One swing away from immortality

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.

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And a few, like Francisco Cabrera, defy all logic.

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 & Resources
Baseball-reference.com, sportspool.com

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Comments

  1. AaronB said...

    Another oddity, at least to me:

    1985 Garth Iorg makes the out, allowing KC & his brother Dane to come all the way back and win, and make it to the WS against the Cards.  Dane, given a chance in Game 6, has the game winning hit against Todd Worrell. 

    Dane was also instrumental in the Cards winning the ‘82 series, by posting an eye popping 1.412OPS in 17 AB’s.  For a player with just under 1800 career PA’s in 10 or so years, he was certainly clutch in the postseason.  BTW, Dane Iorg had just 2 AB’s in hte ‘85 WS & 6 overall that postseason.

  2. Eric said...

    Great piece – thanks for the research. I’m surprised there are so few examples. I would have expected more.

    I note that teams were 2 of 3 on converting sacrifices into game-tying runs. However the one failure is interesting – the 2003 “Moneyball” A’s actually sacrificed with the tying run already in scoring position? Really? And it’s not liek the batter (Ramon Hernandez) had had a bad year – 273/331/458. (Of course the “Moneyball” critics would point out that they then took 2 strikeouts looking to end the rally.)

    Oh, typo on the 2004 Yankees/Red Sox series – the score was 4-2 not 4-3. Otherwise Sierra would also have had a chance to win it before getting on.

  3. Michael S said...

    I remember seeing McCovey’s lineout in ‘62, but can’t recall where Mays’ double went.  How did Matty Alou manage NOT to score with 2 outs?  Anybody know?

  4. Brett said...

    Mays hit that double down the right field line. Maris played the ball in the corner perfectly and hit the cutoff man with a strike. I don’t think Alou was even thinking of scoring when he saw it going to Maris. If it was in the gap there would be no excuse but down the line with, Maris’ arm, its debatable especially considering McCovey and Cepeda were coming up

  5. Michael S said...

    Thanks Brett. I would think they would’ve been playing Mays to pull; Maris must’ve been really quick getting to the ball.  Wish we could go back and redo that one.  C’mon Matty, make him throw you out!

  6. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    Sorry Kevin… the 2010 NLCS doesn’t count for this entry

    If Ryan Howard had driven in the 2 runs, it would have forced a Game 7, not win the series

  7. Philip said...

    Nice piece.

    Spotted one you left out.

    In the 1981 NLCS, the Dodgers led the Expos going into the bottom of the ninth of the deciding game 5, 2-1, thanks to Rick Monday’s homerun in the top of the inning. With two out and none on, Fernando Valenzuela walked both Gary Carter and Larry Parrish, causing Dodgers skipper Tommy Lasorda to pull Fernando and bring in Bobby Welch to face switch-hitting Jerry White. Welch got White to hit a grounder to second baseman Davey Lopes who threw to Garvey at first, thus ending the Expos closest chance at reaching a World Series.

    White had hit below .200 against right-handed pitching all year and although he hit well in the first four games of the series had hit a mere .160 with men on base during the season.

    Manager Jim Fanning had essentially wasted Tim Wallach as a pinch-hitter with one out and no one on in the 8th with the game tied. Wallach was a much better hitter that year against righties (.280 to .145). Yet on the bench stayed rookie Terry Francona. Granted, it was Fernando’s first full season and the book hadn’t been written on him yet. But a more savvy manager might have let Francona pinch-hit in the 8th when the game was still tied and saved Wallach for the ninth.

    All those games included above are all naturally home teams. Another list might include the visiting players who failed to give their team a lead a even tie a deciding game.

    For example, in Game 7 in the 1951 World Series at Yankee Stadium, the Giants Sal Yvars lined out to right fielder Hank Bauer, stranding Whitey Lockman at second and giving the Yankees a 4-3 win in the game and the series.

    Five years earlier, Roy Partee and Tom McBride failed to deliver for the Red Sox with runners on first and third in the top of the ninth. The Cardinals won the game and the series, 4-3.

  8. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    DAMN!

    I knew I’d miss one!

