Twenty-five years ago today, baseball witnessed one of its greatest, and certainly most unlikely, homers of all-time. No, not the Rick Camp homer. If it was that game, I wouldn’t have used the “one of” qualifier last sentence.
No, something happened 25 years ago today that hasn’t happened since. In fact, April 25, 1986 was the only time it happened in the last 40-plus years: A pitcher hit a walk-off home run.
In this case it was Craig Lefferts of the San Diego Padres. A relief pitcher by trade, Lefferts came to the plate a mere 147 times in his 610 games. And, yes, this was most certainly his only career home run. It came with the bases empty and one out in the bottom of the 12th of an 8-8 game against the Giants.
It was actually a heckuva game even before Lefferts’ unlikely blast. The Giants led 3-1 and 4-3 early, but had to stage a late rally from a 7-4 deficit to send the game in overtime. The Giants went ahead 8-7 in the top of the 12th, but the leadoff hitter in the bottom frame, Graig Nettles, hit a blast to tie it.
Among the other oddities of this game showing us how much things have changed in the last 25 years: Not only did the Padres reliever lefferts get to bat, but he did so despite being the man who had just allowed the potential game-losing run in the top of a 12th. That was his second full inning of work. No 37-man bullpens back then.
Oh, one last great factoid: Giving up the homer to Lefferts (as well as the one to Nettles) was former Giants All-Star Greg Minton. He’s famous for his own reason: He set the modern record for most consecutive innings pitched without allowing a home run. After allowing a gopher ball on September 6, 1978, he didn’t up another one until May 2, 1982, a stretch of 190.1 innings over 134 appearances.
So the most unlikely of homers came against the least likely pitcher to allow it. That’s some nice symmetry for you.
As long as I’m here, there are some other events of note celebrating an anniversary or “day-versary” of a sort. Since I’m the only person who actually tallies the latter category, I’ll start with the day-versaries:
1,000 days since the Braves trade Mark Teixeira to the Angels Casey Kotchman and a minor leaguer.
3,000 days since the Yankees signed Cuban defector Jose Contreras to a MLB contract.
4,000 days since Ivan Rodriguez tripled twice in a game. Not bad for a catcher.
4,000 days since Curt Schilling tossed three wild pitches. Bad for a pitcher.
4,000 days since Pedro Martinez tied his career high Game Score of 98. His line: 9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 15 Ks as he destroys the Orioles.
5,000 days since Kevin Brown is denied a no-hitter by a seventh-inning single by Jeromy Burnitz, but he still ties his personal high Game Score at 97. His line: 9 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 11 K.
8,000 days since the first of 55 career multi-homer games for Ken Griffey, Jr.
9,000 days since Greg Maddux made his major league debut. Fun fact: He didn’t pitch. Nope, he appeared as a pinch runner.
10,000 days since the Yankees said goodbye to Steve Balboni, trading him to the Royals.
20,000 days since Scott Sanderson was born. He pitched for a long time and later became a player agent.
Since there are so many of these, I’ll bold some of the more interesting ones (at least interesting to me):
1876: First shutout in NL history. It’s the Cubs, in their league debut.
1883: Russ Ford, godfather of the emery ball, is born.
1901: First AL home run. Ervin Beck of Cleveland hits it.
1901: Wild Opening Day. The Tigers win their first game 14-13 despite entering the bottom of the ninth trailing by 10 runs. Really. Still one of the all-time greatest comebacks.
1904: Cy Young pitches two hitless innings at the end of 2-0 win over the A’s, beginning what turns into a still-record streak for most consecutive hitless innings.
1913: Bill Klem nullifies an apparent game-winning Giants single because Klem was turned around announcing the pinch hitter when the pitch thrown.
1919: MLB debut: Dickie Kerr, White Sox pitcher who won two World Series game that year.
1924: Al Simmons’ hits his first MLB homer. It’s off Walter Johnson.
1930: Jack Quinn, the eternal spitballer, lodges his 200th career loss: 231-200. Just a few months earlier he set a World Series record that lasted a generation for most strikeouts in one game.
1933: Russ Van Atta didn’t have a great career, but he sure had a heck of an opening act. In his debut, he goes 4-for-4 while shutting out Washington. Yanks win 16-0. There was also a nasty brawl in this game. It was so bad a police riot squad is called out, and some attack the Yanks.
1936: Luke Appling suffered through what might have been his worst day at the plate ever: 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. The last is especially impressive, as he fanned only 528 times in 10,242 career PA. In 1936, aside from this game, he whiffed 22 times in 613 PA.
