It wasn’t Game 7 of the World Series, but all of the other elements of the ultimate backyard scenario were in place on Tuesday night in Denver. Alex Guerrero’s team was down to its final at-bat, trailing by three runs with the bases loaded and two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning. With a 1–2 count, Rockies closer Rafael Betancourt delivered a 91-mph fastball that was supposed to be outside but drifted back over the plate. Guerrero, who had already hit nine home runs in his previous 103 plate appearances on the season, hit it square and over Coors Field’s centerfield wall, 415 feet away, for a go-ahead grand slam, giving the Dodgers a 9–8 lead that Kenley Jansen nailed down in the bottom of the ninth.
As often as similar scenarios are invoked by fantasy, in the last quarter century a player has hit a grand slam with his team trailing by three runs and down to its final out just seven times, including Guerrero’s shot last night. That group of seven doesn’t include Rajai Davis’s walkoff grand slam for the Tigers last June or Jason Giambi’s 14th-inning walkoff grand slam in the rain for the Yankees in 2002, both of which overcame three run deficits but can with just one out in the inning. There have been other comparable slams hit with fewer than two outs in the last quarter century, but with a team down to its final out there has been only Guerrero Tuesday night and these six since 1990:
Sept. 27, 2011 – Ryan Roberts, Diamondbacks
The last player to hit a go-ahead grand slam with his team trailing by three and down to its last out was Diamondbacks third baseman Ryan Roberts, who did so in the penultimate game of what proved to be a career year for the heavily tattooed journeyman. In that game, Arizona's Jarrod Parker, making his major league debut, matched Dodgers veteran Hiroki Kuroda for six scoreless innings before both yielded to their bullpens, each of which promptly allowed a run. That 1-1 tie lasted into extra innings at which point Los Angeles broke out for five runs against D-Backs reliever Micah Owings in the top of the 10th. Dodgers righty Blake Hawksworth got two quick groundouts to start the bottom of the 10th, but the third out never came. Two singles, a walk and an error by third baseman Aaron Miles scored one run and left the bases loaded. Javy Guerra, the Dodgers’ rookie closer, then came on and walked in a second run to make it 6–3 Los Angeles. That brought up Roberts, who put the first pitch he saw over the leftfield wall for a walk-off grand slam that gave Arizona a 7-6 win.
June 30, 2006 – Adam Dunn, Reds
Visiting their interleague rivals in Cincinnati, Cleveland jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the top of the first, then added an insurance run in the fourth and another in the eighth to take a 7-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth. Called on to pitch the bottom of that frame, Betancourt—the same man who surrendered Guerrero's slam on Tuesday—faced four batters, giving up a leadoff home run to Austin Kearns, a pair of singles and a three-run home run to pinch-hitter Juan Castro to bring the Reds to within 7-4. Fortunately for Cleveland, it got a run back in the top of the ninth to expand its lead to four runs, but that wasn’t enough for veteran closer Bob Wickman.
After getting the first man he faced to pop out, Wickman gave that run back via a pair of singles and an RBI groundout. A wild pitch then left a man on third with two outs and Cleveland still leading 8-5, but Wickman walked the next two men he faced on nine pitches to load the bases. He fell behind Dunn 1-0, then left a fat pitch over the plate that Dunn ripped for a game-winning line-drive grand slam down the leftfield line. Less than a month later, Wickman was traded to Atlanta.
July 28, 2001 – Brian Giles, Pirates
Pittsburgh, on its way to the worst record in the National League and facing the eventual Central division champion Astros, trailed 8-2 going to the bottom of the ninth. Called in to shut the door, veteran Michael Jackson got the first two outs quickly on fly balls, but he then gave up a double and a two-run home run to Pat Mears. (That home runs was notable in its own right, for it proved to be the last in the career of a player best remembered as one of the Pirates’ biggest contractual blunders.)
A walk and two singles pushed another run across to make it 8-5, at which point Houston manager Larry Dierker called on one of the best closers in major league history, Billy Wagner, to protect a three run lead with two outs and two men on base. Wagner hit Jason Kendall with his third pitch to load the bases for Pittsburgh’s best hitter, lefty Brian Giles, who was in the midst of a four-year stretch in which he averaged 37 home runs a year. Giles took ball one, then deposited Wagner's next offering deep in PNC Park’s rightfield bleachers for a walk-off grand slam.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, the celebration was especially short-lived. That was only the first game of a doubleheader, and Houston won the nightcap 12-3.
