What do you suppose the coolest way to end a game is? It’s got to be something dramatic—something that leaves you wondering what will happen until the last pitch.
When you get down to it, there’s nothing more dramatic than a team winning a walk-off winner in the bottom of the ninth. Yes, a game-ending strikeout is nice too, but nothing really sticks in the memory like a walk-off hit. Look at the most memorable games in history—most of them are remembered because they ended in walk-off fashion.
The best kind of walk-off hit is the walk-off home run. There is nothing quite so dramatic as the home run. It’s the biggest hit of them all. Again, if you think of the most famous games in history, you’ll think of a lot of walk-off home runs—the Carlton Fisk game, the Kirk Gibson game, the David Freeze game, etc.
Taking it still further, the best kind of walk-off home run is the walk-off grand slam. Hey, bigger is better and there is nothing bigger than a swing that scores four.
But if it’s going to be walk-off grand slam, it better be one hit with the team trailing by three runs. A walk-off slam in a tie game or with a team trailing by just a run is overkill. The closer the score, the less needed the big blast.
Since we’re going all out for drama, the walk-off slam should come with two outs. That way if it’s a fly ball, it ends the game with the home team losing. That really helps amp up the drama.
Last but not least, if you want to really, fully maximize the drama, the two-out, walk-off grand slam with the team trailing by three runs should come on a full count. Of course. That’s the way Hollywood would write it up, right?
So that would be the coolest and most dramatic way to end a game—a team down to its last out —to its last strike even with the bases loaded, trailing by three with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth—and then batter lifts one over the fence for a sudden, shocking, game-ending walk-off grand slam. That’s as awesome as it gets. That’s the ultimate walk-off grand slam.
And it doesn’t happen too often, but it does happen—and it happened to Alan Trammell and the Detroit Tigers 25 years ago today.
On June 21, 1988, the Tigers hosted the visiting New York Yankees. (As it happens, they were both vying for control of the AL East at the time, too. As if this game needed any more drama).
For most of the day, there was no suspense whatsoever. New York jumped on Detroit starter Jack Morris for one run in the first and four more in the second. Detroit couldn’t counter at all. They knocked out New York’s starter (a very young Al Leiter) in the fourth, but not because they scored on him, but because he got hit by a comebacker up the middle. Detroit finally scored one run in the sixth, but the Yankees added another run in the top of the ninth.
Heading into the final frame, the game appeared safely locked away with New York up, 6-1.
The Tigers began the final frame with a lead off single and then a walk. That drove reliever Neil Allen from the game. In came New York relief ace Dave Righetti. He let the first batter single to load the bases, but then got a line out and strikeout. The bases were still loaded and Detroit hadn’t scored—and now they were down to their last out.
But then Righetti ran into some trouble. He fell behind start Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker, and ended up walking him on six pitches, forcing in a run. Next up was veteran batter Luis Salazar, and Righetti walked him as well. Now it was 6-3 Yankees with the bases still loaded.
Up came the would-be winning run—Alan Trammell of course. And out went Righetti. You walk in back-to-back runs, and Yankee manager Billy Martin makes you take a run to the showers. In came reliever Cecilio Guante. Though he wouldn’t have much of a career, 1988 would be his best season, with a 2.82 ERA.
We know how this turned out. Trammell worked the count full and then connected for the shot that send the 26,535 fans into hysteria. The Tigers had done it! Six runs in the bottom of the ninth and they had the win!
Detroit entered the day with a half-game lead over New York, and now extended it to a game and a half. Had the Yankees held on, they would’ve taken first place.
That’s key, because it means Trammell’s shot essentially ended the career of New York Yankee manager Billy Martin. The Yankees lost the next game 3-2 in 10 innings to Detroit, and George Steinbrenner, for the fifth time, fired Martin. He never managed again. So this wasn’t just an incredibly cool victory, it also hastened the end of the most stormy manager in recent decades. It was quite a game – and it happened 25 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
3,000 days since Dmitri Young gets the 2005 started with a bang, by belting three home runs on Opening Day.
4,000 days since the time it didn’t count. The All-Star Game ends in a tie, with fans in Milwaukee’s Miller Park chanting “let them play” as both teams run out of pitchers after 11 innings and the score, 7-7.
5,000 days since the Yankees top the Red Sox in Game One of the 1999 ALCS, 4-3 in 10 innings.
7,000 days since Bob Ojeda pitches in his last game.
8,000 days since Denny Neagle makes his big league debut.
10,000 days since the Players Association files a grievance, accusing the owners of collusion.
1866 Matt Kilroy, who struck out over 400 batters in a season in the 1880s, is born.
1884 Deacon McGuire makes his big league debut. The long-lasting catcher will appear in games in 26 different seasons.
1888 George Van Haltren throws a rain-shortened six inning no-hitter. Despite his pitching prowess, he’ll soon switch to the outfield, where he’ll be one of the best center fielders of the 1890s.
