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.

Advertisements

One last David Wright walk-off

Back in the day (circa 2005), I had a blog in which I would share Mets statistical minutiae and stories, with the primary hook relating to their hundreds of walk-off wins. It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done in my life and I learned a heck of a lot about Mets history in the process.

So I figured I’d return to my roots and catalog David Wright’s collection of walk-offs and share some fun stats I dug up to pay proper tribute to his legacy.

No.1, April 9, 2006 vs Marlins (sacrifice fly)
David Wright got off to a good start in 2006, one that foreshadowed a season that would match the previous one in superstardowm (.311/.381/.531 with 26 HR, 20 SB and 116 RBI). It also foreshadowed a great season for walk-off moments.

The first was this one, set up by his two-run game-tying triple in the seventh inning off Mets nemesis Dontrelle Willis. After Billy Wagner escaped trouble in a 2-2 game in the top of the ninth, Wright followed a walk by Carlos Beltran and a single by Carlos Delgado, with a sacrifice fly to right field.

It gave the Mets a win and earned Wright the title of “young superstar” from teammate Paul Lo Duca.

Wright’s best line that day regarding his triple – “If I had Jose Reyes speed, I’d be thinking inside-the-park homer. But with David Wright speed, I’m thinking triple.”

The Wrighteous Mets fan knows that: David Wright’s 65 sacrifice flies are the most in Mets history. Wright hit .415 with a runner on third and less than 2 outs, a BA partly enhanced by those 65 sac flies not counting. But even if they did, he still hit .348. The MLB batting average this season, if sac flies counted as AB, is .270.

No. 2, May 5, 2006 vs Braves (double)
This was definitely the kind of win that made you think the 2006 Mets were going to win the whole thing. First they rallied from 6-2 down in the seventh inning against the bazillion-time defending division champions, tying the game on Kazuo Matsui’s clutch single. Then they tied it again in the 11th inning on Cliff Floyd’s home run.

It took until the 14th to win it, after the Braves stranded Chipper Jones at second base in the visitor’s half. A Carlos Beltran walk set things up for Wright with two outs. He clubbed a ground-rule double to center, scoring Beltran from second.

“We are not going to roll over,” Wright told reporters afterwards.

The Mets fan with Wright of way knows that: David Wright’s 9 walk-off RBIs rank 2nd to Wilmer Flores (10). His 8 walk-off hits are the most in Mets history.

No. 3, May 19, 2006 vs Yankees (single)
This was such a fun game.

The Yankees took a 4-0 lead in the first inning, but the Mets answered with Carlos Beltran’s three-run home run against Randy Johnson in the bottom of the frame. They’d end up tying the game at five in the third inning on Xavier Nady’s homer.

The Yankees took the lead again in the fourth and the Mets tied it right back on Kaz Matsui’s hit in the fifth. The score stayed tied until the ninth thanks to three outstanding innings from Aaron Heilman. After Billy Wagner struck out Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Kelly Stinnett in the top of the ninth, the Mets won it in the bottom.

Paul Lo Duca’s one-out double and an intentional walk to Carlos Delgado set Wright up with two outs. On a 2-2 pitch, he hit a bolt over Johnny Damon’s head in center field, bringing in Lo Duca with the winning run.

“Not many guys do that against Mariano,” manager Willie Randolph. “He’s the best.”

When you’re Wright, you’re right and you know that … David Wright had 50 hits in the 7th inning or later that tied the game or put the Mets in the lead. His most against a pitcher was 3 – against Mariano Rivera.

No. 4: May 29, 2006 vs Diamondbacks (single)
Another really exciting game, one in which the Mets had to rally from a 7-6 deficit after building an early 4-1 lead. This time, Aaron Heilman wasn’t good, giving up a go-ahead three-run home run to Chad Tracy in the seventh inning.

The Mets were down a run entering the home ninth against Jose Valverde, but this was of no matter. It took two batters – an Endy Chavez double and Jose Reyes single – to tie the game. Wright got his chance after a rare failure by Carlos Delgado, a strikeout with the bases loaded. On Valverde’s first pitch, Wright singled to center, winning the game.

“The big thing is to relax,” Wright said. “Don’t get caught up in the moment. You have to want to be up there with the game on the line.”

