There are few things more exciting in baseball than a walk-off home run. The celebration of the players crowding around home plate waiting for the hero to cross, the loud cheers of the home crowd resonating all over the stadium. Nothing beats it… unless it happens in the postseason.
Postseason baseball has a different feel. The stakes are obviously higher, so there is more riding on every single pitch. When big moments like walk-off home runs happen in the postseason, they become historic.
We saw a historic moment in baseball history on Saturday night when José Altuve hit a walk-off two-run homer off Aroldis Chapman to send the Houston Astros to the World Series with a 6-4 win over the New York Yankees in Game 6 of the ALCS. This was more than just a walk-off home run though, it was a series-clinching home run.
To put in perspective just how rare that is, it was only the 10th time in MLB history that a home run was hit to win a playoff series. Series is the key word here, because I do not consider the Wild Card Game to be a series. It is a one-game playoff. Therefore, Edwin Encarnación’s walk-off three-run shot to win the 2016 AL Wild Card is not included here.
In that same vein, Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” from 1951 is also not included because the best-of-three tiebreaker between the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers was not technically the postseason, even though Thomson’s home run, like Altuve’s, sent the Giants to the World Series.
No disrespect to those two historic home runs, but they do not fit the criteria of a playoff series-clinching home run. Only 10 home runs in the history of the game have accomplished that.
Out of the 10, only two were hit to win the World Series. Bill Mazeroski hit a walk-off home run in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, giving the Pittsburgh Pirates their first title since 1925. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Mazeroski, not known as a power hitter, hit a solo home run to win the game 10-9 and the series 4-3 over the Yankees.
Mazeroski stood alone as the only player to win a World Series with a walk-off home run until Joe Carter joined him in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. Down 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth, Carter hit a three-run shot over the left field wall that sent the SkyDome (and all of Canada) into a frenzy. The home run gave the Toronto Blue Jays their second consecutive World Series title.
Those two home runs are arguably the biggest home runs in baseball history. It is hard to believe that in 114 World Series, only two have ended on walk-off home runs.
The next five series-clinching home runs came in the Championship Series (ALCS/NLCS), which has been in existence since 1969. Altuve joined Travis Ishikawa, Magglio Ordóñez, Aaron Boone and Chris Chambliss in hitting home runs that sent their teams to the World Series.
Chambliss was the first player to hit such a home run (and the only one to do so in the 20th century), doing so in Game 5 of the 1976 ALCS to send the Yankees to the World Series with a 7-6 win over the Kansas City Royals. In 1970s fashion, Chambliss was mobbed by fans who charged the field on his way around the bases, and he wasn’t even able to touch home plate.
Another home run like this was not hit until another Yankee did so in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against the Boston Red Sox. Boone, who ironically is the manager for the Yankees who were just eliminated by Altuve’s blast, hit a series-clinching home run off Tim Wakefield in the 11th inning in one of the best games in the storied Red Sox-Yankees rivalry.
Ordóñez did the same thing three years later, hitting a three-run blast in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the ALCS. With this iconic home run off all-star closer Huston Street, the Detroit Tigers completed the sweep of the Oakland Athletics to move on to the 2006 World Series.
The first and only time such a home run was hit in the NLCS came in 2014 when Ishikawa sent the San Francisco Giants to the World Series with a three-run shot in Game 5. The Giants won the game 6-3 and would go on to beat the Royals in the World Series. Coincidentally, they are the only team out of the four that went on to win the World Series after getting there on a walk-off home run. If the Astros win this year, they could be the second.
Finally, the last three series-clinching home runs happened in the Division Series (ALDS/NLDS), which has only been in existence since the playoffs moved to eight teams in 1995.
Todd Pratt sent the New York Mets to the 1999 NLCS with a walk-off home run in the 10th inning to beat the Arizona Diamondbacks three games to one in the NLDS. This was the first home run to ever end a Division Series.
The second came in 2004 when the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox went to the ALCS on a walk-off home run by David Ortiz. This two-run shot to get the Red Sox past the Anaheim Angels is often overshadowed by the walk-off hits that Ortiz had in the ALCS, when the Red Sox overcame a 3-0 series deficit by winning four straight games. People forget that it was Ortiz who got them into that series with this home run. It is only right that one of the greatest clutch hitters in baseball history appears on this exclusive list.
The final player to hit a series-clinching home run in the playoffs is another Astro, Chris Burke. When the Astros were still in the National League, Burke sent them to the 2005 NLCS with a home run in the 18th inning of Game 4 of the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves. The 18 innings is still a record for the longest postseason game, but it has since been matched twice.
Clearly, what Altuve did on Saturday is a pretty big deal. He joined a short list with that home run, which will now be a timeless staple of great baseball moments forever.
Danny Barletta is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. He tweets @dbars_12.