Bruce Bochy is an all-time Padres walk-off legend

I have a few things in common with retiring San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy.

We both have large craniums, though Bochy’s is almost certainly bigger than mine.

We both like to walk. Bochy has even written a book about walking. I read it and enjoyed it.

And we both like walk-offs.

Regarding the latter, I have a statistic that will probably surprise you, though given that you’re reading this blog, it will make sense.

Bruce Bochy is tied for the all-time lead in walk-off home runs for the San Diego Padres.

Bochy’s 3 match the walk-off home run totals of Bip Roberts (also unlikely), Scott Hairston, and B.J. Upton. In other words, they all had more than Dave Winfield, Nate Colbert, Adrian Gonzalez, Ken Caminiti and made other notable Padres.

Bochy totaled 20 home runs in 448 at-bats from 1983 to 1987 with the Padres, a good at bat-to -home run ratio. The three walk-off home runs were clumped together in the 1985 and 1986 seasons, when Bochy saw his most playing time with the team. I think I like the story of his first walk-off home run best.

It came on July 1, 1985 in a game against the Astros. The visiting Houston squad was up 4-0 after an inning-and-a-half thanks in part to Denny Walling’s home run off LaMarr Hoyt. From there, both starting pitchers settled in. The Astros extended the lead to 5-3 in the seventh inning on a run –scoring double by Craig Reynolds.

But the Padres would rally. In the eighth inning, a double by Tim Flannery and ground outs by Gwynn and Steve Garvey scored a run to cut the deficit to 5-4. Then in the ninth, a walk to Graig Nettles got things going. Carmelo Martinez followed with a double and Garry Templeton was intentionally walked to load the bases.

Fan favorite Kurt Bevacqua then brought home the tying run with a sacrifice fly. The Padres didn’t score any more in the ninth. Future Hall-of-Famer Rich Gossage came on in relief and set the Astros down in the bottom of the 10th.

There must have been some stubbornness involved here, because the Astros starting pitcher stayed in the game, despite having allowed five runs and pitched nine innings. It looked like a good call when Garvey grounded out and Bobby Brown struck out.

That set the stage for Bruce Bochy to hit the only walk-off home run that baseball legend Nolan Ryan ever allowed.

For more, including comments from Bochy, read Andrew Baggarly’s piece from the 30th anniversary of Bochy’s home run here.


A Pirates win that the Pearsons would have loved

I’m a fan of the TV show This is Us, which is in its third season and airs on NBC on Tuesday night.

In last week’s episode, one of the subplots involved one of the Pearson boys, Kevin, going with his mother to get an autograph from the Pirates pitcher John Smiley, who was about to be traded to the Twins. Pittsburgh sports have been integrated into the show’s plots previously, with Franco Harris and “The Immaculate Reception” playing a role in the first date of the husband and wife, Jack and Rebecca.

So I went looking for a walk-off that Jack, Kevin, and the rest of the Pearson family would have liked. I found a good one from the 1991 season.

The Pirates won their second of three straight NL East titles that season. Games like this were the reason why. This was a ridiculous win.

It was a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon that April 10 when the Pirates and Cubs played at Three Rivers Stadium, a game that featured a paid crowd of barely 10,000.

The game was scoreless until the bottom of the fifth when the Pirates scored twice. Mike LaValliere had an RBI double and Jose Lind plated a run with a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs countered with three runs in the sixth, with future Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson each recording RBI hits against Randy Tomlin. The Cubs then added four runs in the seventh inning, with the key play an error by shortstop Jay Bell that scored two. So after 7 ½ innings, the Cubs led 7-2.

But the Pirates weren’t done. Orlando Merced hit a two-run triple off Cubs reliever Paul Assenmacher in the eighth for his first MLB RBIs and Bobby Bonilla’s two-run home run later in the inning cut the Cubs lead to 7-6. I was glad that the This is Us writers picked Smiley rather than Bonilla to be the focal point of that part of the story. Bonilla may be a nice person, but I never saw it in his time with the Mets.

The Pirates trailed 7-6 going to the bottom of the ninth and would have to muster a comeback against former Astros closer Dave Smith. Jeff King got things started with a single and Don Slaught bunted him to second base. Jose Lind flied out, but pinch-hitter Gary Varsho found a hole and grounded a game-tying double to right field. The Pirates had rallied from five runs down to tie.

Here’s where things get crazy. The Pirates squandered a chance to win the game in the 10th, when Don Slaught grounded out with the winning run on third base.

The Cubs loaded the bases with two outs in the 11th and Doug Dascenzo brought home the go-ahead run with a single. Dawson followed that up with a grand slam. The Cubs led by five runs, 12-7, going to the bottom of the 11th inning.

