By Matt Kelly and Sarah Langs @mattkellyMLB and @SlangsOnSports
August 8, 2019
A walk-off in front of the home crowd might be the most thrilling way to win a ballgame. The situation is tense, the anticipation sky-high and the release … oh-so-sweet.
So, the fans of the teams below got about all they could ask for during these magical seasons. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, here are the five highest team single-year walk-off win totals in history — a list that includes three eventual World Series champions.
1. 1959 Pirates: 18
Overall record: 78-76
Bill Mazeroski showed a glimpse of his clutch ability, leading the Pirates with four walk-off hits. Mazeroski would hit one of baseball’s most famous homers a year later when he walked off the mighty Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series. The Bucs walked off in both legs of a doubleheader twice in 1959 (May 24 against the Reds, Aug. 30 against the Phillies), making them one of only five teams to ever accomplish that double dip, according to Elias.
Nine of Pittsburgh’s walk-offs made reliever Roy Face the winning pitcher of record in a year he set the Major League mark with 17 straight victories out of the gate. The ‘59 Pirates also suffered one of the most painful walk-off losses in history, when Braves slugger Joe Adcock’s 13th-inning double spoiled the famous Harvey Haddix game at Milwaukee’s County Stadium.
2-T. 1977 Pirates: 17
Overall record: 96-66
The Pirates traded fan favorite Manny Sanguillen to the A’s for manager Chuck Tanner during the offseason, and Tanner brought some magic with him. Six of the Bucs’ walk-offs came in July 1977, when they won 20 of their 29 games to cut a nine-game deficit in the National League East to just 2 ½ (Pittsburgh finished the year in second place). Two game-enders came off future Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, who paced the Majors that year with 35 saves for the Padres.
2-T. 1943 Yankees: 17
Overall record: 98-56
An early May series between the Yankees and Red Sox perfectly underscored the pinstripes’ golden touch in 1943 — and Boston’s Bambino-tinged misery against their rivals at the time. On May 4, New York won on a perfectly reasonable sac fly to center field. The next day, Red Sox pitcher Andy Karl balked with the bases loaded to bring in the winning run. New York wrapped up a 2-1 victory in Game 3 without any theatrics, but found more magic in the finale, when Boston pitcher Mace Brown failed to field a bunt and allowed Yankees shortstop Snuffy Stirnweiss to score from second base. Four games, four one-run victories for the Yanks — three of them via walk-off.
The ‘43 Yankees’ 38 one-run victories remain the fourth-highest single-season total by any AL club, and they rode their luck back to the Fall Classic, avenging the previous year’s loss against the Cardinals with wins of two runs or fewer in three of their four triumphs over St. Louis.
4-T. 1997 Marlins: 16
Overall record: 92-70
Edgar Renteria was just 20 years old for most of the season, turning 21 in early August. The youngster had come up in 1996 and shown he could hit, hitting .309 in 106 games and finishing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting to Todd Hollandsworth. In the team’s fifth game of the season in 1997, he knocked a walk-off single to start what would be an incredible run. The team ended up with 16 walk-offs, and Renteria had four of them himself — two more than any of his teammates.
But the team wasn’t finished with those 16 walk-offs, nor was Renteria capped at four. In Game 7 of the World Series, Renteria completed his charmed season with an 11th-inning walk-off single against the Indians’ Charles Nagy to win the franchise its first World Series, in just its fifth season of existence.
Marlins win 1997 World Series
4-T. 1987 Twins: 16
Overall record: 85-77
The 1987 season was a magical one for the Twins, and the magic started early, as the Twins won their first game of the season on April 7 on a 10th-inning walk-off single by Kent Hrbek. That team ended up getting pretty used to Hrbek walk-offs, as he totaled five on the year, three more than any of his teammates, including two walk-off home runs.
Ironically, the 1987 World Series was the first to not feature single game that went to the bottom of the ninth inning. Still, the Twins found a way, defeating the Cardinals in seven games for the franchise’s first World Series title since 1924, when they were the Senators and resided in Washington, not Minnesota.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.
Sarah Langs is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @SlangsOnSports.