Ten years ago today, arguably the single greatest one-game clutch performance by any batter in Tigers history occurred.
No, it wasn’t clutch in the sense of having any big playoff repercussions. The 2003 Tigers were as far away from the playoffs as you can possibly be: They lost 119 games. No, this is just in terms of the batter’s impact on the game.
It would be a mathematically verifiable argument, too, as the argument is based on WPA.
WPA—Wins Probability Added—is the “story stat.” It measures how each plate appearance in the course of a game increases or decreases a team’s chance to win the game. Both teams start out with a 50 percent chance of victory, and end with the winner at 100 percent at the loser at 0. It’s a stat designed to quantify how a game feels as it moves along. Therefore, it’s a great way to measure how clutch a player was in a game.
We have WPA for every game for the last 60-plus seasons, and the greatest single-game WPA score ever in Tigers history came on Aug. 24, 2003. The batter was Brandon Inge.
Normally Inge isn’t considered to be a great hitter. In fact, he batted No. 8 for the terrible 2003 Tigers in this game. But on this day he was as good as you could hope for—especially when it mattered most.
On Aug. 13, 2003, the 32-96 Tigers (on pace for the most losses by any AL team ever) hosted the defending world champion Angels. It got off to a rollicking start, with the Angels leading 3-2 after the first inning, and expanding to a 5-2 lead in the top of the second.
The game was rapidly in danger of falling completely out of Detroit’s hands—and then Brandon Inge came to the plate for the first time. With one out and a runner on first and Detroit trailing by three, Inge hit a line drive single to right which outfielder Eric Owens misplayed. Between the single and the error, the run scored and Inge found himself on third.
That’s a funny thing about WPA: the batter gets credit for almost everything that happens to change the course of the game, including errors. Inge’s at-bat shifted Detroit’s chances of winning from 38 percent to 44 percent, and though most of that was on Owens, it tallies in Inge’s favor.
He came up later in the third with two out and a runner on first, but this time harmlessly flew out to end the inning. However, outs in early innings rarely leave big marks on WPA. After all, whoever heard of a third inning fly out being the key play in a game?
Inge next came up in the fifth. Now it was late enough in the game to start getting interesting, in terms of clutch value. And Inge was up at a key moment, indeed. The Tigers had just tied the Angels, 5-5. There were two outs and runners on the corners, so Inge had a great chance help. And help he did. He lashed a single that gave Detroit a 6-5 lead and advanced the trailing runner all the way to third. Just like that, Detroit’s chances for winning leapt from 57 percent up to 71 percent. That’s an impressive move for a fifth inning at-bat.
And then Inge stole second base. A stolen base is one of the few things that doesn’t affect the WPA score of the batter—because it’s all on the runner. It was just a modest uptick in WPA, from 71 to 72 percent, but it was an uptick nonetheless.
The game moved on, and Inge had something that almost never happens in a historically great WPA performance—he made a clutch out. Batting with runners on the corners and two outs (again) in the seventh, Inge made the inning-ending out. That dropped Detroit’s chances of winning down by nine percent, largely—but not fully—negating Inge’s heroics last time up.
Really, it’s a testament to the rest of Inge’s game that he still wound up with the best one-game WPA by a Tigers hitter.
After some more back-and-forth, the Angels took lead, 9-8, and that’s where it stood entering the bottom of the ninth. And that gave Inge his great chance to be a hero.
WPA reckons that the Tigers had just a 20 percent chance to win when the inning began, but a leadoff single boosted it to 34 percent. That’s nice, but a weak pop up and strikeout sent the score plummeting. Just one out from defeat, the Tigers trailed by a run with a man on first. Their chances of winning: just 10 percent.
You can figure out what happened next, right? Right. Inge happened. He worked the count full and then sent a Troy Percival offering over the fence for a Tigers winner. That 10 percent chance to win just became 100 percent.
Overall, Inge had a 1.113 WPA on the day, the only time a Tigers hitter topped 1.000 in one game’s worth of Win Probability Added. And it happened 10 years ago today.
