Category Archives: Make Every Win A Walk-Off

The day Ed Charles made like Jackie Robinson

I promised that I would tell the tales of walk-off that were interesting and unusual, so here goes with one with which I was unfamiliar.

One of the key people on the 1969 Mets was third baseman Ed Charles, who was a leader, not in performance, but in personality. Charles was a likable person, his best days as a player long behind him. He was a poet (an uncommon skill for a ballplayer) who would later work with at-risk youth. He scored the winning run in the ninth inning of the first Mets World Series victory in Game 2 against the Orioles. The New York Times referred to him as the heart and soul of that Mets team. You may know him from the movie 42, in which he was shown as a young fan of Jackie Robinson’s.

This story dates to 1962, Charles’ rookie season as a 29-year-old with the Kansas City Athletics (much of Charles’ minor league days, he dealt with racism in the deep South) and it’s one where he did Robinson proud.

Charles was an excellent rookie, hitting 17 home runs and stealing 20 bases on a mediocre team. That he didn’t receive any Rookie of the Year votes is puzzling, given that the award winner, Yankees infielder Tom Tresh had an OPS 11 points lower.

Charles was known as ‘The Glider’ because of his speed, which was best on display on August 8 of that season in a game against the Minnesota Twins.

We can pick this one up in the ninth inning. The Athletics led 3-2 and Charles had not done anything eventful. But he’d be given a chance when future Hall-of-Famer Harmon Killebrew poled a game-tying home run leading off the top of the inning. T

he score held, 3-3 into the bottom of the ninth and Charles led off for the Athletics with a single to left. The next batter, Norm Siebern bunted, but Charles beat the throw to second base, giving the Athletics two men on base with nobody out. The Twins threw to first on the next batter’s bunt and got an out, putting runners on second and third. An intentional walk loaded the bases and then Twins pitcher Ray Moore struck out Gino Cimoli for the second out.

That brought up Joe Azcue, a light-hitting catcher, who had earlier driven in a run with a sacrifice fly.

The report in the Minneapolis Tribune describes Charles as bluffing towards home plate on Moore’s first pitch. But when Moore took a big windup prior to his second delivery, Charles bolted for the plate and beat the pitch there to score the winning run.

Minutiae
– A walk-off straight steal of home is a play that is both extraordinarily rare and extraordinarily bold. The last one in a regular season game was by a backup catcher for the Cardinals, Glenn Brummer, against the Giants in 1982. Marquis Grissom was credited with one since then for the Indians against the Orioles in Game 3 of the 1997 ALCS, though it probably should have been scored a wild pitch or passed ball.

– The other significant accomplishment on the 1962 Athletics was pitcher Bill Fischer setting an MLB record with 84 1/3 consecutive walk-free innings. Fischer, a longtime pitching coach, died last month.

– Jackie Robinson had 19 steals of home, but none were walk-offs. His most famous one came against the Yankees in the 1955 World Series.

– Remember yesterday that I pointed out that Ted Williams had only seven walk-off RBIs. Ed Charles is among those who had Williams beat. He had eight, including two with the Mets.

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A Ted Williams walk-off story that you may not have heard

Continuing along with my plan to share fun and interesting walk-off stories this winter.

This is a good day to talk about Ted Williams, both from a historic perspective for Veterans Day, and a baseball perspective with the Rookie of the Year awards announced on Monday night (Williams’ 1939 is an all-time great rookie season).

If you know your Ted Williams history, you know him for two walk-offs. The home run that ended the 1941 All-Star Game and the home run that ended his career (not an actual walk-off, but his goodbye at-bat).

But I don’t ever remember reading or hearing about any other Williams walk-offs. The reasons for that are probably that the Red Sox didn’t have a championship team during his tenure, and that, relatively speaking, Williams didn’t have that many walk-off RBIs. He totaled seven, including two home runs (by comparison, David Ortiz had 17 with the Red Sox, including 10 homers).

My hunch is that the best of those came in the one pennant-winning season of Williams career, 1946. The way the Red Sox started that season told you they could be something special. They opened 5-0 on the way to a 104-50 mark. The fifth of those wins was a bonkers opening game of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Athletics on April 21.

