Category Archives: Make Every Win A Walk-Off

Remembering Ty Cobb’s only walk-off HR

Baseball legend Ty Cobb had a reputation for being a very angry man.

I’d hate to have seen him had his Tigers lost the game they played against the White Sox on June 2, 1925.

Cobb was then the Tigers player- manager, running a team that was presently an unsatisfactory 19-26. A baseball writer from New York, John Foster, wrote a column that ran in some papers that day saying that the Tigers should be better than their record and that their batters should be hitting up near .300. He picked a good time to write that story.

The Tigers got off to a good start in this one. Cobb’s double was part of a four-run first inning for the Tigers. By the sixth inning, the Tigers had a 15-5 lead. Frank O’Rourke had a home run and four RBIs. Fred Haney (a future manager) drove in three. Pitcher Hooks Dauss even chipped in a pair of RBIs.

But 15 runs would not be enough to win on this day. The White Sox scored seven runs in the seventh to cut the lead to 15-12, then tallied three runs in the ninth to tie the game, 15-15.

The Detroit Free Press noted that Cobb must have walked 20 miles in the game, most notably for the (gasp!) four pitching changes he made, a volume of moundsman usage that was not common at the time. The game stretched into a (double-gasp!) third hour.

Cobb took matters into his own hands. The 43rd hit of this game was Cobb’s only career walk-off home run. The Tigers more than hit .300 in that game. Their batters went a combined 22-for-42 (.524).

And though this game didn’t spark a turnaround, the Tigers did eventually get on to winning ways. They finished 81-73, a respectable fourth place in the American League.

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Oh doctor! Stan Musial among the walk-off legends

Cardinals legend Stan Musial hit 12 walk-off home runs in his career. That’s one shy of Jim Thome’s all-time record, though if you count All-Star Games in the mix, they’re even. Musial hit one in the 1955 midsummer contest.

I prefer the regular-season stuff and I’m going to salute a bunch of his 12 walk-offs.

The first two come from 1946. On July 14, the first-place Dodgers were in town for a doubleheader, with nearly 34,000 on hand to watch at Sportsman’s Park. This was still a time when the starting pitcher pitched and pitched and pitched, and if he was doing well, he pitched some more. Both starters, Vic Lombardi and Murray Dickson, each allowed one run through 11 innings. Dickson pitched a scoreless 12th. Lombardi was not so lucky. He allowed a walk-off home run to Musial to start the bottom of the 12th.

Musial’s other one came on August 22 against the Phillies and it moved the Cardinals into a first-place tie with the Dodgers. This time, the beneficiary was Howie Pollet, who pitched 4 1/3 innings of scoreless relief after Dickson was charged with six runs. The Cardinals had blown a 6-2 lead in the eighth inning, but Musial took care of matters with a 12th-inning walk-off home run vs Andy Karl. As an aside, I chuckled when I saw the name of the author of the game story in the Post Dispatach: Dent McSkimming.

We mention these two walk-off home runs because they were of vital importance. The Cardinals won the pennant by two games over the Dodgers. They went on to beat the Red Sox in seven games to win the World Series.

Next, I want to focus on the 1948 season, not a championship year for the Cardinals, but there was some fun to be had nonetheless. On August 26, the Cardinals and Giants matched up for a doubleheader. The Cardinals swept it, winning 7-2 and 7-5, with the latter victory coming on Musial’s walk-off home run.

“It was about time,” Musial said of the home run, which the newspaper noted with a chuckle (if a newspaper could laugh) broke an 0-for-4 slump.

After a day off (which I believe was a rainout), the team’s played another doubleheader. In the first game, the Cardinals trailed early 4-0, but Musial’s two run single brought them within a run at 4-3 in the fifth inning. They’d tie the game in the sixth inning.

Musial won it in the 12th with a home run, giving him the unlikely feat of a walk-off home run in back-to-back games.

A postscript: The Cardinals won Game 2 of the doubleheader by walk-off, scoring four runs in the ninth inning, the last of which came in on a passed ball.

Musial’s last walk-off home run was epic, not for its impact on the Cardinals hopes, but for what it did for that particular game. On June 5, 1962, the Cardinals trailed the Reds 9-1 in the sixth inning, with the Reds’ last three runs coming on Frank Robinson’s home run. Cardinals manager Johnny Keane was so mad at his pitcher, Ray Sadecki, he fined him $250 for poor performance. Sadecki subsequently asked to be traded. Good thing he wasn’t – he won 20 games for the 1964 champs.