3,000 days since the 2005 draft occurs. Among the highlights: the Brewers take Ryan Braun, Colorado takes Troy Tulowitzki, the Red Sox take Clay Buchholz, the Twins take Matt Garza, the Nationals take Ryan Zimmerman and Arizona takes Justin Upton. Oh, and Cleveland drafts Tim Lincecum, but is unable to sign him.
5,000 days since the Indians sign free agent pitcher Chuck Finley.
8,000 days since the last game for pitcher Ed Whitson.
10,000 days since Felix Hernandez is born.
10,000 days since female fans in Busch Stadium invaded men’s rooms because of the longer lines in women’s rooms.
10,000 days since Jim Leyland manages his first game. So does Jimy Williams.
20,000 days since legendary slugger Mel Ott dies at age 49 in a car accident caused by a drunk driver.
25,000 days since a report reaches the press that big league umps are being briefed on how one-armed minor leaguer Pete Gray catches the ball in case he comes to the majors.
1852 Deacon White, star player in the early days of the NL who recently became a Hall of Famer, is born.
1884 The Cubs purchase star pitcher John Clarkson.
1887 Harry Hooper, Hall of Fame outfielder, is born.
1889 Hank Gowdy, star catcher in the 1910s, is born.
1895 Star center fielder Jimmy Ryan hits an inside the park grand slam.
1899 Jimmy Ryan becomes the seventh player in baseball history to join the 100 home run club.
1904 Wee Willie Keeler hits two inside the park home runs in one game.
1906 Jake Weimer of the Reds throws a shortened game, seven-inning no-hitter for a 1-0 win over the Dodgers.
1908 Red Sox ace pitcher Smokey Joe Wood makes his big league debut.
1909 When A’s third baseman Home Run Baker tries to make a barehanded tag on Tigers star Ty Cobb, Cobb spikes him in the hand and arm. Despite protests from the A’s, the ump allows Cobb to stay in the game.
1911 The Dodgers top the Cubs 6-5 in 10 innings with runs scoring in each of the last five half-innings.
1914 Seven batters are hit by pitch in a Tigers-Senators games. Tigers pitcher Hooks Dauss hits three, and four Washington pitchers have one each.
1918 Secretary of War Newton Baker grants an extended draft exemption to players appearing in that year’s World Series.
1919 While in his windup on a rainy afternoon, Indians pitcher Ray Caldwell is struck by lightening He recovers and gets the win, 2-1 over the A’s. It’s his first game with Cleveland, too.
1921 Pat Moran manages his 1,000th game, for a 554-438 record (and several ties). He could’ve been a Hall of Fame skipper if his liver had held out.
1922 A hitting streak by Browns star Ken Williams maxes at 28 games.
1928 Lou Gehrig’s longest hitting streak peaks at 20 games.
1931 Bill Terry hits an inside-the-park walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th for a 2-1 Giants win over the Cubs.
1935 Hank Leiber of the Giants hits two home runs in one inning versus the Cubs.
1935 Joe Medwick hits his only inside the park home run.
1936 Johnny Mize’s longest hitting streak peaks at 22 straight games.
1937 Hall of Fame center fielder Earl Averill endures maybe his worst game ever, going 0-for-6 with three Ks.
1938 Minor league pitcher Virgil Trucks fans his 418th batter of the year, the most by any pitcher in any league in the 20th century.
1941 The Dodgers Sym-Phony debuts during a doubleheader with the Cardinals. It will become a fixture at Ebbetts Field.
1943 The A’s lose their 20th straight game. Then they win the second game of a doubleheader to end the streak.
1943 Hall of Fame starting pitcher Carl Hubbell appears in his last game.
1945 Bob Feller returns. In his first appearance since Pearl Harbor, 46,477 see him pitch for the Indians in Cleveland. Feller fans 12 to lead the team to a 4-2 win.