The Red Sox have had many improbable victories in their heralded run of success from 2003 to 2018. This game would have fit right in.

Boston had one of its ace pitchers, Boo Ferriss, on the mound, but this was not his day at all. He allowed two home runs in the first inning and seven runs in the first three frames, before being pulled. The Red Sox trailed 7-0 all the way into the bottom of the sixth inning.

Now, the Red Sox were fortunate in that they were facing an Athletics team that finished 49-105. The Red Sox took advantage, scoring five times in the home sixth, though Williams’ contribution was incidental, a walk that kept the line moving, so to speak.Teammates Johnny Pesky, Rudy York and Catfish Metkovich (what a name!) had RBI hits.

However, the Athletics responded with three runs in the top of the seventh, and another in the top of the ninth to extend their lead to 11-5. The ninth inning ended with Williams throwing George McQuinn out at the plate after a fly ball hit by future Hall-of-Famer George Kell.

No one knew it at the time, given that Boston’s deficit was six runs, but that turned out to be an important play, as was a home run robbery by Metkovich in the eighth inning (h/t Boston Globe for that detail). Reason being, the Red Sox launched an improbable rally in the bottom of the ninth.

Williams’ role was a bases-loaded single that scored two runs, chopping the deficit to 11-8. The next two batters after Williams made outs, but Metkovich (Catfish!) tied the game with a three-run home run.

The Athletics could not score in the top of the 10th and the Red Sox went to work to try to win in the bottom of the inning. With one out, weak-hitting pitcher, Joe Dobson, singled and Dom DiMaggio reached on an error. With lefty Johnny Pesky up, A’s manager Connie Mack brought in southpaw Porter Vaughan. This was Vaughan’s only appearance of the season, his first appearance in an MLB game since 1941 (he served in the Army in World War II) and in fact, the final one in his MLB career. He was in a heck of a predicament with two Red Sox on base and Williams looming.

Vaughan walked Pesky, trapping him into having to pitch to Williams with the bases loaded. Williams singled to center, scoring Dobson and giving the Red Sox a supremely unlikely victory. The Philadelphia Inquirer called the Athletics’ loss “a sad shocking affair.”

Soon thereafter Vaughan had an arm injury and retired from baseball, though I’m happy to note he had a highly successful career in real estate in his hometown Richmond, Virginia (the link goes into greater detail).

Williams went on to be arguably the greatest hitter who ever lived.

Ted Williams minutiae
– There’s another connection between Vaughan and Williams. In 1941, Williams entered the final day of the regular season trying to finish the season with a .400 batting average. Williams was hitting .3995 entering a doubleheader with the Athletics.

In the first game of the doubleheader, Williams went 4-for-5 as the Red Sox rallied from 11-3 down to win. That included two hits in two at-bats against Porter Vaughan. Williams went 6-for-8 in the doubleheader to hit .406. No one has hit .400 since.

Eerily, Vaughan and Williams faced off in two games. In each one, the Red Sox rallied from way behind to win, 12-11.

– Williams mauled the Athletics, hitting .353/.500/694 against them (he mauled every team). His 91 home runs against the Athletics were his most against any team.

– Williams is one of three players to hit an All-Star Game walk-off home run, along with Stan Musial (1955) and Johnny Callison (1964)

Mahomes sweet Mahomes

Ok, so let’s stick with the Mets theme for another post.

We’re coming up on an NFL Sunday, which means we’re going to be treated to another week of the high-flying offense of the Kansas City Chiefs, whose quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, was photographed wearing his father’s Mets Jersey upon entering a stadium. It’s well known that Mahomes is the son of a former major league pitcher, though quite frankly Pat Mahomes wasn’t that good. He had a 5.47 ERA in a little more than 700 innings, spread out over 11 games.

But since we were talking most clutch Mets the other day, let’s talk about Mahomes as relates to that. He had a little clutch in him.

