Opening Day, April 1, 2013 is 42 days away. There have been one hundred walk off home runs in Angels history. This is the story of #42, a walk off grand slam in the thirteenth inning.
June 25, 1985 - The Indians were visiting the Big A for a three game series. They had won Monday night's game 2-1 on the pitching of Bert Blyleven. On this Tuesday night, Manager Pat Corrales had let his starter Roy Smith take the mound to try and finish out a complete game with a 2-1 lead. Bobby Grich got a base hit and Gene Mauch brought in young Gary Pettis as a pinch runner. Corrales countered with reliever Jeff Barkley to face Craig Gerber, who bunted Pettis over. With one out, Bob Boone tied the game with a single. At 2-2, the game went into extra innings.
In the top of the thirteenth inning, Angels reliever Stu Cliburn allowed the same sequence - single, sac bunt, RBI single. It was 3-2 Indians going into the bottom of the thirteenth. Neal Heaton entered the game for the Indians. He immediately got two outs before walking Juan Beniquez. Brian Downing than doubled him home. Heaton was shaky but only needed one out. He walked Reggie Jackson and Doug DeCinces.
Up stepped Angels LF Ruppert Jones, 1 for 6 in the game. He hit a tie-breaking walk off grand slam in the bottom of the thirteenth inning. Final Score: Angels 7, Indians 3 courtesy of a five-run thriteenth inning.
Years later, WPA (Win Probability Added) was developed to analyze baseball games broken down into individual plays with the impact of each separate play given a value towards a team's win or loss. Every game starts out with a 50-50 chance of either team winning. After the first batter, the percentages skew.
One would think that a walk off grand slam is the biggest hit in any baseball game. But WPA shows us that is not so. It is easy to understand that if there were two outs and the team was down by two runs, THAT walk off grand slam would have been a more impactful hit than if there the game was tied and there were two outs prior to the walk off slam.
The WPA tabulations for this game indicate that not only was the Ruppert Jones Walk Off Grand Slam not the most important play of the game ("important" being the play that most increased the Angels chances of winning), it wasn't even the second most important of the game.
The Brian Downing RBI double gave the Angels a Win Probability Added of 51%. The Bob Boone ninth inning single gave them a WPA of 35%. The Jones Grand Slam delivered a WPA of 34% - with the bases loaded, the likelihood of scoring and winning is much bigger than Downing driving in a runner form 1B or Boone driving in the lone runner on 2B.
Of course, statistics like WPA are best when they add clarity to a game. They can have the effect of scolding fans for enjoying great moments, especially walk off hits, and not appreciating other important plays in a game. It is important to use WPA as an addition to one's enjoyment of baseball, not as a joy-killer to mock the celebration of great moments that may not be as statistically significant as other moments.
The need for a fantastic narrative drives sports marketing as well as sports writing. A Walk Off Grand Slam is always the big story no matter how many other key hits led to that one stroke of the bat.