Bobby Grich beats the Yankees, 5-4

Bobby Grich is a darling of the sabermetric crowd. Had Wins Above Replacement been around in the 1970s and 1980s, there might have been a greater appreciation of Grich’s value. He had six seasons with a WAR of at least 6 and three more with a WAR of at least 4. He was a very good defender with a high on-base percentage Though often viewed as a member of the Hall of Very Good, tools like Jay Jaffe’s Hall of Fame evaluation system (JAWS) rate Grich as Cooperstown worthy. By that system, he rates as the 8th-best second baseman of all-time, one spot ahead of Hall-of-Famer Ryne Sandberg.

There is a game from the 1984 season known as “The Sandberg Game” that is the signature contest of his Hall-of-Fame career. I think I found a game that could qualify as “The Grich Game.”

It took place on July 15, 1979 against the two-time defending champion Yankees. The Angels had won a dramatic game the day before. This one would be a one-man showcase.

On a day in which the Angels 3-through-5 hitters were a combined 0-for-12, it was a good thing that Grich was batting second. The Yankees zipped out to a 4-0 lead through two innings on two-run home runs by Chris Chambliss and Jim Spencer. With Cy Young winner Ron Guidry on the mound, a win seemed like a sure thing.

Grich got the Angels a run back in the third with a single. But the Angels squandered chances to score more in the third and fifth innings, leaving two men on base. They still trailed 4-1 when Grich came up with two men on base in the seventh. Grich’s two-run double against Guidry cut the lead to 4-3. But Carney Lansford and Don Baylor both lined out, leaving the Angels a run down with six outs remaining.

Guidry stayed on for the ninth inning, perhaps because Rich Gossage pitched 3 2/3 innings and Ron Davis threw 2 1/3 the day before. (combining to allow six runs). Guidry got two of the first three hitters out, sandwiching the outs around a walk. That brought up Grich.

Mark Heisler’s game story in the Los Angeles Times details how Yankees manager Billy Martin went to the mound to talk to Guidry, telling him not to let Grich pull the ball. Guidry obliged.

And Grich obliged. He homered to right to win the game, earning a postgame curtain call five minutes after the contest ended.

Final score, Bobby Grich 5, Yankees 4.

The best one man walk-off show there was

Those of us who like sabermetrics tend to like a stat known as Win Probability Added (WPA).

WPA is a storytelling stat. It tells you which player’s actions contributed most to winning and losing the game, based on historical win probabilities. If your down is down by a run with two outs in the ninth inning and has a 5 percent chance of winning, but you hit a home run to up their chance of winning to 50 percent, you get credit for the difference between 50 percent and 5 percent (45 percentage points). Add all your plays together (positive and negative) and you get a number that represents your value to that win.

That brings us to the highest Win Probability Added in a walk-off, per’s statistical database. It belongs to Hall-of-Famer Kiki (pronounced KYE-KYE) Cuyler of the NL champion 1932 Cubs. He did it against the Giants on August 31 in what was a game worth recapping (for me) and reading about (for you).

It looked like a day that was going to go against the Cubs, who entered having won 11 straight games. Starting pitcher Lon Warneke faced five Giants and retired none before exiting down 3-0. Hall-of-Famers Bill Terry and Mel Ott accounted for the three Giants runs. Terry accounted for another with an RBI hit in the second inning.

Cuyler’s first moment of significant impact came in the third inning when he tripled in Hall-of-Fame teammate Billy Herman, then scored on a double by Riggs Stephenson. The Cubs trailed after three innings, 4-2, with rain briefly halting the contest. Each team scored once in the fourth and the 5-3 Giants edge held through seven innings.

In the eighth inning, Cubs player manager Charlie Grimm doubled in Stephenson, cutting the Giants lead to 5-4, though the rally died when Marv Gudat (pinch-hitting for Hall-of-Famer Gabby Hartnett) grounded out. I’m going to mention something rather innocuous here, but for a reason. Stan Hack pinch-ran for Grimm in the eighth and Zack Taylor filled Grimm’s spot in the lineup, replacing Hartnett behind the plate. I’ll explain why I reference this shortly, but understand that things will get a little kooky (not to be confused with Kiki, pronounced KYE-KYE).

Giants pitcher Freddie Fitzsimmons took that one run lead into the bottom of the ninth and got two outs, sandwiched around a hit by Frank Demaree. Woody English then singled Demaree to third, bringing Cuyler to the plate with the tying run 90 feet from scoring, but one out from defeat.

