SweetSpot: Aaron Boone
October, 11, 2011
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillWhere does Nelson Cruz's grand slam in the 11th inning of Monday's ALCS game rank?
There have been 2,208 home runs hit in the history of postseason baseball; 42 of those were walk-off home runs, including Nelson Cruz's grand slam on Monday for the Rangers. Only two players have done it more than once. Not surprisingly, the Yankees have hit the most walk-offs, with 11. Seventeen of the 42 came in the ninth inning, 25 in extra innings. Twenty-three were solo homers. Only three came with the hitter's team trailing. Catchers have hit more -- six -- than any other position. Seven were hit by Hall of Famers. Only three have been served up by Hall of Famers. One unfortunate pitcher surrendered two of them.
Here they are. In some sort of order resembling least memorable to most memorable, or least important to most important, factoring in the situation, series and any other dramatic effects that may have come into play (FYI: Bobby Thomson's Shot Heard 'Round the World was technically a regular-season game, since tiebreaker games are counted as regular-season contests.)
42. Alan Ashby, Astros (1981 NLDS, Game 1, off Dave Stewart)
The Dodgers had hit for Fernando Valenzuela in the top of the inning, so Stewart was pitching. The Astros won Game 2 as well, 1-0 in 11 innings, but the Dodgers won the next three and went on to win the World Series.
41. Rafael Furcal, Braves (2004 NLDS, Game 2, off Dan Miceli)
This one is interesting because it came off Miceli. You'll see his name later on. He's the only pitcher to serve up two walk-off home runs in postseason history.
40. George Vukovich, Phillies (1981 NLDS, Game 4, off Jeff Reardon)
Braves fans nod their heads.
39. Mark Teixeira, Yankees (2009 ALDS, Game 2, off Jose Mijares)
Teixeira's low liner in the 11th won the game, but the big hit was Alex Rodriguez's game-tying two-run shot off Joe Nathan in the ninth.
38. Tony Pena, Indians (1995 ALDS, Game 1, off Zane Smith)
Even Red Sox fans may not remember this one. Rick Aguilera had blown a lead for Boston in the 11th inning when Albert Belle homered to tie. Pena -- in the game after Sandy Alomar had been pinch-run for -- then won it. Pena would hit just one more home run in his big league career.
37. John Lowenstein, Orioles (1979 ALCS, Game 1, off John Montague)
Lowenstein's three-run shot with two outs in the 10th inning gave the Orioles a 6-3 win over the Angels, and came after Al Bumbry had been intentionally walked. What doesn't make sense: Did Jim Fregosi not think Earl Weaver would hit for Mark Belanger, who had hit .167 that season? (Why was Belanger batting second? Good question. He had a career .367 OBP off Nolan Ryan, so that must have been the reason.) What's even more odd is that Montague was the first guy out of the Angels bullpen. He'd spent most of the season with Seattle, came over in late August, and his overall numbers included a 5.51 ERA -- 5.07 in 17.2 innings for California (nine walks and just six strikeouts).
36. Jim Leyritz, Yankees (1995 ALDS, Game 2, off Tim Belcher)
Leyritz is more famous for his home run off Mark Wohlers in the 1996 World Series, but his two-run homer in the rain gave the Yankees a 15-inning win and a 2-0 series lead, as they appeared headed to their first World Series since 1981. This game wasn't that long ago, but almost seems from a different era: Seattle used five pitchers, the Yankees only four; Mariners closer Norm Charlton pitched four innings; Yankees closer John Wetteland pitched 3.1. The winning pitcher? An obscure rookie named Mariano Rivera, who pitched 3.1 scoreless innings in his first postseason game.
35. Mark McGwire, A's (1988 World Series, Game 3, off Jay Howell)
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesMagglio Ordonez's three-run home run sent the Detroit Tigers to the World Series in 2006.
Two games after Kirk Gibson's home run, McGwire's game-ender gave A's fan hope. Alas, Tim Belcher won Game 4 and Orel Hershiser won Game 5 and the Bash Brothers had gone down. (The home run was McGwire's sole hit of the Series.)
34. Johnny Bench, Reds (1973 NLCS, Game 1, off Tom Seaver)
Here's a piece of oddball trivia: This is the walk-off home run in postseason history hit by one future Hall of Famer off another future Hall of Famer. The Reds won 2-1, but the Mets upset the Big Red Machine in five games.
33. Manny Ramirez, Red Sox (2007 ALDS, Game 2, off Francisco Rodriguez)
Mike Scioscia began the inning managing to the save, as he let Justin Speier give up a hit before bringing in K-Rod. With two outs, Scioscia intentionally walked David Ortiz. Ramirez clocked a 1-0 pitch deep into the Boston night. "He's one of the greatest closers in the game and I'm one of the best hitters in the game," Ramirez said after the game.