May 17, 1996 – Chris Hoiles, Orioles
Prior to Tuesday night, Hoiles was the last player to hit a grand slam with his team trailing by three runs and down to its last strike. Baltimore actually led most of the game before the Mariners took the lead with a five-run eighth inning capped by the second grand slam of Alex Rodriguez’s career. The Orioles got one run back in the bottom of the eighth on a Cal Ripken home run to close their deficit to 11-10, but Jay Buhner responded for Seattle with a two-run shot in the top of the ninth to hand a three-run lead to closer Norm Charlton.
Charlton started the bottom of the ninth by walking Roberto Alomar, striking out Rafael Palmeiro, giving up a double to Bobby Bonilla that pushed Alomar to third, and getting Billy Ripken to foul out. That brought up Cal Ripken, who represented the tying run. Charlton walked him, too, loading the bases for Hoiles, who was 0-for-5 to that point. Hoiles ran the count full, putting the Orioles down to their final strike, then crushed a hanging curveball over the leftfield wall for a walk-off grand slam.
Since 1988, which is as far back as data on counts goes via the baseball-reference.com Play Index, Hoiles and the Tigers' Alan Trammell (June 21, 1988) are the only two players to hit a walk-off grand slam on a 3-2 pitch with two outs and their team trailing by three runs and down to its final out.
May 7, 1992 – Dave Winfield, Blue Jays
Toronto entered the top of the ninth at Seattle’s Kingdome trailing 7-3. Mariners righty Calvin Jones, who had worked a scoreless eighth, struck out Candy Maldonado for the first out of the inning, but then gave up a double and a single that got the Jays to within 7-4. After walking Devon White, Jones was relieved by closer Mike Schooler, who got Roberto Alomar to fly out but walked Joe Carter. That loaded the bases for Winfield.
The man Yankees owner George Steinbrenner once sarcastically dubbed "Mr. May" after his 1-for-22 performance in the 1981 World Series was off to a typically blazing start, hitting .358/.419/.560 coming into that game, and he had singled and scored in the fifth. Winfield ran the count even to put the Blue Jays down to their last strike, then laced a grand slam to left that gave Toronto an 8-7 lead. In the bottom of the ninth, Jays closer Tom Henke gave up a one-out double to Edgar Martinez to put the tying run in scoring position, but he got Ken Griffey Jr. to ground out and cleanup hitter Kevin Mitchell to fly out, ending the game.
For Winfield, it was just part of a memorable season, his only one with the Blue Jays. At age 40, he finished fifth in the AL MVP voting, won a Silver Slugger and capped the year with a World Series-winning double in the top of the 11th inning of Game 6 against the Braves. That hit not only earned Winfield the only championship of his Hall of Fame career, it shook off the Mr. May label once and for all.
April 19, 1991 – Andre Dawson, Cubs
Of the seven grand slams discussed here, Dawson’s was the only one to account for all of his team’s scoring in the game in question. That makes it a bit less surprising that it was the only one to come in a losing effort.
The Cubs managed just one hit, a fourth-inning single by George Bell, through the first eight innings at Three Rivers Stadium against Pirates hurlers Vicente Palacios, Bob Patterson and Stan Belinda. Chicago entered the top of the ninth trailing 3-0, but with one out, Ryne Sandberg walked and Mark Grace followed with a double. Belinda then hit former NL Rookie of the Year Dwight Smith to load the bases.
Smith had started that game in rightfield, giving Dawson his first day off of the young season, but with the pitcher due up next, it was a no-brainer for manager Don Zimmer to call on Dawson to pinch-hit. Dawson, like Winfield a future Hall of Famer, hit the first and only pitch he saw in the game out to left for the go-ahead grand slam.
Belinda escaped further trouble, and in the bottom of the ninth, Cubs closer Dave Smith, making just his fifth appearance for Chicago since being signed away from Houston as a free agent that winter, couldn’t hold the one-run lead. Two singles and a wild pitch tied the score, and a sacrifice bunt led to intentional walks for Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla that loaded the bases and set up a force out at every base. Jeff King singled, though, and Pittsburgh won 5-4.