This was supposed to be Opening Week, the time when MLB fans everywhere look forward to making a season’s worth of memories. Since we won’t have games to get excited about for a while, we thought it’d be fun to take a walk down memory lane by reliving some of our personal favorite baseball moments.
In the first of a weeklong series focusing on a different baseball theme each day, we asked our MLB reporters to tell us about the best home run they ever saw — with only one rule: They had to be there to witness it.
Jump to …
A Game 7 story | Wrigley gets rocking |
Schwarber hits new heights | A Giant surprise |
Brosius matches Tino | The homer that wasn’t |
Hammermania | Trout at his best |
Hendu does it | Bat Night goes batty
Jeff Passan: An unbelievable Game 7 home run story
Much of this job entails coming up with words to match the moment, and when I watched Rajai Davis hit a game-tying home run in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, I felt like I was failing miserably, because all I could muster, in the chaotic seconds thereafter, was: “No f—ing way.”
I just kept saying it, first at a whisper when the ball screamed toward left field, then louder when it landed over the 19-foot wall at Progressive Field, then almost sing-song, like a parrot with a cheeky owner might, when I watched Davis round the bases. All of Cleveland was enraptured, and all of Chicago was despondent, and I was simply amazed.
Rajai Davis was a 5-foot-9 outfielder who, in his 3,999 career regular-season plate appearances, had hit 55 home runs. He was facing Aroldis Chapman, the game’s most feared closer, who, though drained by an overworked October, had managed to pump a 101 mph fastball just off the outside corner three pitches earlier and a 99 mph fastball that Davis fought off two pitches earlier and a 101 mph fastball that Davis leaned in to spoil one pitch earlier.
This pitch left Chapman’s hand at 98 mph, low and inside, and Davis, choking up comically, almost 3 inches, dropped the head of his bat and with one swing erased a two-run deficit. Joe Buck’s call was perfectly simple: “Drive into left. At the wall. It’s gone. Tie game, Rajai Davis, 6-6.”
Odd though it may seem to pick a home run hit by a player from the losing team, I think the staying power of Davis’ home run even though the Cubs won the World Series validates the choice even more. It took a historic World Series victory and imbued it with even greater drama and meaning. It wasn’t Bill Mazeroski or Joe Carter. It was still something I’ll never forget.
Dan Mullen: Miggy tears the roof off of Wrigley
When we look back at the 2016 Cubs, we remember the team that made history. It’s easy to forget that while that October played out, we were all convinced that things would go horribly wrong somewhere along the way, just as they had so many times before.
I was watching the National League Championship Series opener from the left-field aux box high above when that feeling of looming doom rolled into Wrigley as a 3-1 lead against the Dodgers disappeared in a particularly ugly top of the eighth. The doom level was rising even higher when it appeared the Cubs were about to let a prime scoring opportunity get away when pinch hitter Miguel Montero fell behind 0-2 with the bases loaded and two outs.
But instead of striking out, grounding out or popping out to set in motion the latest chapter in the long book of Cubs collapses, Montero did something else entirely: He hit a baseball harder than he has ever hit a baseball in his whole life (or at least on a home run in 2016, according to Statcast data) and just about tore the damn roof off of Wrigley in the process. Or at least that’s what it felt like in that moment to me, Javy Baez — who said after the game, “I thought the roof was coming down from the fans jumping” — and 42,376 screaming Cubs fans.
In Game 1 of the 2016 NLCS, Miguel Montero lifts a grand slam to break a 3-3 tie and lead the Cubs to the win over the Dodgers.
I’ve seen home runs hit harder, and I’ve seen home runs hit farther (I grew up going to pre-humidor Coors Field). But Montero’s grand slam was the moment I truly understood that these weren’t those Cubbies and we were weeks away from witnessing history — and it doesn’t get better than that.
Jesse Rogers: Schwarber lands a knockout punch … on top of the scoreboard
The scoreboard beyond the right-field bleachers had just been installed. Otherwise this majestic blast by Chicago Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber would have ended up on the street and eventually be forgotten. But when Schwarber landed his 419-foot home run on top of the scoreboard, it instantly became a legendary blast.
The scene was the 2015 NL Division Series. The hated St. Louis Cardinals were on their last legs, trailing the series two games to one. Anthony Rizzo had put the Cubs in front 5-4 with a solo home run off lefty Kevin Siegrist an inning earlier, in the sixth. Schwarber’s blast would be the final nail in the Cardinals’ coffin — against a team that had owned the division, and the Cubs, for years. Siegrist threw a fastball down the middle, which Schwarber connected on with the kind of uppercut swing that launch-angle fanatics could drool over to this day. It was glorious. Wrigley Field went bananas.