Cuyler came through with a game-tying single. For those curious, the Cubs’ win probability went from 20 to 61 percent. It dropped back to 50 after they failed to score another run in the home ninth. It was on to extra innings.

The top of the 10th was one wacky half inning. Cubs pitcher Guy Bush hit two batters and wild pitched in a run. The Giants scored four runs and could have had more but for Terry getting thrown out attempting to go to second on his single, and Hughie Critz being thrown out at home plate trying to score on Ott’s fly to left. But even though the Giants led by four runs, the top of the 10th had NOTHING on the bottom of the 10th.

Billy Jurges led off the bottom of the 10th for the Cubs against reliever Sam Gibson. By the way the game had gone, that meant he was hitting for Taylor. Jurges grounded out to third base and Gudat popped to third. Up came Mark Koenig, best known as the shortstop on the 1927 Yankees. He made like a member of Murderer’s Row and kept the game alive with a home run. This brought up pitcher Leroy Herrmann, who relieved Bush.

Except that it didn’t. For some reason unbeknownst to anyone, Taylor came to bat (the Baseball-Reference box score lists him in 2 spots!) And somehow, Terry, the Giants manager, didn’t notice. The Chicago Tribune devoted an entire article to this, sans quotes (funny that below an article largely about umps and rules was a story about a pro roller skater named Joe West!)

Taylor’s single extended the game a little longer. Singles by Herman and English followed, and suddenly the Cubs had their man Cuyler up, down by two runs with two on and two outs in the 10th.

And Cuyler came through! His three-run home run won the game for the Cubs. It upped the Cubs chance of winning from 9 percent to 100 percent. Cuyler tormented the Giants all season, driving in 25 runs in 21 games. There are a few postscripts from this game. One is that Gibson and Cuyler would meet again in the 11th inning on September 15 and Cuyler would hit a game-winning home run. It was the next-to-last game of Gibson’s career.

Edward Burns wrote the game story in the Tribune, and I’ll close with his open. He described it as “as ferocious a rampage as baseball fans ever beheld” and noted that Cuyler was mobbed by fans after the game. “He was rescued by ushers with some difficulty.”

Will Clark was a true Giant when it came to great walk-offs

We talk about the Hall of Very Good sometimes as a place where those who come up a little short of Hall of Fame standards reside. Will Clark would be among the Hall of Very Good’s most worthy residents.

Clark played 16 seasons with the Giants, Rangers, Orioles and Cardinals. He hit a robust .303/.384/.497, made six All-Star teams, won two Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove award at first base. He had the misfortune of playing a position with a lot of really good players. But Clark’s numbers are still impressive.

He finished in the top five in the MVP voting four times in a five-year span with the Giants and was terrific in the 1987, 1989 and 2000 NLCS’ but never won a World Series. He was an even better hitter in high-leverage situations than he was in other spots. He retired after a season in which he hit .319/.418/.546. It ranks alongside David Ortiz and Ted Williams among the best retirement seasons of all-time.

Clark’s signature walk-off game came on June 22, 1988 against the Padres. San Diego was on the verge of a sweep of the series and got off to a good start on a Tony Gwynn RBI hit in the first inning. Clark countered with an RBI hit of his own in the bottom of the inning, but the Padres struck for three in the second on an RBI hit by Benito Santiago and a two-run single from Shane Mack. They stretched their lead to 5-1 on Carmelo Martinez’s home run in the third.

Clark got the Giants three runs back in the fifth when he homered against Padres starter Ed Whitson. The AP story notes that Clark had told the Giants No. 1 draft pick, future MLB shortstop, Royce Clayton, that he’d homered to right field in the game. Clark came through.

The score held until the top of the ninth when the Padres scored twice to take a 7-4 edge into the bottom of the ninth.

Lance McCullers (the elder) was appointed to close the game out for San Diego, but after retiring Kevin Mitchell, he walked Bob Brenly and allowed a single to Jose Uribe. In came the Padres closer, Mark Davis, who struck out pinch-hitter Harry Spilman. The Padres were one out from a win.

That out never came. Brett Butler singled in a run and Chris Speier walked. The situation stood at the Padres up by two runs, with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning. Clark was up.

