Bryce Harper
Miles Kennedy/Philadelphia Phillies/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Bracket: Best walkoffs of the 2019 regular season

3 Comments

It may be March, but sadly there will not be any March Madness to watch due to coronavirus (COVID-19). Filling out brackets is always such a fun part of the experience. This is a baseball blog, but I thought I’d create my own bracket fun. Today, I’ll go over the best walk-offs of the 2019 season. As usual, I don’t expect everyone to agree with my picks, so feel free to fill out the bracket how you see fit in the comments. I will also inevitably miss some moments that might have merited inclusion, so be sure to mention those as well.

1. Bryce Harper crushes walk-off grand slam vs. Cubs (August 15)

I discussed Harper’s grand slam in yesterday’s bracket as well. Both Harper and the Phillies in general had high expectations for the 2019 season that simply weren’t met. They realistically weren’t ever going to be met, but that’s what happens when you sign the richest contract in baseball history. Harper’s season was considered disappointing by many and he didn’t have many memorable moments up until this day in mid-August. If we can pinpoint a specific moment in which public perception of Harper changed on a dime, it was this.

The Phillies entered the bottom of the ninth trailing the Cubs 5-1, seemingly on their way to a low-energy loss. However, the offense rallied for two runs and loaded the bases with one out for Harper, facing lefty Derek Holland. The rest, as they say, was history. After a five-pitch battle, Harper turned on the sixth pitch, an inside fastball, yanking it into the second deck at Citizens Bank Park for a cathartic walk-off grand slam.

2. Hunter Renfroe pinch-hits, belts salami to walk off Dodgers (May 5)

This happened early enough in the season when many still had hope for the Padres, still fresh off of signing third baseman Manny Machado. However, the club had lost five of its previous seven games and appeared headed to another loss when it entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 5-4. The Padres, however, immediately built a threat against closer Kenley Jansen, loading the bases on a line drive single followed by two bunt singles. The Padres’ efforts nearly went down in vain as they made two quick outs without bringing in a run. Renfroe saved the day, cranking out a Jansen offering to the Western Metal Supply Co. in left field for a walk-off salami.

3. Will Smith becomes third consecutive Dodger rookie to hit walk-off (June 23)

In June, the Dodgers accomplished a rather odd feat: they swept the Rockies in a three-game series, winning all three games on walk-off hits from rookies. Matt Beaty was the hero on June 21, breaking a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the ninth with a two-run homer. Alex Verdugo walked it off the next day with a solo homer in the bottom of the 11th to send the Dodgers home 5-4 winners. On June 23, it was Will Smith’s turn.

With the game tied 3-3, Beaty reached base to lead off the bottom of the ninth thanks to a throwing error. He advanced to second base on a wild pitch with one out. Russell Martin came up with two outs and was intentionally walked to bring Smith to the plate against Scott Oberg, which turned out to be a mistake. Smith muscled Oberg’s off-speed pitch over the fence in right-center field for a walk-off three-run homer.

Fun fact: The Dodgers went on a seven-game road trip after this game. When they returned home, they won two more games in walk-off fashion, giving them five consecutive walk-off wins at home.

4. Kurt Suzuki helps Nats close six-run deficit with walk-off three-run shot (September 3)

Suzuki capped off arguably the wildest comeback of the year. The Mets led the Nationals 5-2 going into the bottom of the eighth and the Nationals were able to score twice to close the gap. Things were looking grim as the Mets exploded for five runs in the top of the ninth to push their lead to 10-4. But if the Mets taught us anything in the first five months of the 2019 season, it was that their bullpen could not be trusted.

The Nats’ offense went to work against Paul Sewald, using three singles and a double to score twice while making only one out. Lefty Luis Avilán came in to face Juan Soto, but Soto won the exchange with a single to load the bases. Veteran Ryan Zimmerman, facing Mets closer Edwin Díaz, wowed the crowd with a two-run double to make it 10-8. Suzuki then completed the comeback by ripping a 3-2 fastball over the fence in left field to walk it off. The Nationals’ win probability was so low it was rounded down to zero percent at the start of the inning. It didn’t reach double digits until Soto’s single.

5. Two-way player Michael Lorenzen rips pinch-hit walk-off line drive double (September 8)

I wrote a couple days ago about why I love pitchers hitting (and playing other positions) so much, so it should not be surprising to see Lorenzen on my bracket. Lorenzen has been a pitcher for the entirety of his professional career, but the Reds converted him into a two-way player last year because he’s a good hitter and quite athletic. In 2018, he hit four homers with an OPS of 1.043 in 34 plate appearances.

On this particular day, the Diamondbacks and Reds were tied 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth. The Reds put together a threat with back-to-back one-out singles against Yoan López. With an unfavorable platoon matchup, D-Backs manager Torey Lovullo decided to bring in lefty T.J. McFarland to face Josh VanMeter. Reds manager David Bell countered, pinch-hitting Lorenzen to regain the platoon advantage. McFarland and Lorenzen battled for eight pitches, but Lorenzen emerged victorious on the ninth pitch, ripping a line drive down the left field line for a walk-off single.