It’s all Wright for Mets fans to know that: David Wright’s 4 walk-off RBI in 2006 are 1 shy of the Mets record for walk-off RBI in a season. George Foster had 5 in 1983.

No. 5: June 23, 2007 vs Athletics (single)
This was the opposite of the last couple of Wright walk-offs, a pitcher’s duel between Orlando Hernandez and Joe Blanton. The Mets best scoring threat in the sixth inning ended with Ricky Ledee being thrown out at the plate.

The Diamondbacks left the go-ahead run on second base in the ninth inning against Billy Wagner when Marco Scutaro and Travis Buck couldn’t bring him in.
The Mets brought in the winning run in the home ninth. Ramon Castro led off with a double and Carlos Beltran was then intentionally walked. Wright then blooped one to shallow right that Travis Buck dove for and missed. Castro (who wasn’t pinch-run for because Paul Lo Duca had been ejected earlier in the game) scored the winning run.

All Wright long, you know that: David Wright shares a December 20 birthday with 2 other notable New York baseball players – Fred Merkle (of the famous “Merkle’s Boner” blunder in 1908) and admirably-coiffed Oscar Gamble.

No. 6, April 29, 2008 vs Pirates
Against a Pirates team whose lineup featured both Jason Bay (LF) and Jose Bautista (3B), the Mets tried to give away a game, but failed. They had a 4-2 lead entering the eighth inning and the Pirates tied it with a run in the eighth and a run in the ninth.

It took until the 11th for the Mets to snatch this one, helped by a balk that moved Endy Chavez to second base. An intentional walk and a traditional walk followed and Wright hit the first pitch in the air down the right field line. When it landed just fair, the Mets were 5-4 winners.

It’s so Wright that … David Wright presently has 50.4 WAR (Baseball-Reference version). The other position player with 50.4 WAR is a 1940s star named Bob Elliott, who won an MVP for the Boston Braves in 1948. Elliott’s nickname could easily have been Wright’s nickname – “Mr. Team.”

No. 7, August 7, 2008 vs Padres (home run)
David Wright’s only walk-off home run came in this game against the Padres and former teammate, Heath Bell. It came after Jody Gerut tied the game with a ninth-inning home run against Scott Schoeneweis, who was subbing for injured closer Billy Wagner.

The home run hit off the retired number area in left, right between No. 41 (Tom Seaver) and No. 42 (Jackie Robinson). The most impressive thing about it was the height of the pitch. Wright looked like he made contact just above his ankles.

“I’m always celebrating everybody else’s,” Wright told reporters, referring to walk-off home runs. “But to be the one that jumps into the pile at home plate is pretty fun.”

The Wright answer is to know that … Baseball is hard. If you add the Wins Above Replacement totals of the players other than David Wright who were drafted from the 6th pick in the first round through the end of the first round (44th pick), they barely average 1 WAR per player. Wright has 50.4 WAR

No. 8, July 5, 2012 vs Phillies (single)
I have an affinity for the hit to tie, hit to win victories, as well as 6-5 walk-offs (see 1986 World Series, Game 6) so this one has a special place in walk-off annals for me.

That final score was achieved in a challenging fashion. A pitching matchup between Cole Hamels and R.A. Dickey led to a surprising number of runs and the Phillies handed a 5-4 lead to their closer, Jonathan Papelbon (who I nicknamed “Cobra Kai” because he struck me as villainous). Papelbon retired two of the first three, producing a scenario of man on third with two outs.

The next two at-bats were epic. Papelbon hit pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin on a 3-2 pitch, then walked Ruben Tejada on another 3-2 pitch (the eighth pitch of the at-bat) to load the bases.

That brought Daniel Murphy, who hit a single off Papelbon’s foot to tie the game. Wright got jammed on the next pitch and hit a bloop to right field that Hunter Pence dove for and missed by about a foot, giving the Mets a comeback win.

“Our M.O. is we grind out games,” Wright said afterwards. “We don’t hit for much power, we don’t steal a lot of bases, but were grinders. We play the game to the last out

True David Wright fans know that … David Wright hit .300 in his first pro season – with Kingsport of the Appalachian League in 2001. That’s only four points off his career MLB batting average of .296.

No. 9, May 21, 2016 vs Brewers (single)
The last David Wright walk-off was a comeback effort that helped bail out a poor Jacob deGrom start (!) (5 innings, 4 runs). The Mets rallied from 4-1 down helped by a bullpen that pitched four scoreless innings and a two-run game-tying home run by Yoenis Cespedes.