The game recap notes that Davis threw Clark six curveballs, and that he thought he had Clark struck out on a 1-2 pitch that was called a ball. The last of those six curveballs was hit into the right field corner. Uribe, Butler and Speier all scored and the Giants had themselves an amazing 8-7 win. Seven of the runs were driven in by Will the Thrill.

Bobby Thomson had another notable walk-off

You know Bobby Thomson’s most famous home run as the ‘Shot Heard Round the World’ that gave the Giants the 1951 NL pennant against the Dodgers.

But let’s talk briefly about Thomson’s second-most notable home run.

This came the season after the famous one, on June 16, 1952 against the Cardinals. This was a Giants team without their young standout, Willie Mays, who missed most of that year after being drafted into the Army. Thomson was among those providing thump in Mays absence, though he entered the day in an 0-for-13 slump.

The Giants jumped on the Cardinals for a 3-0 lead, keyed by home runs from Davey Williams and Alvin Dark. But the Cardinals scored seven of the next eight runs. Food was a theme to their offensive output. Del Rice drove in two runs. Peanuts Lowrey had an RBI.

Jokes aside, the Cardinals took a 7-4 lead into the bottom of the ninth. Rice grounded into a double play with the bases loaded in the ninth, else it might have been worse. It was the fifth double play turned by the Giants.

The Giants then went to work in the bottom of the ninth assembling a miracle. Hank Thompson (my father’s favorite) led off with a walk. One out later, Williams singled and Whitey Lockman’s walk loaded the bases.

By this time, Thomson was 0-for-4 and in an 0-for-17 slump overall. This made for quite the predicament for Cardinals rookie pitcher Willard Schmidt, the third pitcher of the inning. His stint lasted one pitch.

Thomson crushed it over the left field fence for a walk-off grand slam. It wasn’t quite ‘The Giants win the Pennant’ but it’s good to know that Bobby Thomson is not a one-note walk-off wonder.

Dwight Evans: a man of walks, and one good walk-off

I had been meaning to do a walk-off blog on Dwight Evans as a bit of a hello to my former boss at ESPN, but had briefly forgotten until a current colleague mentioned Evans’ Hall of Fame candidacy recently, as it is one that sabermetrician Bill James strongly supports.

Evans was one of those players who teeters between the Hall of Fame and the Hall of Very Good, with more teetering done the way of the latter. He was a star, but not a superstar. He’s someone who would have thrived in this era of MLB, given his combination of getting on base and hitting for power. He hit .272/.370/.470 with 385 home runs. He led the AL in walks three times, more than he led it in any other prominent offensive category.

Over a nine-year period from 1981 to 1980 he averaged 26 home runs and 95 walks per season, along with an .886 OPS. In that time, he’s one of the best hitters in baseball. Earlier in his career, he was one of the game’s top defensive outfielders, as he ranked top-two in outfield assists in four different seasons.

As far as walk-offs go, Evans isn’t known most for a walk-off he hit, but more one that he helped happen. He made a great catch in the 11th inning on a fly ball hit by Joe Morgan that he turned into a double play in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. An inning later, Carlton Fisk homered to win the game for Boston, one of the most famous home runs in World Series history.

Evans’ best walk-off moment came on June 23, 1990 in his final season with the Red Sox. This should be known as the day that Dwight Evans would not let the Red Sox lose.

Boston fell behind 2-1 in the eighth inning when second baseman Jody Reed made an error that allowed a run to score against ace pitcher Roger Clemens. In the bottom of the eighth, Evans came up with two outs and belted a game-tying home run against Orioles pitcher Dave Johnson.

The game went into extra innings, at which point Clemens departed for Rob Murphy, who allowed a go-ahead home run to Mickey Tettleton in the top of the 10th. The Orioles could have done further damage, but Joe Orsulak was thrown out at third base on a double steal.

In the Red Sox 10th, the first two hitters went down against Orioles closer Gregg Olson. But Tom Brunansky singled and pinch-runner Randy Kutcher advanced to second on a wild pitch with Evans at the plate.

The count on Evans went to 2-2. It should be noted that Olson hadn’t allowed a home run in more than a year. He was tough to hit with a sinker and a devastating curveball. But he threw Evans a high fastball, and Evans hit it over the Green Monster for a game-winning home run.

Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan compared Evans to Roy Hobbs. The Red Sox would go on to win the AL East, though they got swept by the Athletics in the ALCS. But Evans who was going to turn 39 that November was unceremoniously released.