32. Magglio Ordonez, Tigers (2006 ALCS, Game 4, off Huston Street)
The Tigers had already won the first three games against Oakland when Ordonez sent Detroit to its first World Series in 22 years with a two-out, three-run shot.
31. Benny Agbayani, Mets (2000 NLDS, Game 3, off Aaron Fultz)
The Hammerin' Hawaiian! Agbayani was a cult hero for a few seasons at Shea, never more so than when he tagged Fultz in the 13th inning to send the Flushing faithful home happy. (He even wrote a book after that season!) Was Agbayani a classic late '90s/early '00s kind of player or what? Not exactly Willie Mays in the outfield, but he could hammer a mistake pitch. His career died out pretty quickly after this home run, as he played just two more seasons in the majors and eventually went over to Japan for three years.
30. Nelson Cruz, Rangers (2011 ALCS, Game 2, off Ryan Perry)
The first official postseason walk-off grand slam (Robin Ventura hit a ball over the wall to win Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS for the Mets, but was mobbed by his teammates at second base and the hit was officially ruled a single).
29. Bernie Williams, Yankees (1996 ALCS, Game 1, off Randy Myers)
Also known as The Jeffrey Maier Game. (That home run came in the eighth inning.) Williams won it in the 11th and would hit .474 with six RBIs in the series.
28. Bernie Williams, Yankees (1999 ALCS, Game 1, off Rod Beck)
One of two players have two career walk-off home runs in the postseason. Bernie's both came in the first game of the ALCS, both in extra inning, this one in the 10th inning. Williams' career postseason batting line, by the way: .275/.371/.480, 22 home runs and 80 RBIs in 121 games. He never received the accolades like Derek Jeter, but was every bit the clutch playoff performer.
27. David Ortiz, Red Sox (2004 ALDS, Game 3, off Jarrod Washburn)
And here's our second guy with two. This was his first one, which came in the 10th inning and won the series for Boston. His next one is a little higher on the list.
26. Mickey Mantle, Yankees (1964 World Series, Game 3, off Barney Schultz)
Mantle was a wreck by the time the 1964 World Series rolled out, playing on a bad knee and through a bum shoulder that required offseason surgery. His error earlier in the game allowed the Cardinals to score their only run in a 1-1 game. Schultz, a 37-year-old knuckleballer, warmed up and Mantle declared in the dugout, "I'm gonna hit one outta here." Mantle swung at the first pitch and crushed into the upper deck. It was his 16th career World Series home run, breaking Babe Ruth's record. (The Cardinals would win in seven games, however, although Mantle hit two more home runs.)
25. Chad Curtis, Yankees (1999 World Series, Game 3, off Mike Remlinger)
This is how the Yankees won games in those days: It wasn't just Williams and Jeter coming up with the big hits. Curtis had homered in the fifth inning off Tom Glavine and then won the game in the 10th. The Yanks completed the sweep the next day.
24. Todd Pratt, Mets (1999 NLDS, Game 4, off Matt Mantei)
The Mets' backup catcher, Pratt had hit three home runs all season. For a second, it appeared Diamondbacks center fielder Steve Finley had made the catch. But it just cleared the wall and Pratt had sent the Mets to the NLCS.
23. Trot Nixon, Red Sox (2003 ALDS, Game 3, off Rich Harden)
AP PhotoThird base coach Frank Crosetti congratulates Mickey Mantle after his home run gave the Yankees a win in Game 3 of the 1964 World Series.
I'd forgotten this: Nixon was actually pinch-hitting in the 11th inning for Gabe Kapler, who had started because lefty Ted Lilly started for Oakland. The A's had won the first two games, but the Red Sox won the next three, culminating in Derek Lowe's infamous crotch grab directed to the Oakland dugout after striking out Terrence Long with the bases loaded to save a 4-3 lead in Game 5. Good times.
22. Alfonso Soriano, Yankees (2001 ALCS, Game 4, off Kazuhiro Sasaki)
There were only six hits in this game. Bret Boone had homered to give Seattle a 1-0 lead the eighth, but Bernie Williams homered off Arthur Rhodes to tie. And then the Yankees' rookie second baseman delivered the crushing blow, and the 116-win Mariners were behind 3 games to 1.
21. Bert Campaneris, A's (1973 ALCS, Game 3, off Mike Cuellar)
Oakland's leadoff hitter, Campy had hit just four home runs all season, but his 11th-inning home run off Cuellar gave the A's a 2-1 win and ended one of the great pitching duels in postseason play. Ken Holtzman went all 11 innings for the A's, allowing just three hits. Cuellar allowed just four hits while striking out 11.
20. Chris Burke, Astros (2004 NLDS, Game 4, off Joey Devine)
Burke's 17th-inning home run ended the longest postseason game in history and also won the series for the Astros. If you want to rank this higher, I won't fight too much.
