Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Leading Off and Walking Off

A very interesting event happened Sunday night (and, no, it has nothing to do with the Apollo 11 moonlanding ;-). I'll let David Pinto explain:
Ian Kinsler started off the Rangers night with a home run in the bottom of the first, then ended the Rangers night with a home run in the bottom of the twelfth, a two-run shot that gave Texas a 5-3 victory over the Twins. He was able to get the game winner due to the Texas bullpen, which held the Twins to two hits over eight innings, walking two and striking out nine.
Leading off a game with a home run and then ending that very same game with another home run? That has to be remarkably rare, right? Both the leadoff home run and walkoff home run are uncommon enough that finding two in the same game and by the same player just seems incredibly improbable.

So, how uncommon is it? I did a quick query of the Retrosheet database and came up with only three other instances. Remember, this is only in the Retrosheet era, so there may be some from before 1954. The other three leadoff/walkoff home run pairs are:

Vic Power - Kansas City Athletics vs. Baltimore Orioles, May 7, 1957 (10 innings)
Power led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run off Hal Brown. The rest of the game was very low scoring, with each team scoring a single run in a couple of innings. By the time the ninth inning ended, it was 2-2 with 14 runners stranded. Power got one more hit in the game, a single in the fifth, but it wasn't until he came up in the 10th, still facing Hal Brown, that he would make history. His one-out, bases empty home run in the bottom of the 10th sent the A's home winners, and made Power's night one to remember.

Darin Erstad - Anaheim Angels vs. Minnesota Twins, June 25, 2000 (11 innings)
Facing the Twins' Mark Redman, Erstad wasted no time getting things started, hitting his 15th home run of the season. The Angels took a 4-1 lead in the fourth when Garrett Anderson hit a 3-run bomb, but the Twins got it all back and more when they scored five runs in the sixth off of two errors and four hits. The Angels tied it up again with two runs in the seventh, and the scoring stayed there until the 11th. Facing Eddie Guardado, who had only four saves at the time, Erstad took the 2-out, 1-0 pitch out of the park to win the game for the Halos. He was the first man in 43 years to do such a thing.

Reed Johnson - Toronto Blue Jays vs. Chicago Cubs, June 15, 2003 (10 innings)
Only three years later, Toronto's Reed Johnson became the last player to achieve the feat before Kinsler's big Sunday. Leading off the bottom of the first, Johnson worked Chicago's Shawn Estes enough to sock the eighth pitch of the at-bat out of the park, putting the Jays on top. After Corey Lidle gave up a grand slam in the top of the sixth to Troy O'Leary, the Jays scored two more in the bottom of the inning to tie it up at 4. That was the end of the scoring until Reed Johnson stepped up to the plate to leadoff the bottom of the 10th. On a 2-0 pitch from Mark Guthrie, Johnson ended the game, to the delight of all Toronto fans. It was only his second hit of the game, but the third and final time someone had both started and ended a game with a home run.

That is, of course, until Kinsler did it this week. I can only imagine how exciting that must've been for both Kinsler and Rangers' fans. I've seen some exciting walk-off hits in my times (most notably Raul Mondesi's eleventh-inning game-winning home run after having already tied the game with another home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth on Opening Day 1999), but nothing quite like this. And the fact that he was only the fourth man ever to do it makes it that much more special.

(On the SABR-L mailing list, David Vincent points out that HOFer Billy Hamilton achieved the feat on May 17, 1893. That's easily verified on his home run log. I wonder if there's any others that can be found using the HR Log, though, I suppose David would've pointed them out if there were. Thanks for that, David.)

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