Things stayed even until the ninth inning when Eric Campbell reached on an infield single, Kevin Plawecki walked, Matt Reynold’s sacrificed, and after an intentional walk to Curtis Granderson, Wright hit a line single on a 3-0 pitch to bring in the winning run.

“That is the guy we want up there,” Mets manager Terry Collins said.

It was your classic Wright hit, an opposite-field rocket line drive that was one of his trademarks in his Mets career.

A good way to go out on the walk-off front, unless he cares to share one more with us.

When you’re Wright, you’re Wright and you know that … Leaders in OPS+ among 3rd basemen who played at least 1,500 games: 1. Mike Schmidt (147), 2. Eddie Mathews (143), 3. Chipper Jones (141), 4. George Brett (135), 5. Home Run Baker (135), 6. David Wright (133).

 

Derek Jeter records his 3,000th hit

An excerpt from The Yankees Index, published by Triumph Books in June 2016. To purchase the book, click here. The Kindle version can be purchased here

Could it get any better than this?

The setting for the baseball game between the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays was ideal—84 degrees and sunny for a Saturday afternoon in the Bronx, just before baseball’s All-Star Break.

But this wasn’t an ordinary Saturday. A Yankees legend was on the verge of history.

Derek Jeter entered the day with 2,998 career hits. He had done so in a way that was rather un-Jeterian and had some thinking the end of his career was approaching rapidly.

Jeter was hitting .257 with a puny .649 OPS entering the day. An injury in mid-June forced him to miss three weeks and he was 4-for-18 since his return.

“It looked like his career was dwindling to a quiet end,” said ESPN.com’s Yankees beat writer, Andrew Marchand.

This was not the same Jeter of whom Sports Illustrated’s Joe Sheehan said “(He) displayed just about every skill a player could have at one time or another. He hit home runs, drew walks, hit for a high average and had a tremendous throwing arm. He did just about everything you could do.”

But if Jeter established one thing in his career with the Yankees, it was a sense for the dramatic. From the game-tying home run in the eighth inning of Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS against the Orioles to his leadoff homer in Game 4 of the Subway Series against the Mets in 2000, to the “Flip Play” and the “Mr. November” walk-off home run in the 2001 postseason to the amazing fly-into-the-stands catch against the Red Sox in 2004, Jeter thrived in being the man of the moment.

The man pitching to him that day posed a challenge. Rays starter David Price had a 95-MPH fastball, the pitch that Jeter hasn’t been able to catch up to for much of the season.

Jeter was not the type to shy away from a challenge.

“Every at-bat, he was competing his ass off,” said former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling.

“You were never cheated watching Derek Jeter,” said ESPN SportsCenter anchor Kevin Connors, who covered Jeter as a New York sports reporter.

And yet Jeter was hiding something. The normally unflappable Jeter was feeling the pressure.

That wasn’t supposed to be. Jeter was always the Yankees player who took the pressure off his teammates.

“The night of the first round (in 2005), I’m sitting in the dugout a few minutes before introductions like I’m nervous,” said his former teammate, Aaron Small.  “He comes by and says ‘What’s up man? You nervous?  This is the big time. We’re just playing a little kid’s game. Just relax.”

Jeter led off the bottom of the first expecting fastballs and got them, eight as a matter of fact. He fouled off two, but timed the last one right and grounded it into left field for a hit, one that put him one away from 3,000.

By the time Jeter came up again, it was the third inning and the Yankees trailed 1-0 with one out and no one on base. He worked the count to 2-1 and fouled off a changeup. He took another slider to run the count full.

Price tried another fastball- 95.4 MPH- and that didn’t work. Jeter fouled it off. Price tried a changeup, and Jeter fouled that one away too.

Price decided to try something new. It’s not easy to get out someone you’ll call “One of the all-time great players In the history of the game” when the game is over. He went to his curveball.

This one Jeter timed. And he timed it just right.

“I didn’t want to hit a slow roller to third base it have It replayed forever” he’d say afterwards.

Instead, he hit a fly ball into the left field stands for a home run.

“Three thousand, with an exclamation point!” yelled Yankees TV play-by-play man Michael Kay.

