A-Rod’s Grandest Slams

Last night in Atlanta, Alex Rodriguez hit the 23rd grand slam of his career, tying Lou Gehrig. Even if Nick Swisher‘s two-run homer later the same inning put the Yankees on top for good and was the bigger play according to Win Probability Added (WPA), tying up the game on one swing with his team down four runs is a pretty nice feat for A-Rod, the man who still bears the stigma of being “unclutch.”

As big a hit as it was in-game, it was only the fourth most game-swinging-est grand slam of A-Rod’s career. Reaching into the WPA cookie jar once more, here are the top three grand slams of A-Rod’s regular-season career according to Win Probability Added.

3. September 16, 1999. This one takes us way back to when the Mariners were at the end of a brief hiatus from the playoffs (they would return in 2000, Rodriguez’s last with his original team). If a “brief hiatus” from the playoffs for the Mariners does not date this game, the name of their opponent in this game, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, should do so. As for A-Rod himself, one might think this was a brief “down” year for the 23-year old veteran at only 4.8 WAR… until one realizes that he only played in 129 games.

The Mariners started a very good rookie pitcher on this September day: Freddy Garcia. He faced off against the Devil Rays’ immortal Ryan Rupe. As one would expect, it was a pitching duel on par with last night’s Greinke-Mendoza showdown in Kansas City. The Trop must have been rockin’ when Tampa broke the 0-0 deadlock in the seventh by scoring two runs. Rupe took the mound again in the eighth, but could not finish the job, as he let two runners on before giving way to Esteban Yan. Yan proceeded to load the bases by walking Frank Costanza’s much-lamented Jay Buhner, bringing A-Rod to the plate. Rodriguez hit a game-determining (each team later added a run) slam for .499 WPA.

2. May 17, 1996. The Mariners missed the 1996 playoffs after their dramatic playoff run in 1995, but the future looked bright. Why? Because their 20 year-old shortstop in his first full season had one of the greatest seasons by a shortstop of all-time. I mean, I guess it would be more impressive if he had been 19 or something… One could make an argument that this was A-Rod’s greatest season ever, although 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2007 all have their advocates.

This game at Camden Yards was not, to put it mildly, a carbon copy of the Rupe-Garcia classic discussed above. Jimmy Haynes, Bob Wolcott… what more could you ask for? The Orioles jumped out to a 7-2 lead, but in the sixth a Rodriguez double, a Edgar Martinez fielder’s choice, and a Dan Wilson single got the Mariners within one. Rafael Palmeiro homered in the seventh to give the Orioles more breathing room at 9-6. In the top of the eighth, Dan Wilson plated a run to get the Mariners to 9-7. Later that inning, with two outs and the bases juiced, A-Rod hit one out to put the Mariners up for the first time in the game 11-9 and .611 WPA

…yet the Mariners did not end up winning this game. A-Rod’s hero Cal Ripken homered in the bottom of the eighth to make it 11-10. Buhner hit a two-run jack in the top of the ninth to pad the Mariners’ lead to 13-10. However, in the bottom of the ninth, the Orioles managed to load the bases, and the forgotten-but-actually-pretty-good Chris Hoiles had a massive grand slam of his own for an incredible .893 WPA to win the game for Baltimore. Obviously, this one was on A-Rod. If he would have hit a homers instead of making outs during his plate appearances first and third innings, the Mariners would have won the game. What a choker.

1. April 7, 2007. We now make a big jump forward in time to the last season in which Alex Rodriguez won the MVP. The Orioles were involved yet again. And yet again, it was a memorable “pitching duel,” as Steve Trachsel (and you thought Gil Meche took time between pitches…) was pitted again Kei Igawa, the guy who pitched while wearing sunglasses. Despite A-Rod hitting a home run in the first inning, the Orioles still somehow managed to score seven runs off of the Yankees’ newly imported stud. At one point the Yankees were down 2-7, but by the bottom of the eighth, a three-run blast by Jason Giambi brought them within one. After Mariano Rivera (Joe Torre brought him in for a non-save situation!) held the Orioles scoreless in the top of the ninth, the Yankees proceeded to make two outs to start their rally against Orioles closer Chris Ray. With just one out to go, Ray gave up a single to Robinson Cano, walked Derek Jeter, and beaned Bobby Abreu. You know what happens next: A-Rod hit his grandest slam (but not his biggest WPA hit… that’s for another time) to win it in walk-off fashion for New York: .704 WPA.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

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