Post-Season Walk-offs An Oakland A's Tradition

A familiar scene in Oakland in October - Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Last night was the seventh post-season walk-off win in Oakland A’s history. What does it all mean? It means we get to review the other six, that’s what.

I was at the game Saturday night with my oldest brother Ernie. It's the second time we've seen an A's post-season walk-off, and the seventh in Oakland history.

Let's take a look at the previous six.

1972 ALCS Game 1: A’s 3, Detroit 2 (11 innings)

The A’s were in an Autumn slump. They had not won a post-season game since October 9, 1931 – Game 6 of that year’s World Series (which they lost in seven).

After 40 years of wandering in the desert, including moves from Philadelphia to Kansas City and from Kansas City to Oakland, the A’s next foray into the post-season came in 1971. They were promptly swept.

Oakland won the AL West in 1972 in thrilling fashion. The A’s last three victories leading up to the clinch came in their last at-bat. They swept the Minnesota Twins in a doubleheader – both games went extra innings – to drop their magic number to 1. The following day, the A’s fell behind 7-0 heading into the home half of the fifth. They scored a run in the fifth and sixth, three in the seventh and two in the eighth to tie the game. In the bottom of the ninth, Dal Maxvill, a seldom-used utility player, drove a ball into the gap and Sal Bando scampered home with the West-winning score.

So it was not much of a surprise when they found themselves in another white-knuckled affair in Game 1 of the 1972 ALCS.

The Tigers jumped on the board first, courtesy of a solo homerun by Norm Cash in the second. No shame in serving up a tater to a guy like Cash – he hit 377 bombs in his career.

Taking the scenic route, Oakland tied the game in the third. With one out and no one on base, Campy Campaneris walked. Matty Alou singled, sending Campaneris to third. Joe Rudi hit a sac fly.

Ace starters Jim “Catfish” Hunter and Mickey Lolich shut it down from there.

Detroit went down in order in the fourth through the sixth. They worked “Catfish” for two walks in the seventh – the only two issued by the right-hander on the afternoon – but both runners were stranded.

Oakland’s biggest threat came when the A’s put two men on with only one out in the sixth. But Gene Tenace lined into a double play to end the inning.

The Tigers wasted a lead-off double in the eighth, and Tenace struck out to leave another pair stranded in the A’s half.

“Catfish” had fired six straight zeroes at Detroit, who threatened again in the ninth. Duke Sims led off with a double. Exit Hunter. Enter Vida Blue, the previous season’s MVP and Cy Young award winner, and this year’s first arm out of the pen.

Norm Cash, slugger-turned-squibbler, reached base when his sacrifice bunt was misplayed by second baseman Ted Kubiak. The Tigers now had men on first and third with no one out. Exit Blue. Enter Rollie Fingers, the American League’s Fireman of the Year in 1972. Two batters later – a pop-up and a tailor-made double play – and the flames fizzled out.

Extras.

Both teams went down quietly in the tenth.

Then with one out in the eleventh, Al Kaline – he of the 399 career homeruns – took Fingers deep to break the tie. Normally subdued, Kaline raised his right arm high as he rounded the bases. Duke Sims followed with a triple, as seats shifted at the Coliseum. Fingers retired the next two batters on ground balls, and the lead stayed at 2-1.

The A’s needed one to tie, two to win. They got two.

Sal Bando and Mike Epstein stroked back-to-back singles to start things off. Chuck Seelbach replaced Lolich. Tenace tried to sacrifice the runners over, and failed. The lead runner was forced out while Mike Hegan – pinch-running for Epstein – moved up to second, and Tenace was safe at first.

Gonzalo Enrique (Moya) Márquez was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Kansas City A’s in 1966. After five seasons of toiling in the minors, Márquez finally got the call to the bigs in August 1972. He made the most of his opportunity, with a slash line of .381/.462./.381 in 21 at-bats.

Now a rookie at the age of 26, he stood in the batter’s box at the Oakland Coliseum in Game 1 of the 1972 ALCS, with 40 years’ worth of frustration tied around the neck of a once-proud franchise.

Márquez didn’t blink. He delivered a single to right field. Hegan scored the tying run as Tenace headed to third. Kaline, a nine-time Gold Glover and the day’s would-be hero, fired toward the bag, but the ball bounced past third-baseman Aurelio Rodríguez and Tenace continued on home with the winning run.

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Tenace scores Game 1 winner

1972 World Series Game 4: A’s 3, Cincinnati 2

The A’s first eight post-season games of 1972 went like this: 3-2, 5-0, 0-3, 3-4, 2-1, 3-2, 2-1, 0-1. Eight games, six of the one-run variety. In only one game was there more than 5 total runs scored, and it took extras to get there.