Yankee Stadium erupted. Even the Rays paid tribute. First baseman Casey Kotchman tipped his cap to Jeter as he rounded the bases.

“I felt like it was the right thing to do,” Kotchman said afterwards.

The game stopped for five minutes as the Yankees players came onto the field to congratulate their captain, who became the first Yankees player to reach the 3,000-hit mark.

Meanwhile, in the stands, the ball was caught by a young fan named Christian Lopez, who was sitting in Section 236. It is typical in this day and age for fans to auction historic baseballs, but Lopez decided to give the ball to Jeter. The Yankees rewarded that by allowing Lopez to personally give the ball to Jeter, and gave him tickets to every remaining game that season.

But that came afterwards. There was still a game to play and this one was a toss-up.  Jeter got a hit in the fifth as part of a two-run Yankees rally and another in the sixth, but was left stranded at second base.

The Yankees led by a run in the eighth inning, but the Rays tied it when Jeter’s former teammate, Johnny Damon tripled, and Ben Zobrist singled him in. Yankees reliever David Robertson kept the game tied into the bottom of the eighth.

Jeter was due up third in the Yankees half of the eighth and the Yankees set the table in front of him. Eduardo Nunez doubled and Brett Gardner bunted him to third base.

It would have been easy for Rays manager Joe Maddon to walk Jeter. But with solid-swinging Curtis Granderson on deck, he declined. He also thought about doing something extreme and playing a five-man infield, stationing a man behind second base to cut off that gap in his defense. But since it was the eighth inning and not the ninth, Maddon didn’t have the guts to try that bold a move.

As it turned out, Maddon had the right idea.

On a 1-2 pitch from Joel Peralta, Jeter hit a ground ball right up the middle, scoring Nunez with the go-ahead run. That proved to be the winning run when Mariano Rivera got the final three outs.

“I’m pretty happy with how things went today,” Jeter said in typically modest fashion.

“He went above and beyond,” Maddon said of Jeter afterwards.

Jeter went above and beyond the rest of the season as well. And then beyond that.

In 2012 he led the American League in hits and batted .316. The old Jeter was back, though eventually father time caught up to him in the form of a freak injury suffered in the ALCS that didn’t heal easily.

Still, Jeter had one more amazing moment in him. In his final regular-season game at Yankee Stadium in 2014, his walk-off hit against the Baltimore Orioles plated the winning run. It’s as if it was meant to be.

“Everything is perfect for that guy,” Marchand said. “He’s not perfect, but his career is as close to perfect as you could have.”

Derek Jeter in 2011

Through 7/8       After

BA          .257                        .338

OPS        .649                        .843

Hits        72                           90

Games  66                           65

Most Hits, Yankees History

Derek Jeter        3,465

Lou Gehrig          2,721

Babe Ruth           2,518

Mickey Mantle  2,415

 

Joe DiMaggio hits in 56 straight games

This is the draft I submitted to my editors for the Joe DiMaggio chapter of The Yankees Index. Please excuse any typos or grammatical errors. They were cleaned up in the book.

If you wish to purchase The Yankees Index, you can do so at this link, or other online or retail book outlets..

<Chapter title> 56- Joe DiMaggio’s Hitting Streak
When we talk of unbreakable records, we can divide them into two types—the kind of records that can’t be broken today because of the way the game is played (for example, no pitcher is going to match Cy Young’s total of 751 career complete games) and those that can be broken, but just seem extraordinarily difficult to reach.

Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak from the 1941 season falls into the latter category. Anyone can have a hitting streak. But not everyone can have a long hitting streak.

“It would take a lot, but it’s conceivable,” said Lyle Spatz, chairman of the Society for Baseball Research.

It would take a lot. Consider the following:

Since DiMaggio broke the record, no one has gotten closer than a dozen games of the mark. The only one to do that was baseball’s all-time hit king, Pete Rose, who hit in 44 straight in 1978. Rose is the only one to even muster a 40-game streak. Hall-of-Famer Paul Molitor, who hit in 39 straight in 1987, and Jimmy Rollins, who hit in 38 straight spanning 2005 and 2006 are the only other players to get within 20 games of the mark.

Arguably the six best hitters who played after DiMaggio’s streak ended are Ted Williams, Tony Gwynn, Stan Musial, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew and Ichiro Suzuki. The only one of those to have a 30-game hitting streak was Musial, whose longest was exactly 30 in 1950.

