With all of the discussion about Mark Teixeira's approach at the plate and his seeming refusal to change that approach to combat the shift the opposition has imposed upon him, I always find myself thinking of the days of another fine fielding Yankees first baseman and my all-time favorite player, Don Mattingly. Those of us who were lucky enough to watch him play both on the field and at the plate witnessed fielding and hitting at its finest.
Like Teixeira, Mattingly saved many a throw in the dirt from becoming an error. He led the league in fielding percentage four times and was consistently near the top in all defensive categories. But that's not what I'm here to talk about. I'm here to talk about eight games in July of 1987 and the streak that epitomizes the kind of hitter that Don Mattingly was.
From July 8th through July 18, 1987, Mattingly hit at least one home run in every game, 10 total in that infamous eight game stretch. He went 17 for 37, with 2 doubles and 10 home runs while driving in 21. Those numbers are great and all, but it's how he did it that was really impressive when you compare him to so many of the one-dimensional hitters of today.
On July 8th, the left-handed hitting Mattingly came to the plate in the bottom of the first with 2 on and none out to face Twins lefty starter Mike Smithson, hitting a 3-run homer to right. He led off the bottom of the 6th facing reliever Juan Berenguer, hitting his second homer of the game into the right field seats. Yankees 13, Twins 4.
On July 9th, Mattingly hit a 2-out, bases empty shot to right in the 6th inning off of right handed White Sox starter Rich Dotson, homering in his 2nd consecutive game in a 6-3 loss to the ChiSox.
On July 10th, Donnie Baseball came up to the plate in the bottom of the 2nd down 2-0 with the bases loaded. With Rick Cerone on third, Rickey Henderson on second, and Willie Randolph on first, Mattingly hit a bomb out to left off of lefty Joel McKeon, who had just replaced an ineffective Scott Nielsen. Mattingly greeted him rudely with one of a record setting 6 grand slams he hit during the '87 season, helping the Yanks to a 9-5 victory over Chicago.
On July 11th, in the bottom of the third, Mattingly hit a two-out solo shot to right off of big right hander Jose DeLeon in a 15 inning 5-2 loss to the White Sox.
On July 12th, Mattingly hit yet another two-out, bases empty home run. This blast to right came in the 7th off of right handed reliever Jim Winn in a 6-2 Bronx Bombers victory. He had homered in 5 straight games heading into the All-Star break.
On July 16th, in his first game after the All-Star game, Mattingly exploded for 2 homers and 7 RBI in a 12-3 blowout of the Texas rangers in Arlington. In the top of the second inning with 2 outs and the bases loaded and the Yankees down 1-0, Mattingly blasted a knuckler from right-hander Charlie Hough into the right field bleachers for his fourth grand slam of the season. In the top of the eighth with one on, he once again blasted a two-out homer to left field off of everyone's favorite baseball analyst, left-handed reliever Mitch Williams.
On July 17th, up 6-1 in the top of the 6th inning, Mattingly yet again hit a two-out, bases empty shot to right field off of lefty reliever Paul Kilgus in an 8-4 Yankees victory over the Rangers. It was the seventh straight game in which MAttingly homered, one game shy of tying the record set by Dale Long of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1956.
On July 18th, leading off the 4th inning against right-hander Jose Guzman in a 7-2 loss to Texas, Mattingly launched a homer over the left field fence for his 18th home run of the season and last of homers in 8 consecutive games, tying the record set by Long.
It was a great streak by a fantastic baseball player. In the game preceding the streak, he had 3 hits including a double off the right field wall. On July 19th, in the game in which the streak ended, Mattingly hit an opposite field shot off the top of the left center field wall, missing a homer in a 9th consecutive game by about 8 inches. Yes, it was a great streak, but the way in which he hit his homers and off of whom he hit them is what was the most impressive thing to me. Look at how many of these home runs were hit off of left handed pitching and how many were hit to the opposite field. And so many of them with 2 outs, keeping innings alive to do more damage. Watching Mattingly uncoil from his patented crouch and strike with lightning quickness and bat speed at the baseball like a rattler at an unsuspecting rat was a thing of beauty.
If only Mark Teixeira would be able and willing to hit the ball the opposite way...