But back to this game, which might have been worse but for Musial throwing out a runner at the plate in the fourth inning. But the Cardinals had some fight in them. They scored three in the sixth and then tied the game with five runs in the seventh. Bill White hit a three-run home run to get it to 9-7 and Ken Boyer tied the game with a two-run homer (scoring Musial ahead of him).

In the 10th inning, the Reds brought in Dave Sisler to pitch in relief. You might recall a few days ago that Sisler was the losing pitcher in a game that the Senators were beating the Red Sox 12-5 with two outs in the ninth inning. This time, he’d be the losing pitcher in a game in which his team blew an eight-run lead.

Musial beat Sisler and the Reds with a walk-off home run in the 11th.

It was a sweet victory for the Cardinals and for Musial, who had been given an honorary doctorate of humanities by Monmouth College (Illinois) the day before (Musial’s son graduated from there).

They should have given him a doctorate of walk-off home runs.

The best Stan Musial stat
Hall of Fame honoree sportswriter Claire Smith stopped me in the hallway after Musial died to ask me what I thought was the best Musial stat.

“1,815 hits at home, 1,815 on the road,” I said.

“No,” she said. “72 … for 72 years of marriage.”

That definitely beats out the walk-off home runs too! 🙂

The greatest walk-off rally you never heard of

Baseball-Reference recently added a phenomenal feature to its site which allows you to look at the greatest comebacks in the timespan for which they have play-by-play data.

It is there that I learned of the baseball game between the Senators and Red Sox on June 18, 1961.

This was the first game of a doubleheader. The Senators had lost their last two games, but were a respectable 30-32. The Red Sox were 30-30. Neither would challenge the amazing 1961 Yankees for AL supremacy, but these were respectable squads at the time.

This game turned interesting in the fourth inning, when the Senators scored their first run and the Red Sox scored their first two. In the fifth inning, a two-run home run by first baseman Dale Long (who once homered in eight consecutive games) put the Senators ahead 5-2.

After six innings and more scoring by players you probably don’t know (Pete Daley and Don Buddin homered), the score was 7-5 in favor of the Senators.

In the ninth inning, the Senators got the insurance runs that most teams need. Centerfielder Willie Tasby hit a grand slam, one of a career-high 17 home runs he’d hit that season. Tasby had been on the Red Sox the previous season, so that home run must have felt pretty good. Heading to the bottom of the ninth, the Senators led the Red Sox, 12-5.

Pitcher Carl Mathias needed three outs for a complete game in what was his first start of the season. He got the first, coaxing a ground out from Vic Wertz. Buddin singled, but Billy Harrell struck out. At that point, trailing 12-5 with a man on first base and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox win probability was .02 percent. Not 2 percent, but .02 percent.

The third out proved to be one of the most elusive in baseball history. Chuck Schilling (not Curt) singled. Carroll Hardy singled, scoring Buddin. Gary Geiger walked.

Mathias was removed in favor of Dave Sisler (son of George) with the score 12-6. But Sisler may not have been ready to enter. We say that because he walked the first two batters, forcing in two runs. Although a closer look shows that Sisler walked 7 batters per 9 innings, so that wasn’t that surprising a result.

Now, the score had gone from 12-5 to 12-8 and the Red Sox had the bases loaded and the tying run at the plate with two outs. Catcher Jim Pagliaroni would face Sisler with the game on the line.

Thanks to the wonderful SABR-written bio of Pagliaroni, I can tell you that two years later, Pagliaroni would get some coaching from Dave Sisler’s father, a Hall of Famer. I can also tell you that Pagliaroni sounds like a pretty good guy. He worked closely with the MLBPA as a player rep, raised money for the Baseball Assistance Team and MLBPA Alumni Association, as well as the ALS Association, where his connection was being the catcher for Catfish Hunter’s perfect game. He was also a partner in a renewable energy project development company.

It’s often said that good things happen to good people. That day, they happened for Pagliaroni in a big way. As you might guess, he hit a grand slam to tie the game, 12-12.

Wertz, up for the second time in the inning walked, leading to Sisler being pulled in favor of Marty Kutnya. That didn’t help. Buddin singled, advancing Wertz to second base, where he was replaced by pinch-runner Pete Runnels. Russ Nixon pinch-hit for Harrell, which made sense given that Harrell was hitting .176. Sure enough, Nixon singled in Runnels with the winning run. Final score: Red Sox 13, Senators 12.

As if that wasn’t enough, Game 2 of the doubleheader went 13. There were no furious Red Sox comebacks in this one, just a walk-off home run by Pagliaroni(!) in the bottom of the 13th.