Only four players have gotten halfway there this decade. Andre Ethier got to 30 games in 2011 and Dan Uggla got to 33 later that season. But that’s not even really that close.

“It was a fun run,” Uggla told reporters afterwards. “But all things have to come to an end some time.”

Lastly only one Yankees player has gotten halfway there since DiMaggio’s streak ended– Joe Gordon, who had a 29-gamer in 1942.

It is amazing how impressive DiMaggio’s hitting streak was in that context, and it was also amazing how well DiMaggio hit during the streak.

DiMaggio hit .408 and had 91 hits in the 56 games. He had 15 home runs, 55 RBIs and only five strikeouts. Amazingly, after the hitting streak ended against the Cleveland Indians on July 17, DiMaggio put together a 16-game streak. In 72 games, he totaled 120 hits and six strikeouts.

There wasn’t a pitcher in baseball capable of getting DiMaggio out consistently that season (in which he hit .357). Consider this: He had 66 at-bats against the four non-Yankees who finished in the top five in ERA. In those, he hit .394 with 11 walks and only one strikeout.

When DiMaggio broke Wee Willie Keeler’s single-season mark by hitting in his 45th straight game (which he did with a home run against the Red Sox), UPI sportswriter Harry Ferguson joked that Red Sox manager Joe Cronin started a lineup that included Jesse James, Robin Hood, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves and John Dillinger, because only a burglar lineup was capable of robbing DiMaggio of hits.
“(Cronin) had it figured this way:

1. If you pitch low to DiMaggio, he will get a hit.
2. If you pitch high and outside to him, he will get a hit.
3. If you (A) fast ball him (B) slow ball him or (C) curve ball him, he will get a hit,” Ferguson wrote.

When DiMaggio did outfox that defensive alignment by hitting the ball out of reach, he simply said. “I’m going to try to keep right on hitting. After all, that’s what I’m supposed to do, record or no record.”

Today’s hitter faces a challenge in terms of hitting approach. Most hitters are encouraged to swing for the fences rather than swing for base hits (one result- there are twice as many strikeouts per game now as there were in 1941).

But DiMaggio was someone who could slug without striking out. He had 361 home runs and only 369 strikeouts. He may not be thought of as one of the game’s top sluggers, but his .579 career slugging percentage ranks 10th all-time.

Those who saw DiMaggio attest to how remarkable a player he was. Hall of Fame managers Connie Mack and Joe McCarthy, baseball legend Ted Williams all refer to DiMaggio as the greatest player they ever saw.

Bob Feller, whom DiMaggio dominated in his career, said that Williams was a better hitter, but DiMaggio was “the best all-around ballplayer I ever played against.”

What also made DiMaggio great was that he was a winner. He played in 10 World Series and the Yankees won nine of them. He had the World Series-winning hit that clinched Game 4 of the 1939 Series against the Reds. And he hit a game-winning home run against Hall-of-Famer Robin Roberts in game 2 of a four-game sweep of the Phillies in 1950.

“You know, some fellows play a whole lifetime without even smelling the roses,” DiMaggio said in a 1980 interview. “So that’s quite an accomplishment to be with a bunch of guys that were able to perform and bring you home with all these pennants and World Series.”

DiMaggio did have two advantages over today’s players in compiling his streak. There was no such thing as reliever specialization in that era, so teams did not bring right-handers out of the bullpen to face him as often as they might now.

Also, baseball was not yet integrated, which prevented DiMaggio from facing what was truly the best competition (his worst documented career 0-for is 0-for-8 against Negro League Legend Satchel Paige).

We close with this note: A 2009 mathematical study done by Josh Witten concluded that the chance of the streak being matched are 1 in every 350,000 2,000-game careers.

In other words, don’t expect that to happen any time soon.

Did you know? Over a 73-game span in 1941, Joe DiMaggio had at least one hit in 72 games. He totaled 120 hits and 6 strikeouts.