1951 Mickey Mantle returns from the minor leagues and plays right field for the Yankees.
1951 Bill Veeck has one of his wilder stunts, having 1,115 fans manage the game for the Browns versus the A’s. One of the fans in that crowd is Connie Mack.
1952 Hall of Fame shortstop Lou Boudreau‘s career goes out in style. Appearing in his final game, Boudreau wins it with a walk-off sacrifice hit in the ninth. It’s very rare to see a walk-off sacrifice hit, and most of them are really guys scoring via error, but this is an actual suicide squeeze. The opposing pitcher is also a good’un: Satchel Paige.
1954 Jack Harshman throws a complete game shutout and belts a home run in a 4-0 White Sox win over the Senators. One of the Senators he faces is Harmon Killebrew, appearing in the starting lineup for just the second time in his career.
1954 The Phillies pull ace pitcher Robin Roberts for a reliever, ending a streak of 13 straight complete games. Roberts was 12-1 in that span.
1956 Tony Bernazard, crazy second baseman, is born.
1957 The Dodgers use eight relievers in one game, tying an NL record (since broken). They lose to Milwaukee, 13-7.
1959 Casey Stengel manages his 3,000th game, for a 1,616-1,369 career record.
1959 New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses allocates $150,000 to a preliminary study on building a new stadium in the city.
1960 Cal Ripken Jr. is born.
1960 Reds pitcher Joe Nuxhall has the longest relief outing by anyone in baseball all year: 9.2 innings. He allows just one run and picks up the win in the 10th inning.
1961 The Red Sox announce that they won’t pay Jackie Jensen for any games he misses due to his fear of flying.
1961 The Portland Beavers sign ageless wonder Satchel Paige. He’ll post a 2.88 ERA in 25 innings for them.
1962 Dodgers coach Leo Durocher suffers a near fatal reaction to a penicillin injection while in the Polo Grounds clubhouse before a Mets-Dodgers game.
1967 Controversial Phillies slugger Dick Allen puts his right hand through a headlight while pushing his stalled car, and he’ll miss the rest of the year.
1968 Tim Salmon is born.
1968 Bob Gibson fans 15, but loses 6-4 to the Pirates. Three of the runs are unearned.
1969 Hank Aaron homers in the top of the 14th inning, the latest he ever homers in a game.
1971 Ernie Banks belts his 512th home run with the Cubs. It’s his last one.
1971 Luis Tiant suffers through his ninth straight loss. It’s over 23 games (including 15 starts) in which his ERA is 5.25.
1971 Atlanta’s Rico Carty says he suffered permanent damage to his right eye in an altercation with three cops in town.
1973 Carl Yastrzemski, who until now has played only two games at third base ever, plays there today and will spend the rest of the season there.
1973 Red Sox star Reggie Smith calls Boston a racist city and demands a trade.
1974 Davey Lopes steals five bases in one game. Then he’s caught stealing in his sixth attempt.
1975 St. Louis Cardinals base stealing star Lou Brock steals his 800th career base.
1975 Ed Halicki throws a no-hitter in a 6-0 Giants win over the Mets. He fans 10 while walking two.
1975 Davey Lopes’ streak of 38 consecutive successful stolen bases ends when Gary Carter throws him out.
1976 Detroit’s Bill Freehan hits his 200th and final career home run. He has 100 at home, and 100 on the road.
1976 It’s announced that the new Seattle franchise will be nicknamed the Mariners.
1977 Former AL MVP Boog Powell plays in his last game.
1977 Rick Honeycutt makes his big league debut.
1979 Vida Blue, who has walked in just one run in the last five-plus years, walks in two runs in the sixth against the Cubs.
1980 Rollie Fingers suffers his 100th career loss for a 99-100 record so far.
1980 Twins manager Gene Mauch resigns after a 3-2 loss to the Tigers. Every manager the Twins have had since has had no big league managerial experience prior to coming to Minnesota.
