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April 8, 2013
The Biggest Late Rallies That Came Up Short
In Sunday’s game between the Royals and the Phillies, Philadelphia entered the bottom of the ninth inning down by five runs and proceeded to score four times, advancing the tying run to third base, only to have Erik Kratz strike out to end the game. These sorts of games–where a late rally gets your hopes up but then falls just short–can be particularly painful for a fan. It’s a rare situation where neither team’s fans come away all that happy, as the win feels a little soiled and the loss, well, is a loss.
I wanted to find other games where a team scored a lot of runs in the bottom of the ninth but couldn’t quite tie the score. In looking through our event data, which goes back to 1950, I found one game where a team scored as many as nine runs in a failed rally. This was “achieved” by the San Francisco Giants against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 5th, 1958.
In this game, the Giants entered the bottom of the ninth inning trailing 11-1. The middle of their order was due up to face Pittsburgh’s starter, Vern Law. The inning began with cleanup hitter Ray Jablonski singling to left and Orlando Cepeda singling to right. Hank Sauer then reached on an error by third baseman Frank Thomas (his second of the game), and Willie Kirkland flew out with the bases loaded for the first out.
That’s when all hell broke loose.
Giants’ manager Bill Rigney used a pinch-hitter for catcher Valmy Thomas and brought Jim King into the game. King doubled to right, scoring two (and making the score a still-distant 11-3). With the pitcher’s spot due up, the Giants pinch-hit again, bringing pitcher Johnny Antonelli in for Pete Burnside. Antonelli doubled as well, scoring two more (11-5.) Rigney went to the bench yet again, replacing Bob Speake with Eddie Bressoud. Speake also doubled, scoring another run (11-6) and making it three straight pinch-hit doubles for the Giants.
Having had his quality start ruined, Vern Law was taken out of the game. Law would still be in fine position for the win, of course, having left with a five-run lead and one out in the ninth. Curt Raydon entered the game for Pittsburgh and walked Willie Mays before getting Daryl Spencer to ground out. Ray Jablonski then came up for the second time in the inning and hit a three-run home run, which cut the lead to two.
That was the end of Raydon’s night. Ron Blackburn was brought in and promptly gave up a solo shot to Cepeda and a walk to Hank Sauer. The Pirates brought in Don Gross. The Giants countered by having Bob Schmidt pinch-hit for Kirkland and having Danny O’Connell pinch-run for Sauer, who now represented the tying-run on first. Gross began his part of the game by walking Schmidt. Jim Finigan then pinch-hit for King (who had entered as a pinch-hitter himself earlier in the inning) and with the tying run on first, Finigan grounded the ball to shortstop and finally ended… NO! Dick Groat could not make the play, and so Finigan reached base on error to load the bases with two outs.
At this point, the ninth spot of the order was due up again. On deck was Johnny Antonelli, the pinch-hitting pitcher who had doubled earlier in the inning. As amazing as it sounds today—when some teams are tapped out after two pinch-hitters—the Giants still had players on their bench, as Don Taussig would replace Antonelli as the sixth pinch-hitter in the inning. (Also, a pinch-runner was now standing on third, ready to tie the game.)
With two outs and the bases loaded, with the Giants down by one run after crawling their way back from an 11-1 deficit, Taussig hit a short fly ball to the second baseman, ending the rally. Pittsburgh exhaled, and San Francisco fans shut off their radios in disgust.
Some other games where a long rally fell short in the ninth:
May 5th, 1981: The Mets (of course) entered the ninth down 9-0 to the Giants and scored seven runs total, including six on a multi-player-cycle that was hit in order:
July 25th, 1964: The Phillies were down 10-2 to the Cardinals and scored six runs, including two on bases-loaded walks, before making any outs. Needing two more runs, John Hernstein pinch-hit for Ruben Amaro and hit a fly ball to center. The ball was caught, and Dick Allen scored on the sacrifice fly to make it a one-run game. However, Alex Johnson attempted to advance from second on the play and was gunned down at third by Curt Flood for a critical second out. Gus Triandos ended the game by popping out.
September 2nd, 1962: The Tigers had their heart of the order batting down 10-1, and it produced. Bill Bruton singled, and Al Kaline followed with a two-run homer to get within seven. Rocky Colavito and Vic Wertz also singled before Chico Fernandez hit an RBI groundout and Steve Boros fouled out to make it a 10-4 game with two outs. The Tigers weren’t finished yet, though. After Dick Brown reached on an error by third baseman Sammy Esposito (who had entered the game as a defensive replacement), Bob Farley hit the fourth single of the inning and Dick McAuliffe doubled in two. Bruton then hit another single, which brought Kaline up representing the tying run. Kaline reached on a second error by defensive-replacement Esposito, but Colavito grounded out to end the threat.