The Orioles, perhaps liking what they saw from that walk-off, brought Evans in for the 1991 season. That was the final year of his career. And Evans got a little measure of revenge against his former team that September, recording a walk-off to beat them. Perhaps appropriately, it was a walk-off walk.

One of the resources I used for this blog was a game story written by Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. Nick died last week and though I didn’t know him, I did work with his son when I was at ESPN, and have read nothing but great things about him. My condolences to his family.

Bobby Bonds was a walk-off immortal

Before there was Barry Bonds, there was Bobby Bonds, and if you’re reading this you probably know that Bobby was a terrific player whose best years were almost entirely with the Giants. His potential to be an all-time great went unfulfilled, with alcoholism being one of the reasons why.

But we’re here to focus on more positive things and besides having a cool statline (332 home runs, 461 stolen bases), Bobby Bonds had a penchant for walk-offs in improbable Giants victories.

The first of those came on August 29, 1970 against the Pirates. The Pirates had one of their top pitchers pitching, Steve Blass. The Giants started a rookie, Skip Pitlock.

The early outcome was thus not too surprising. The Pirates led 5-0 after 3 ½ innings and 9-2 after Al Oliver’s RBI single in the eighth.

In the Giants eighth Blass started to falter. He allowed a two-run home run to Bonds’ mentor, baseball legend Willie Mays, then was hooked after a one-out double by Dick Dietz.

Pirates closer Dave Giusti saved 26 games that season, but couldn’t get the job done on this Saturday afternoon. He allowed a two-run home run to the first batter he faced, Jim Ray Hart. That cut the Pirates lead to 9-6. Giusti was then hooked after allowing a two-out double to Ron Hunt.

Pirates reliever Joe Gibbon looked like he was going to get out of the inning, inducing a ground ball from Willie McCovey. But an error by Pirates third baseman, ex-Giant Jose Pagan extended the inning and brought Bobby Bonds to the plate at the tying run.

Bonds would get his chance against the fourth pitcher of the inning, rookie John Lamb, who was in quite the predicament for his ninth career appearance. Bonds came up clutch, hitting a three-run home run against Lamb to tie the game.

The game remained tied until the bottom of the 10th. Hart’s single got the rally started and a bunt pushed him to second. With men on first and second and two outs, Bonds came up again. This time he singled, bringing in Hart with the winning run.

Flash forward three years later to May 1 1973. The Giants were 18-6 and looking impressive, though you wouldn’t know it by the 7,972 in attendance at Candlestick Park. This was a little more favorable pitching matchup for the Giants, with Ron Bryant facing Bob Moose of the Pirates.

But again, the early results favored the Pirates. Willie Stargell’s first- inning double brought home the first run. Subsequent Stargell hits extended the lead to 4-0 and 5-1, and by the bottom of the ninth, the Pirates had a seemingly insurmountable 7-1 lead. Their win probability was less than one percent.

Bonds led off the ninth with a walk, but two forceouts later, the Giants had only one out remaining. The last out never came.

Two walks loaded the bases for pinch-hitter Chris Arnold, who whacked his first career grand slam against Ramon Hernandez. A double by Gary Matthews and two walks loaded the bases for Bonds, with the Giants trailing 7-5 and Giusti trying to get the final out. Bonds was battling a virus and was eager for the game to end.

He ended it. Bonds smashed a double, scoring all three runs, making the Giants 8-7 winners.

Amazingly, on September 3 of that season, the Giants and rival Dodgers squared off in San Francisco. The Dodgers led that game 8-1 after 6 ½ innings. Guess what happened!

The Giants scored six runs in the bottom of the seventh, with Bonds driving in one with a ground rule double. That cut the Dodgers lead to 8-7.

Then, in the bottom of the ninth, a walk and two bunts that the Dodgers botched loaded the bases for Bonds with nobody out. Bonds’ grand slam was his fifth walk-off hit and third walk-off home run of the season. It knocked the Dodgers out of sole possession of first place in the NL West. The Reds would beat them out for the division.

To close our story, let’s fast forward to September 9, 1979, near the end of Bonds’ career. Now with the Indians, his team trailed the Blue Jays by five runs entering the bottom of the fourth inning.

The Indians scored five in the fourth, took the lead, then fell behind 10-9 in the eighth inning.

In the bottom of the ninth, Mike Hargrove’s RBI single tied the game. With runners on second and third and one out, Rick Manning was intentionally walked. Guess who was coming up next!

