One swing away from immortalityby Paul Francis Sullivan
February 15, 2011
Think of the many players who ended a postseason series with a walk-off hit. Each player's name is etched into the fabric of his team's history as one of the franchise’s great heroes.
And there is no consistency to which players get to experience that glory of ending a series with one swing of the bat. Some are Hall of Famers like Bill Mazeroski and Goose Goslin. Others are All-Stars like Luis Gonzalez, Magglio Ordonez, David Ortiz and Joe Carter. Some were solid if not spectacular players like Billy Martin, Chris Chambliss, Edgar Renteria and Kenny Lofton. Others started the game on the bench, like Gene Larkin and Aaron Boone.
But there are many other players who came to the plate with the opportunity to win either a World Series, League Championship Series or Division Series with one swing of their bat, but did not come through. Each faced down a pitcher in a potential clinching game and had his chance for permanent hero worship from a fan base and a career-defining highlight come and go.
These are the players who came to the plate with a chance to win, only to see their team eventually lose the series all together. I wonder if they relived those a- bats in their minds over and over again.
Maybe they aren’t as masochistic as I am. But in case any of them wanted to hide, no such luck. We’re looking at everyone who missed his greatest chance for immortality.
1926 New York Yankees
Game Seven versus St. Louis Cardinals.
Down 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth. Two outs. Babe Ruth on first. Grover Cleveland Alexander pitching.
Bob Meusel: at bat when Babe Ruth caught stealing. So in essence Meusel never got the chance to win the Series.
1952 Brooklyn Dodgers
Game Six versus New York Yankees.
Down 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth. Allie Reynolds pitching. One out. Carl Furillo on first.
Andy Pafko: Pops up to shortstop.
Billy Cox: Grounds out to third base.
1958 Milwaukee Braves
Game Six versus New York Yankees.
Tied 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth. Ryne Duren pitching.
Wes Covington: Strikes out.
Bill Bruton: Strikes out.
Warren Spahn: Strikes out.
Down 4-3 in the bottom of the 10th. Ryne Duren pitching. Two outs. Hank Aaron on first.
Joe Adcock: Singles, Aaron goes to third.
Bob Turley relieves Ryne Duren.
Frank Torre: Lines out to Second..
1962 San Francisco Giants
Game Seven versus New York Yankees.
Down 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth. Ralph Terry pitching. 1 out. Matty Alou on first.
Felipe Alou: Struck out.
Chuck Hiller: Struck out.
Willie Mays: Doubled; Alou to third.
Willie McCovey: Has a walk-off home run hook foul, then lines out to second base.
1972 Detroit Tigers
ALCS Game Five versus Oakland A’s
Down 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth. Vida Blue pitching. One out Norm Cash on first.
Mickey Stanley: Forced the runner at second base.
Tony Taylor: Flew out to center field.
1980 Houston Astros
NLCS Game Four versus Philadelphia Phillies.
Down 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth. Warren Brusstar pitching. No outs. Rafael Landestoy on first.
Joe Sambito: Hit sacrifice bunt sending Landestoy to second.
Terry Puhl: Hit RBI single, scoring Landestoy and tying the game.
Enos Cabell: Lined out to right, doubling Puhl off at first.
Game Five versus Philadelphia Phillies.
Tied 7-7 I the bottom of the ninth. Dick Ruthven pitching.
Dave Bergman: Grounded out to second.
Alan Ashby: Grounded out to second
Craig Reynolds: Flew out to center.
1985 Toronto Blue Jays
ALCS Game Six versus Kansas City Royals.
Down 5-3 in the bottom of the ninth. Dan Quisenberry pitching. Two outs. Damaso Garcia on second. Lloyd Moseby on first.
Garth Iorg: Struck out.
1986 California Angels
ALCS Game Five versus Boston Red Sox.
Down 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth. Bob Stanley pitching.
No outs. Ruppert Jones on first
Gary Pettis: Executed a sacrifice bunt, moving Jones to second.
Joe Sambito relieved Bob Stanley.
Rob Wilfong: Singled, scoring Jones.
Steve Crawford relieved Sambito
Dick Schofield: Singled, sending Wilfong to third with the pennant-clinching run and only one out.
Brian Downing: Walked intentionally.
Doug DeCinces: Popped up to shallow right.
Bobby Grich: Lined out to the pitcher.
Tied 6-6, bottom of 10th. Crawford pitching.
Reggie Jackson: Grounded out to second base.
Devon White:- Struck out.
Jerry Narron: Walked.
Gary Pettis: Hit a deep ball to left field that was caught at the warning track.
1991 Pittsburgh Pirates
NLCS Game Six versus Atlanta Braves.
Down 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth. Alejandro Pena pitching. No outs. Gary Varsho on first.
Orlando Merced: Sacrificed Varsho to second with a bunt.
Jay Bell: Hit line drive to right field.
Andy Van Slyke: Wild pitch advanced Varsho to third. Hit a long drive that hooked foul. Struck out looking.
2001 Oakland Athletics
Division Series Game Three versus New York Yankees.
Down 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth. Mariano Rivera pitching. One out. Jermaine Dye on second.
Eric Chavez: Struck out.
Jeremy Giambi: Grounded out to second.
2002 Atlanta Braves
Division Series Game Five versus San Francisco Giants
Down 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth. Robb Nen pitching. No outs. Rafael Furcal on third. Julio Franco on first.
Gary Sheffield: Struck out.
Chipper Jones: Hit into a series-ending double play at second base.
2002 Oakland Athletics
Division Series Game Five versus Minnesota Twins
Down 5-4 in the bottom of the ninthth. Eddie Guardado pitching. Two outs. Randy Velarde on first.
Ray Durham: Hit pop up that the second baseman caught in foul ground.
2003 Oakland Athletics
Division Series Game Five versus Boston Red Sox
Down 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth. Scott Williamson pitching. No outs. Eric Byrnes at first.
Jose Guillen: walked.
Derek Lowe relieved Williamson.
Ramon Hernandez: Hit a sacrifice bunt sending Byrnes to third and Guillen to second.
Adam Melhuse: Struck out looking.
Chris Singleton: Walked.
Terrence Long: Struck out looking.
2004 New York Yankees
ALCS Game Six versus Boston Red Sox
Down 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth. Keith Foulke pitching. Two outs. Hideki Matsui on second. Ruben Sierra on first.
Tony Clark: Struck out swinging.
2006 New York Mets
NLCS Game Seven versus St. Louis Cardinals
Down 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth. Adam Wainwright pitching. No outs. Jose Valentin on second. Endy Chavez on first.
Cliff Floyd: Struck out.
Jose Reyes: Lined out to center field.
Paul Lo Duca: Walked.
Carlos Beltran: Called out on strikes.
There are some odd points of interest when looking at this collection of near misses. Terry Puhl and Rob Wilfong actually delivered game-tying hits in these scenarios. Joe Adcock, Willie Mays and Dick Schofield also produced hits.
Pitchers Warren Spahn and Joe Sambito were allowed to bat when one swing would have meant a postseason series victory.
And I know for sure that Willie McCovey, Gary Pettis and Andy Van Slyke came close to hitting walk-off homers.
The 1980 Astros were the only team to lose two games in one season when they had the clinching run at the plate. The 1986 Angels sent up the most number of batters with the ability to clinch it at 10. And the Oakland A's could have won three straight postseason series between 2001 and 2003 with a single well placed swing in each year.
A fat pitch here and baseball could have had a few more Francisco Cabreras, Aaron Boones and Magglio Ordonezes. It has to weigh on those hitters. It is clearly weighing on me!
References and Resources