1890 Silver King throws a shortened game eight inning no-hitter in the Players League.
1892 The Phillies all-time franchise record hits .500 (568-568). It’ll stay above this level for the next 30 years.
1901 Despite the Reds losing 21-2 to the Dodgers, Cincinnati starting pitcher Doc Parker goes the distance, allowing 21 runs on 26 hits in eight innings of work. By the eighth inning, Brooklyn batters are so sick of running around the bases that they half-heartedly tap the ball into play.
1901 Hughie Jennings is in Philadelphia to sign with the A’s, but changes his mind and signs with the Phillies instead.
1903 Washington manager Tom Loftus gets into a fight with Browns starting outfielder Jesse Burkett. Both home plate umpire Tom Connolly and Browns manger Jimmy McAleer believe that Loftus is drunk during today’s game.
1903 Star slugger Buck Freeman hits for the cycle.
1904 The Boston Herald newspaper refers to the AL New York club as the Yankees, which might be the first time that’s ever happened in print.
1912 Hall of Fame southpaw Eppa Rixey makes his big league debut.
1914 Walter Johnson hits his only grand slam, which proves to be the difference in a 7-3 Senators win over the Tigers.
1916 Rube Foster throws a no-hitter for the Red Sox, 2-0 over the Yankees. It’s the first no-hitter at Fenway Park.
1918 Davy Force, 1870s baseball star, dies at age 68.
1921 Hall of Fame pitcher Herb Pennock has probably his best game at the plate, going 2-for-3 with a double and a homer. He also gets a sacrifice hit.
1928 In the ninth inning of the second game of a doubleheader, star Cub outfielder Hack Wilson goes into the stands at Wrigley Field and attacks milkman Edward Young, who’d been heckling him all day long.
1929 Babe Ruth ties a personal best with seven RBIs in one game. It’s the second of four times he does that.
1930 Ill-deserving Hall of Fame starting pitcher Jesse Haines endures his worst Game Score ever: -7. His line: 8 IP, 20 H, 13 R, 11 ER, 2 BB, and 1 K. It’s personal worst for hits, runs, and earned runs allowed.
1932 Goose Goslin, who is near the end of his career, hits his first home run. It’s career homer 175 out of 177.
1932 Clarence Mitchell, one of the last legal spitballers, plays in his final contest.
1934 Monte Cross, standout defensive shortstop at the turn-of-the-century for the Phillies and A’s, dies at age 64.
1935 The Reds purchase veteran outfielder Babe Herman from the Pirates.
1938 Red Sox hitter Pinky Higgins sets a record by getting 12 straight hits. He reaches base in 14 consecutive times in this stretch.
1939 Mel Ott gets his 2,000th career hit.
1939 Tragic news hits the baseball world: Lou Gehrig has ALS and will retire, effective immediately.
1941 The Browns top Lefty Grove at Fenway Park. No one has beaten him there at May 3, 1938, a winning streak of 20 games for Grove.
1945 The Tigers and A’s battle to a 1-1 24-inning tie.
1946 Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser wins his 100th game. His record: 100-72. He’ll post more wins before his 30th birthday than any pitcher in the lively ball era.
1946 A syndicate headed by Bill Veeck buys the Indians from Alva Bradley for $1,600,000.
1951 Bill Veeck gets an option to buy the Browns from Bill and Charles DeWitt.
1951 Johnny Mize enjoys the last of his 30 multi-home run games.
1952 The Inter-State League’s Harrisburg club signs Eleanor Engle, a female player. She’ll never play as the league president will ban her before she gets a chance.
1955 The Red Sox signs amateur free agent pitcher Bill Monbouquette, who will be a very good pitcher for them for some time.
1955 Richie Ashburn has the first of three career multi-home run games. Not bad for a guy with only 28 career home runs. His WPA for the day is 0.622, his best. He drives in four runs in a 10-8 Phillies win over the Cardinals.
1955 Mickey Mantle becomes the first ever player to homer to straightaway centerfield at Yankee Stadium, clearing a 30-foot high wall.
1956 The Orioles and White Sox toss dueling one-hitters against each other. The Sox win, 1-0.
1956 Rick Sutcliffe, pitcher and ESPN analyst, is born.
1957 Von McDaniel two-hits the Dodgers in his first big league start. Not bad for a kid who just graduated from high school a little earlier this year. There are no hits until the sixth inning.
1957 Stan Musial lays down his 37th and final sacrifice bunt.
1957 Odd. Phillies player Granny Hamner is ejected after arguing over a call he is called safe on. He tries to make the call before the umpire can, the umpire tells him not to, and things escalate. Yeah, odd.
1959 Hank Aaron smashes three homers in one game. He’d never done that before and will never do it again. His six RBIs today tie his personal best also.