1937: MLB debut: Cliff Melton, who fans 13 that day for the Giants. He still loses 3-1 to Boston, but will win 20 times on the season with 142 strikeouts, fourth in the league.
1939: MLB debut: Dizzy Trout.
1941: Hall of Famer Earl Averill plays his last game.
1944: Tony Mullane, 1880s star pitcher, dies. Ladies Day supposedly began because of him, as his team wanted to cash in on the handsome Mullane’s appeal to female fans.
1948: Larry Doby ties the MLB record by fanning five times in one day.
1953: Richie Ashburn gets three sacrifice hits in one game. In all, he’s 0-for-4 with one walk in a 7-6 extra inning win for the Phillies.
1954: First of three times Hank Aaron gets five hits in a game. Not bad for the kid enjoying his first month in the big leagues.
1954: Ray Murray, Orioles catcher, ejected for praying. He’s upset at an umpire’s call and prays that the Lord gives the ump better eyesight.
1959: Tony Phillips, late blooming baseball player, is born.
1961: A’s 20, Twins 2. The only time all year any team scores 20 runs in a game. It’s also the only time the A’s did it in Kansas City at all, and the first time the franchise did it in 32 years.
1961: As nice as the A’s win above was, it wasn’t the most important bit of good news for the franchise that day. On April 25, 1961, they signed Bert Campaneris, the first piece of their Mustache Gang puzzle.
1962: Harry Chiti traded for himself. The Mets sent him to Cleveland earlier for a player to be named later. Today, he becomes that player to be named later as Cleveland sends him back to New York.
1969: Second straight day with Reggie Jackson homering twice in a game.
1969: Jack Hiatt hits widely over his head. The catcher, who will end the year hitting .196 with 34 RBI, bangs two homers and seven RBI, including a 13th-inning grand slam in 12-8 Giants win over Houston.
1970: Earl Wilson of the Tigers does something rare: he reaches THIRD base on dropped third strike. After he whiffed, the Twins entire team pulls a Josh Paul and starts trotting off the field, so Detroit’s third base coach tells Wilson to run.
1970: For the second time this week and seventh time in his career, Willie Stargell launches a homer over the right field roof in Forbes Field.
1971: Don Sutton wins, pushing his career record to 86-85. It’ll be over .500 forevermore.
1971: Curt Flood plays his last game, as he abruptly jumps the Senators team and goes to Europe, telegramming his retirement.
1973: Only time Harmon Killebrew fans with the bases loaded to end a game. Boston 4, Minnesota 3.
1975: Jacque Jones is born.
1976: Rick Monday’s most famous moment: He rescues a U.S. flag from would-be flag burners in Dodger Stadium.
1981: Maury Wills’ most infamous: He’s caught messing with the dimensions of the batters’ box by Oakland skipper Billy Martin, and the umps eject him from the game.
1987: Whitey Herzog’s 1,000th managerial win: 1,000-856.
1990: Bill Buckner hits an inside-the-park homer. He’s 41 years old, it’s his only homer of the season, and the last of his career. Someone misplayed a ball but good out there.
1993: Frank Thomas plays his 31st straight game without a homer, his all-time worst drought.
1994: Paul Molitor, age 37 years, 8 months, and 3 days, hits his first career inside-the-park homer. He gets No. 2 the next year. Late bloomer, that Molitor.
1994: Ryne Sandberg, 34 years and 7 months old, hits two triples in a game.
1995: Baseball strike ends. Dodgers beat Marlins, 8-7.
1997: Ken Griffey, Jr. hits three homers in a game for the second time.
1997: Matt Williams hits three homers in a game.
2000: Sammy Sosa plays center field for the last time. He had some speed when he was young.
2000; Several players take today off to protest the feds’ taking of Elian Gonzalez in a pre-dawn raid a few days earlier. On the Marlins: Mike Lowell, Vladimir Nunez, Alex Fernandez, Michael Tejera. On Tampa: Jose Canseco. On the Mets: Cookie Rojas (coach) and Rey Ordonez.
2000: WPA’s favorite Tom Glavine game: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K, in 1-0 win. WPA: 0.783.
2003: Todd Helton’s 1,000th hit. It took him 844 games.
2003: Richie Sexson bangs out three homers in a game for the second time.
2007; Jake Peavy fans 16 D-backs, including nine in a row at one point, but San Diego loses 3-2.
2008: Royals release Hideo Nomo, ending his MLB career.
2009: Albert Pujols reaches 1,000 career RBI in style with his eighth career grand slam and second one of the year.