The Red Sox finished the season a rather unmemorable 76-86, so this game is just a footnote in another of the many seasons of frustration from 1919 to 2003.

The poor Senators took awhile to win another game. They ended up losing 10 straight. The Washington team that went 30-30 in its first 60 games went 31-70 in its last 101. Ouch.

Hank Aaron’s last walk-off home run was a great one

Happy birthday Hank Aaron!

The baseball legend of legends turns 85 today. It’s kind of cool how his birthday is one day and Babe Ruth’s is the next. That’s baseball.

But what we’re here to talk about are walk-offs. Aaron had nine walk-off home runs. He hit one that won a pennant for the Braves in 1957, and if you look online, you can find stories and references to that one. So I’m not going to review it.

Here, we like to cite the walk-offs that you might not know about. And I learned today that Hank Aaron’s next-to-last home run was a walk-off. That’s the one I wish to bring up.

It came in the second game of a doubleheader between the Brewers and Rangers in Milwaukee County Stadium. The Brewers won the opener, which Aaron didn’t play in, 6-3, beating future Hall-of-Famer Bert Blyleven in the process.

Aaron started the second game as the Brewers DH. They had won the last four games that he started. He had homered in the most recent one, the 753rd of his career.

This was a hot day. The Baseball-Reference.com box score listed the temperature in the low 90s. And fans had to sweat this game out.

The Rangers took a 2-0 lead in the second inning on a two-run home run by their future GM and future broadcaster, Tom Grieve. It took until the seventh inning to tie it. Bernie Carbo did so with a two-run home run of his own.

But the Rangers responded with two runs in the eighth inning. Future MLB manager Mike Hargrove got the go-ahead hit. The score held at 4-2 until the bottom of the ninth.

With one out, Gorman Thomas tripled and Carbo singled him in. Von Joshua flied to center for the second out, leaving the Brewers one out from defeat. But Darrell Porter walked to advance the tying run to second base.

This brought up the 20-year-old third-year shortstop, who was batting leadoff in this game, Robin Yount. As in, future Hall-of-Famer Robin Yount. Yount was 21 and a half years younger than Aaron. In fact, Yount was born on September 16, 1955. Aaron was batting cleanup for the Milwaukee Braves against the Cardinals that day.

But this Yount was not yet the Yount who would win the AL MVP. In fact, this Yount, who was hitting well at the time, would close the season by hitting .205/.248/.240 in his last 72 games. That the Brewers ran him out every day says something about their belief that he’d come around.

On this day, the clutch Yount emerged. He singled home the tying run.

That allowed Aaron to win the game with his home run in the bottom of the 10th inning. The win completed a five-game sweep of the Rangers. The crowd stuck around after the game, cheering for Aaron to do a curtain call. He had to come back from the locker room to salute them.

It was a nice way for the old and the new to blend together to produce a pretty cool baseball moment.

“The home run I hit in 1957 against the St. Louis Cardinals, which won the pennant was my biggest thrill here,” Aaron told reporters after the game. “But I’d have to say this ranks second.”

That time Boston beat Los Angeles by walk-off

Thought it would be appropriate to do a walk-off in which Boston defeated Los Angeles and to do that, we flash back to June 11, 2004, a time when the Red Sox were not yet thought of as dynastic, but were on their way through the most memorable season in franchise history.

They were facing the Dodgers on a Friday night in Boston. Much like Sunday’s Super Bowl, this game was a low-scoring struggle. Neither team scored through the first six-and-a-half-innings. It was a good pitcher’s duel between Red Sox starter Derek Lowe and Dodgers pitcher Odalis Perez.

Boston scored in the seventh on a home run by (surprise) David Ortiz. That was that until the top of the ninth, and this is the part I like a lot.

Keith Foulke got the first two Dodgers out, which left the game up to none other than the No. 9 hitter, Red Sox-manager-to-be Alex Cora.

Cora reached on an infield single, keeping the game alive for … none other than current Dodgers manager and future Red Sox postseason hero Dave Roberts (how great is that?).

Except Jim Tracy pulled Roberts back and sent up a pinch-hitter, Olmedo Saenz. That seems a little odd given that Roberts was 2-for-4 in the game. Nonetheless, Saenz hit a fly ball to left field that should have ended the game. But the ball got caught in a stiff wind and Manny Ramirez muffed it. Cora came all the way around to score to tie the game.

“There goes my Gold Glove,” Ramirez told reporters with a laugh, after the game.

