Category Archives: Make Every Win A Walk-Off

Bill Buckner’s only walk-off HR started a heck of a streak

I just guested on a podcast in which I told many Bill Buckner stories. But one I didn’t tell was the story of his only walk-off home run.

It came on June 21, 1974 against the Giants and it started a positive barrage of victories of a similar nature. In this one, the Dodgers trailed 3-0 into the bottom of the eighth inning, but scored three runs to tie. The key hits that inning were three of the “barely” variety, by Buckner, Jimmy Wynn (a bunt) and Steve Garvey. Buckner then homered to right off Elias Sosa in the ninth inning to win it.

“I can’t believe it, nor can I say how that ball went out or what the pitch was or anything,” Buckner said afterwards, and this might be the first instance I can remember of a baseball player properly using the word “nor” in a sentence.

Buckner’s surprise also makes sense given that he finished the season with more than four times as many stolen bases (31) as home runs (7).

That was the first win in a 5-1 homestand and what’s crazy is that all five wins were walk-off wins.

The Dodgers won the next day 3-2. Wynn homered in the ninth inning off Jim Barr to tie it and Buckner’s fellow 1968 draft pick, Joe Ferguson, homered in the 10th inning off Sosa to win it.

In the series finale, the Giants led 3-1 in the seventh inning, but the Dodgers scored twice to tie. They won it in the ninth on Ken McMullen’s RBI single.

The Dodgers had a chance at a walk-off win against the Braves in the first game of their next series, but left the tying run on first base and lost by a run.

They took the next one, scoring twice in the ninth to win 2-1. Steve Garvey got the tying hit and Ron Cey got the winner off fellow Washington State baseball alum Danny Frisella.

The last of the wins was a 5-4 victory in the series finale. Ferguson homered to tie it and Manny Mota singled to win it. Mota replaced Buckner mid at-bat with a 1-1 count and a man on second base, an interesting maneuver, though understandable given that pitcher Tom House was a lefty and Alston wanted the platoon advantage.

Amazingly, all five games were won by relief pitcher Mike Marshall. Marshall won 10 games via walk-off that season, the most in a season by a pitcher in the years for which Baseball-Reference has data (dating to 1908).

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Harold Baines is the latest walk-off Hall-of-Famer

Congratulations to Harold Baines. That’s not for his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but rather his election to the Walk-Off Hall of Fame. Voting was done by a committee of one (me). To quote former NBA commissioner David Stern “It was a unanimous vote. One-zero.”

I know this was a controversial choice. There were certainly many worthy potential inductees, some of whom will likely be boosted by this selection in the future. I do feel that Baines is Walk-Off Hall-worthy.

The keynote to Baines’ election is the 25th-inning walk-off home run he hit for the White Sox against the Brewers on May 9, 1984. Baines’ current memory of that game, which was played over two days (it was suspended in the 18th inning) is foggy, per news reports from a few years ago, but to clear it up The game was tied 1-1 after 8. The Brewers scored two in the top of the ninth and the White Sox responded with two to tie it.

Neither team scored again until the Brewers tallied three runs in the top of the 21st. But the White Sox scored three of their own. Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk drove in the first one and Tom Paciorek drove in the other two.

After Hall-of-Famer Tom Seaver pitched a scoreless top of the 25th (not a misprint), Baines crushed a Chuck Porter pitch to straightaway centerfield, well over the fence for a game-winning home run. It concluded a game that lasted eight hours and six minutes, the longest by time in MLB history. The Baines home run was emblematic of his season. He hit a career-high 29 home runs that year and led the AL with a .541 slugging percentage.

If you want to see video highlights of the game, click here.

What else is noteworthy about Baines from a walk-off perspective?

– Baines had eight walk-off home runs for the White Sox, the most by anyone on the team in the time for which Baseball-Reference has complete data (dating to 1925) and presumably the most in franchise history. Joe Crede and Robin Ventura rank second with five. Hall-of-Famer Frank Thomas is well behind with three.

– He is the most recent player to hit two walk-off home runs in a season against the Yankees. He did it in 1996, both of John Wetteland, a year the Yankees won the World Series.

