On Sunday afternoon, the Yankees went for the sweep against the Chicago White Sox. The game ran the gamut of emotions as they first fell behind ace Chris Sale 3-0, then came roaring back with four unanswered runs only to watch as Avisail Garcia stunned shutdown closer David Robertson with a game-tying homer in the ninth inning. The Yankees only had the weaker part of their bullpen to work with in extra innings, and the urgency to win as soon as possible was very high. It felt like a miracle that David Huff struck out Jose Abreu with runners on to escape the top of the tenth scoreless.
In the bottom of the frame, both Martin Prado and Mark Teixeira quickly went down on strikeouts against Jake Petricka. It appeared that the game would be headed to more innings and more uncertainty out of the 'pen. However, Carlos Beltran gave the Yankees hope with a double to left-center field, and the White Sox intentionally walked Chase Headley to get to backup catcher Francisco Cervelli. At this point, Joe Girardi decided to go for the victory by sending Brian McCann up to the plate instead. McCann hasn't had a great year, but he always has power potential, and Girardi had saved this bullet off the bench for the right moment. McCann worked Petricka to a full count, then did this:
McCann's rope down the left field line into the short porch bleachers gave the Yankees a much-needed victory and a sweep. It was a homer that brought memories of Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series to mind. Obviously, it wasn't exactly the same since McCann wasn't battling injuries and it was just a August game against a non-contender, but Gibson was also a pinch-hitter sent up to try to win it with two outs. These "Kirk Gibson homers" are rare, as everything needs to line up perfectly for a player to even get into this scenario, and he has to win it with a homer. It's the classic situation of "I might have just one crack to win it, so I'm going to send a guy with some pop up to the plate to see what he can do." (This is why "Kirk Gibson homer" flows off the tongue better.)
The website Yankee Numbers has a helpful list of every walk-off homer in Yankees history, complete with quick descriptions about each situation. There have been 217 walk-off homers in the Yankees' 111-year history, but McCann's winner was only the eighth to come in a pinch-hit scenario. He now joins the following seven players in franchise history to hit a Kirk Gibson homer:
August 2, 1960 vs. Detroit Tigers
This was a hell of a day for the eventual American League champions. It was the second game of a doubleheader at the original Yankee Stadium, and Casey Stengel's Yankees had already prevailed in a long 14-inning affair in the afternoon portion. A game-tying single in the ninth by future Hall of Famer Al Kaline against flamethrower Ryne Duren had sent the game to extras, and it took five more frames before the Yankees rallied to win on a walk-off single by third-string catcher Johnny Blanchard. In the nightcap, it was Detroit's turn to carry a slim lead into the ninth only to watch the Yankees tie it. Whitey Ford had pitched eight inning of one-run ball, but reliever Duke Maas had surrendered a solo homer to slugger Norm Cash in the ninth that gave Jim Bunning some insurance.
The future Kentucky senator and Hall of Famer was working on a two-hit shutout, but he walked light-hitting Bobby Richardson to begin the ninth and manager Jimmy Dykes decided that it was time to turn to the bullpen and Bill Fischer with the heart of the lineup coming up. Fischer got Mickey Mantle to ground into a fielder's choice. However, he had no such luck again eventual AL MVP Roger Maris, who belted a two-run homer to tie the game at two apiece. An inning later, the score was still 2-2, and rookie Bob Bruce entered the game for the Tigers. The first batter he faced was former All-Star Bob Cerv, pinch-hitting for the pitcher Maas. The left fielder had belted 68 homers over the previous three seasons and the Yankees had acquired him in May in a deal with the Kansas City Athletics, a team they dealt with so often that they were referred to as a Yankees farm team (Kansas City previously had a farm team for the Yankees as well). Stengel's decision was wise, as Cerv crushed a pinch-hit homer to win it for the Bronx Bombers, as they swept the doubleheader in a 3-2 victory.
August 26, 1966 vs. Detroit Tigers
Six years and a few weeks later, the Yankees found themselves in a similar situation, though they were a very different team now. They were in the middle of a nightmare season, their first last-place finish in more than half a century, and they had nothing to play for. On this day though, they played a narrow affair against the much more competitive Tigers. Detroit unsurprisingly led the game 5-3 entering the ninth, as they took a two-run lead in the eighth on a two-run homer by Earl Wilson.
