This past Tuesday night my beloved New York Yankees, team of my youth, trailed the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-4 heading into the ninth and final inning of their relatively meaningless South Bronx contest. I had long given up on the game, settling into an evening reading my new book, Baseball’s Best Ever, a collection of columns from legendary sportswriter Ira Berkow.
Tell Ira to add one more to the list.
Entering the bottom of the ninth with a 1% win probability (they really do track these things), the Bronx Bombers pulled off the 99% improbable and came away with a win over the aforementioned Pirates, the team whose only claim to fame right now seems to be that it does not own the worst record in baseball. (That distinction belongs to my hometown Nats.)
Leading off for the Yanks in the ninth was slugger Aaron Judge, likely the AL MVP, possible Triple Crown winner, and already owner of a historic season at the plate this year. Entering the game Judge had 59 home runs, a total eclipsed in American League history only by Roger Maris in 1961 and a fella named Ruth in 1927. On the fifth pitch Judge saw, he tied Ruth, sending a ball 430 feet into the left-centerfield stands.
But that made it only 8-5.
Note that contrary to every bit of 20th-century wisdom about the game, Judge bats first in the Yankee lineup. What would have been an insult to Ruth, Mantle, DiMaggio, etc. is accepted now as a big-brain, Moneyball-type move.
Batting in more traditional positions were the Yankees’ next three hitters, all of whom got on base to set up the dream scenario. This is the one you conjure in your backyard growing up. Down three runs with the bases loaded, into the batter’s box stepped Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton himself once had a 59-homer season, but that was five years ago when he played for Miami. Stanton’s performance in recent years has been a bit disappointing. During his time in New York he has received $135 million in salary and exactly one undeserved All-Star Game selection.
But that was all forgiven in a moment Tuesday night, as Stanton connected with a Wil Crowe offering for a walk-off grand slam. It was Stanton’s third career WOGS, an unusual distinction held by only three other players in major league history. And doing it when down by three runs? The historic Yankees have done that only four times total in more than a century’s worth of contests.
And they’d lost their last 113 games when entering the ninth inning trailing by four or more runs.
All of this after I’d already given up, and already published Wednesday’s post.