pitchers can combine to cough up a baseball game? In this case, the answer was four. Calvin Schiraldi replaced Sambito. Piniella sent up another pinch-hitter, lefty-swinging Mike Easler to bat for Gary Ward.

Easler, known as Hit Man, had three at-bats left in his 15-year major league career. He went out in memorable fashion in this game, hitting a game-winning two-run home run into the upper deck.

The one other person who deserves recognition for this game is Bill Fulton. Fulton pitched the eighth and ninth innings, did not allow a run, and recorded his first MLB win in his third career appearance.

It was also his last. He never pitched in the major leagues again.

Thanks to Jason Southard for tipping me off to this game.

Edgar Martinez, Roy Halladay linked by walk-off

Today is a day to remember July 29, 2000.

It was on that day that the Blue Jays and Mariners played 13 innings in Seattle. The Mariners were a good team, one that would go on to lose to the Yankees in the ALCS. The Blue Jays were alright, finishing 83-79, which wasn’t enough to make the postseason.

The Mariners took a 3-0 lead in the third inning on a home run by Joe Oliver and a two-run double by John Olerud. The Blue Jays scored the next five, with the go-ahead hit coming from Craig Grebeck against Jamie Moyer in the fifth inning. The Mariners rallied to tie with two runs in the sixth inning. Oliver’s RBI double drove in one and Stan Javier’s single brought in the other.

This isn’t particularly notable yet, but the key to the story is coming soon enough. The two teams went scoreless in the seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th, and 12th. The Mariners loaded the bases in the 10th, but Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson struck out and future Reds manager David Bell flied out to keep the game going.

In the 13th inning, Blue Jays manager Jim Fregosi handed the ball to a struggling pitcher whose ERA was over 10. This wasn’t one of those 10-something ERAs in five innings. This was a 10.48 ERA in 62 2/3 innings of work, with 92 hits and 40 walks allowed.

Henderson led off with a single. Bell tried to bunt and ended up safe at first with Henderson going to second when catcher Alberto Castillo’s throw was late. Alex Rodriguez had a chance to win the game, but settled for advancing the baserunners one stop with a line drive single to center.

This brought up the Mariners designated hitter, who entered the day batting .349. This wasn’t one of those .350 in 75 at-bats guys. This was .349 over 332 at-bats of excellence.

And that’s how Roy Halladay came to face Edgar Martinez with the game on the line.

Martinez worked the count to 2-1 and hit a line drive single to center to win the five-hour long game. It was all part of a great night and great season for Martinez, who after the game served as grand marshal of the Torchlight Parade in the city.

That had to be a tough walk off the mound for Halladay. There were no parades thrown for him. In fact, he was sent to the minors a few days after this game, didn’t pitch again in the major leagues again until September, and he got hit hard in two of his final three appearances to finish with a 10.64 ERA, the worst by any pitcher with at least 50 innings pitched in a season.

Martinez played that season and then four more after that before retiring at age 41. He finished with a .312/.418/.515 slashline and is arguably the best designated hitter of all-time.

Halladay’s greatness had not yet fully surfaced. He returned to the majors in 2001 a different pitcher, thanks to both physical and mental coaching that got him right. By 2002 he was on a path that made him one of the game’s most dominant pitchers for the rest of the decade. Halladay became an eight-time All-Star and two-time Cy Young Award winner. Winner is a key phrase here, as even in an era in which we discount pitcher wins, we can still marvel at his 203-105 mark.

Today, they are united again, as Hall of Fame inductees. Martinez actually has a similar bond with Mariano Rivera — Martinez got the winning hit in Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS. Rivera got a key strikeout to keep the game tied a few innings prior.

It just goes to show you that you never know where a player’s path might someday lead.

The Yankees really lost, but walked off winners

A couple of people have contested my proclamation that the walk-off home run by weak-hitting pitcher Bob Grim produced the strangest walk-off win in the history of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

One game they cite is a favorite of Don Mattingly’s and for good reason, I suppose. It took place on September 18, 1993. The Yankees were in second place, chasing the first-place Blue Jays, three games back with 13 to play. The Red Sox were slightly above .500, but basically out of the race.

Boston played spoiler early. Mo Vsughn’s two-run home run against Jimmy Key in the first inning gave the Red Sox a 2-0 lead. A third-inning bases-loaded walk by Carlos Quintana made it 3-0. Paul O’Neill’s seventh-inning home run against Nate Minchey cut the lead to 3-1, but that’s where the game stayed until there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.

The rally began with the Yankees win probability at two percent when Mike Gallego got hit by a pitch. Than things got goofy. Mike Stanley hit what appeared to be a game-ending popout to left field, except that prior to the pitch, umpire Tim Welke called time because a teenage fan had sprinted onto the field.

The fan did not interfere with the play in any way (Filip Bondy of the Daily News talked to police officers who said the kid was crying, regretted what he did, and was let go). Had play continued, the catch would have counted and the game would have been over. No dice.

Stanley promptly singled to put the tying runs on base. Next came Wade Boggs, whose ground ball in the first base-second base hole was fielded on a dive by Scott Fletcher. Boggs was safe at first and Gallego scored to make it 3-2. Dion James then drew an eight-pitch walk from Greg Harris to load the bases for Mattingly.

On a 1-1 pitch, Mattingly hit a ground-ball single in the hole scoring both pinch-runners Gerald Williams and Andy Stankiewicz to win the game. As Jim Kaat said on the CBS broadcast, never before had a team celebrated so much for a game that it had really lost.

“We were all trying to get the fan in here,” Stanley told reporters afterwards. “He’s probably the MVP of the game.”

This game is well remembered by the diehardest Yankees fans (and Mattingly), but it’s not in my pantheon of all-time Yankees wins. Perhaps that’s because of what happened next.

It might have been baseball karma that bit this team, because the Yankees lost their next five games to fall out of the division race.

Tony Pérez was a walk-off standout

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.