In the 2015 NLDS, Kyle Schwarber unloads on a pitch and sends it well over the wall and on top of the video board in right field.
In 79 at-bats against left-handed hitters that regular season, Siegrist had thrown just two home run balls. In less than two innings in Game 4, he had matched that total. The Cubs would leave Schwarber’s ball on top of the scoreboard, eventually encasing it in glass. It became a shrine of sorts and vaulted Schwarber into mythical status. Something he would only enhance a year later during the World Series.
Tim Keown: Wait, who just sent the Giants to the World Series?
This is a tough one. I covered Barry Bonds every day for two seasons, and I’ll never forget watching him take the air out of an entire stadium with a 450-plus-foot homer in Anaheim, California, in the 2002 World Series. I followed the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa circus for several weeks in 1998 and was in a sweltering, B.O.-infused press box in St. Louis when McGwire hit No. 62. I once sat in the bleachers at the Oakland Coliseum and watched Jim Rice hit a homer off Dave Beard that, in my recollection, landed behind me before the sound of contact reached my ears.
In Game 5 of the 2014 NLCS, Travis Ishikawa walks it off with a 3-run homer to win the National League pennant for the Giants.
But most memorable? This might be a bit esoteric, but in 2014, Travis Ishikawa hit a walk-off homer off Michael Wacha to win the National League pennant for the San Francisco Giants. Even now, more than five years later, that sentence doesn’t make any more sense than it did the day it happened.
Buster Olney: Brosius matches Tino’s Fall Classic feat
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth of Game 4 of the 2001 World Series, Tino Martinez mashed a two-run home run off Arizona closer Byung-Hyun Kim — the first game-tying home run in the ninth inning of a Fall Classic since 1929.
The next afternoon, I bumped into Yankees third baseman Scott Brosius outside the clubhouse, and he wore the biggest grin, confirming what I assumed, that he was still thinking about Tino’s home run. Scott said he usually did not have trouble falling asleep after games, but following Tino’s home run, he was still wide awake at 5 a.m., and so he called a friend in his home state of Oregon to relive the game and burn off some adrenaline. Before Brosius continued into the clubhouse, he said, in so many words — that’s something we’ll never see again in our lifetimes.
In Game 4 of the 2001 World Series, Tino Martinez ties the game in the ninth inning with a home run and Scott Brosius does the same in Game 5. The Yankees would go on to win both games.
About five hours later, Brosius stood in the batter’s box, in the ninth inning. Byung-Hyun Kim was on the mound. The Yankees trailed by two runs, again. Brosius swung, and as he followed through and tracked the ball soaring toward left field, he raised his arms in celebration; Brosius had tied the game with a home run. Something that hadn’t happened in a World Series game in 72 years happened in back-to-back nights in Yankee Stadium.
Matt Marrone: The home run that wasn’t … then was
I was a freshman in college when I saw the infamous Derek Jeter/Jeffrey Maier home run. Although that’s not entirely true: I didn’t actually SEE it.
Yes, I was at Yankee Stadium. Yes, I was laser-focused on every pitch and every play of that 1996 American League Championship Series Game 1. But I was sitting in the right-field upper deck, along the first-base line, and the right-field corner was obscured. No matter: I had been going to Yankee Stadium practically since birth, and I didn’t need to see the whole field to know where a ball was going.
I prided myself on never being one of those fans who go bonkers for every long fly out. So as I watched the arc of the ball as it flew off Jeter’s bat, I sat back in my seat and sighed. This was a fly out to right field. The Orioles still led 4-3 and it was now two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning. The crowd was cheering, but, again, those had to be the fans who assume every deep fly is long gone.
Derek Jeter hits one the other way, and 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reaches over the wall to snag the ball away from Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco.
And then? There was Jeter, circling the bases. I only found out through word of mouth what really had happened — that a 12-year-old fan had reached out over Tony Tarasco’s glove and grabbed the ball — and I only saw the play later. But I never needed to see it. I knew right away the home run wasn’t legitimate. But I took it, and 2½ weeks later, I was back in the Bronx to watch Wade Boggs ride around the stadium on the back of a police horse, celebrating the first Yankees World Series title since the year I was born.
Bradford Doolittle: Hammermania hits a high point
On July 24, 1994, we decided to take in a Royals game a couple of weeks before our pending move to Chicago. They were playing the White Sox. It was 1994, the year after George Brett retired, and Kansas City was engulfed in Hammermania. That refers to rookie slugger Bob Hamelin, who had hit 19 homers, including one in each of the two games prior to this one.