    I’ll put that one in.

    FYI, the 1951 World Series was a 6 game series. There was no Game 7

  9. Philip said...

    Damn as well! I knew that and somehow still wrote game 7 and 4-3. Had been looking at players who missed the chance to tie up a series, force a deciding game (which would have been the case in 1951).

    It was writing about 1946 that got me all screwed up on 51. Damn Cardinals. If only DiMaggio hadn’t pulled a muscle rounding first, Slaughter would have held up at 3rd. Every one blames Pesky for ‘holding the ball’ but it was the freak injury to DiMaggio that really hurt, since it forced him to leave the game and encouraged Slaughter to challenge Culberson’s arm.

    Of course had the Dodgers not blown a 9-6, 9th inning lead at Ebbetts Field to the Phillies on Sept. 25th, they would have had to play the Cards to break a tie and the Red Sox wouldn’t have had to wait another 58 years to win the Series.

    Made me wonder if there were a great number of regular season games in which a team blew a chance to clinch with the winning run left on base or at the plate?

    The Expos came close to such a feat in 1980. They blew a chance to pull within one-game with yet one more to play. Andrew Dawson left the winning run on 3rd in the B10 on the second to last day of the season. The Phillies went on to win the game and clinched the division. An Expos win in #161 would have set up the 162nd game as a means for them to tie the Phillies and force a one-game playoff.

    Meanwhile, in the N.L. West, the Astros were doing their best to squander their division title. They blew a three-game set in Los Angeles, forcing a playoff – which they won (though perhaps ultimately costing them the NLCS).

    The 1982 Orioles nearly pulled off an improbable finish against the Brewers. But Don Sutton beat Jim Palmer in the season finale, avoiding a playoff game.

  10. Philip said...

    *Of course had the Dodgers not blown a 9-6, 9th inning lead at Ebbetts Field to the Phillies on Sept. 25th, they would ***NOT*** have had to play the Cards to break a tie and the Red Sox wouldn’t have had to wait another 58 years to win the Series.*

  11. Vidor said...

    I see the definition excludes teams that actually did win their series.  Not sure if that’s a worthy distinction to make or not.  Moises Alou missed a chance to be a hero in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, but nobody holds it against him.

    I agree that this list should be expanded to include visiting teams in the top of the inning.  Maybe that could be a separate blog entry.

  12. Kevin Wilson said...

    You forgot the most recent!

    2010 Philadelphia Phillies
    Championship Series Game Six versus San Francisco Giants
    Down 3-2 in the 9th. Brian Wilson pitching. One out. Jimmy Rollins on first.

    Placido Polanco: Grounded into fielder’s choice to third, Rollins out at second.
    Chase Utley: Walked, Polanco to second.
    Wilson Valdez: Ran for Polanco.
    Ryan Howard: Struck out looking.

  13. Spencer said...

    Eric was wondering why the moneyball A’s were sacrificing in that 2003 game. Catcher Ramon Hernandez was trying to bunt for a single, not sacrificing.  He regularly bunted to get on base back then for the A’s, and almost pulled it off in that game.

  14. Marc Schneider said...

    Re the 1962 Series:  On the MLB Network, Willie Mays stated that he thought Alou should have tried to score on Mays’ hit and that if he, Mays, had been on base, he would scored (which would have been an interesting trick).  Obviously, Alou didn’t want to make the last out of the World Series with McCovery and Cepeda coming up.

    Also, the last two games of the Series had been delayed for several days because of torrential rains in San Francisco.  The field was damp, which probably slowed Mays’ ball down and gave Maris an opportunity to cut it off.  Maris was a fine outfielder, but if you look at the replay, he had to go a long way to cut the ball off; on a dry field, it’s unlikely he could have done so.

    What amazes me about this game is how could Ralph Houk leave Ralph Terry in to face McCovery, a left-handed hitter,especially after McCovey almost hit a home run.  Obviously, bullpen usage was different in those days, but Houk (and Terry) were incredibly lucky.  Terry could have been the goat for the second time in three years.  As far as I’m concerned, McCovery came through; he did all a hitter can do—hit the ball hard.  He was just unlucky.

