Watch: Three walkoffs with pennant-race implications (and a great catch, too)
The most improbable was the Marlins’ win on a ninth-inning grand slam, but it wasn’t just the fact that it was a grand slam. The game was tied, so Miami only needed one of those runs for the win. No, what made it improbable was the fact that the grand slam was hit by arguably the worst hitter in baseball, backup catcher Jeff Mathis. Mathis’s career 52 OPS+ is the lowest career mark among active non-pitchers with at least 1,000 plate appearances, and his .312 career slugging percentage is second lowest among that lot to the Braves’ Paul Janish. The slam was just Mathis’ second home run of the season, the second grand slam of his career, and his first walkoff home run of any kind.
Despite all of that, the reason the win was significant is that it came against the San Diego Padres. The Padres could have moved into second place, a game and a half out of first, with a win after both Arizona and Colorado lost. A win also would have brought them back up to .500 on the season.
The only team that may have had a worse Sunday than the Padres was the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays had just tied their game against the Boston Red Sox in the top of the ninth on a Jose Bautista homer and, with a win, would have split their four-game set on the road against the division leaders. They also would have moved a game over .500 and pulled within a game of the sinking Yankees, who were swept by the Orioles in Baltimore this weekend.
Instead, the Red Sox put men on first and second with one out in the bottom of the first. Jays manager John Gibbons called on his closer, Casey Janssen, and after strike one to Shane Victorino, this happened:
That’s backup catcher Josh Thole who got eaten up by Victorino’s grounder at first base for what was scored a walkoff error. Thole was only in the game because Adam Lind, one of the Jays’ leading hitters this season, was removed mid-game with back tightness, Edwin Encarnacion was already in the game at designated hitter, and Mark DeRosa was unavailable due to tweaking his neck in batting practice. The Jays have now gone 2-5, all against AL East opponents, since their 11-game winning streak came to an end, and are still 8 1/2 games out in the East and six games out in the wild-card race.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, maintained their 2 1/2 game lead over the victorious Orioles with that walkoff victory, but they weren’t the only division leader to win in a walkoff Sunday. The Pirates also turned the trick on a one-out RBI single by Russell Martin off Francisco Rodriguez in the 14th inning of their contest against the Brewers.
The Pirates might have won that game in regulation if fill-in left fielder Logan Schafer hadn’t robbed Gaby Sanchez of a home run in the bottom of the seventh with Milwaukee up 1-0.
The Pirates ultimately did tie up the game on a two-out RBI single by Andrew McCutchen in the bottom of the eighth, but Brandon Inge struck out to leave the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. Neither team threatened after that until the Pirates again loaded the bases in the 13th, only to have Pedro Alvarez ground into an inning-ending double play. That brought things back around to Sanchez in the 14th, who led off with an infield single, stole second, then came around to score on Martin’s single.
That win completed the Pirates’ sweep of the Brewers, extended Pittsburgh’s winning streak to nine games and, with the Cardinals losing to Oakland, expanded their lead in the NL Central to two games.