Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Mets Have Also Had Weird Walk-Off Losses

Photo by Elsa/GettyImages (via the NY Times)

On Saturday night, the Cardinals defeated the Red Sox in Game 3 of the World Series in bizarre fashion.  St. Louis had runners on second and third with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning and the game tied, 4-4.  Jon Jay then hit a ground ball to second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who made an outstanding diving stop before throwing home to nail Yadier Molina at the plate.  Allen Craig, who was not running at 100% because of a sprained foot, then took off slowly for third base.  Seeing Craig scrambling to reach third, Jarrod Saltamacchia attempted to throw him out.  But his throw hit Craig and caromed into foul territory, where it was picked up by left fielder Daniel Nava.  His throw back to Saltalamacchia appeared to get Craig at the plate for the third out, but umpire Jim Joyce called interference on third baseman Will Middlebrooks, allowing Craig to score the winning run.  Middlebrooks had tripped up Craig after Saltalamacchia's throw sailed down the left field line.

It was as strange an ending to a game as Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, also lost when a Red Sox corner infielder allowed the winning run to score, this time against the Mets.  Although the Mets have never lost a game on an interference call, they have lost their share of games in other weird walk-off ways.  Let's take a look at some of them.

In addition to losing hundreds of games on game-ending hits, sacrifice flies and bases loaded walks (Kenny Rogers, you will never be forgiven), the Mets have also lost three games when a runner on third scored on a balk (most recently accomplished by Collin McHugh, who balked home Miami's Donovan Solano in R.A. Dickey's last start as a Met on October 2, 2012).

Similarly, there have been three instances in Mets history in which a pitcher forced in the winning run by hitting a batter with the bases loaded.  One such hit batsman helped set in motion the firing of the team's manager.

On June 5, 2008, the Mets were opening a four-game series in San Diego after taking two of three from the Giants in San Francisco.  They entered the series against the Padres playing good baseball, having won seven of their previous nine games to go from three games under .500 (23-26) to two games over (30-28).  But in a 1-1 tie, Scott Schoeneweis walked future Met Scott Hairston to lead off the bottom of the ninth.  Schoeneweis then issued two more walks (one of which was intentional) to set up a bases loaded matchup with Paul McAnulty, who sported a Mario Mendoza-like .210 career batting average entering the game.  Schoeneweis was trying to induce an inning-ending double play from the Padres' left fielder.  But he hit McAnulty with his first pitch, forcing in the winning run.  The loss ignited a five-game losing streak for the Mets.  One week later, manager Willie Randolph was fired.

A week after Schoeneweis plunked a Padre, Willie Randolph was "schoen" the door by the Mets.

Another rare way the Mets have lost in walk-off fashion is via the groundout.  On nine occasions, a ground ball out has failed to prevent the winning run from scoring.  And once, a double play couldn't even stop a walk-off loss.  On July 21, 1973, the Mets and Pirates went to the bottom of the ninth deadlocked at one.  Mets reliever Buzz Capra loaded the bases on a single and two walks.  With no outs, Tug McGraw came into the game and induced a ground ball from Bucs first baseman Bob Robertson.  The Mets were able to get a force at home and another out at second, but Dave Cash came all the way around from second base to score the winning run while the Mets were throwing the ball all over the place.  Therefore, a 4-2-9-6 double play produced a W-A-L-K-off loss.

The Mets have lost 21 games on a walk-off error, including one by the normally sure-handed Keith Hernandez on July 2, 1983, just two and a half weeks after the Mets acquired him from St. Louis.  Doug Sisk and Francisco Rodriguez are the only two pitchers to be victimized by walk-off errors twice.  Sisk was on the mound when the Mets lost games in 1984 and 1985 on miscues by Hubie Brooks and Rafael Santana, respectively.  Similarly, K-Rod walked off the field in disgust when Daniel Murphy made an error in September 2009.  It was the second time that season that Rodriguez witnessed a walk-off error from the mound, as just three months earlier, Luis Castillo made everyone want to "Forget Lou" after he failed to use two hands on an Alex Rodriguez pop-up at Yankee Stadium.

All of the above were certainly odd ways to lose games in walk-off fashion.  But perhaps the most bizarre walk-off loss in Mets history took place on July 27, 1967, in a game the Mets lost to the Dodgers in 11 innings, 7-6.  The Mets were already shorthanded, as only 21 players suited up for the team that day.  John Sullivan started for the Mets at catcher and delivered an RBI single in the seventh inning to pull the Mets to within one run of the Dodgers.  But manager Wes Westrum then foolishly used Jerry Grote - his sole remaining catcher on the bench - as a pinch-runner for Sullivan.  When Grote came in to catch in the bottom of the seventh, he started barking at home plate umpire Bill Jackowski about his strike zone.  After the inning was over, Grote continued to voice his displeasure over balls and strikes from the dugout and was tossed from the game.  That left Westrum without a catcher on his bench.  That is, until he called upon Tommie Reynolds to put on the catcher's gear.

Tommie Reynolds
Reynolds had never played the position before in a major league game.  But he took one for the team and squatted behind the plate for what he thought would be no more than two innings.  Of course, the game went into extra innings and the inexperienced Reynolds stayed in the game as the team's catcher.  Finally, in the 11th inning, with one out and runners at the corners, Reynolds couldn't handle a Jack Fisher pitch, allowing the winning run to score for the Dodgers.  The ruling by the official scorer was a passed ball by Reynolds.  It was the only time in Mets history that the team suffered a walk-off loss on a passed ball, and it was committed by a player who never caught another game in his career.

So you see, Red Sox fans, you're not alone when it comes to weird walk-off losses.  The Mets have done it all the time, even against your team in World Series play.  After all, this is baseball, where you're always bound to see something you've never seen before, just like Tommie Reynolds never saw that Jack Fisher pitch in 1967, a year the Red Sox also played the Cardinals in the World Series.

Will Middlebrooks is now part of a weird walk-off family.  But don't worry.  He'll have new family members to keep him company before too long.

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