October 11, 2012
In A Pickle
The Raul Ibanez Special
Today is one of those days when everybody is alike. One-day-old babies and 103-year-old grandfathers can sit down and converse (well, sorta) about how neither of them has seen anything like what happened yesterday. By which I mean: no manager has ever pinch-hit for a 100-WARP future Hall-of-Famer making $31 million with a 40-year-old late-blooming pretty-good-but-not-really-memorable player and had that pinch-hitter go on to hit a game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth and a walk-off homer in extra innings of a playoff game. This has never happened, and we should all be rejoicing. (Except Orioles fans. You're exempt.)
Is that perhaps an overly specific way of defining what happened in yesterday's Orioles-Yankees contest as regards Alex Rodriguez and Raul Ibanez? You could say that. If you're the nitpicking type. But fine, I'll broaden the question.
Here's a list of players who have hit two homers in two at-bats in a playoff game after not starting the game:
- Raul Ibanez, 10/10/12 vs. Orioles
Still unique! How about removing the at-bat requirement, simply leaving players who have hit two or more homers in a playoff game after not starting:
- Raul Ibanez, 10/10/12 vs. Orioles
Well! What about two homers in two trips to the plate in the playoffs, whether as a sub or not?
- Raul Ibanez, 10/10/12 vs. Orioles
This one is perhaps less surprising — what are the odds that a player who has hit two homers in his first two at-bats would be substituted out of the game? It would require an injury or ejection, presumably.
In the regular season, two homers in two trips as a sub is more common: it's happened 29 times since 1918, beginning with Jess Doyle for the Tigers (against the Yankees, in a loss) and most recently accomplished by Scott Hairston, last July 31st, helping the Mets lose 3-2 to the Nationals. (Starters have done it another nine times, with Vladimir Guerrero in 2005 being the most recent.) Ibanez is the first Yankee to manage the feat.
But of course Ibanez didn't just hit two homers in two trips as a sub. He hit a game-tying homer in the ninth and a game-winning homer in the 12th. Finding comparable games requires a little more work to whittle down the above list of 29. How is it possible to be in Ibanez's position? Well, the team has to be at home and that team must have won the game. Limiting the list of 29 like so leaves us with 11 occurrences. This is always fun. Let's take a look:
- Brian McCann, 5/17/11: McCann tied the game at one with a two-out homer in the bottom of the ninth against Mark Melancon, then won the game in the eleventh with a two-run shot against Jeff Fulchino.
Well, shoot. We've found our match! I guess we can all go home now, right?
What? You want the rest of the list? OK. Twist my arm!
Geno Petralli, 9/29/87: Petralli homered as a pinch-hitter for catcher Mike Stanley in the seventh, then bopped his second in the eighth. The first cut the lead to one run and the second turned a one-run lead to two. That's high-leverage stuff, for sure, but kind of unremarkable when our baseline is what Ibanez and McCann accomplished.
Fun facts! Don Baylor and Billy Beane batted back-to-back for the Twins in this game and Charlie Hough recorded his 30th decision of the year.
Marvell Wynne, 4/13/86: Wynne's pinch-hit seventh-inning homer cut the lead to one and his ninth-inning donger against lefty Joe Price, who apparently played for both Oklahoma State and O.U., finished the contest. This game, then, is a half-match, with Wynne walking Price off the mound but having not been responsible for tying things up earlier.
Fun fact! Young Eric Davis and Old Dave Concepcion both played in the game for the Reds, Davis as a pinch-runner and pinch-right-fielder for Dave Parker.
Thad Bosley, 8/12/85: Bosley, who was fired as Rangers hitting coach after the 2011 season, pinch-hit for the pitcher and tied the game with a three-run homer off of Randy St. Claire, current Marlins pitching coach, in the sixth inning. He stayed in the game in left in a double-switch and proceeded to turn a one-run deficit into a one-run lead against Jeff Reardon in the eighth, driving in now-ex-manager Larry Bowa.
Fun fact! I'm probably going to miss someone, but: Ryne Sandberg, Davey Lopes, Razor Shines, Tim Wallach, and Terry Francona all played in this game along with Bosley, St. Claire, and Bowa. That's a lot of coaching!
Craig Kusick, 5/8/79: In what would turn out to be his last year in the bigs, Kusick actually entered the game as a pinch-runner after first baseman Ron Jackson was hit by a pitch in the sixth, scored on the Ken Landreaux single that broke a tie, homered in the seventh to make the score 14-6, and then piled on in the eighth, pushing the lead to a full 10 runs. Kusick is the only player on the list to score three runs, though he is not the only one to have entered as a pinch-runner.
Sad fact! Kusick hit just two more homers the rest of the year / the rest of his career.
