The <em>Effectively Wild</em> podcast did a Secret Santa this winter and having never participated in one, I signed up. The person who got me did their homework, for which I’m greatly appreciative. They got me something that I, a self-declared walk-off aficionado greatly appreciated — a signed photo from former Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez.
Those familiar with Gonzalez know him as a) a guy who played at a time when there were two Alex Gonzalez’s playing shortstop and b) the guy who made the oft-overlooked but still very important error during the Marlins comeback against the Cubs in the Bartman game – Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS.
What is forgotten as a result of both the former and latter is this: Within the span of one calendar year and four days, the Cubs’ Alex Gonzalez hit five walk-off home runs.
Five walk-off home runs in one year is a LOT. Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, hit 512 home runs, but hit only four walk-off home runs in his entire <em>career.</em>. Also odd – Gonzalez played 331 games for the Cubs. He played 1,065 for other teams (Blue Jays, Expos, Padres, Rays, and Phillies). He didn’t hit a walk-off home run for anybody else. All five came before Gonzalez’s big error <em>and</em> before the other Alex Gonzalez hit a walk-off home run in the 2003 World Series for the Marlins against the Yankees.
The impact of the home runs was a bit different depending on when they were hit. Gonzalez the Cub hit three in 2002 for the 67-95 team that finished last in the NL Central. The other two came in 2003 for the Cubs team that won the division title.
Cubs fans can appreciate that the bookend walk-offs were home runs to beat the Cardinals, the first on May 6, 2003 against Mike Timlin and the second on May 10, 2003 against Cal Eldred.
Give Gonzalez credit for consistency. After the first one, he said “I wasn’t thinking about a home run at all.”
And after the last one, he said “I’m not going up there trying to hit home runs.”
Perhaps those are the keys to hitting one. If anyone should know, it’s him.