This series was inspired by the Mariners Sporcle quiz I posted on January 29th. After compiling all of the M's walk offs from the past decade, I thought to myself, "Andrew. You have all of this data and the links to so many joyful videos and they are just the best. You should WRITE something that uses these." So I did!
This is the first of a three-part series that will showcase the 21 best Mariners walk offs since 2009. (I picked 2009 because it's the first year that mlb.tv ~reliably has links to plays, and I picked 21 walk offs because that allowed me to break this series into three manageable chunks.) To determine which walk offs were "best", I used WPA as a metric: events with a higher WPA attached to them are more unlikely, which, in theory, makes them more exciting. Although useful, I do admit that WPA feels a bit imperfect for a ranking like this one. For example, it doesn't give bonus points to a scrappy hitter who manages to mash an incredibly improbable dinger. It also only reflects the winning percentage based on an entire plate appearance—it isn't recalculated after each pitch. (For scenarios that had the same WPA, I opted to use the count as a tie breaker; e.g., a game-winning hit on an 0-2 count is more exciting than the same hit would be on a 2-0 count because the hitter is at more of a disadvantage.) However, imperfect as it may be, I still think it did a pretty good job with this list.
21. Franklin Gutierrez reaches on E3 to score Ronny Cedeno
- Date: June 21st, 2009
- Situation: Bottom of the 9th, M's tied 2-2, 2 outs, bases loaded, 2-2 pitch
- WPA of at bat: 0.34
It's kinda fitting that the first walk off "hit" on our countdown isn't even a hit. I was actually at this game, sitting out in the center fielder bleachers, and I vividly remember the weird moment when the groans of the crowd (elicited by Guti's weak grounder) turned into cheers of embarrassed delight (when Tony Clark forgot how to baseball). It was a strange. Watching the Mariners ~sheepishly celebrate in the infield (some of the players in the dugout didn't even bother joining the half-hearted scrum) made it that much more surreal of an experience. But a win is a win.
20. Jose Lopez singles to right field to score Endy Chavez
- Date: May 1st, 2009
- Situation: Bottom of the 9th, M's tied 7-7, 2 outs, bases loaded, 2-2 pitch
- WPA of at bat: 0.34
mlb.tv has several highlights from this game. We can watch Guti mash a homer to left field, Russell Branyan absolutely destroy a ball to center, or even Jose Lopez hit a two-run single earlier in the game. But, try as I might, I was unable to find video of Lopez's walk-off single. And that's a shame because it sounds like he put together one hell of an at bat. After the count was evened at 2-2, Lopez fouled off nine consecutive pitches before finally lacing the ball into right field. A 14-pitch battle to win the game! Damn. Afterwards, Oakland's reliever Russ Springer had this to say: "I just wanted him to put it in play because, at that point, I was about out of bullets. I'd have liked for him to get a little more of some of those balls he was fouling off and pop them up, but you just do what you do."
19. Ichiro Suzuki singles to center field to score Rob Johnson
- Date: July 28th, 2009
- Situation: Bottom of the 9th, M's tied 3-3, 2 outs, bases loaded, 0-2 pitch
- WPA of at bat: 0.34
What an Ichiro swing. Scott Downs throws a pretty great breaking pitch that runs well out of the strike zone, down and away from Ichiro. BUT IT DOESN'T MATTER. With a quick flick of the wrists, the ball is perfectly parachuted into shallow center field to secure the victory. Sometimes good pitching can trump good hitting, but few things can trump having a WIZARD on your team. (Another aspect of this play that is particularly delightful is the attack of the hug monster right after Ichiro rounds first.)
18. Nelson Cruz singles to left field to score Seth Smith
- Date: April 19th, 2015
- Situation: Bottom of the 9th, M's tied 10-10, 2 outs, bases loaded, 0-2 pitch
- WPA of at bat: 0.35
Hey. That was this year! Thank god for Nellie. This was definitely one of the most exciting, most improbable victories of the 2015 campaign. Also, this was the moment where (for me) it felt like Nelson Cruz "officially" arrived as a Mariner. Also also, this game-winning single helped inspire RANGER BLOOD, which is as fine of a recap as anyone could hope for. What a fun game.
17. Ryan Langerhans hits a two-run home run to right field
- Date: August 25th, 2009
- Situation: Bottom of the 10th, M's tied 2-2, 1 out, runner on 1st, 2-2 pitch
- WPA of at bat: 0.36
It's quite possible that more recent M's fans may not even know who this hitter is. However, if you've been around for more than a couple years, I reckon that hearing the name "Langerhans" will bring a smile to your face. Despite accruing just 318 PA while slashing a meager .200/.326/.350 with the M's (between '09 and '11), Langerhans had a flair for theatrics. The above dinger is an example of this. It's possible that he'll show up in this countdown again...
16. Brendan Ryan singles to center field to score Adam Kennedy
- Date: May 6th, 2011
- Situation: Bottom of the 9th, M's tied 2-2, 2 outs, runners on 2nd and 3rd, 1-0 pitch
- WPA of at bat: 0.37
At the beginning of this clip, Felix Hernandez's anxious face fills the screen. He'd just put together a wonderful start, throwing nine strong innings while collecting six strikeouts and giving up only two runs. Unfortunately, the Mariners offense was unable to manage more than two runs and the game was tied. Felix definitely isn't one to throw his team mates under the bus when their bats are suffering from lethargy, but it's not hard to imagine him thinking "Not againnnnn". Thankfully, Brendan Ryan was able to put just enough oomph on a grounder up the middle to secure the Mariners, and Felix, the win.
15. Logan Morrison hits a solo home run to center field
- Date: May 8th, 2015
- Situation: Bottom of the 11th, M's tied 3-3, no outs, bases empty, 0-0 pitch
- WPA of at bat: 0.37
BrooksBaseball classifies this pitch from Otero as a 91 mph sinker, but it sure doesn't seem to do much sinkin'. Instead, it backs up a little bit and catches a large portion of the plate, allowing LoMo to HAMMER it 432 feet to deep center field. Morrison's career with the Mariners was streaky and tumultuous, but boy could he hit the seams off of a mistake pitch.
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I hope that this has been a fun Saturday read for everyone. Check back in a week for walk offs #8-14. Go M's.