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Matt Olson’s Opening Day walk-off grand slam is first in MLB since 1986

Oly Toledo!

Los Angeles Angels v Oakland Athletics Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The last time someone did what Matt Olson accomplished on Friday, the Oakland A’s slugger wasn’t even born yet.

The A’s won their first game of the 2020 season, and they did so in dramatic fashion. Oakland hosted the Angels in the Coliseum on Opening Day, and the two teams needed extra innings to decide it. In the 10th, with the bases loaded, Olson stepped up to the plate against lefty reliever Hoby Milner and obliterated a slider, launching it deep into the right-field bleachers.

Statcast measured it at 105.6 mph off the bat, and 427 feet in distance. Those are the directions to Poundtown.

Walk-off homers are rare enough on their own, happening perhaps a few times per team per season. Even less likely is to have one fall on a specifically meaningful game, like Opening Day. Pare down even further to a walk-off grand slam on Opening Day, and you have to go back to 1986 for Jim Presley of the Mariners, reports insider Martin Gallegos. That’s 34 years, or exactly one Scott Van Slyke ago (Friday was his 34th birthday). Olson was born in 1994.

For the A’s, it was their fifth Opening Day walk-off since moving to Oakland, but their first to come on a homer, says info manager Mike Selleck. The last came in 2018, against these same Angels (and Noe Ramirez, who pitched earlier in this 2020 game), on a single by Marcus Semien. The full list, including a third occurrence against the Halos:

  • 1972, vs. MIN: Gene Tenace, fielder’s choice
  • 1982, vs. CAL: Davey Lopes, bases-loaded walk
  • 1984, vs. MIL: Carney Lansford, groundout
  • 2018, vs. LAA: Marcus Semien, single
  • 2020, vs. LAA: Matt Olson, grand slam

Of the previous ones, the most impressive might be Lansford’s. He drove in Rickey Henderson, and the run was charged to then-Brewers closer Rollie Fingers, though the Hall of Famer and reigning NL MVP had been removed from the game already so he didn’t face Lansford in that spot.

Back to Olson, in terms of walk-off homers overall, this was the third of his young career, which has included barely over two full seasons’ worth of games. What you might not expect is that all three came against lefty pitchers, with Olson at the platoon disadvantage.

In 2018 against the Astros, he went yard off southpaw Tony Sipp for the game-winner. Like on Friday, Olson was the first batter Sipp faced in that game, and the pitch he hit was a slider. Then in 2019, against the Brewers, he got the better of Josh Hader, one of the best relievers in the sport; he also jumped on the first pitch in that instance, though it was a fastball not a slider. Both dingers came in the 10th inning.

Olson does have platoon splits in his career so far, but his numbers against lefties are more like mediocre rather than bad; it’s just that he’s great against righties. He’s spoken often about how he feels confident against pitchers of both hands, and he’s building a pretty convincing case to prove it. His latest example is now in the books, and it helped the A’s win their first game in 2020 in a way that nobody has won an Opening Day contest in over three decades.

Oly Toledo indeed.