– His last of 18 walk-off RBI was a grand slam for the Orioles against his former team, the White Sox, as a 40-year-old in 1999. He tripled in a run as part of a rally to tie in the ninth (his first triple since the 1995 season), than hit the home run to win in the 10th.

– His first of 10 career walk-off home runs came as a rookie against a Hall-of-Famer, Ferguson Jenkins of the Rangers in 1980. It was described as a front-row shot by the Chicago Tribune. Said Baines afterwards: “I didn’t feel any excitement. I’m just not an emotional person.”

Here’s hoping he had a better reaction to Sunday’s news.

The story of Pete Rose’s last walk-off RBI

Pete Rose played in 199 walk-off wins, the most of any player for which Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index has data. That might be the most all-time, though I’m wondering about the totals for the likes of Ty Cobb. Regardless, it’s not surprising that Rose had so many given his longevity.

What I thought was most interesting in Rose’s walk-off ledger was that his 20th and final walk-off RBI was a triple as a 45-year-old player manager in 1986 for the Reds against the Phillies, a month prior to the last game of his playing career.

How amazing that someone of Rose’s age, aptly named Charlie Hustle, would continue to live up to that moniker right to his final days in the big leagues.

And then I was disappointed by an the account of one Philadelphia sportswriter, who said that Rose had been given the triple in error, that he’d never reached (or presumably come close to) third base.

Nonetheless, the scoring stands 32 years later and it’s apt that a goofy decision remains intact given the bonkers nature of the baseball game in which it happened. Let us summarize the newspaper accounts and the box score thusly:

“It was weird. And it was wild. And it was wacky,” wrote a young Jsyson Stark in the pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer the next morning. “But was it baseball?”

Indeed it can be confirmed that each team fielded nine men and moments involving sticks, gloves and spheres took place on a dirt field, surrounded by greenery. So it was baseball. And it was weird.

Though the teams combined for 13 runs, each team yielded three unearned runs. A Rose error opened the door to two Phillies runs in the seventh inning, allowing the visitors to go ahead 3-2 on Jeff Stone’s two-run single.

In the ninth inning, two more Reds errors turned a 4-3 Phillies lead into a seemingly safe 6-3 cushion. Except it wasn’t so safe.

The Reds scored three runs to tie in excruciating fashion. Phillies second baseman Juan Samuel botched a potential double play grounder. The tying run scored with two outs on a passed ball by Phillies catcher John Russell.

Onwards this game went into the 11th inning. Max Venable started the winning rally for the Reds with a walk against reliever Tom Gorman (best known for allowing an 18th inning home run to pitcher Rick Camp the year before). After a force play, Rose came up. Phillies right fielder Glenn Wilson played shallow, not expecting the right-handed Rose to drive the ball to the opposite field.

But that’s what Rose did. Phillies rightfielder Glenn Wilson retreated to try to catch it, overran it, recovered, but then had the ball clunk off his body and his right hand, and fall away. The winning run scored and Rose had his final walk-off RBI. It was the only one scored a triple.

Norm Cash somehow never had a walk-off

At first glance, this will appear to be a simple story about a couple of walk-off wins. But there’s more to it than that, so stick with me the whole way through.

White Sox youngster Norm Cash probably went home a little tired after a doubleheader between the White Sox and Tigers on May 30, 1959. It didn’t start great, but it ended well, with John Romano singling in the winning run after an intentional walk to Cash in the bottom of the ninth inning. The free pass made sense strategically in that it set up a double play, but Cash was hitting a meager .192 and was perhaps gettable with some good pitching.

Cash was 31 games into his career at that point and it’s unlikely he gave the walk much thought, since his team won the game. But that walk was a part of something remarkable.

Flash forward to May 10 1974, with Cash in the final season of a highly productive career that included 377 home runs. This time, in a game against the Red Sox, he came to the plate with a runner on second and nobody out in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth. He was given another intentional walk. This time it was Ben Oglivie playing the role of hero, hitting a walk-off double to give the Tigers a victory.

Such was the baseball life for Norm Cash, whose teams combined for well more than 100 walk-offs in his presence. And yet he had NO WALK-OFF RBIs in his career!!!