  15. Mike said...

    Great piece.  I can’t believe the guys that could watch strike 3 go by as the Series winning run at the plate.  While everybody remembers Beltran (partly because of the impossibly nasty curve Waino threw him), in looking at this list, Adam Melhuse of the A’s in 2003 had to be the most despicable, getting the backwards K with the tying run on 3rd and less than 2 out.  Just put the ball in play!!!!

  16. J.B. said...

    In game 5 of the 1972 NLCS, Hal McRae came up to bat with a chance to be a hero. The game was tied in the bottom of the ninth, and there were runners on first and third.

    However, fate stepped in in the form of Bob Moose and his wild pitch.

  17. Philip said...

    Not a playoff game, but it was certainly a do-or-die one.

    The Cardinals broke Gene Mauch’s heart in 1964, but in 1974 he had the last laugh.

    Mauch was managing the Montreal Expos, who heading into their final two scheduled games had a record of 78-82. St. Louis, meanwhile, was on top of the NL East, tied with Pittsburgh at 86-74. The Pirates had two more games at home vs. the Cubs while the Cards had two more at Parc Jarry.

    There was probably a lot of scoreboard watching on the evening of Tuesday, October 1st, as the Cubs built a 5-3 lead heading into the bottom of the 7th. Meanwhile in Montreal, the Cardinals were clinging to a 2-1 lead behind the 5-hit pitching performance of Bob Gibson as the game head into the bottom of the 8th. It was surely looking like the night might end with St. Louis in first by a game.

    But the Pirates and Expos had something else to say about that. At Three Rivers Stadium the Bucs struck back with one in the 7th and then Bill Robertson hit a two-run shot in the 8th with Pittsburgh holding on to a comeback 5-3 victory.

    At Pac Jarry with the temps dipping into the high 30s, Willie Davis singled and, with Gene Mauch’s green light, stole second. St. Louis manager Red Schoendienst then obeyed one of the ‘Cardinal Rules’ of baseball: don’t walk the go-ahead run on base late in a road game. So with first base open, Gibson pitched to Mike Jorgensen, who promptly belted the ball into the frigid Montreal night giving the Expos a 3-2 lead. Yes, Ken Singleton was on deck, but Jorgensen was Montreal’s best hitter all season. Furthermore, with that swing his home numbers now stood at .371/  .493 / .604 . And Singleton’s homer the night before was his first since August.

    To be fair to Schoendienst, other numbers told a different story. Singleton generally hit Gibson well and Jorgensen hadn’t. But the damage was done.

    In the top of the 9th, Jim Dwyer had a chance to give the Cardinals control of their own destiny. Batting for Gibson with one on and one out, he hit into a game-ending 6-4-3 double play.

    Turned out it was a season-ending double play. Because the next day with their magic number at one, the Pirates again stormed back against Chicago, this time after giving up four in the top of the first. Pittsburgh scored two in the bottom of the 9th to tie the game and Manny Sanguillen singled home the winning run in the 10th, giving the Pirates a 5-4 victory and the NL East Title. Up north, the Cardinals and Expos were rained out, St. Louis finishing one and a half back.

    But had Dwyer came through, St. Louis would have still had a shot by winning a make-up game against Montreal when the weather permitted and possibly setting up a show-down against the Bucs for the division title. Instead, the Little General had to be smiling just a little as he watched the Cardinals’ hope evaporate from his Montreal dugout.

    Incidentally, youngsters on that Expos club included Gary Carter and Warren Cromartie. Mauch and the Expos would finish last in 1975, though with nearly the same record as ‘74 – despite the front office virtually giving away Ken Singleton and Mike Torrez to the Orioles in the infamous Dave McNally trade. The Expos, who had drafted Andre Dawson that summer, would then fire Mauch at season’s end.

    After a horrendous 55-107 season in 1976 WITHOUT Gene Mauch at the helm, the Expos would then hire Dick Williams for 1977, who would get all sorts of accolades from the press for ‘improving’ the franchise’s fortune.

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