People customarily like to think of the All-Star break as separating the first half from the second half. The season right now is well past halfway over, with the Red Sox having played 97 games, and the Mets having played 91. Last year’s Reds finished 97-65, and no one would say they finished .500. But the terminology isn’t really important, and what the All-Star break really provides is an opportunity to look back on everything that’s happened, without much new stuff simultaneously happening. One of the things that’s happened is the season’s most clutch hit, objectively determined by Win Probability Added. Below, said hit is explored.
We know there exists a hit of maximum clutchness. It’s a home run, a grand slam, with the bases loaded and two outs while trailing by three in the bottom of the ninth, or beyond. If you want to get really detailed, it would be hit in an 0-and-2 count, and the best hit ever would be this hit in Game 7 of the World Series. We haven’t seen such a grand slam yet in 2013 — they’re rare! — but we have seen one somewhat comparable hit, one hit that has a good lead in the WPA leaderboards. It took place all the way back on May 11.
The hit, naturally, was a home run. A walk-off home run, one of 38 so far this year. Of those, 31 have come when the game was tied. Of the remaining, two have come with nobody out, and three have come with one out. Two came with two out and a one-run deficit, but one came with one runner on base, and one came with runners on the corners. We’re going to look at the former of the pair. It was 7-6, in the bottom of the ninth, with two outs and a runner on first.
The corresponding Win Expectancy chart:
That’s Evan Longoria, going deep against Huston Street to help the Rays top the Padres 8-7. The win-expectancy impact of the walk-off home run was about +92%. The second-most clutch hit of the season was a walk-off double by Albert Pujols on April 13, at +84%. So far, it’s Longoria, by quite a margin.
The game itself both ended insane, and was somewhat insane before. After the Padres went up by two in the first, the Rays put up a six-run second. The Padres countered with a five-run seventh, highlighted by a Jesus Guzman grand slam. Also, the Padres were playing the Rays, and it’s going to take some time for that to not feel weird and borderline unacceptable. Good luck finding a matchup that would generate lower hypothetical World Series ratings.
The bottom of the ninth began with consecutive harmless fly outs. At that point, the Rays’ odds of winning dropped below 4%. Then Ben Zobrist drew a tough two-out walk, seeing seven pitches. When the count was 2-and-2, Zobrist stayed alive with a foul tip that nearly ended the game and prevented the heroics to come:
With a Nick Hundley catch, the Padres win. Without a Nick Hundley catch, the Padres didn’t win, and while they were still in good position, that changed soon enough. Longoria’s walk-off wouldn’t have been possible without this little coincidental sequence of events. It also wouldn’t have been possible had everything else also not fallen into place. It’s probably not fair to just isolate the foul tip, but for Padres fans, it might be the moment most haunting. Or, second-most haunting.
Zobrist’s walk brought Longoria up, and after a first-pitch ball, he swung through a slider located in the proper place:
That’s Street’s bread and butter to righties, and he went back to it on pitch No. 3, with Longoria laying off. Street tried to go back to it again on pitch No. 4, but this time the location was off. This time the pitch was at the belt, and out and up over the plate.
Pitchers routinely miss their spots by at least that much. But Street missed in just about the worst way possible, to an excellent hitter in a hitter-friendly count, and Street has a somewhat limited margin of error. They say Longoria has a flair for the dramatic, and while that might or might not actually be true, we can at least say it’s been true in selective hindsight.
For the first time since April 7, the Rays reached .500. For the first time since the day right before, the Padres lost. This was Street’s fifth home run allowed in 15 appearances, and he’s since allowed five home runs in 16 appearances. He’s allowed five time as many home runs as he allowed in 2012, while his strikeout rate has dropped by more than half. Street has allowed more home runs facing 125 batters than Adam Wainwright and Jhoulys Chacin have combined to allow, facing 1,038 batters. The Padres are reportedly ready to sell and Street is presumably available, but maybe the only redder flag would be if Street lost his right arm while committing a double homicide.
On May 11, Evan Longoria drilled a two-run, come-from-behind, walk-off dinger against Huston Street. As of the 2013 All-Star break, that stands as the most clutch hit of the season. If the Rays go on to make the playoffs by a game, they might reflect on this win, or on any of the other wins. If the Padres go on to miss the playoffs by a game, then kudos to them on a strong second half.
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