Let’s run through how ridiculous that is.

– He played in 1,050 regular season home games in his career and hit .276/.383/.515 in them. You’d figure he’d run into a walk-off by accident.

– He played in 103 regular season games in which his team won by walk-off. And he wasn’t the walker-offer in any of them!

– He had 111 plate appearances at home, in the ninth inning or later with the score tied. He hit .171 with one extra-base hit (a double), including 0-for-his-last-17. We should point out that teams were clearly scared of his walk-off potential. He was walked 27 times (12 intentional) and hit by a pitch twice.

– He had 31 plate appearances in the ninth inning or later at home WITH A RUNNER IN SCORING POSITION and the score tied. He was walked 15 times. In the other 16, he had one hit, an infield single in which the baserunner on second had no chance to score.

That hit came in a doubleheader in which Cash hit three home runs and newspaper accounts note that one was the first fair ball hit out of Tiger Stadium.

(also noteworthy, the newspapers describe a defensive shift in which Senators manager Mickey Vernon moved his center fielder to the left of his pitcher to try to cut off a run, but perhaps that’s for another time).

Cssh was described as having a good sense of humor about most things. After all, he was the guy who wanted to bat against Nolan Ryan using a piano leg for a bat (Ryan pitched a no-hitter that day). So I’d like to think he’d have a good appreciation of how he has the most home runs of any player without a walk-off. It’s really quite remarkable.

Hometown Hrbek a walk-off king

Loyal reader and Twitter follower Jim Passon suggested this player as a subject.

I like a hometown boy makes good story in baseball. You know what I like even more? When a hometown boy makes good with walk-offs.

One really good example of that is Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek, a Minneapolis product who went from 17th-round pick to a key player on two World Series championship teams.

Hrbek impressed enough to jump from Class-A to the major leagues in 1981 and made an immediate impact, hitting a game-winning home run in the 12th inning at Yankee Stadium in his first major league game.

But here we’re concerned with walk-offs and Hrbek has a significant distinction. In 1987, when the Twins won their first title since moving to Minnesota, Hrbek had a franchise single-season record five walk-off RBIs. The mark has not been matched or bettered since, not by Kirby Puckett, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, or Joe Mauer.

If you were looking for a sign that this was going to be the Twins season, you might have found it on Opening Day when the Twins faced the Athletics. Center fielder Kirby Puckett had a highlight-show kind of game, hitting a home run and robbing Mickey Tettleton of a go-ahead home run in the 10th inning. But it was Hrbek who had the final say.

First, he drove Puckett in from third with the tying run on a groundout in the eighth inning. Then, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th, he singled to left center off reliever Bill Krueger to win the game.

What did manager Tom Kelly tell Hrbek before he got to the plate?

“Not to try to be Superman,” Hrbek told reporters after the game.

Supermanning when it came to walk-offs was a team effort.

The 1987 Twins won 16 games via walk-off, one shy of the most in the time for which Baseball-Reference has data (1908 to 2018). Hrbek, the hometown guy, was their leader in walk-off magic.

Most Walk-Off Wins (1908-2018)

(* = won World Series)

1977 Pirates 17
1959 Pirates 17
1997 Marlins 16*
1987 Twins 16*
1943 Yankees 16*

Let’s salute a Hank Greenberg walk-off

Just having a little fun this offseason documenting walk-off moments that I find interesting and unusual. If you have one you’d like to see, let me know.

Hanukkah is upon us, so this seems like an apt time to salute the greatest Jewish hitter of our time, former Tigers legend Hank Greenberg.

Greenberg came close to challenging Babe Ruth’s home run record when he hit 58 in 1938. Over a four-year period from 1937 to 1940, Greenberg averaged 43 home runs, 148 RBIs and a 1.094 OPS. But Greenberg’s career was interrupted by World War II. He served in the military from 1941 to 1945, returning to the Tigers at age 34. He homered in his first game back on July 1.

Four days later, Greenberg was on the bench with a sore elbow for a game against the Red Sox. It was quite the wild affair. The Tigers blew a lead of 5-1. The Red Sox took an 8-6 lead into the bottom of the eighth. It didn’t hold.