1981 NL umpires Nick Colosi and Frank Pulli get in a shoving match with a TV crew and break a camera in a Phillies-Braves game. They’ll be fined for this.
1983 In the top of the 10th inning, three Toronto Blue Jays runners are picked off. Then in the bottom of the 10th, they lose on a walk-off homer by Lenn Sakata.
1983 Rickey Henderson steals a base for the 11th straight game, his longest such streak. He’s 20-for-38 with 19 steals and three caught stealings in that span.
1984 Twins slugging first baseman Kent Hrbek makes his big league debut.
1985 The Yankees sign amateur free agent Jim Leyritz.
1986 Aging slugger Darrell Evans has maybe the worst game of his career, going 0-for-4 with four Ks. He’ll do it again three weeks later.
1988 Dennis Eckersley has his worst relief stint ever. His line: 1 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, and 1 K in a 7-6 A’s loss to the Yankees.
1989 Bert Blyleven ties a personal best with his 10th straight win.
1989 Pete Rose signs an agreement to be banned from baseball permanently.
1990 The Reds sign Ken Griffey Sr.
1992 Bob Wickman makes his big league debut.
1993 Kevin Reimer of the Brewers gets six hits in a game.
1993 The Padres scored 13 runs in the first inning in a 17-4 win over the Cardinals.
1994 The Yankees sign Cristian Guzman as an amateur free agent.
1995 Ken Griffey Jr. hits the first of five career walk-off home runs.
1997 Sammy Sosa hits his 200th career home run.
1997 Ryne Sandberg enjoys the last of 25 career multi-home run games.
1998 Arizona signs amateur free agent Vicente Padilla.
1999 Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez fans 15 Twins in eight innings work.
2000 In a rehab start, Tampa pitcher Tony Saunders breaks his arm throwing a wild pitch.
2001 Former slugger Hank Sauer dies at age 84. His poor defense kept him trapped in the Reds’ minor league system until he was 31 years old. (Most teams would’ve promoted him sooner, but Reds skipper Bill McKechnie prioritized defense over all else). Sauer had six 30-plus homer seasons anyway from 1948-54.
2002 Roberto Alomar hits his 200th career home run.
2002 Manny Ramirez gets on base in his 14th consecutive plate appearance, then makes an out, ending the streak.
2004 Bud Selig says he doubts big leaguers will ever play in the Olympics, as it’s just too disruptive to the pennant race.
2005 Mets prospect Mike Jacobs hits his fourth career home run in just his fourth career game. It’s all downhill from here for him, though.
2006 Sean Casey grounds out …. to left field. He thinks his line drive is caught by the third baseman, but it goes to left, resulting in the rare 5-7-3 ground out.
2007 The Dodgers sign free agent pitcher David Wells.
2008 An estimated crowd of 347 attends the first game of a Reds-Marlins doubleheader. The official attendance is 22,505, but more are there for game two and plenty just stay home.
2009 Ryan Spilborghs hits a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the 14th for a 6-4 Rockies win over the Giants.
2009 One time hot prospect pitcher Adam Eaton appears in his last game.
2010 A marathon Phillies-Astros game has Roy Oswalt playing in left by the 16th inning for Philadelphia. Houston wins, 4-2 in 16 frames.
2010 A skydiver gets stuck on a flagpole at The Ballpark in Arlington during a pregame jump.
2011 Paul Konerko gets his 2,000th career hit.
2011 Longtime Orioles franchise mainstay Mike Flanagan commits suicide at age 59.
2012 In their first game since a big trade that sent several high profile players to the Dodgers, the Red Sox blow a 9-3 lead to the Royals, falling 10-9 in 12 innings.
2012 A walk-off collision? Yup. The Mariners-White Sox games has a wild, wild ninth inning. The Sox enter the ninth leading 7-2, but the Mariners rally with sixth in the top of the ninth for an 8-7 win. The Sox don’t back down, scoring two in the bottom of the frame for the win, with the winning run scoring on a collision by two Seattle outfielders. Oops.