1959 Stan Musial belts two doubles, to pass Honus Wagner for the most in NL history, with 653.
1960 Richie Ashburn hits his 100th career triple.
1960 In the California League, Reno fireballer Steve Dalkowski fans 19 over Stockton.
1963 The Indians sign free agent Early Wynn.
1963 The Twins sign amateur free agent Reggie Smith.
1964 Jim Bunning tosses a perfect game, which is also his second career no-hitter. He fans 10 for a Game Score of 97.
1966 Satchel Paige makes his final professional appearance on the mound, tosses two innings for the Carolina League’s Peninsula Grays versus the Greensboro Yankees. He allows two runs in it.
1967 Bob Uecker smashes the only grand slam of his career.
1967 The Red Sox and Yankees have a bean ball war that’s so nasty, dozens of security officers have to break up a brawl after the third HBP.
1968 Hall of Fame skipper Walter Alston suffers his 1,000th loss. His record: 1,278-1,000.
1968 After 48 straight scoreless innings, the Cubs finally score a run. They lost three games 1-0 in the meantime.
1968 Hank Aaron smashes his 494th career home run, passing Eddie Mathews as all-time Braves dinger king.
1969 Veteran pitcher Johnny Podres plays in his last game.
1970 In a 12-inning game, lifetime .215 hitter Carlos Gutierrez gets seven hits for the Tigers.
1971 Ken “Hawk” Harrelson announces his retirement from baseball to join the pro golf tour. It doesn’t take.
1972 Bob Gibson wins his 211th game, passing Jesse Haines as the all-time Cardinals franchise win leader. In that same game, teammate Lou Bock hits two triples. Not bad for a man who turned 33 just three days prior.
1972 Rico Petrocelli ends the day with an unusual line}: six RBIs but just one hit. He had a grand slam and two sacrifice flies.
1973 Bert Blyleven tosses the sixth of his 15 career 1-0 complete game shutout victories.
1973 Bob Robertson hits the only walk-off GIDP since 1956. Pirates 2, Mets 1.
1973 Dave Winfield smashes his first home run.
1973 Lee May smashes three homers in one game for the Astros.
1973 Stan Bahnsen shuts out the Indians 2-0, despite surrendering 12 hits.
1974 Matty Alou appears in his final game.
1975 Against the Rangers, young Angels fireballer Frank Tanana fans 17 batters in one game, his personal best.
1976 Bert Blyleven wins his 100th game, giving him a record of 100-93. It’s also the ninth of his career 15 complete game 1-0 shutout victories.
1976 The Giants sign amateur free agent Bob Brenly.
1978 The Red Sox currently lead the Yankees by 13.5 games. They will blow the lead, though.
1982 The Yankees release outfielder Bobby Bonds.
1982 Rod Carew’s longest hitting streak peaks at 25 games.
1986 Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson signs with the Kansas City Royals.
1986 Tony Gwynn enjoys his best WPA game: 4-for-6 with an IW, HBP, and two stolen bases for a 0.757 WPA in a 8-7 Padres win over the Dodgers.
1989 The Yankees trade Rickey Henderson back to the A’s for three home runs.
1991 Frank Thomas suffers his worst WPA game: 0-for-4 with 3 Ks, a walk, and a GIDP for a –0.472 WPA. In the bottom of the ninth with one out and the bases loaded, Thomas hit into an inning-ending double play that sent the game into extra innings.
1991 Rangers skipper Bobby Valentine manages his 1,000th game. His record: 485-515.
1993 Jeromy Burnitz makes his big league debut.
1994 Lou Whitaker smashes a walk-off grand slam, the sixth of eight career walk-off homers for him. Eight is a lot for someone with fewer than 250 homers.
1994 The Reds sign free agent outfielder Ron Gant.
1997 Milwaukee’s County Stadium suffers flooding when six inches of rain land in a few hours. Dugouts are filled with water to the roof.
1998 Al Campanis, former Dodgers front office official, dies.
1998 Bob Howry makes his big league debut.
1998 Paul Lo Duca makes his big league debut.
2000 Eric Chavez hits for the cycle.
2001 The White Sox purchase veteran slugger Jose Canseco from the Newark squad in the Atlantic League.
2002 In a New York-Pennsylvania League game, a 38-year-old woman runs on the field to argue an umpire’s call. She’s there with her eight-year-old daughter’s Brownie troop.
2003 In a 13-inning game, Nomar Garciaparra gets six hits.
2003 Jim Thome enjoys his greatest game according to WPA. He’s three for five with two homers and a walk in a 6-5 Phillies win over the Red Sox. His WPA: 0.888.
2006 Jose Reyes hits for the cycle.
2008 Star pitcher CC Sabathia hits his second career home run.
2010 Tampa Bay owner Stuart Sternberg says the team can’t succeed if they continue to play in Tropicana Field—or in downtown St. Petersburg at all.
2011 The first eight Twins get hits in the first inning against San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner. He strikes out the Twins pitcher to end the streak and then takes a walk to the showers shortly afterwards. His line: 0.1 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 0 BB, and 1 K.