Best Win Pct – Mets History
Pat Mahomes .813 (13-3)
Jerry Blevins .778 (14-4)
Terry Leach .727 (24-9)
* Minimum 15 decisions

Mahomes was on the 1999 and 2000 Mets, good teams to be on. His role was as long reliever and the guy who could come in when the Mets were losing to hold the opponent at bay. As such, he got to pitch in some highly notable games.

If you ask Bobby Valentine, he’ll tell you that wearing the fake mustache in the dugout after getting ejected was well worth it, because the Mets came back and won the game against the Blue Jays that night. Mahomes was the winning pitcher with three innings of scoreless relief.

He also pitched a scoreless 9th inning on July 10, 1999, with the Mets trailing the Yankees by a run in a game that featured six Yankees home runs. Matt Franco’s pinch-hit two-run single in the bottom of the ninth made Mahomes the winning pitcher.

Mahomes also pitched four scoreless innings in relief of Al Leiter in Game 6 of the 1999 NLCS against the Braves. This came after escaping a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning of a tied Game 5, one eventually won on Robin Ventura’s grand slam single (I remember liking Mahomes for staying on the mound to wish the pitcher who replaced him good luck). Mahomes’ effort would have been much more highly regarded had the Mets completed the comeback from five runs down and beaten the Braves in Game 6, then won Game 7 (Kenny Rogers ensured that wouldn’t happen).

But the best Mahomes clutch story comes from August 1 and a game against the Cubs in Wrigley Field. The Mets had a one-run lead in the ninth, but Henry Rodriguez homered against Armando Benitez to tie the score. Edgardo Alfonzo put the Mets back ahead in the 10th, but a John Olerud error allowed the tying run to score (that John Olerud made an error in a key spot is unfathomable to me).

By the 12th inning, the Mets had used five relievers and this wasn’t a time when teams carried 12 or 13 pitchers, so they were a bit short. Mahomes hadn’t pitched, but there was good reason. Two days before he pitched 4 2/3 innings in another win over the Cubs. Alas Valentine called on Mahomes to get the last out of the 12th, Sammy Sosa. Sosa grounded out.

In the Mets’ 13th, Roger Cedeno led off with a double, but was on the way to being stranded after Todd Pratt lined out and Rey Ordonez popped out. Cubs pitcher Scott Sanders intentionally walked Benny Agbayani, bringing up Mahomes, who was basically left to win his own game. On an 0-2 pitch, he lined a single to center, plating Cedeno with the go-ahead run.

“Just trying to make contact,” Mahomes told the media afterwards (the standard quote for a pitcher who gets a two-strike hit).

Now Mahomes had to finish his work on the mound. Amazingly, he retired the first two batters before giving a double to Sanders, who did his best to enact revenge. But Mahomes recovered to get Jeff Reed to strike out and end one of the weirdest games in Mets history.

Mahomes went 8-0 that season, in fact dating to 1996, and ending in 2000, Mahomes won 12 straight games. That will be a tough accomplishment for his son to duplicate. But it should be fun to watch him try these next few years.

Mahomes Minutiae
– This is the only time in club history that a Mets pitcher got a go-ahead RBI in extra innings. Mets legend Neil Allen had a go-ahead reached on error in the 12th inning of a game against the Astros in 1982 (for those unfamiliar, Allen is my all-time favorite baseball player).

– Pitch by pitch data isn’t pristine for 1999, but within the data that Baseball-Reference has, pitchers hit .050 when the count was 0-2 that season (48-for-967). Mets pitchers fared a little better. They hit .123.

– Patrick Mahomes was born on September 17, 1995 (a Sunday of course, and the the 9th anniversary of the 1986 division clincher). Pat Mahomes pitched the next day, getting the save after a 3 1/3 inning scoreless effort in a 10-4 win over … Kansas City (aka the Royals, but I like the KC connection).

What was Willie McCovey’s best walk-off?

Back in the day I used to log and write about Mets walk-off wins. It was a hugely fun project, the remnants of which you can find at MetsWalkoffs.com.  

