Pennant-Winning Home Runs
Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve’s pennant-winning home run Saturday night was not just a special moment – it was rare. In the 100 League Championship Series and five pre-division pennant tiebreakers, only six have ended with a home run. That’s it. Six out of 105. In chronological order, here are the men who hit the pennant-winning home runs.
Bobby Thomson, Third Baseman, New York Giants
This home run needs little introduction, as it is one of the most famous plays in baseball history. “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” came in the bottom of the ninth of the winner-take-all third game of the 1951 National League tiebreaker playoff between the Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Down 4-1 entering the bottom of the ninth against Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe, the Giants bats suddenly came alive. Shortstop Al Dark and right fielder Don Mueller started the inning with consecutive singles, with Dark going to third on Mueller’s poke. After left fielder Monte Irvin popped to Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges in foul territory, Giants first baseman Whitey Lockman blasted a double to left center, scoring Dark, sending Mueller to third, and chasing Newcombe from the game.
In came Ralph Branca to face Thomson, who had homered off Branca on an inside fastball in the first game of the series. After taking a fastball on the inner half of the plate for a called strike, Giants manager and third base coach Leo Durocher told Thomson that Branca would throw him one again. Branca did exactly that on the next pitch, and Thomson ripped a liner into the lower-level seats in left field at the Polo Grounds for a three-run home run, winning the game, 5-4. The famous radio call by Russ Hodges delivered the news – “The Giants win the pennant, and they’re going crazy!”
Chris Chambliss, First Baseman, New York Yankees
It took 25 years before someone hit another pennant-winning home run. In the winner-take-all Game Five of the 1976 American League Championship Series, the Kansas City Royals squared off with the New York Yankees in the newly remodeled Yankee Stadium. In the top of the eighth, a three-run homer by Royals third baseman George Brett had tied the game at six. That’s how the score remained as the game entered the bottom of the ninth.
After a delay due to game interference by spectators, Chambliss belted the first pitch from Mark Littell over the wall in right center for a solo home run. Bedlam ensued as crazed spectators swarmed onto the field to celebrate the 7-6 victory. Chambliss could not complete his path around the bases, as conditions quickly grew unsafe. He came back later to touch the plate in view of the plate umpire – or at least he touched the dirt area where home plate once was.
Aaron Boone, Third Baseman, New York Yankees
Red Sox fans may want to skip this part. The third pennant-winning home run came in Game Seven of the 2003 American League Championship Series between the visiting Boston Red Sox and host New York Yankees. This ended the infamous Grady Little Game. In the bottom of the eighth with the Red Sox leading 5-3 and five outs away from the pennant, manager Grady Little famously left an exhausted Pedro Martinez in the game to face Yankees catcher Jorge Posada. There were runners on second and third and one out. Posada hit a fly into shallow center that fell into the Bermuda Triangle for a game-tying two-run double.
Fast forward to the bottom of the 11th. On the first pitch from knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, Boone lifted a towering fly to left that sailed deep into the Bronx night and landed in the left field seats, giving the Yankees the pennant with a 6-5 victory. This game likely cost Little his job, as he had gone to the mound before the Posada at-bat, looking like he was about to pull Martinez. Instead, he slapped Martinez on the backside and left him in the game. This decision has been heavily criticized from the moment Little left the mound.
Magglio Ordoñez, Right Fielder, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers fell behind 3-0 to the Oakland Athletics in the fourth inning of Game Four of the 2006 American League Championship Series. They clawed their way back into the game, scoring two runs in the bottom of the fifth thanks to consecutive RBI doubles by center fielder Curtis Granderson and left fielder Craig Monroe. Ordoñez then tied the game with a solo home run off Dan Haren on the first pitch of the bottom of the sixth.
The score remained 3-3 as Athletics closer Huston Street took the mound in the bottom of the ninth. He retired the first two hitters but surrendered consecutive singles to Monroe and second baseman Placido Polanco. That brought up Ordoñez. On 1-0, he smashed a majestic home run into the seats in left, prompting Thom Brennaman’s famous call for Fox: “In the air, left field! The Tigers…march to the World Series!”
Travis Ishikawa, Left Fielder, San Francisco Giants
This is the only series-ending home run from the National League Championship Series, and it happened in Game Five of the 2014 NLCS between the Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals. The Giants fell behind, 3-2, in the fourth but tied it up on a home run by pinch hitter Mike Morse to lead off the bottom of the eighth. After escaping a bases loaded jam in the top of the ninth, the Giants got two runners on against Michael Wacha with one out. That brought up Ishikawa, who lined a 2-0 offering over the high wall in right center for a pandemonium-inducing three run home run. The 6-3 victory gave the Giants their second pennant-winning home run in team history and made the otherwise little-known Ishikawa immortal. He had only hit 22 home runs in his major league career prior to this clout.
Jose Altuve, Second Baseman, Houston Astros
This came Saturday night at the end of Game Six of the American League Championship Series. After falling behind 3-0 in the first inning, the Yankees chipped away at the Astros lead but still trailed, 4-2, in the top of the ninth. Facing Astros closer Roberto Osuna, third baseman Gio Urshela lined a single to left. After left fielder Brett Gardner struck out, first baseman DJ Lemahieu sent the 10th pitch of his at-bat into the seats near the right field line for a game-tying home run.
Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman took the mound in the bottom of the ninth, given the task of keeping the game tied at four. After striking out catcher Martin Maldonado and getting left fielder Josh Reddick to pop to third, he walked right fielder George Springer on five pitches. That brought up second baseman Jose Altuve, who smacked a 2-1 slider high over the yellow stripe on the left field wall for a two-run pennant-winning home run.
105 pennant-winning games in major league history, and six ended with a home run. Oddly enough, only one of these games did not involve the Giants or Yankees, the 2006 ALCS. Also, the only two pennant-winning home runs in National League history both came from the Giants. In another oddity, Altuve’s home run came with the third man on this list – Boone, the Yankees manager – in the opposing dugout.
Strangely enough, only one of the previous five pennant-winning home runs came en route to a World Series title – the 2014 NLCS winner by Ishikawa. Altuve’s may be the second, as the Astros enter the World Series as heavy favorites, but fans will have to wait and see.
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