Foulke got the next batter out and the Red Sox went to work to end the game in the home ninth. It only took three batters. Johnny Damon led off with a walk against Dodgers lefty Tom Martin. Mark Bellhorn than had what might have been the at-bat of the game, doubling on Martin’s ninth pitch to advance Damon to third.

Given the choice of pitching to Ortiz with runners on second and third or Ramirez with the bases loaded, the Dodgers went after Ortiz. Note to self: Don’t ever pitch to David Ortiz in a walk-off situation.

Ortiz singled on a hanging 0-2 curveball to win the game.

It wasn’t the only time Ortiz would win a game vs a franchise from that part of California in walk-off fashion that season. Remember that Ortiz hit a walk-off home run to beat the Angels in Game 3 of that year’s ALDS. This was just the warm-up.

(If the Rams had won, I was going to something on Jerry Goff’s only walk-off RBI. We’ll save that for another day).

The time Tony Gwynn got himself out of a slump with a walk-off

I worked very briefly with Tony Gwynn at ESPN back in the days when my job was to send Xeroxes of newspaper articles and player bios to the broadcasters (circa 2002 and 2003). Tony’s most distinguishing characteristic as a TV person was that he was both very nice and VERY nervous. This was amusing given how nervous he must have made pitchers every time they had to try to get him out in a big spot.

Gwynn had eight career walk-off RBIs, including three against the Mets. It’s a testament to how good of a hitter he was to point out that six of those came against left-handed pitchers. Lefties, righties, ambidextrous, whatever, you don’t get Tony Gwynn out easily.

A devoted Padres fan might be able to point out a better one, but my favorite among his walk-offs came on June 5, 1996 against the Cardinals.

This was a scoreless game through five innings, a pitcher’s duel between Donovan Osborne of the Cardinals and Andy Ashby of the Padres. The Cardinals scored two runs in the sixth inning to go ahead, with Willie McGee driving in one and a wild pitch bringing in another. The Padres countered in the seventh with a sacrifice fly by Brian Johnson and a two-out single by Andujar Cedeno.

The Cardinals went ahead in the eighth inning on John Mabry’s hit. The Padres tried to counter in their half, as Rickey Henderson singled and Steve Finley doubled Henderson to third. But Gwynn, battling a bad heel, failed to come through against lefty reliever Rick Honeycutt, grounding out to the pitcher. Cory Bailey escaped the jam to keep the lead intact. The Cardinals then added a run in the ninth on an error by Cedeno to lead 4-2 going to the home ninth inning

Tony LaRussa let Bailey start the ninth for St. Louis and that didn’t work out. Jody Reed singled and Cedeno doubled Reed to third, at which point LaRussa brought in Tony Fossas. Here’s where things get a little odd. Tony’s brother, Chris Gwynn, who entered the game as a defensive replacement in the top of the ninth inning, hit a ground ball to shortstop for what should have been the first out. But a throwing error by Hall-of-Famer Ozzie Smith made Gwynn safe at first and brought in Reed to make it 4-3

With two on and nobody out, Padres manager Bruce Bochy asked Rickey Henderson to bunt. But Fossas fielded Henderson’s bunt and threw to third for a force out. Steve Finley then erased Henderson by grounding into a 3-6 force.

So now the Padres trailed 4-3 with first and third, two outs in the ninth inning, and Tony Gwynn coming up against Fossas, who had held Gwynn hitless in five previous at-bats. Gwynn was in a 7-for-37 slump. The drama made for a cool moment.

And even cooler was what happened. Tony Gwynn hit a walk-off three-run home run on a hanging curveball, scoring his brother in front of him. It was Gwynn’s first home run of the season and he struggled to make it around the bases on his bad heel. He credited the failure in the previous at bat with getting him righted for this one.

“Even though Tony is hurting, we couldn’t have had a better guy up there,” Bochy said.

The 1996 season was an injury-plagued one for Gwynn. But he still hit. He batted .353 and won his third of four straight batting titles.

When I was prepping Tony Gwynn for his first game broadcast, I thought it was important that the rest of the broadcast crew knew as much about Tony as possible. So I stuffed as much bio information about Gwynn into each of the envelopes for the members of the broadcast crew. And then I stuck one in Gwynn’s envelope too.

So I was rather amused when I was reading a newspaper a few days later and saw (paraphrasing) this comment from Gwynn:

‘They sent me a packet with a lot of information about me. I know about me. I want to know about everyone else!’

For the record, I checked – there was no malicious intent on Tony’s part. And I think it’s cool to say I got called out by a Hall of Famer. 🙂

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.