19. Jeff Kent, Astros (2004 NLCS, Game 5, off Jason Isringhausen)
Kent and Tommy Henrich are the only players to hit walk-off home runs in a postseason to break a 0-0 tie. This was the game when St. Louis' Woody Williams allowed one hit in seven innings, and Houston's Brandon Backe allowed one hit in eight innings. No small feat considering names like Beltran, Bagwell, Berkman, Walker, Pujols and Rolen were in the lineups. Plus the next guy ...
18. Jim Edmonds, Cardinals (2004 NLCS, Game 6, off Dan Miceli)
A game after Kent's home run, Edmonds slammed a two-run shot off Miceli with one out in the 12th inning to tie the series -- the only time a postseason series has featured walk-off home runs in consecutive games. The Cardinals would win Game 7 as well.
17. Scott Podsednik, White Sox (2005 World Series, Game 2, off Brad Lidge)
You could make a case that this was the least likely home run in World Series history, and certainly the least likely walk-off home run. Podsednik, after all, had batted 568 times all season and hit zero home runs. The Astros had tied the game in the top of the inning on Jose Vizcaino's two-out, two-run single, setting up Podsednik's home run. In his previous appearance, in the NLCS, Lidge had served up a mammoth, game-losing home run to Albert Pujols. He said that home run wasn't on his mind. "Unfortunately, because I happened to give up home runs in back-to-back games, it may look like I was. But the fact is, I threw a fastball to Podsednik that I wanted to throw. He may have hit it out. But that had nothing to do with Albert Pujols." The count was 2-1. He didn't want to fall behind 3-1. Podsednik was sitting on the heater. "I was thinking that he was probably going to challenge me with a fastball," he said. "And I said, 'Hey, let's put a good swing on this fastball.'"
16. Tommy Henrich, Yankees (1949 World Series, Game 1, off Don Newcombe)
Henrich's blast was not only the first walk-off home run in postseason history but remains one of just two that came with the score 0-0 (see Jeff Kent above). Nicknamed "Old Reliable" for his clutch hitting, played alongside Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Keller in one of the greatest outfields ever assembled. The home run also seems to have put a hex over Newcombe, who had taken a four-hit shutout into the ninth: He'd make four more World Series starts in his career and allow 20 runs in 14 innings.
15. Alex Gonzalez, Marlins (2003 World Series, Game 4, off Jeff Weaver)
Weaver had posted an unseemly 5.99 ERA during the season, but Joe Torre brought him in the 11th inning of a tie game. ''I mean, if he's not in the game there, he shouldn't be on our roster,'' Torre said after Gonzalez beat Weaver in the 12th inning to tie the Series. Where was Mariano Rivera, who went unused in the game, you ask? He had thrown 23 pitches in Game 3 (although went unused in the first two games), and perhaps Torre was saving him for the save situation that never came. As for Weaver, it was the last pitch he threw in pinstripes. By the way, the bigger story at the time: Many believed it was the final game of Roger Clemens' career. He even doffed his cap to the Marlins' crowd, tears welling up in his eyes, as he received a standing ovation after coming out of the game. "It was a very touching moment," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. "He's a class act. We're gonna miss guys like him." (I'm thinking that maybe Roger should have retired.)
14. Steve Garvey, Padres (1984 NLCS, Game 4, off Lee Smith)
Before Leon Durham's error, there was Garvey's home run, a two-run blast that gave the Padres a 7-5 win. Based on WPA (win probability added), Garvey's 4-for-5, five-RBI performance that night was the second-best clutch hitting game in postseason history.
13. Eddie Mathews, Braves (1957 World Series, Game 4, off Bob Grim)
One of the forgotten great World Series games, the Yankees led the Series 2 games to 1 when Elston Howard's two-out, three-run homer off Warren Spahn tied the game in the ninth inning. The Yankees added another run in the 10th on Hank Bauer's RBI triple to take a 5-4 lead. Bob Grim, the Yankee closer who had gone 12-8 with a league-leading 19 saves that year, came on. He hit Nippy Jones, hitting for Spahn, to lead off the inning, a play famous for many years as the pitch was originally called a ball and then overturned when Jones showed umpire Augie Donatelli a shoe-polish mark on the ball. After an RBI double, Mathews launched his game-winning home run. The Braves went on to win in seven games.
12. Ozzie Smith, Cardinals (1985 NLCS, Game 5, off Tom Niedenfuer)
AP PHOTOOzzie Smith's ninth-inning home run gave the Cardinals a victory and its fans a reason to "Go crazy!"
Jack Buck: "Smith corks one into right, down the line! It may go ... go crazy, folks! Go crazy! It's a home run! And the Cardinals have won the game, by the score of 3 to 2, on a home run by The Wizard! Go crazy!" Ozzie hit five other home runs in his career batting left-handed.