<>- Longest Hitting Streaks by Yankees- Since DiMaggio’s 56-game streak
Joe Gordon 1942 29
Derek Jeter 2006 25
Don Mattingly 1986 24

<> Joe DiMaggio’s Longest Hitting Streaks
1941 56
1940-41 24
1940 23
1937 22
1937 21
1950 19

<>Joe DiMaggio: During 56-Game Hitting Streak
Batting Average .408
Hits 91
Runs 56
Home Runs 15
Strikeouts 5

Yankees Index chapter: 4 straight wins in 1996 World Series

Here’s a sample chapter from “The Yankees Index,” my new book, recently published by Triumph Books. It makes a great Father’s Day gift. If you’d like to buy the paperback version, you can find it here. The Kindle version can be purchased here. The book can also be found at other online outlets and wherever books are sold.

<Chapter Title>1996 Yankees win 4 straight to overcome 2-0 deficit vs. Braves in World Series

The first moment in the first night of the most recent Yankees dynasty was a case of déjà vu for David Cone.

This was the sixth inning of Game 3 of the World Series in Atlanta, with the Yankees trailing in the series 2-games-to-none and clinging to a 2-1 lead.

The Braves had the bases loaded with two outs and Cone had just walked Ryan Klesko to put themselves in great position to score. A year earlier, in a similar situation against the Mariners in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the ALDS, Cone walked Doug Strange to bring in the tying run in a game and series the Yankees would go on to lose.

Cone still had a one-run cushion this time, but the Braves had the perfect setup to take the lead, with catcher Javy Lopez at the plate. Lopez, the MVP of that year’s NLCS, was hitting .439 in the postseason entering that at-bat and had singled in his previous turn against Cone. Another hit would likely give the Braves the lead.

In 1995, Joe Torre (yes, I know, it’s Buck Showalter, but I made the mistake in the book, so I’m noting it here) had gone to Mariano Rivera after the walk to Strange and Rivera was again warming in the bullpen, but Torre stuck it out with Cone, who was flustered after a close pitch to Klesko was called ball four. Cone was a gutsy competitor and the feeling from Torre and Mel Stottlemyre was that he would figure out a way to get an out.

Atlanta had romped in the previous two games of the series  and this was a situation in which the Yankees’ season was on the line.

Cone composed himself and threw a perfect breaking ball that Lopez swung through for strike one. Cone threw another breaking ball, this one was a hanger, but Lopez popped it up in foul territory to the right side. Catcher Joe Girardi raced over by the stands, focused, and made the catch, hanging on as he stumbled to avoid running into two security officers.

“It was definitely a mistake but I got away with it,” Cone told reporters afterwards.

It was one of many times the Yankees would come through in this game and the next three. The Yankees hung on to win Game 3, 5-2

“I believe with one win that the whole mood and momentum changes,” Torre said.

But that didn’t happen at the outset of Game 4.

This time the Yankees trailed 6-0 after five innings and were on the brink of trailing 3-games-to-1. But a three-run rally in the sixth inning cut the lead to 6-3 and put the Yankees in position for a late-game rally.

The one that came in the eighth inning against Braves closer Mark Wohlers started innocuously when Charlie Hayes led off with a swinging bunt that appeared to be heading foul, but hugged the foul-line chalk for about 50 feet before coming to a stop just shy of third base. Hayes’ single was followed by another by Darryl Strawberry.

Mariano Duncan than hit a grounder to short that looked like a double play ball, but Braves shortstop Rafael Belliard bobbled it and was only able to get a force at second base.  Not getting both outs became pivotal.

Wohlers entered the day having thrown 7 1/3 scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts that postseason thanks largely to a 99-mile-per-hour fastball. But his air of invincibility disappeared with a hanging 2-2 slider he threw to Jim Leyritz. The Yankees backup catcher took a full albeit awkward swing and watched the ball carry  and carry until it just eluded the leaping attempt by Andruw Jones at the left field wall.

Tie game.

“He doesn’t get to play a whole lot,” Torre said afterwards. “And he’s struggled this year. But he can hit a ball out of a ballpark.”

The Yankees got a rally going with two outs and nobody on in the 10th inning. Braves manager Bobby Cox gambled by intentionally walking hot-hitting Bernie Williams with two men on base to load the bases for Wade Boggs.

The strategy backfired when Boggs, who possessed one of the best batting eyes in baseball history, worked his way back from a 1-2 count to draw a walk. The Yankees added another run when first baseman Ryan Klesko muffed a popup and won, 8-6. That tied the series at two games apiece.

