The Angels Won on a Walk-Off Strikeout*

I started blogging about the Mariners almost the instant they stopped being good. I went forward with that for some reason on a daily basis for something like a decade, and there was a whole lot of losing involved. As such, there are a lot of low points to pick from, and I don’t know when I experienced rock bottom, but I know when I felt particularly low. I can vividly recall a moment when something seemed to snap. The whole 2010 season was unfathomably bad, and it was a race to the finish line. September might as well have not existed, but it did exist, and toward the end of it, the Mariners played the Rangers, and the Rangers scored the winning run on a strikeout.

Fans of bad teams often say it’s as if their team finds new ways to lose. For me, that actually *was* a new way to lose. I’d never seen it. Many people had never seen anything like it. See, it’s extremely uncommon. And why wouldn’t it be? A strikeout is an out. A walk-off strikeout shouldn’t exist. But there’s room there for an opportunity; the door is cracked ever so slightly open. The Rangers won on a walk-off strikeout. And last night, the Angels did the same thing.

If we want to be totally honest, the Angels didn’t win on a walk-off strikeout. They won on a walk-off error, that took place in the immediate aftermath of a strikeout. A walk-off error sounds more reasonable. There have probably been hundreds or thousands of those. Still, the precise nature of the victory is rare. Even if we’re not talking about a true walk-off strikeout, it’s a walk-off win in which the final plate appearance was a strikeout. According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, there have been just eight such games on record. The Angels, on Wednesday. The Rangers, in 2010. And on, going back to 1939.

Let me link some play-by-plays:

  • 2010. Rangers beat the Mariners on a Nelson Cruz strikeout. Strikeout, wild pitch, error on the catcher. The winning run scored all the way from first.
  • 2005. Phillies beat the Cubs on a Pat Burrell strikeout. Strikeout, passed ball, winning run scored from third.
  • 2003. Tigers beat the Twins on a Warren Morris strikeout. Strikeout, wild pitch, winning run scored from third. The runner, Alex Sanchez, had walked, stolen second, and stolen third. Nice job, Alex Sanchez.
  • 1997. Braves beat the Expos on a Mike Mordecai strikeout. Strikeout, wild pitch, winning run scored from third.
  • 1986. Angels beat the Rangers on a George Hendrick strikeout. Strikeout, passed ball, winning run scored from second. The pitcher was Charlie Hough, one of the more recent true knuckleballers, so you can see how the ball would’ve gotten away.
  • 1970. Braves beat the Mets on a Bob Tillman strikeout. Strikeout, wild pitch, error on the catcher. Winning run scored from second. Here’s the best part about this one: the Mets were winning at the time. One run scored on the wild pitch. Another run scored on the error. This was a two-run walk-off strikeout.
  • 1939. Dodgers beat the Reds on a Leo Durocher strikeout. Strikeout, error on the third baseman? Winning run scored from third. I don’t know. From what I can tell from newspaper archives, it looks like runner Johnny Hudson broke for home. Then Durocher struck out and Hudson was trapped. The throw went to the third baseman, and then Hudson turned again, and I guess the third baseman’s throw to the catcher was wild and bad. Victory!

We can’t say this has happened just eight times, ever. The further back you go, the more often you run into incomplete box scores. But it’s obvious from the query, and from your own reasonable thinking, that this is strange and seldom observed. It’s one of the weirder ways to win a baseball game. Some of the linked games have been more like “true” walk-off strikeouts than others, but they all have the same strikeout in common. The Angels get to go on a very short list.

The final score was Angels 3, Dodgers 2. The game ended in the bottom of the ninth. The game nearly ended in the top of the ninth, but Yasmani Grandal hit a two-out, two-strike, tying home run. Pedro Baez took over on the mound, and here’s one way you could accurately describe the winning sequence of events:

  • groundout
  • weak grounder
  • strikeout

All true! With one down, Ben Revere grounded back up the middle. Chris Taylor committed an error.

Now, Revere runs well, so maybe Taylor wouldn’t have had a play anyway. We can’t say that Taylor was playing out of position, since he’s long been a shortstop. But the Dodgers’ regular shortstop is Corey Seager, and *not* Chris Taylor. Taylor might’ve felt like he had to hurry because it was Revere going down the line. Whatever the case, bad contact became a baserunner. Any baserunner in the ninth inning of a tie game is dangerous.