Bonds obliged with a walk-off grand slam, giving the Indians a 14-10 victory. This was a good day for Bonds to get on track. He’d met with management earlier in the day about issues with which he was dealing, along with his baseball struggles.

I feel like the current generation of baseball fans views David Ortiz as the standard setter for walk-off moments. And that’s a perfectly fair sentiment.

But before Ortiz, there were others, and one of them was Bobby Bonds.

Bonds may not be a baseball immortal, but he’s definitely a walk-off immortal in my book.

Notable Walk-Offs for Bobby Bonds
Team Situation Bonds did what
1970 Giants Trailed 9-2 in 8th Single in 10th
1973 Giants Trailed 7-1 in 9th 3-run double in 9th
1973 Giants Trailed 8-1 in 7th Grand slam in 9th
1979 Indians Trailed 6-1 in 4th Grand slam in 9th

1974 Pirates, Orioles oft-forgotten, but had memorable walk-off finishes

The 1974 NL East and AL East division races go overlooked in history, probably because neither of the winners went to the World Series. So they’re remembered locally by people a little older than I am, but they’re footnotes to other notable seasons by these franchises.

But these were two amazing races and walk-offs had a LOT to do with who came out on top.

American League

The Orioles trailed the Yankees by 2 1/2 games for the AL East lead with 14 left to play (15 for the Yankees). But they put on a heck of a final kick to overtake the Bronx Bombers. First, they won three straight games in Yankee Stadium, to move in front. Then they took two of three from the Red Sox, after which they were one game up on the Yankees (though it should be noted, the loss was one in which the Red Sox walked-off after tying the game with four runs in the ninth).

Baltimore returned home for five games and won all five, four of which were by one run and three of which were by walk-off.

The first required scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth to overcome a 4-2 deficit. Tommy Davis’ two-out, two-run single against Tigers pitcher Mickey Lolich brought home the winning runs. That win was necessary to staying in first place, because the Yankees walked-off on the Red Sox that night.

The next day’s walk-off required patience. It didn’t happen until the bottom of the 17th inning. With the bases loaded and one out, Bob Oliver hit a slow grounder to third base on which Brewers third baseman Don Money could not make a play. The Orioles won, 1-0. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this game was the length of the pitcher’s duel. Hall-of-Famer Jim Palmer pitched 12 scoreless innings for the Orioles. Jim Colborn pitched 13 innings of zeroes for the Brewers.

The last of the walk-offs was less dramatic. Boog Powell walked with the bases loaded to snap a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the ninth.

The Orioles went back on the road, swept a three-game series from the Tigers and won the division by two games.

National League

The NL portion is more about one game than a stretch of games, though the 1974 Pirates also had an impressive end run, going 8-2 in their last 10 games (though one of the losses was an epic 13-12, 11-inning defeat vs the Cardinals that took them out of first place).

Entering their final game of the season, the Pirates led the NL East by a game. A win or a Cardinals loss would give the Pirates the division title. The Cardinals game with the Expos got rained out, so it was up to the Pirates to take care of business themselves.

That didn’t look like it would happen. The Cubs led the Pirates 4-0 before the Bucs even got up to bat. The Pirates would chip away, scoring once in the third and once in the fifth, but still trailed 4-2 going to the bottom of the ninth. This was a rowdy affair in this regard. Fans, unhappy with a call made on a play at the plate in the fourth inning, began aiming at Cubs players with bottles, fruit(!) and golf balls. The umpires threatened a forfeit, but the game played on.

If I told you the Pirates tied the game without recording a hit, would you believe me?

That’s what happened. Walks to Richie Zisk and Manny Sanguillen got things started. Ed Kirkpatrick bunted both runners over. Dave Parker then produced a run with a ground out, the second out of the inning.

The Pirates were down to their final out, then their final strike, then their final huff and puff and prevailed each time. With the tying run at third base, Bob Robertson struck out on a curveball from Cubs pitcher Rick Reuschel. But the ball broke in and got away from Cubs catcher Steve Swisher. Robertson raced for first base as Swisher retrieved the ball. A good throw and Robertson would have been out. This throw hit Robertson, allowing the tying run to score.

In the bottom of the 10th, the Pirates pulled it out. A triple by Al Oliver set everything up. After two intentional walks, he would score on Manny Sanguillen’s slow grounder to third on which Cubs third baseman Bill Madlock could not make a play. The Pirates were NL East champs.

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