It was the fifth late-game comeback by the Yankees in that postseason (they had two in each of the first two rounds).

Game 5 wouldn’t require a comeback, but it was epic nonetheless, arguably one of the best pitcher’s duels in World Series history, pitting Andy Pettitte against 24-game winner John Smoltz, who was 4-0 in that postseason to that point.

Again the Yankees would capitalize on a Braves mistake, this one being a dropped fly ball by four-time Gold Glove-winning centerfielder Marquis Grissom in the fourth inning, putting Charlie Hayes on second base. He scored  on Cecil Fielder’s double.

That run held up … barely.

The Braves put at least one man on base in each of the last six innings, but could not bring one around to home plate. Pettitte stymied them time and time again.

“Andy Pettitte was a classic pitcher tonight,” said rightfielder Paul O’Neill.

Their best chance came in the ninth inning, thanks to a leadoff double by Chipper Jones, who advanced to third base on Fred McGriff’s groundout.

Whether the Yankees would take a lead back to New York came down to closer John Wetteland’s ability to get two outs without letting Jones score.

Lopez got another chance at a potential game-breaking hit, but on Wetteland’s first pitch, he grounded to Hayes, who went to a knee to make sure the ball didn’t get past him. After an intentional walk, Cox sent up former Yankee Luis Polonia.

Wetteland came after Polonia with high fastballs and on the seventh pitch, Polonia whacked one to right center  field. It had the potential to be a game-winning double. But O’Neill, running on a bad hamstring, made a running catch near the warning track to give the Yankees a one-run win and a 3-2 series lead.

“My thought process was to try to get to it,” O’Neill said. “I thought off the bat I had a good play on it. But it just kept carrying and carrying.”

“It’s a game of inches,” lamented Braves manager Bobby Cox.

At that point, the 1996 Yankees could not be stopped and would not be stopped, even though they were going up against another great pitcher in Greg Maddux in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium. They took a 3-0 lead in the third inning with the key hit being a triple to center by catcher Joe Girardi against his former Cubs teammate.

The Braves clawed back with a run in the fourth, but Jimmy Key shut down any further offense by inducing a bases-loaded double play from Terry Pendleton.

The Yankees bullpen took over in the sixth inning and held the score at 3-1 heading into the ninth. Wetteland, going for his fourth save of the series, ran into trouble as the Braves cut the lead to 3-2 on Marquis Grissom’s two-out single.

With the tying run on second, Wetteland induced a popup from Mark Lemke right by the Braves dugout.  Hayes ran into a Braves player who stepped out of the dugout and took a tumble, but could not make the play.

That was the kind of ‘so-close’ that the Yankees had capitalized on throughout this comeback. But the Braves could not take advantage. On 3-2, Lemke again popped one foul on the third base side.

This time no one got in Hayes’ way. When he made the catch, the Yankees were champions for the first time in 18 years in one of their hardest-fought World Series triumphs.

<Inline>Yankees vs Braves, 1996 World Series

Yankees     Braves

Runs        18          26

Batting Avg .254        .216

HR          2           4

<Bar Graph>

1st 2 games  Last 4 Games

Braves      16    Yankees     17

Yankees 1   Braves            10

<Pie Graph>

Yankees World Series Wins- Series Lengths

4 Games     8 times

5 Games     6 times

6 Games     8 times

7 Games     5 times

<Sidebar>Did You Know? The Yankees are one of 3 teams to come back to win a World Series after losing the first 2 games at home (along with the 1985 Royals and 1986 Mets).

<Sidebar>Did You Know? The comeback from six runs down is tied for the second-biggest deficit overcome in a World Series win.

Sources

Yankeeography, David Cone

Giannone, John “A Yanks Cone-Back.” New York Daily News, October 23: Page 57.

Harper, John “Cone’s 6th Sense Tired, But He Knew He’d Get McGriff.” New York Daily News, October 23, 1996: Page 60.

Kriegel, Mark “Leyritz Gets 2nd Chance.” New York Daily News, October 24, 1996: Page 74.

Lupica, Mike “Yankee Doodle Andy; Kid Lays Down The Lore.” New York Daily News, October 25, 1996: Page 76.

O’Connor, Ian “Here’s Paul Giving His All.” New York Daily News, October 25, 1996: Page 78.

Zack, Bill “Error of Their Ways.” Chattanooga Times Free Press, October 25, 1996: Page 1.