Detroit manager Frank Skaff asked reliever Hank Aguirre to finish it off after an effortless eighth, but he immediately ran into trouble by allowing a ground-rule double to Elston Howard. Clete Boyer drove him home with an RBI single, and Ralph Houk decided to go for the jugular by sending up a future Hall of Famer named Mickey Mantle. Limited to just 108 games in '66 due to injuries, Mantle hadn't played in nine days. This was much closer to an actual Kirk Gibson situation, as the hobbled Mantle faced the task of hitting a come-from-behind homer to win it. "The Mick" did just that, slugging a two-run homer to stun the Tigers, the 496th bomb of his career. It was one of the last career highlights for the most popular player of his generation.
September 15, 1970 vs. Boston Red Sox
In 1970, the Yankees were a better team than they were in '66, but still nowhere close to the Baltimore Orioles, who romped to the AL East title that year with a remarkable 108 victories. Even a 93-win team like the Yankees just couldn't compare to the soon-to-be World Series champions. Nonetheless, the Yankees played out the string in September, and on the 15th, they had a doubleheader against their rival, the Red Sox. New York won the opener 8-6, but the second game was a scoreless affair until late in the game. Both Mike Nagy and Steve Kline would go the distance for their respective clubs this evening. At first, it appeared that Boston's two-run rally against Kline in the eighth led by Mike Andrews and Joe Lahoud's two-out hits would be the decisive blows.
An inning later though, the Yankees turned the tables on Nagy, as Jim Lyttle led off with a single to right and Andrews threw away Frank Baker's grounder to second base to put the tying run in scoring position with nobody out. Houk pinch-hit Pete Ward for Jerry Kenney, but the nine-year veteran struck out. Undeterred, Houk went for it again, this time with former Rookie of the Year winner Curt Blefary.
The lefthanded hitter had gotten off to a promising start to his big league career with 94 homers over his first five seasons, but after being acquired in the off-season for fan favorite Joe Pepitone, he had managed just eight homers thus far. Houk felt that he represented the best option off the bench to pinch-hit for Kline though, and his faith was rewarded. Just as Houk hoped, Blefary turned on Nagy's pitch and belted a three-run homer to win the game for the Yankees. Blefary was traded to the A's just 21 games into the '71 season, so his Yankees career was brief, but he at least had this one great highlight.
September 27, 1979 vs. Cleveland Indians
There's no getting around it--1979 was just a lost season for the Yankees. It was a disappointing follow-up to back-to-back World Series titles and three straight American League pennants. Nothing made it worse than the gut-wrenching loss of captain Thurman Munson in a plane crash on August 2nd. The Orioles were running away with the division title anyway and the team was emotionally devastated. The most famous game they played following the loss of their captain was the Bobby Murcer game after his funeral, but there was another inspiring game from later that year that is not as well-remembered.
On September 27th, the Yankees turned to a lefty acquired from the Rangers in the Sparky Lyle trade to make his third career start: Dave Righetti. "Rags" pitched well against the Indians, throwing 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball while striking out four batters and allowing only four hits. Chris Chambliss had homered against Indians starter Rick Waits to tie the score, and it was up to the Yankees' bullpen to preserve the tie.
In the ninth inning however, rookie sensation setup man Ron Davis (father of Ike Davis) allowed a leadoff single to third baseman Ted Cox. It was the first hit Davis had allowed in 2 2/3 innings, but Billy Martin decided that Davis had pitched enough. He turned to Hall of Fame closer Goose Gossage to keep the Indians at bay. The first batter Gossage faced was former teammate Cliff Johnson, who he had notoriously brawled with in the Yankees locker room earlier that year. Now, Johnson enacted his revenge on Goose by hitting a long double to center field that scored Cox and gave Cleveland a 2-1 lead. Although Gossage kept the Indians off the board for the rest of the inning, the Yankees had to rally to win it.