Frank Howard, 7/26/73: Howard tied the game in the sixth for the Tigers with a pinch-hit homer for designated hitter Gates Brown. 1973 was, of course, the inaugural year for the designated hitter in the American League. That homer led off the inning, and his second one, in the eighth, also started things off, and turned a two-run deficit to one. Al Kaline tied the game later in the inning and Ed Brinkman, an extremely light-hitting shortstop (.221 career TAv) who nonetheless managed to play 1,845 games in the majors over 15 seasons, hit one of his 60 career homers to win the game leading off the ninth.
Fun fact! Kaline himself had come into the game as a pinch-hitter, and was in the second-to-last season of a Hall-of-Fame career. The man he hit for was the excellent slugger Norm Cash, who our own Matt Kory wrote about in the Hall of Nearly Great book released earlier this year.
Tony Horton, 7/24/70: Horton, pinch-hitting for first baseman Duke Sims, gave his Indians a 5-2 lead in the sixth, then a 9-2 lead in the seventh. The facts of that game, though, are overshadowed by what was to come. Horton, despite being just 25, was only a month away from his final game. On August 28th, after a period of increasingly erratic behavior, he was removed early from a game by Alvin Dark. Horton went home later that night to the motel where he was living and opened his wrists.
He survived the attempt and apparently remains alive today, though reporters have had little luck speaking with him.
Chuck Essegian, 6/11/61: Speaking of players battling mental illness, Essegian entered the game in the fifth inning for Jimmy Piersall, an excellent center fielder (he compiled over 30 WARP between the ages of 23 and 31 as a solid hitter with massive defensive value) who was the subject of Fear Strikes Out, the Paramount film based on his autobiography about overcoming bipolar disorder.
Anyway, Essegian turned a one-run deficit to a one-run lead in the seventh before adding three insurance runs in the eighth.
Fun facts! Tito Francona, Terry's father, was the left fielder and third hitter for Cleveland, while Leo Posada, uncle to Jorge, played the same position and batted fourth for Kansas City. (Haywood Sullivan pinch-hit for KC, and he's the father of Marc Sullivan, but the two combined for fewer than 500 games in the majors, so they don't jump out quite as much.)
Jim Gentile, 6/30/60: Gentile pinch-hit for first baseman Walt Dropo in the fifth, pushing a three-run lead to five, then tacked on three more runs in the seventh. He was on deck in the bottom of the eighth when Jackie Brandt took the last Orioles at-bat of the game.
Fun fact! I couldn't find any!
Babe Birrer, 7/19/55: Birrer was a pitcher. After Tigers starter Frank Lary was knocked out of the box in the sixth inning by a Dave Philley run-scoring double, Birrer retired the side with no more damage and went on to pitch three more innings without allowing a run, earning his second save of the season. Along the way, he knocked a three-run homer in the sixth to put the Tigers up four and another three-run shot in the eighth to extend the lead to eight.
Birrer packed an entire career into that one game, sadly. He recorded just two more big-league saves and no more homers, or even RBI. Here's a 1995 interview on YouTube that has only been viewed 118 times.
Birrer, you will be unsurprised to hear, apparently earned the nickname "Babe" (his real name is Werner) with this game.
Jeff Heath, 8/27/49: You'll notice that this list has been in chronological order. You will have to take it on faith that I decided to write this article in that order before I discovered what I'm about to show you. Which is that Heath pinch-hit in the ninth inning and tied the game with a homer before sending Ewell Blackwell and the rest of the Reds home unhappy with another homer in the 10th.
That's right. If you make a list of all the players who hit two homers in two trips as a substitute at home when their teams won the games, and you order that list chronologically, you get a list that begins with an Ibanez clone (McCann, 2011) and ends with one (Heath, 1949).
It wouldn't be fair to talk about all this without giving Art Shamsky the closing position he earned on August 12, 1966. Shamsky entered the game for the Reds in an eighth-inning double-switch, smashed a two-run homer in the bottom half of that inning to give Cincinnati a one-run lead, hit another in the bottom of the 10th to re-tie the game after Willie Stargell had gone deep for the Pirates in the top half, then did the same thing again in the bottom of the 11th, bringing in two runs to tie the game once more.
After all that, though, and you just knew this would happen, the Reds lost in the 13th when All-Name Team member Billy McCool and Jack Baldschun combined to give up three runs. Shamsky ended the game in the hole, representing the theoretical tying run. Of course he did.
(One last fun fact! The pitcher that Shamsky replaced was Joe Nuxhall, who by 1966 was a 37-year-old part-time starter, but who is most famous for being probably the youngest player in major-league history, having faced nine batters in 1944 as a 15-year-old.)
Jason Wojciechowski is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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