Just twelve days after their Game 1 thriller against the Tigers, the A’s were once again three outs away from a post-season home defeat. This one would be particularly discouraging. Oakland, minus star-slugger Reggie Jackson, had stunned Cincinnati by taking the first two games of the World Series on the Reds’ home turf. But over the next 17 innings, including a 1-0 loss in Game 3, the A’s managed just one run as the National League champions threatened to tie the Series.

With starters Ken Holtzman and Don Gullet dealing, neither team was able to muster any offense through the first four innings. Then in the bottom of the fifth, Gene Tenace – who homered in his first two World Series at-bats in the opener – connected again.

The lead held at 1-0 until the eighth. With a man on third and two outs, Holtzman turned things over to fellow southpaw Blue. It took two batters for Blue to cough up the lead. A walk to Joe Morgan preceded Bobby Tolan’s two-run double, and the Reds were in front.

Manager Dick Williams used three-pinch hitters in the bottom of the ninth. Each move came up roses. Gonzalo Márquez singled to center with one out. Allen Lewis pinch-ran for Márquez. Closer Clay Carroll was called on to face Tenace, who delivered a base hit, as Lewis moved up ninety feet.

Don Mincher pinch-hit for Dick Green. Mincher singled home Lewis, with Tenace taking third. Tied. With the pitcher’s spot due up, Williams once again asked for a fresh hitter.

This time it was Angel Mangual. Dubbed, “Little Roberto Clemente”, Mangual was on Topps All-Rookie team in 1971. Mental lapses on defense landed him in Williams’ doghouse during the 1972 season. By 1976 he was out of baseball.

But for one moment, Mangual was – like Clemente in ’71 – a World Series hero, as he pushed a single into right field. Tenace raced home with the winning run.

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Tenace again, this time Game 4 of World Series

1973 ALCS Game 3: A’s 2, Orioles 1 (11 innings)

The defending champion A’s were in a fight for American League supremacy with the Orioles, who swept the A’s in 1971. The teams split the first two games in Baltimore.

Home for Game 3, Oakland had Ken Holtzman on the mound, opposite Mike Cuellar. In a scene similar to last night, there was a whole lotta nothing going on that afternoon, at least from an offensive standpoint.

Earl Williams put the O’s on the board with a homerun in the second inning. Baltimore would score no more, as Holtzman allowed only three other batters to reach base – a single in the first, a walk in the seventh, and a single in the ninth – in an 11-inning, complete-game masterpiece.

Cuellar – 10 innings, 2 runs, 4 hits, 3 walks, and 11 K’s – nearly mimicked Holtzman’s performance, and was still protecting a 1-0 lead entering the bottom of the eighth.

Jesus Alou – Matty’s brother (from the ’72 A’s) – singled to start things off, and pinch-runner Allen Lewis was sacrificed to second. One out later he was home with the tying run, thanks to Joe Rudi’s base hit.

It stayed tied until the eleventh inning when Campaneris – who had struck out with a chance to drive home Lewis in the eighth – sent the crowd home happy with a game-winning homerun.

1988 World Series Game 3: A’s 2, Los Angeles Dodgers 1

I had a ticket to this game. But I couldn’t use it. The morning of, I woke up with my stomach in knots. I called my brother John – who I worked with – that I wasn’t feeling well but I was going to try and tough it out. Immediately after I hung up, I threw up.

Went to work, and didn’t stay long.

I can’t even begin to explain my disappointment. For much of my adolescence I had to listen to my older siblings gush about the glory days of the 70’s, and what it was like to attend World Series games.

I was at Games 3 and 4 of the 1988 ALCS, as the A’s finished off a sweep of Boston. Oakland was back in the Series at long last, and I was going, too.

Then Kirk Gibson happened. And Orel happened. Then my stomach happened.

I tried to tough it out. I failed. At the last moment, I gave my ticked to my oldest brother Ernie.

The A’s were out-hit in the game, and frankly outplayed. I watched in my room, alone. I didn’t care how they won; I just wanted to not go to Game 4 staring at a sweep. And I was going to Game 4, damn it.

Oakland scratched for a run in the third; the Dodgers did likewise in the fifth. Somehow the A’s escaped a bases-load, no-outs jam in the sixth, and the teams remained tied heading into the last of the ninth.

With one out, Mark McGwire faced reliever Jay Howell. It was a weird scene. Not lost on too many people was the fact that the two players had stood next to each other – as A’s teammates – during introductions at the 1987 All-Star Game in Oakland. McGwire, who hit 33 homeruns before the Break en route to Rookie of the Year honors, drew a thunderous ovation. The cheers immediately turned to jeers when Howell’s name was called. Having blown too many saves for their liking, Howell had the rare distinction of being booed at an All-Star Game by his home crowd. One season later, he was shipped off to Los Angeles.