They got off to a good start in the bottom of the ninth as George Scott knocked Waits out of the game with a leadoff single. Cleveland manager Dave Garcia asked Sid Monge to close out the victory, but after inducing a fly ball from Chabliss, he pitched around dangerous pinch-hitter Reggie Jackson and walked him. Then, Monge inexplicably walked the underwhelming Juan Beniquez to load the bases. Veteran Roy White pinch-hit for Fred Stanley in the final at-bat of his suberb 15-year career in pinstripes. As he so often did, White got the job done with a fly ball to left that was deep enough to score pinch-runner Bobby Brown to tie the game.
Oscar Gamble was next up for the Yankees, pinch-hitting for catcher Bruce Robinson. A member of the Yankees' AL champion team in '76, Gamble had spent the next couple seasons away from the Bronx before returning in a trade deadline deal with the Rangers. He had played extremely well in his return, batting .389/.452/.735 over 36 games, and the man more famous for his afro delivered. The lefty smoked Monge's pitch over the wall for a walk-off three-run homer, and Yankees fans had at least one more small reason to smile in '79.
September 26, 1981 vs. Baltimore Orioles
Almost two years to the day of Gamble's pinch-hit walk-off blast, another popular Yankee had a Kirk Gibson homer of his own. The '81 campaign was utterly bizarre due to the midyear player's strike. By virtue of leading the AL East at the time of the strike, the Yankees had already earned a playoff berth, though George Steinbrenner felt the manager who put them in that situation, Gene Michael, wasn't inspiring his players enough once baseball resumed int he second half. He fired Michael and replaced him with Bob Lemon, but the Yankees were sluggish in the second half of the season anyway. If they had won the second half division title as well, they could have skipped straight into the ALCS, but it was evident as September wound down that the Yankees would have to play an extra playoff series just to clinch the AL East division title.
Thus, the Yankees were again just playing out the string in a late September game that turned tense. This game did mean a lot to Earl Weaver's Orioles, who were trying desperately to fight off a few other teams for the right to play the Yankees for the AL East in the Division Series. Mike Flanagan started for Baltimore, and the Yankees disrespected Flanny by taking a 3-2 lead into the seventh. Gary Roenicke took Rudy May deep in the seventh to tie it though, and DH Jose Morales did the same against Davis in the eighth to give the O's a 4-3 lead. With Tippy Martinez in the game for Baltimore, it looked like Weaver's crew would pull out a crucial win.
A leadoff walk to Rick Cerone proved to be damaging. Brown bunted the tying run into scoring position, and new pitcher Steve Stone's defense betrayed him on a Willie Randolph grounder. Third baseman Doug DeCinces bobbled it, and Weaver was back out to the mound for another pitching change. Hoping for a double play, Weaver turned to righty Tim Stoddard. Lemon countered by asking the veteran Murcer to come off the bench and provide a spark. Murcer had found pinch-hit heroics earlier that season with a pinch-hit grand slam in April, and he came up big again by taking Stoddard deep for a three-run homer, his 160th as a Yankee. The fans went into a frenzy, and they would witness more excitement that year as the Yankees added another AL pennant to their collection.
September 28, 1987 vs. Boston Red Sox
The team's season success has so much to do with how well a game is remember. Take this one for instance. In it, the Yankees completed an incredible comeback in a late-September game against the Red Sox, who had just won the AL pennant in '86. If this had occurred in a season in which the Yankees had made the playoffs, then it would probably be recalled as one of the many seminal games in the long history of the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry. Unfortunately, the Yankees were good, but not good enough in '87 to catch the Tigers or Blue Jays for the AL East crown. Still, this was a hell of a game.
August starting pitching acquisition Bill Gullickson took the ball for the Yankees, and he was absolutely rocked. Boston batted around in the first and took an immediate 5-0 lead on the strength of a two-run double by Mike Greenwell and a surprising three-run triple by shortstop Jody Reed. They tacked another run on in the second on a Dwight Evans sacrifice fly, and Sam Horn slugged a solo shot in the fourth to run the score up to 7-0. The Yankees were getting humiliated at home, and manager Lou Piniella could no longer deal with Gullickson, who departed having surrendered seven runs in just four innings.