This Is Us often invokes making the most out of the worst situations (though the situations they present are usually much more important and more dire than sports). The Pirates made the most of their worst situation here. Dan Fogelman and his writing staff could not have penned a better script (and they’ve written some great ones!)

A walk and two singles loaded the bases. Bell doubled in two runs against reliever Mike Bielecki. Andy Van Slyke’s sacrifice fly was the first out, but brought in a run that cut the Cubs lead to 12-10. Bonilla walked and Barry Bonds singled, making it 12-11. Bonds was in a 1-for-26 slump and had struck out four times prior to the hit. After a walk to Gary Redus, Slaught came up with the bases loaded.

Second chances are also often a This is Us theme. In this case, Slaught took advantage of his second chance to win the game. His double over the center fielder’s head brought home Bonilla and Bonds to win the game.

“You are lucky if you get one chance to win a game,” Slaught told reporters afterwards. “You don’t ever get a second chance.”

In all, the Pirates came back from five runs down twice to win. If the Pearson’s were there, I’d like to think they stuck it out until the end.

The best Red Sox walk-off win vs the Yankees that you don’t know

Sabermetrician Tom Tango pointed me to a box score I find rather astounding and the story of which seems worth telling.

On September 5, 1927, the Yankees and Red Sox played in one of their most remarkable meetings at Fenway Park. Now keep in mind that these were the vaunted 1927 Yankees, who would go on to win the World Series and be crowned as one of the greatest teams of all-time. At the time, they were 90-38 and the Red Sox were 40-86. The Yankees were talking of who would start Game 1 of the World Series. The Red Sox were ready to be done.

This was the first game of a Labor Day doubleheader and one that attracted a huge crowd, with more than 36,000 in the stands. Some fans spilled on to the playing field, which was not unusual in those days. They were roped off, with any ball hit into that crowd ruled a ground-rule double. In the next day’s Boston Globe, the legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice lamented the lack of an AL pennant race killed attendance in multiple cities, but not on this day.

The Red Sox started Red Ruffing, a fourth-year pitcher, who showed none of the signs of greatness he’d later show with the Yankees in becoming a Hall-of-Famer. The Yankees started one of their secondary starters, George Pipgras.

This one was crazy from the start, with the Yankees leaving the bases loaded in the top of the first when Tony Lazzeri struck out, and the Red Sox scoring three times in the bottom of the inning.

Lazzeri avenged that in the third inning when he singled in the go-ahead run, two batters after Lou Gehrig matched Babe Ruth with his 44th home run of the season. That was a huge story at the time, as the two chased Ruth’s all-time record of 59. Gehrig did not keep pace much longer. He finished with 47 home runs. Ruth hit 60 (“let’s see some SOB match that,” he said after hitting his 60th).

The Yankees extended the lead to 6-3, but the Red Sox scored four in the fourth, chasing Pipgras with a pair of bases-loaded walks. They’d add another run to go ahead of the Yankees 8-6 in the fifth.

That held up until two outs in the ninth inning. Ruffing had stayed in the game and needed to just retire Earle Combs to end the game. No such luck. Combs hit a two-run ground-rule double.

Ruffing stayed in the game, because that’s what pitchers did back then. Except he stayed in the game for awhile. Ruffing held the Yankees at bay through the 15th inning. His pitching line is bizarre: 15 innings, 8 runs, 16 hits, 12 strikeouts and 11 walks.

Reliever Wilcy Moore was likewise good for the Yankees, pitching eight stellar innings. Moore was an early version of a closer, though this early version pitched 213(!) innings over 50 appearances that season, and recorded 13 saves (saves awarded retroactively, using the current rule).

In the 17th inning, the Yankees scored three runs against Hal Wiltse. Combs singled in a run. Ruth plated a run by reaching on an error. Gehrig singled in a run. That put the Yankees ahead 11-8 and if you think about it, their win probability should have been 100%. They were about 50 games better than the Red Sox AND had a three run lead with three outs to go.

Alas, this is baseball and sometimes the team with a 0% chance of winning surprises you. The Red Sox scored three against the combination of Moore AND Yankees ace starter Waite Hoyt, who was one of the top starters in baseball that season. The tying run came in on a hit by Bill Moore, one of 18 hits in a career in which he hit a less-than-robust .207.

Given a second life, Wiltse made the most of it. He escaped the 18th inning unscathed. And in the bottom of the 18th, back-to-back ground-rule doubles into the roped-off crowd by Buddy Myer and Ira Flagstead brought home the run the made the Red Sox the unlikeliest of winners.

Go figure!

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.

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 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.”

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