Revere ultimately scored from second. How did he get there? It wasn’t by way of a stolen base.

That goes in the books as a wild pitch, and the pitch was legitimately bad. That was going to be tough for anyone to block. But Revere’s legs might’ve made the difference here. Look at Grandal’s body position around pitch release:

Revere bluffed toward second, and that might’ve caused Grandal to come up a little out of his crouch, to prepare for a throw down. The pitch was in the dirt, so Grandal had to get back down again to try to keep the ball in front of him. Maybe the pitch was going to get away anyway, I don’t know, but Revere played some kind of role. And he wound up in scoring position.

And, wasn’t that convenient!

Cameron Maybin struck out on a changeup down. The pitch got away from Grandal again, and then he made a bad throw to first base, which allowed Revere to score. Why did that pitch get away from Grandal? We can go back to the video. Watch Grandal prepare for this changeup to Revere, with nobody on:

Grandal is ready and in position while Baez is still set. Grandal is fully prepared for the changeup. Now watch Grandal prepare for the fateful changeup to Maybin, with Revere on second:

As Baez holds the ball, Grandal does nothing. He sits there in an ordinary crouch and he tries not to give away anything with his positioning or his glove. Only as Baez begins his motion does Grandal shift into his desired crouch, and that means that Grandal was in motion as the pitch was in motion. Grandal was therefore less prepared to catch a pitch down, and while he still should’ve caught the ball anyway, he was late to get set, and everything unraveled from there.

Here are screenshot comparisons of Grandal. Look at how his body is set with Baez letting go:

Up top, Grandal is ready, and his glove is around his own knees. Down below, Grandal is still getting ready, and his glove is above his own knees, and not yet open and ready to catch. Catching is hard. I don’t mean catching a baseball. I mean being a catcher is hard. Grandal was worried that Revere might in some way signal Maybin, if Grandal gave away the pitch early. I don’t know how legitimate it was to be afraid of that, but it’s at least something catchers are trained to look out for.

There’s still so much more to dissect. Like, for example:

The ball got away, sure, but as Grandal retrieved it, Maybin was still in the box. He was slow to respond, and he didn’t have 90 feet to go. He had more than 90 feet to go. So Grandal didn’t have to hurry if he wanted to get the out at first. The complicating factor was Revere; Revere was already safe at third, and there was some chance he might try to be aggressive. It crossed Grandal’s mind, and he double-pumped. He tried to catch his balance before making the throw.

It wasn’t even that bad a throw. It wasn’t a good throw, but you could argue it shouldn’t have sailed into the outfield. The median first baseman stands six foot, three inches. Chase Utley is officially listed at six foot, one inch. And Utley, historically, has been a second baseman, and he has limited first-base experience. With more experience, he might’ve known to jump, instead of hold the bag with his back foot. He had time. He could’ve jumped. He might not have fully understood the stakes. All these circumstances combined to allow the Angels’ first-base coach to go crazy.

As the ball got by, coach Alfredo Griffin waved his arms. That’s typical base-coach behavior, but Griffin was waving so furiously, overcome by such elation, that he went and waved himself in a circle. He was waving while facing away from the field. Yasiel Puig went over to pick the ball up, but there was nothing else for him to do. He had no play, and the game was over. Puig simply became the focus of a humiliating sequence of game-losing events in which he had zero involvement. The camera followed the ball, and as Puig held the ball, the camera held on Puig. Puig was a Dodger; the Dodgers had lost. It was unfair for Puig to be the representative in the picture, but that’s being on a team for you.

And so the Angels celebrated. You always celebrate a walk-off. But, how to celebrate this particular outcome?

As the Angels all spilled onto the field, they mobbed the guy who struck out.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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6 years ago

As bad as Revere has been this season, the Angels have really benefited this season from getting faster as a whole. Between Maybin, Revere, EYJ, Espinosa, etc. they are forcing a lot of throws on the basepaths and inducing errors like crazy. It’s really gone a long way toward helping them stay at or around .500.