The Tigers scored a run in the eighth to cut the lead to 8-7 and that score stayed through a rain delay until the bottom of the ninth. The fun-named Jimmy Outlaw led off with a bunt hit. Bob Maier bunted as well and was safe at first when Outlaw beat the throw to second. Hack Miller didn’t hack (he was no hack?). He bunted too, advancing the runners to second and third with one out.

Something odd happened next. Tigers pitcher Zeb Eaton batted for himself and struck out. With Joe Hoover due up next, Tigers manager Steve O’Neill called on Greenberg to pinch-hit. Why Greenberg didn’t bat for Eaton, I have no idea (the Free Press says he was a good-hitting pitcher. He hit .250 with two home runs in 32 at-bats that season. Still, the Tigers appeared to have subs available. They hadn’t used a non-pitcher off the bench the whole game.

Anyway, Greenberg came up, and the Red Sox elected to pitch to him rather than walk him, knowing that Greenberg was aching and was 2-for-11 since his military return.

After Greenberg hit a foul ball that was almost caught (which would have ended the game), Frank Barrett hung a slider on a 2-2 pitch and Greenberg took it to left center for a base hit. It plated both the tying and winning runs. As Lyall Smith wrote in the Free Press “It was one of the nicest, cleanest, most opportune singles the Tigers have seen for years.”

It took Greenberg a while to fully heal up, but when he did, he was something close to his old self. In his last 49 games of the season, he hit .362/.448/.603 with 47 RBIs. He hit a pennant-clinching home run in the ninth inning of the Tigers’ final game of the season.

He was similarly successful in the World Series driving in seven runs in seven games as the Tigers topped the Cubs. Greenberg played two more seasons, one with the Tigers and one with the Pirates. He finished with a 1.017 OPS and 331 home runs in an abbreviated 13-year career. He certainly was able to walk off with his head held high.

Jim Thorpe is safe at home

I like walk-offs with a football theme, and in this case I’m bringing up from 100 years ago –- June of 1918 – but it’s worth it, given that the person involved is the athletic legend, Jim Thorpe.

This was a game between Thorpe’s Giants and the Pirates, with about 5,000 in attendance at the Polo Grounds on a day bothered by a light rain. They witnessed quite the game.

This one was scoreless for six innings, a deadball era pitcher’s duel between Al Demaree of the Giants and Wilbur Cooper of the Pirates. The Pirates broke through for three runs in the top of the seventh, with Hall of Famers Max Carey and Bill McKechnie (in as a manager) driving them in, the latter with a two-run triple.

Reading the newspaper accounts of this game, one thing that stood out was how the writers made a big deal of John McGraw having Jim Thorpe pinch-hit in the eighth inning as a noteworthy strategic maneuver (it’s also disappointing to see Thorpe referred to as a “Redskin” and an “Injun” but such were the times in 1918). Thorpe produced a single and scored the first run for the Giants in the eighth inning. He’d score the last run of the day too.

The Giants trailed 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth and their rally began as many do, with a leadoff walk to one whom the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette referred to as “Bad Man Burns” (real first name: George). Burns would score later in the inning on Thorpe’s double that Pirates right fielder Casey Stengel (yup, him) couldn’t catch. A sacrifice fly by catcher Bill Rariden tied the game.

Eventually, the Giants had runners on first and third, with Thorpe at the latter spot, with two men out. This was not a case of go big or go home. It was a case of go big and go home.

The trail runner, José Rodríguez, broke for second base at McGraw’s request as pinch-hitter Joe Wilhoit swung and missed, but Pirates catcher Walter Schmidt threw the ball back to the pitcher. Thorpe boldly raced for the plate as soon as Schmidt threw. Cooper, the pitcher, made the mistake of throwing behind Thorpe to third base, and then McKechnie’s subsequent throw home to nail Thorpe was in the dirt.

Thorpe slid safely with the winning run, good for a walk-off steal of home. Or as the New York Times described it “Thorpe hurled his stature over the platter” to successfully conclude the contest.