11. Dusty Rhodes, Giants (1954 World Series, Game 1, off Bob Lemon)
To many, the 1954 Indians seemed unbeatable, winners of 111 games with a rotation that featured Lemon, Early Wynn, Mike Garcia and veteran Bob Feller. In the eighth inning of the opener, Willie Mays made his famous catch to keep the game tied. Lemon was in his 10th inning of work when Leo Durocher sent Rhodes -- who hit .341 in part-time duty that season -- in to hit for Monte Irvin with two runners on and one out. Rhodes didn't hit it far, but the right-field wall at the Polo Grounds was only 258 feet down the line. His home run had just enough distance. Rhodes would later add game-tying pinch-single and home run in Game 2 and a two-run single in Game 3 as the Giants pulled off the sweep. "I couldn't buy a drink in New York after that '54 Series," Rhodes once said.
10. Derek Jeter, Yankees (2001 World Series, Game 4, off Byung-Hyun Kim)
Jeter hit Kim's 61st pitch of the night into the right-field bleachers. You probably won't be surprised to discover this: Since then, 15 relievers have thrown more pitches in a postseason game, but all were long guys who entered before the fifth inning. And, yes, Bob Brenly brought him to pitch the next night.
9. Lenny Dykstra, Mets (1986 NLCS, Game 3, off Dave Smith)
Mark Simon has more on Dykstra's drama here, but needless to say it was huge: It remains one of just three walk-off home run that came with the hitter's team trailing, and in the Mets' case, they were in danger of going down 2-1 to the Astros with Mike Scott going in Game 4.
8. David Ortiz, Red Sox (2004 ALCS, Game 4, off Paul Quantrill)
And the comeback begins ...
7. Chris Chambliss,Yankees (1976 ALCS, Game 5, off Mark Littell)
In the first of three consecutive series between the Yankees and Royals that featured more plot twists than a daytime soap opera, the Royals had dramatically tied the game with three runs in the eighth inning. As Chambliss stepped in to face the rookie Kansas City fireballer, the PA announcer intoned the crowd to stop throwing toilet paper and garbage on the field. And this happened. It's worth watching, if only for the Howard Cosell appearance. Not to mention Chambliss trying to round the bases as fans stormed the field.
6. Aaron Boone, Yankees, 2003 ALCS, Game 7, off Tim Wakefield)
You could rate Chambliss' homer higher. Both teams went on to lose the World Series, but I give Boone's the slight edge since it came against the rival Red Sox and completed Boston's painful and dramatic late-game collapse. But Boone didn't have to shove his way through hundreds of drunken New Yorkers on his home-run trot.
5. Carlton Fisk, Red Sox (1975 World Series, Game 6, off Pat Darcy)
A little overrated -- the Red Sox did lose Game 7, after all -- but Fisk's 12th-inning home run came in the midst of a brilliant game and hard-fought, exciting World Series with a lot on the line. Everybody knows about Boston's curse at the time, but Reds were also trying to win for the first time since 1940 after their superstar-laden lineup had failed to win in 1970, 1972 and 1973. Add it up, throwing in the iconic image of Fisk willing the ball fair it crossed over the Green Monster, and you have a home run that will be remembered for a long time.
4. Kirby Puckett, Twins (1991 World Series, Game 6, off Charlie Leibrandt)
The Twins trailed the Braves, 3 games to 2. Puckett told the story years later to Tim Kurkjian: "I went to the clubhouse, and I gathered [everyone] up. I said, 'Everybody together, we're going to have a short meeting.' Everybody comes in, and I said, 'Guys, I just have one announcement to make: You guys should jump on my back tonight. I'm going to carry us.'" He did.
3. Kirk Gibson, Dodgers (1988 World Series, Game 1, off Dennis Eckersley)
Gibson's home run is so legendary, so awesome, that it almost makes us forget how Orel Hershiser carried that Dodgers that postseason: 3-0, one save, 1.05 ERA in 42.2 innings, .171 average allowed.
2. Joe Carter, Blue Jays (1993 World Series, Game 6, off Mitch Williams)
Williams had already blown three saves that postseason when Jim Fregosi called upon him to protect a 6-5 lead. He walked Rickey Henderson on four pitches. Devon White flew out after a tough nine-pitch at-bat. Paul Molitor singled to center. And then Carter hooked the ball to left field and touched 'em all. Blue Jays 8, Phillies 6.
1. Bill Mazeroski, Pirates (1960 World Series, Game 7, off Ralph Terry)
The granddaddy of them all. His home run off the ivy-draped wall at Forbes Field not only won the World Series but capped off maybe the greatest baseball game ever played.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
Icon SMIBill Mazeroski remains the only player to win Game 7 of the World Series with a walk-off home run.