Lorenzen had pulled off a Ruthian feat just a few days prior against the Phillies, hitting a pinch-hit home run, pitching two innings of relief and earning the win, and playing center field. He truly does it all.

6. Ryan Braun ends 18-inning game with walk-off two-run single (May 4)

The Brewers took a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning against the Mets, but Pete Alonso wasn’t having any of it. The eventual NL Rookie of the Year blasted a leadoff home run off of Junior Guerra to tie the game at 2-2. Little did we know that would be the last bit of scoring until the 18th inning. The two clubs traded goose eggs for eight innings.

In the top of the 18th, the Mets appeared to have finally broken through when Jeff McNeil gave them a 3-2 lead with a two-out RBI single against Taylor Williams. Mets reliever Chris Flexen, who kept the Brewers scoreless in the 17th, couldn’t find the strike zone. He walked Eric Thames to lead off the bottom half of the 18th, then issued two more one-out walks to Yasmani Grandal and Travis Shaw to load the bases for Ryan Braun. Braun, collecting his sixth hit of the night, slapped a single into right field to bring Thames and Grandal to the plate, walking the Brewers off 4-3 winners.

7. Dom Smith returns to majors after two months, smacks walk-off three-run bomb in season finale (September 29)

Smith, formerly one of the Mets’ top prospects, missed two months between late July and late September due to a stress reaction in his right foot. He wanted to return before the end of the season and got his wish, pinch-hitting in the bottom of the 11th of the 2019 regular season finale. The Braves had taken a 6-4 lead in the top half, but the Mets kept hope alive thanks to singles from Luis Guillorme and Wilson Ramos. With two outs, Smith was tasked with facing lefty Grant Dayton. Dayton badly missed his spot with a fastball and Smith took full advantage to end the season on a happy note, sending the Mets into the offseason 7-6 winners over the Braves.

8. Brian McCann notches 1,000th career RBI with walk-off two-run single (June 14)

McCann, retiring at season’s end, notched a career milestone in epic fashion against a division rival. The Braves trailed the Phillies 8-6 entering the bottom of the ninth but were slowly getting to closer Héctor Neris. Neris allowed a leadoff single to Dansby Swanson, then issued a two-out walk to Nick Markakis. Austin Riley closed the gap with an RBI double, putting the tying run on third base and the winning run on second base to bring up McCann, searching not only to win the game for the Braves but for his 1,000th career RBI as well. McCann blooped a Neris splitter into left-center field to score both runners and earn both achievements in one fell swoop.

. . .

Here’s how my bracket plays out. I am the bracket seeder and I decide who advances, so the higher seed should always win, but just to spice things up and to prevent the finals from being two walk-off slams, I had the Will Smith walk-off homer over Hunter Renfroe.

What were your favorite walk-offs of the 2019 season? What would your bracket look like?

Today in Baseball History: The Yankees become The Yankees

Getty Images
1 Comment

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how the Cubs became the Cubs. In the course of that post I talked about how fluid and casual team nicknaming was in the early 20th century. Sometimes the press named a team, informally, and it stuck. Sometimes the team’s owner switched the name back and forth multiple times. It was sort of all over the place.

That was true, too, of baseball’s most storied and, let’s be honest, stuffy organization, the New York Yankees. Rather than proclaim, from on high, what their name — what their brand — would be, they got their name through the same haphazard way so many other teams did. But, on this date in 1913, they became the Yankees for good. Let’s talk about how they finally got there.

They didn’t start in New York, actually. They started in Baltimore, as the Orioles. But they weren’t even the original Baltimore Orioles. That ream was a National League club — led by John McGraw — that the National League contracted along with the Cleveland Spiders following the 1899 season. McGraw cooled his heels in St. Louis In 1900 but then, the following year, the upstart Western League, led by Ban Johnson, upgraded itself to self-proclaimed major league status and reformed as the American League. They put a team in Baltimore, called itself the Orioles and brought John McGraw back via the offering of an ownership stake.

Ban Johnson and McGraw didn’t get along too well and they were in pretty constant dispute. Johnson also didn’t think too much of Baltimore as an AL city and wanted to move the team to New York — Manhattan, specifically — to compete head-to-head with the New York Giants. McGraw, seeing the writing on the wall, but not wanting to let Johnson tell him where to go, left the Orioles in the middle of the 1902 season and joined the New York Giants as their manager and part-owner. Ever the pain-in-the butt, he gave his ownership interest in the Orioles to the Giants, which was a problem given that they were a member of the rival league which wanted to see the AL crushed and eliminated. Add that to the list of many AL-NL disagreements bubbling up at the time.

It was all solved, for the most part, after the 1902 season when the AL and NL entered into what amounted to a peace treaty. They stopped the widespread practice of teams poaching each other’s players and settled various ownership and territorial disputes like the one between the Giants and the Orioles. Finally, as a part of that agreement, the NL agreed to let Johnson to move the Orioles to New York for the 1903 season. What the Giants would not permit, however, is the new AL club to play in the Polo Grounds, so they had to find a new ballpark.