What the 1986 Mets mean to me

This website was intended to promote my Yankees book, but I’m posting this here because I thought people would be interested in learning more about me.

What do the 1986 Mets mean to me?

I was thinking about that this week, with it being “1986 Weekend” at Citi Field as the Mets face the Dodgers.

I was 11 in 1986 and at that point in my life, I was watching a lot of baseball, in the early part of an accumulation of obsessiveness that would lead me down the path that took me to the career I currently have. That team established early on that they were going to be a big deal. They were going to smash both baseballs and their opponents. They were going to win with pitchers who brought both power and finesse. I wasn’t the only one in New York who revered them. The team was a citywide obsession.

When I think of the 1986 Mets, I think of baseball dominance. They’re the last NL team to win at least 108 games in a season. They won 18 of 19 in one stretch, 19 of 24 in another. They won twice as many games as they lost against six different teams. They won the NL East by 21 ½ games.

But more than that, I think of inspiration. The 1986 Mets won games they had no business winning whatsoever. One favorite came on July 3 against the Astros and I like it because of its foreshadowing. The Mets trailed 5-3 in the bottom of the 10th inning, but scored three runs to win, the winning run scored by Ray Knight, who struck out four times in a row, but followed with a walk-off home run.

Another is a game against the Reds on July 22. I didn’t get to stay up to see the end of this one, because it went 14 innings, but I remember how the Mets tied it—when Keith Hernandez’s potential game-ending fly ball was muffed by Dave Parker, allowing two runs to score.

Then, there are the famous games, like Game 6 of the NLCS against the Astros. I have a funny story about that one. My mom made me go to Hebrew School (which I hated) in the middle of the game. But to show just how obsessed everyone was with the Mets that season, we were told that another class would join us for a group project. The group project turned out to be listening to the ninth inning on a transistor radio brought in by the other class’s teacher (funny note: among those in the class: New York Daily News Yankees beat writer Mark Feinsand). So that’s how I heard the Mets three-run comeback to tie the game in the ninth inning. They won in 16 excruciating innings and I was home in time for Billy Hatcher’s tying home run in the 14th and Jesse Orosco’s game-ending strikeout in the 16th.

Years later, I would use the audio tape of that ninth-inning rally as my psyche tape any time I had a big exam (like my high school entrance exam and the SATs). And it worked well in conjunction with Eye of the Tiger.

There’s also Game 6 of the World Series, where once again, the Mets trailed 5-3 in the 10th inning and were one out from defeat when they rallied to score three runs. I took a spot on the floor, in front of my dad and his friends (one of whom fell asleep!) When Bob Stanley began pitching to one, I said aloud “Wouldn’t it be funny if there was a balk or wild pitch or something crazy here” and one of my dad’s friends took that up saying “yeah, a wild pitch, a wild pitch.”

Sometimes you can see it coming.

Game 6 of the World Series is a personal obsession and I suppose that’s not surprising. I’ve read and written a lot about it. In fact, when they gave us access to a new newspaper database at work, my means of testing it was to see how many different newspaper stories I could find from the day after that game. I printed out a rather nice collection of about 40. As Hall-of-Fame honoree Bus Saidt wrote “I’m sitting here and I still don’t believe it.”

The Mets won the World Series two days later and I remember it modestly well, though not quite as well as some of the other games along the way. That season was about journey as much as it was about final destination.

The one other thing I think about sometimes with the 1986 Mets is Cherish the Moment. That was the theme of my graduation from P.S. 190, and when I struggled with the speech I had to give as one of the sixth grade class reps (okay, “valedictorian” if you want to call it that), my mom suggested talking about the 1986 Mets and cherishing their championship. I didn’t, but looking back, it was a pretty good idea.

My father has said to me many times that you have to appreciate every championship your team wins, because you never know when the next one may be. The players on the 1986 Mets were supposed to win a lot of championships, but along the paths of their respective lives, they cherished the moment a little too hard and a little too much. They made mistakes and did some really dumb things. They came close, but they never could reach the pinnacle. The Mets haven’t won a World Series since.

But I have no regrets or bad thoughts when I think of the 1986 Mets. I cherish every moment from that season like no other. It’s one that will remain fondly with me for the rest of my lifetime as a baseball fan.

My website