 I was feeling nostalgic this offseason and thought I’d revisit my past, only make it all-inclusive. As such, I’m going to write about walk-offs, maybe not every day, but regularly. I don’t know how many I’ll do, but my goal is to get something representing each team at least once. I’ll do both memorable games and obscure ones.

 With that said, let’s Make Every Win A Walk-Off

Willie McCovey was a true Giant of the Game.

McCovey died on Halloween night and I thought it would be topical to reminisce. I never saw McCovey play, but I’ve talked to those who did (he was a favorite of my dad’s). He’s a Hall-of-Famer whose career began with 4 hits in a start against another Hall-of-Famer (Robin Roberts). McCovey finished with 521 career home runs and his best-known moment was almost a walk-off — the line drive to Bobby Richardson that ended the 1962 World Series in a harsh 1-0 defeat against the Yankees (“Why couldn’t McCovey have hit the ball just two feet higher” is a famous Charlie Brown wail of anguish). It was almost one of the greatest walk-offs in baseball history. Instead, it was a reminder that sometimes in life we try our best and come up just a smidge short.

It got me wondering — what was the best walk-off of McCovey’s career?

A sentimental choice would be his last one, an RBI double about a week before his final game, against the Dodgers in June 1980. And I’m guessing if you’re a Giants fan in your late 40s or early 50s, this might be the best one you remember.

But I like another one I found. It came against the Mets, a team he owned to a .299/.392/.597 line with 48 home runs in his career (his work against the Mets was resembling of Ryan Howard’s). McCovey, Willie Mays and pitcher Juan Marichal all OWNED the Mets.

Marichal took a 17-0 record against them into a game between the teams on September 17, 1966. He looked to be headed to 18-0 after McCovey homered on a changeup from Dennis Ribant in the 4th inning and another one on a fastball in the fifth inning, this one traveling an estimated 450 feet (the game story in the San Francisco Examiner provided fantastic detail). Marichal also had an RBI single and the Giants led 3-0 after five innings.

Amazingly, the Mets rallied on back-to-back home runs by Ken Boyer and Al Luplow in the sixth and a two-run shot by Luplow in the eighth to take a 4-3 lead. When McCovey popped out to start the home eighth inning, the Mets looked to be in good shape.

Not so fast.

Jim Ray Hart tied the game with a home run with two outs in the ninth inning (after the previous hitter, Cap Peterson had been thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple). The Mets hopes of beating Marichal were done.

With two outs and a runner on second in the 10th inning, Luplow had a chance for his third home run of the game, but he was intentionally walked. Ed Kranepool’s ground out ended the Mets last threat.

In the bottom of the 10th, Willie Mays singled with one out and went to second base on a passed ball. The Mets could have walked McCovey, as the Giants did Luplow, but with lefty Larry Miller on the mound, and the count 1-2, they took their chances.

Bad gamble.

Miller hung a curveball and McCovey one-handed it over the fence for both his third home run of the game and a walk-off winner. It would be a good discussion as to which was more impressive, this one-handed home run, or the one he hit the day before, described as going from 480 to 500 feet.

“I just hope this can get us going again,” McCovey said after the game. Alas, the Giants came up short of the pennant, which was won (again) by the rival Dodgers. But hits like this sealed McCovey’s place in Giants’ fans hearts.

San Francisco baseball FANS love their players. Look at the reverence they have for Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, or even Ryan Vogelsong and Hunter Pence. It’s a tradition and a history that Willie McCovey was an integral part of — and there was a lot more to his career than an almost.

MCCOVEY MINUTIAE
– McCovey led the majors in OPS in 1968, 1969 and 1970. No one would lead the majors in OPS in 3 straight seasons again until Barry Bonds did it from 2001 to 2004.

– McCovey’s best season was 1969 when he hit .320/.453/.656 with 48 home runs and 45 intentional walks, and won the NL Most Valuable Player award. The Mets tried a four-man outfield against him (which worked in one notable win), but he still hit .395/.547/.868 against them.

– McCovey is the only player with two 3-homer games against the Mets. He also hit 3 against them in 1963, though there was no walk-off that day.