The Yankees began to chip away in the sixth. Rob Woodward had allowed only one hit in five innings, but Rickey Henderson smacked a solo homer to lead off the frame. An inning later, Dan Pasqua singled and with one out, Bobby Meacham lined a double down the left field line. Jeff Sellers relieved Woodward, but he made matters worse by walking Rickey to load the bases. Randolph brought Pasqua home with a sacrifice fly, and Don Mattingly smoked a single so hard that not even Rickey could score from second. Sellers then walked Dave Winfield to load the bases, but struck out Mike Pagliarulo to escape the jam.
In the ninth, Sellers was still on for the Red Sox, who had a comfortable 7-3 lead. Meacham led it off with his second double of the game, and Sellers walked Henderson again. Wes Gardner entered to try to clean things up, but he walked Randolph to load the bases. Suddenly, the tying run was at the plate in the defending MVP Mattingly. "Donnie Baseball" lifted a sacrifice fly to bring a run home, and Winfield followed with a liner to right field that went for a double. Rickey scored and it was now 7-5. Desperate for someone to get an out, John McNamara now asked Joe Sambito to retire pinch-hitter Jerry Royster, but he came through with a two-run single to left. Improbably, the game was tied at seven.
Next up was another pinch-hitter, 36-year-old former All-Star left fielder Mike Easler. He did not know it at the time, but he only had three plate appearances left in his fine 14-year career. He faced Calvin Schiraldi, the pitching goat of the '86 World Series, and McNamara's fourth pitcher of the inning. The pitch was flate, and Easler slugged it over the fence for the 118th and final homer of his MLB career. The Yankees, who trailed 7-0 in this game, had scored six runs in the ninth to stun the Red Sox and win. Games like those normally become classics in fans' memories. Oh well.
June 5, 2008 vs. Toronto Blue Jays
I remember this game well. It was a rare day game in the middle of the school year, and I was finishing up my last year of high school. The Yankees had not played well to date, as their final season at Yankee Stadium was trending toward disappointment. Indeed, they were a game under .500 when this game began. Chien-Ming Wang fell apart in the fifth inning while I was still at school, and with the score Blue Jays 7, Yankees 2, it almost seemed like it was not worth tracking on my phone.
The Yankees would not go away in this game. They loaded the bases with no one out in the fifth and brought two runs home on a pair of outs, and an inning later, Wilson Betemit of all players greeted new Toronto reliever Jesse Carlson with a two-run homer to make it 7-6. The score stayed that way until the ninth inning, when Kyle Farnsworth entered the game. I was home by this point, and I unfortunately got to witness Kyle Farnsworth do Kyle Farnsworth things on my TV. Line drive single for Alex Rios. Line drive single for Scott Rolen. Booming ground-rule double by Matt Stairs. The Blue Jays had an insurance run now, though they missed out aon a chance for more thanks to some poor situational hitting by Lyle Overbay and Rod Barajas.
Two-time All-Star closer B.J. Ryan came in to pitch the ninth for the Blue Jays. In the middle of perhaps the most ludicrous reliever contracts in baseball history, a five-year, $47 million deal signed prior to the 2006 campaign, Ryan underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2007, but he was still an intimidating threat on the mound. He carried a 1.53 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings into the day's game. The Yankees had two out and none on against an elite reliever. Then, Ryan fell apart.
Alex Rodriguez kept the game alive with a weakly-hit infield single to the left side. However, the next batters was a lefty: Hideki Matsui. In his career, Ryan tortured lefties to a .179/.285/.273 triple slash. Nonetheless, "Godzilla" kept the game alive by lining a single to center to bring A-Rod home, who had advanced to second on defensive indifference. Now, first-year Yankees manager Joe Girardi rolled the dice on another lefty: slugger Jason Giambi. Ryan had not given up a homer to a lefty in two and a half years. The mustachioed masher did not care:
Please excuse MLB.com's shoddy video resolution from 2008
There weren't too many highlights from 2008, but man, the Giambino really brought it with this pinch-hit walk-off homer.
Welcome to the club, Brian.