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One more note on clutch postseason HRs

10/16/2013

Yesterday, I mentioned there have been just three come-from-behind walk-off home runs in postseason history: Kirk Gibson and Joe Carter in the World Series and Lenny Dykstra in the 1986 National League Championship Series.

Visiting players can't hit walk-off home runs, of course, but there have been four ninth-inning, come-from-behind home runs hit by visiting players. In order:

Jack Clark, Cardinals, 1985 NLCS, Game 6

The Dodgers led 5-4, trying to remain alive in the series, but the Cardinals had runners on second and third with two outs and Clark, one of the best hitters in the league, up at the plate. Tom Niedenfuer was pitching. Andy Van Slyke was on deck. Tommy Lasorda could have intentionally walked Clark but elected to stick with a righty-righty matchup instead of Niedenfuer versus the lefty Van Slyke. Lasorda was criticized immediately for pitching to Clark, but was it the wrong move? Not necessarily.

One way to look at this: You're comparing Clark's batting average (the Cardinals need a hit) versus Van Slyke's on-base percentage (a walk ties the game). Niedenfuer's splits that year were pretty even -- .222 versus righties, .224 versus lefties, although he allowed just one home run to righties all season, five to lefties. Clark hit .261 versus right-handers that year, Van Slyke had a .360 OBP versus righties. Based on the numbers, Lasorda made the right call. Based on what happened ... the wrong one.

Dave Henderson, Red Sox, 1986 ALCS, Game 5

The Angels led 5-2 heading into the top of the ninth, just three outs from reaching the first World Series in franchise history. The Red Sox, of course, were trying to slay their own demons. Starter Mike Witt was still pitching for the Angels. Bill Buckner singled and with one out Don Baylor homered. Witt then retired Dwight Evans. Manager Gene Mauch brought in lefty Gary Lucas to face Rich Gedman. It's hard to argue with the move: Gedman had hit .186 against lefties that year. But Lucas hit him, Donnie Moore came on and with two strikes, Henderson hit his famous home run.

People forget that Hendu's home run didn't end up winning the game as the Angels actually tied it in the bottom of the ninth, with Steve Crawford escaping a one-out bases-loaded jam. The Red Sox would win in 11 innings, with Henderson's sacrifice fly scoring the go-ahead run.

Ed Sprague, Blue Jays, 1992 World Series, Game 2

The Braves had won Game 1 behind Tom Glavine's four-hit complete game and veteran closer Jeff Reardon, who had come over late in the season from Boston, was in to finish off Atlanta's 4-3 lead. With one out, pinch hitter Derek Bell walked. Sprague, who had just 50 plate appearances and one home run in the regular season, hit for pitcher Duane Ward. Sprague swung at the first pitch and launched a two-run homer to left field. The Braves got two on in the bottom of the ninth against Tom Henke but Terry Pendleton popped out.

The Blue Jays would win Games 3, 4 and 6 ... all by one run. In Game 3, they scored runs in the eighth and ninth (Reardon gave up the winning hit). In the clinching Game 6, they won in 11 innings.

Albert Pujols, Cardinals, 2005 NLCS, Game 5

Astros up 4-2, trying to wrap up the series, Brad Lidge on for the save. He strikes out John Rodriguez and John Mabry, but David Eckstein singles to left and Jim Edmonds walks. And then this happened. Lidge could have pitched around Pujols to pitch to Reggie Sanders, but he elected to go after the big guy.

The Astros did win Game 6 behind Roy Oswalt to reach the World Series -- where Lidge would lose two more games.