Tag Archives: San Francisco Giants

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.

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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

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.

Juan Marichal: 1 walk-off HR, No Cy Young Awards (really!)

A week ago, we did a reminiscence of a great walk-off moment for Willie McCovey, one which came against the Mets on September 17, 1966. To remind you, McCovey beat the Mets with three home runs, the last of which was a walk-off

The Giants starting pitcher that day was Juan Marichal. Marichal’s next start came against the Pirates four days later. And neither Willie McCovey nor Willie Mays was going to be the walk-off hero of this one.

This is the first time I’ve ever looked at a box score for this game and I can tell you that it is totally bonkers. Some context: Both teams were trying to chase down the Dodgers in the National League. The Pirates were 1 ½ games out with 11 to play entering the day. The Giants were five games back with 10 left.

The teams were scoreless through six innings. In fact, the Pirates pitcher, Tommie Sisk, had a no-hit bid to that point.

The Pirates broke through for three runs in the seventh on Donn Clendenon’s three-run home run. The Giants answered with two runs in their half (yes, they broke up the no-no), and tied the game in the eighth inning on McCovey’s bases-loaded walk.

Marichal was still in the game in the ninth inning, but he must have been fatigued. The Pirates put runners on first and third with two outs for Bill Mazeroski. Mazeroski’s single plated the go-ahead run and an error by Mays (gasp!) brought in a second run.

The Pirates led 5-3 going into the bottom of the ninth. I love a 5-3 score going into the bottom of the last inning, because that’s what the score was when the 1986 Mets rallied past the Red Sox in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

That game had an epic ending. This one did too.

Jesus Alou led off the Giants’ ninth with a single against Pirates closer Roy Face. The next batter, catcher Tom Haller, followed with a game-tying home run. Face got the next batter up, which brought up Marichal.

Giants manager Herman Franks let Marichal bat, which in this era seems like a rather ridiculous decision. But at that time, it wasn’t. Marichal was a good-hitting pitcher that season. He had career highs in batting average (.250) and RBIs (15) and as the Oakland Tribune noted, he fared alright in batting practice games with his pitching teammates. But at that moment, Marichal had 590 career at-bats and had hit one home run.

When this at-bat was done, Marichal had two career home runs. Yes indeed, he hit a walk-off home run on a first-pitch slider to give the Giants a win.

“I’m not a good hitting pitcher,” Marichal said afterwards. “But when they make a mistake on me, I can hit the ball. I know I have the power to do it. I never thought I could hit a ball that hard”

I like bringing this up on Cy Young Award day for this reason. Marichal is one of the best pitchers to never win a Cy Young Award. He had an epic prime from 1963 to 1969 but was always beaten out, whether it was by Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, or Tom Seaver. In Marichal’s one “off-year” in that stretch, one of his teammates won the award (Mike McCormick, 1967).

Marichal may not have a Cy Young Award, but he is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and he did do something that (guessing) 99.9 percent of pitchers have never done – hit a walk-off home run.

Marichal Minutiae
– Marichal was involved in a lot of great walk-offs. Besides this one and the previously-mentioned McCovey one, he was the winning pitcher in a 16-inning duel with Warren Spahn won on a walk-off homer by Mays. He also lost a 1-0 game in 14 innings to the Mets on a Tommie Agee home run in 1969. Marichal came to ESPN to appear on Baseball Tonight once and talked about it. I remember he said of Agee’s homer “I can still see it.”

– The last walk-off home run by a pitcher was hit by Craig Lefferts of the 1986 Padres. I talked to Lefferts for a story for ESPN.com in 2011. Here’s the link.

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.