McGwire jumped on a Howell offering and hit it over the fence in left-center. Still weak, I shouted from my bed, happy for the A’s, disheartened that I wasn’t there.

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McGwire's HR gave A's only win of '88 Series

2003 ALDS Game 1: A’s 5, Boston 4 (12 innings)

I was there for this one – with Ernie.

Oakland was coming off three straight ALDS Game 5 defeats. The Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series since 1918. Something had to give.

The crowd of 50,606 was in a frenzy when the A’s scored three in the third off Pedro Martinez to put the A’s in front 3-1.

Tim Hudson couldn’t hold it.

If someone on the Red Sox was going to hit two homeruns in this game, you probably would have guessed it would be Manny Ramirez. Or David Ortiz. Maybe Nomar Garciaparra.

Not Todd Walker.

But Walker did hit two homeruns – a solo shot in the first and a two-run blast in the seventh to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead.

That’s playoff baseball for you.

The A’s were down to their last out. They had been in the same situation the night they clinched the division. Tied it in the ninth, won it in extras.

This time there were two men on and two outs. Erubiel Durazo slapped a single into left field and pinch-runner Eric Byrnes sped home. Tied at 4.

At the Coliseum, bedlam.

Neither team was able to take advantage of men on base in the tenth and eleventh innings. They both threatened again in the twelfth.

Only one scored.

A walk, a force out, and a groundout left Eric Chavez at second with two outs. While Scott Hatteberg worked a walk, Chavez stole third. Hatteberg took second without a throw, and Terrence Long was intentionally walked to load the bases.

The Moneyball A’s were accused in some parts of not doing the “little things” that were necessary to win playoff games, relying instead on the long ball and station-to-station offense. Bunting, it was suggested, was not exactly part of Billy Beane’s vocabulary.

So imagine the surprise of pretty much everyone when catcher Ramon Hernandez laid down the perfect walk-off bunt to win Game 1 for the A’s.

It was a thing of beauty, and I was there.

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Hernandez stunned Nation with walk-off bunt

2012 ALDS Game 4: A’s 4, Detroit 3

This was a walk-off like no other. Lose any of the other games mentioned above, and there was still at least one more to play. Losing this one meant the season.

And oh, what a season it was. The A’s became the “walk-off capital of the world” in 2012. They won 14 home games in their last at-bat during the regular season. Pies were in demand.

Oakland won its last six games – all at home – to win the American League West. Due to a scheduling snafu, the A’s were forced to began the ALDS against Detroit on the road. They lost the first two games.

The A’s staved off elimination with a 2-0 win in Game 3. The Tigers struck first with a run in the third inning of Game 4, a lead they doubled when Prince Fielder went deep in the fourth.

I was with my cousins Nick and Emilio in the third deck, and you can ask them both: not once did I think the A’s were going to lose this game. I kept saying, “We’ll win it in the ninth.”

They didn’t want to wait that long.

The A’s finally got on the board in the sixth. Coco Crisp reached on an error by Fielder and went to second on a wild pitch by starter, Max Scherzer. Stephen Drew drove home Crisp with a two-base hit, but he was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple. Instead of a man on second with no outs, the A’s had no one on and one out. The rally died shortly thereafter.

Oakland put two men on base with two outs in the eighth. But Brandon Moss struck out to end that threat.

Nick walked down, unable to watch the ninth from our seats. I actually thought he left the building.

The video board showed old A’s highlights with fans recalling their favorite moments. I turned to 15-year old Emilio. This is your moment. Right here, right now.

Now I just had to convince myself of that. Because for a split second, I looked to next year. Next year we’re going to be better. Next year…

I looked around. No one else was thinking about next year. Everyone around me knew the A’s were going to come back. It made no sense. And then it made perfect sense. I looked down towards the railing searching for Nick. No sign of him.

He’s going to hate himself for missing this.

“This” happened in a blink of an eye. Josh Reddick singled. Josh Donaldson doubled. Seth Smith doubled them home to tie the game. Madness. Absolute madness. I wrapped Emilio in a hug.

Again, I looked for Nick. He was down by the railing. He looked like a crazed fool, pointing up at me. I looked like a crazed fool, yelling down at him, “I told you! I told you!”

With two outs, Coco, sweet Coco, came through. Ballgame.

I ran down the stairs with Emilio close behind. I jumped into Nick’s arms. We didn’t wait for pie. I sprinted towards the nearest concession stand, now closed, screaming, “Open up the bar! Open up the bar!”

They didn’t open the bar. They should have called the police. I'm glad they didn't.

Outside Gate D, waiting for my cousin Scott, I hugged more people. People I knew. People I didn’t know. People I knew hugged other people I knew. But they didn’t know each other. They just knew that they all knew me.

It was weird. It was wonderful.

But mostly wonderful.

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Crisp wore familiar face of walk-off winner

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