WPA #3: Burrell’s Big Blast

With Game Five of the 2008 World Series tied at three runs apiece, Pat Burrell stepped up to the plate against JP Howell, and promptly smashed a double off of the left-centerfield wall. The shot came within an inch of leaving the yard, and as he made his way back to the dugout in favor of a pinch-runner, he seemed to possess the look of somebody who has just experienced his final plate appearance with a team. Eric Bruntlett, the pinch-runner, eventually came around to score what would amount to the game- and World Series-winning run.

This was arguably the biggest moment of his career, but his biggest moment of the regular season came months earlier, in a game I actually got to attend. Though he has always been a hot or cold player, Burrell has been eerily consistent over the last several seasons. On May 2, however, he was putting the finishing touches on a Pujols-esque hot streak. Entering the early May affair with the Giants, Burrell was one of the top offensive players in baseball with a .333/.454/.677 line to go along with 8 HR and 9 2B in just 119 plate appearances. The graph for this May 2 game, which produced the third top offensive play of the season, is below:


The game began with quite the forgettable pitching matchup: Kyle Kendrick vs. Patrick Misch. Chase Utley backed Kendrick early by belting a two-run homer in the bottom of the first, a score that would hold until the top of the fourth. Trailing by two, former Phillie Aaron Rowand doubled to the delight of his hardcore fans, and came around to score on a Jose Castillo single. Wasting no time in retaliating, Pat Burrell walked and Pedro Feliz smacked a two-run homer of his own against his former team. The Phillies led 4-1 and seemed on their way to an easy victory.

Kendrick pitched a scoreless fifth and sixth before being lifted in the top of the seventh on the heels of surrendering consecutive singles to Castillo and Emmanuel Burriss. Ryan Madson came in, and things sort of broke down. Keep in mind this was back in May, and not September or October, when the entire country essentially saw Madson dominate with an out-of-nowhere 96 mph fastball. With two on, and nobody out, Eugenio Velez singled to load the bases.

Madson then got a key out by fanning Fred Lewis, but things broke down from there. Ray Durham stepped in and roped a two-run single to right, bringing the score to 4-3. Randy Winn followed with a little single of his own, once again loading the bases. Bengie Molina then grounded out, scoring Velez, and knotting the game at four runs each. The seventh, eighth, and ninth innings would all pass before any more runs would score.

JC Romero started the top half of the tenth for the Phillies, and was rudely greeted by an Aaron Rowand home run. The rest of the inning was rocky for Romero, but he eventually got out of a jam with the Phillies trailing 5-4. As the bottom of the tenth began, the Phillies had a 20.6% probability of winning the game. That mark dropped 11.5% when Jayson Werth led off by striking out against flamethrowing closer Brian Wilson. Chase Utley promptly singled to right, raising their expectancy to 21.4%.

Ryan Howard was due up next, and mostly everyone in attendance felt he would deliver a walkoff home run. After all, not only is Wilson a righty, but he was a righty who predominantly threw fastballs, precisely the recipe for disaster with a guy like Howard. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out, and Howard’s at-bat ended with a ‘K’ on the scorecard. The Phillies now had just a 10.05% probability of winning the game. As soon as Burrell’s theme music played, though, again, the reaction from the crowd was one sensing a walkoff on the horizon. Just like Howard, Burrell is quite adept at hitting fastballs with plenty of velocity.

On a full count, with two outs, in the bottom of the tenth—pretty much the cliche dramatic situation in a baseball game–Burrell absolutely crushed a deep fliner to left field. As soon as the ball made contact with the bat, everyone, including Burrell and the Phillies, knew the game had just ended. Burrell’s two-run walkoff home run off of Brian Wilson capped a torrid first 30 games, and produced an expectancy swing of 89.95%, the third most of any play this season.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

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