The game went to the 12th when Chicago got a run off Hipolito Pichardo — there’s a name from the archives — to take the lead. The Sox brought in Roberto Hernandez, who was pretty damned good at the time. Dave Henderson and Wally Joyner stroked one-out singles, putting runners on the corners for the Hammer. First pitch: Boom! It went out to center field and the K went nuts. It turned out to be the third game of a 13-game winning streak that put the Royals in a three-way race with the Indians and White Sox in the AL Central.
It also turned out to be the high point of the Hammer’s career. Within two weeks after that game, we’d moved to Chicago, close enough to Wrigley Field to hear Harry Caray sing during the seventh-inning stretch. But we didn’t find that out for months. The 1994 strike shut down everything until the following spring. There was no baseball and no singing and no resolution in that budding division race. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what that time felt like.
Alden Gonzalez: Baseball’s best player at his best
I have been fortunate enough to witness the vast majority of Mike Trout’s 285 career home runs in person, but the grand slam he hit off Chris Sale on June 7, 2014, sticks out most. It came in the eighth inning, with Trout’s Los Angeles Angels trailing Sale’s Chicago White Sox by four runs. It came on the type of low-in-the-zone off-speed pitch that Trout has always crushed at an astounding rate. And it came after Trout had fallen behind in the count 0-2, an inherent skill that was chief among the reasons Trout was considered an elite hitter at such a young age.
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Keep in mind — this was peak Sale, on the way to his third of seven consecutive top-six finishes in Cy Young voting, and Trout was still only 22 years old. Trout went into that at-bat 1-for-10 with three strikeouts and two walks in his career against Sale. He watched a fastball sail high, then passed on a changeup that drifted out of the zone. He fouled off a chest-high fastball, laid off another high and away, then turned on a changeup low and outside, right on the edge of the strike zone, lifting it toward the center-field rock pile at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. “That’s why he’s the best in the league,” Sale later said of Trout, who wasn’t even midway through his third full season by that point. “The best.”
Tim Kurkjian: Hendu stuns the Halos in ’86
Game 5, 1986 American League Championship Series, Red Sox at Angels. David Henderson off Donnie Moore (who, years later, after tremendous turmoil in his life, took his own life). The Angels were ahead by three runs entering the ninth inning. They were three outs away from going to the World Series for the first time. It also would be manager Gene Mauch’s first trip to the World Series and it would be another chapter in the cursed history of the Red Sox, who hadn’t won the World Series since 1918. Henderson came to the plate with a runner at first and two outs in the ninth, down by a run.
During the season, he had been 1-for-13 with no RBIs with two outs and runners on base in late-inning pressure situations, and he had not hit a home run all season (71 plate appearances) with two outs and runners on base. He took a hanging split from Moore and crushed it over the left-center-field fence to give the Red Sox a 6-5 lead. It was Henderson’s only hit in the series.
In Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS, Dave Henderson rips a ninth-inning homer to give Boston the lead in a game the Red Sox would win in 11 innings.
The Angels tied it in the bottom of the ninth, but Henderson’s sacrifice fly in the 11th inning won the game. After the game, Henderson said that the famous home run “rated right up there for me with scoring four touchdowns in a high school football game.” Then he smiled that huge smile, with that big gap between his front teeth, and walked away. The Red Sox would win Games 6 and 7 at home, sending them to the World Series, where they would lose in seven games to the Mets.
David Schoenfield: It gets no better for a kid than some Bat Night walk-off history
The Mariners of my youth were terrible. (No jokes about the Mariners of my adulthood also being terrible). That was no surprise given they were an expansion franchise, but even for an expansion franchise they were terrible. Back in those early days, the Mariners would draw big crowds three times a season: Opening Day, whenever they played the Yankees, and Bat Night (which was much more popular than Rain Jacket Night).
May 9, 1981, was a Saturday night, the Yankees were in town and it was Bat Night. A crowd of 51,903 packed the usually gray and depressing Kingdome to its concrete ceiling. The game before, Tom Paciorek had led off the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off home run off Rudy May, a rare Mariners victory over the evil Yankees. In this game, the Mariners jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, but Reggie Jackson would break a 3-3 tie in the eighth with a two-run homer.
We head to the bottom of the ninth with Ron Davis in relief for the Yankees (he was an All-Star that year). Jerry Narron strikes out. Pinch hitter Dan Meyer singles, and Julio Cruz follows with a base hit. Lenny Randle flies out, bringing up … Tom Paciorek. And, improbably, he does it again: He belts a three-run, walk-off home run to left field. He remains one of just 11 players to hit walk-off home runs in consecutive games. The crowd goes absolutely nuts, of course, but that doesn’t describe the noise. The Kingdome was nearly all metal bleachers back then, and all of us kids started banging our bats against the bleachers in outrageous joy. It sounded like the Kingdome was falling apart. Finally, Paciorek came back out for his curtain call.
Baseball is never better than when you’re 11 years old.