The New York club hastily constructed a new wooden park seating about 16,000 fans on the west side of Broadway between 165th and 168th streets. It was originally called American League Park and housed The New York Americans Baseball Club. The place would eventually be nicknamed Hilltop Park because of its relatively high elevation compared to the rest of Manhattan. The Americans eventually came to be called the Highlanders. For years most people believed that that was solely because they played on literal high land, but more recent research reveals that it was at least in part a play on the last name of the team’s president, Joe Gordon, combined with a reference to the famous British military unit, the Gordon Highlanders. Either way, the Highlanders they were throughout the oughts.

The Polo Grounds was devastated by a fire in 1911 and needed to be rebuilt. Despite their past disagreements, the Highlanders generously allowed the Giants to share their home at Hilltop Park while the Polo Grounds were being rebuilt. McGraw and his club remembered this kindness two years later when they allowed the Highlanders, who were looking for a new place to play given that Hilltop Park was already falling apart, to move into the rebuilt Polo Grounds.

By then the whole “Gordon Highlanders” thing was no longer as amusing as it had initially been. Between that and the team literally abandoning the high ground between 165th and 168th streets, the name “Highlanders” was not really apt. As noted above, teams often had a lot of nicknames, and the Highlander’s third name — apart from that and “Americans” — was the “Yankees.” With a new home in 1913, the club decided to formally adopt it. They played their first game as The New York Yankees on April 10, 1913. 107 years ago today. They lost to Walter Johnson and the Washington Senators (Americans? Nationals? It was confusing!) 2-1.

What’s a “Yankee” anyway?

In the 19th and early 20th century it referred broadly to residents of New England those descended from the original English settlers of the region. This is how Mark Twain used the word in his novel “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” During the Civil War it was used broadly to anyone from up north and, when not referring to the baseball team, is still used that way today. But where did the word actually come from?

Most people who think they have an idea about it are wrong. It’s often told that the word “Yankee” is an anglicization of any number of Native American words — like “eankke” or “y’an-gee” or some such — with the story often having it be an honorary term bestowed by Native American warriors on European settlers who fought bravely. Not surprisingly, linguists have debunked that self-serving notion. There is no evidence for it at all, actually.

The best accepted theory, among linguists and historians anyway, is that it’s of Dutch origin. Sometimes used as a term of derision toward Dutch colonists after England took possession of what is now New York or, possibly, a term of derision used by Dutch colonists in New Amsterdam toward English colonists in neighboring Connecticut. From Wikipedia:

Michael Quinion and Patrick Hanks argue that the term comes from the Dutch name Janke, a diminutive form of Jan (John) which would be Anglicized as “Yankee” due to the Dutch pronunciation of J as the English Y. Quinion and Hanks posit that it was “used as a nickname for a Dutch-speaking American in colonial times” and could have grown to include non-Dutch colonists, as well. Alternatively, the Dutch given names Jan and Kees have long been common, and the two are sometimes combined into a single name (e.g., Jan Kees de Jager). Its Anglicized spelling Yankee could, in this way, have been used to mock Dutch colonists. The chosen name Jan Kees may have been partly inspired by a dialectal rendition of Jan Kaas (“John Cheese”), the generic nickname that Southern Dutch used for Dutch people living in the North.

The Online Etymology Dictionary gives its origin as around 1683, when English colonists used it insultingly in reference to Dutch colonists (especially freebooters). Linguist Jan de Vries notes that there was mention of a pirate named Dutch Yanky in the 17th century. The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves (1760) contains the passage, “Haul forward thy chair again, take thy berth, and proceed with thy story in a direct course, without yawing like a Dutch yanky.” According to this theory, Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam started using the term against the English colonists of neighboring Connecticut.

That’s a lot to take in, but know that the name “Yankees” can, basically, be traced back to people calling each other names. Which, with all due respect to my Yankee fan friends, I must say is not the most inappropriate baseball team name out there.

 

Also today in baseball history:

 

1947: Jackie Robinson becomes the first African-American in the modern major leagues when the Dodgers purchase his contract from Montreal. He’ll make his big league debut five days later.

1962: Dodger Stadium opens in Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles. The Dodgers lose to the Reds 6-3.

1962: The Houston Colt .45s play the first major league game in Texas, beating the Chicago Cubs 11-2.  Of note:

1964: With the Mets having moved to Shea Stadium, demolition begins on the Polo Grounds to clear the way for a housing project.

1971: Veterans Stadium in Philly sees its first game ever played. The Phillies beat Montreal 4-1.

1973: Kansas City’s new Royals Stadium — now Kauffman Stadium — debuts as the Royals beat the Rangers 12-1.

1981:  In his first game for Chicago, Carlton Fisk hits a three-run home run in the eighth inning to lead the White Sox to a 5-3 victory over his his old team, the Red Sox, at Fenway Park.

1989: Ken Griffey, Jr. hits his first major league home run in Seattle’s 6-5 win over the White Sox.