This annotated week in baseball history: Oct. 18-Oct. 24, 1988

On Oct. 18, 1988, a walk-off home run was hit in the World Series off of an All-Star reliever. But this isn’t Kirk Gibson off Dennis Eckersley, it is Mark McGwire and Jay Howell. Richard looks back at this and other memorable postseason series featuring multiple walk-offs.

Everyone who knows a little bit about baseball knows about Kirk Gibson‘s home run in the 1988 World Series. If one puts “1988 World Series” into Google, the Wikipedia article about the home run is the second result, after the article about the Series itself. Calls by both Vin Scully—”In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!”—and Jack Buck—”I don’t believe what I just saw”—are legendary in their own right.

(In fact, it might be the only play with two famous calls. Everyone remembers Russ Hodges announcing that “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” but the calls of the game by Ernie Harwell, Red Barber and Gordon McLendon—who was actually heard by a majority of live fans—are lost to obscurity.)

Of course, that was only Game One. And while the Dodgers would go on to take the Series in five games, it was not without a bump in the road. The Dodgers started John Tudor, who threw a scoreless inning and a third before he was forced out of the game with shoulder problems.

The Athletics scored a run in the bottom of the third off Tim Leary, Tudor’s replacement, while the Dodgers could do nothing against former teammate Bob Welch. In the fifth, the Dodgers tied the game and it stayed that way until the bottom of the ninth.

The Dodgers inserted Jay Howell. Howell had a 2.08 ERA in ’88, but was coming off a suspension in the NLCS for having pine tar on his glove. Howell came to Los Angeles after saving 61 games the previous three seasons for the A’s, but his 5.89 ERA in 1987 was no doubt a big part of Oakland’s decision to use Eckersley in the closer role.

Facing the Bash Brothers, Howell got Jose Canseco to pop out to second, bringing up Mark McGwire. McGwire fell into a 1-2 hole, took a pitch to even the count, then fouled off three straight. He did not miss the next pitch, putting it into right-center to win the game.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given there are still only—as of Wednesday afternoon—41 walk-off home runs hit in the postseason, this is one of just two series that featured a walk-off home run for each team. The other dueling walk-off home runs came in the 2004 NLCS, one of the better series in recent memory but one almost entirely overshadowed by the Red Sox’ remarkable comeback from a 3-0 hole in the American League.

Playing the first two games at home, St. Louis won both on the back of the offense, which scored a combined 16 runs. Down 2-0, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park. Behind a solid outing by Roger Clemens and dominant relief by Brad Lidge (who recorded five of his six outs via the strikeout), the Astros finally got on the scoreboard.

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Kent is jubilant after his walk-off, but it was Jim Edmonds who would have the last laugh (Icon/SMI)

Roy Oswalt was ineffective in Game Four, but the Astros rallied and won the game to tie the series. With a crucial Game Five approaching, the Astros sent out Brandon Backe while the Cards countered with Woody Williams in an alliterative battle.

The game was scoreless entering the ninth, and Brad Lidge retired the side in order, striking out Albert Pujols to end the inning. In the bottom half, Jason Isringhausen was less successful. He allowed a leadoff single to Carlos Beltran, and after a Jeff Bagwell fly out Beltran stole second.

Lance Berkman was intentionally walked to set up the double play. Before Kent came to the plate, Fox broadcasters mentioned that Kent was a “proud player” who would not appreciate having someone walked in front of him. They even went so far as to suggest Kent would be “zoned in a little bit more” when he came to the plate.

Whether it was anger at the disrespect or simply good hitting, Kent deposited the first pitch he saw from Isringhausen deep into left field, and the Astros walked off with a 3-2 series lead.

Game Six featured even more drama, as Matt Morris outpitched Astros starter Pete Munro and the Cards took a 4-3 lead into the ninth. Working on his second inning Isringhausen, as he did in Game Five, allowed the leadoff hitter to reach base, this time plunking Morgan Ensberg. After a bunt moved Ensberg to second and Craig Biggio flew out, Tony LaRussa elected to walk Beltran.

It was probably a good plan as Beltran posted a ridiculous 1.521 OPS in the Series, including four home runs. But it was all for naught, as Bagwell singled to tie the game. It remained tied until the bottom of the twelfth. Dan Miceli issued a walk to Albert Pujols to lead off the inning and after a Scott Rolen pop-out, Jim Edmonds came up.

Edmonds fouled off the first pitch from Miceli, but on the second he didn’t miss, sending it deep into right field to win the game and keep the Cardinals alive. Edmonds would later call it “the biggest hit of my career.”

Game Seven would be less dramatic; the Astros had a 2-0 lead entering the third, but Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt could not hold the lead and the Cardinals won the game 5-2, earning their trip to the World Series without having won a game in Houston.

For now, those remain the only postseason series to feature a walk-off home run by each team. The 1972 ALCS was the first series to feature a walk-off hit by each team; the memorably named Gonzalo Marquez had one for the A’s while Jim Northrup countered for the Tigers. Since then it has been an occasional event, the most recent occurrence coming, of course, in the 2009 ALCS. (And yes, that is what gave me the idea for this column.)

It seems unlikely either of the Championship Series will produce dueling walk-off home runs, but with the homer-prone parks of the current series-leading Yankees and Phillies, perhaps it will come in the World Series. We shall see, and I’ll be here to write about it.

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