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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

August 26, 2009 at 5:30 PM

The Mariners’ wild and whacky world of Wak(amatsu)-off wins

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Here’s everything you could possibly want to know about walk-offs, from The Baseball Analysts.

Several weeks ago, I did a blog post that chronicled the Mariners’ most agonizing losses. It’s only fair that since they keep piling on the walk-off victories that I chronicle those as well.

Ryan Langerhans’ homer last night was his second game-ender, and the Mariners’ 11th of the season, tying them with the Yankees for the American League lead in that department. The team record is 12 by the 1986 Mariners, who used those rousing victories to catapult them to a 67-95 record.

I know some people loathe the phrase “walk off,” probably because it’s been overused and abused by ESPN. I don’t mind it; I remember when Dennis Eckersley coined the phrase. He called those games he blew as a closer “walk-off pieces,” and the phrase stuck. I think it’s a pretty evocative description of the losing team trudging off the field. But in deference to those who are sick of the phrase, I hereby dub these Mariners’ victories as “Wak-off wins,” since they go on the ledger of manager Don Wakamatsu. (And don’t go all Junior High on me here. We all know how Wak-off is supposed to be pronounced. Ahem.).

Here’s a summary of their 11 Wak-off pieces. I was going to note whether the game was home or away, but for some odd reason the Mariners haven’t had any of them on the road. Of course, no other team has, either.

April 14: Mariners 3, Angels 2 (10 innings). In the home opener, Franklin Gutierrez led off the 10th with a double. Yuniesky Betancourt dropped down a bunt, and Angels pitcher Scot Shields threw wildly, allowing Gutierrez to score. That made a winner of reliever Roy Corcoran, who like Betancourt is no longer in the organization. In fact, check out how many names to follow are long gone.

May 1: Mariners 8, A’s 7. Jose Lopez fouled off nine two-strike pitches from Oakland’s Russ Springer before finally delivering a single on Springer’s 14th pitch of the at-bat to score Endy Chavez from third. Chavez had singled with one out. Mike Sweeney walked. Chavez took third on Adrian Beltre’s fly out, and Russ Branyan was walked intentionally before Lopez ended it with a base hit to right-center.

May 3: Mariners 8, A’s 7 (15 innings). Lopez came through again against the A’s, this time after the M’s had rallied to tie in the 9th on Kenji Johjima’s home run. After the A’s scored three in the top of the 13th, they rallied with three in the bottom of the inning, capped by Ichiro’s two-run single. Then, in the 15th, Gutierrez singled to lead off. Betancourt dropped down a bunt, and A’s pitcher Dana Eveland through wildly to second, leaving runners on second and third. Ichiro was walked intentionally, and Lopez delivered a soft single to center. A’s center fielder Rajai Davis broke back and couldn’t recover as the ball dropped in front of him.

May 17: Mariners 3, Red Sox 2. Gutierrez was the hero with a two-out single under Mike Lowell’s glove to score Ronny Cedeno from second. Boston reliever Ramon Ramirez got two quick outs, but Nick Green threw wildly to first on Cedeno’s slow roller, ruled an infield single with an error that allowed Cedeno to advance. Gutierrez then delivered the first walk-off hit of his career.

May 22: Mariners 2, Giants 1 (12 innings): Lopez came up with his third walk-off of the season, and sixth of his career. In a game started by Randy Johnson for San Francisco, the Giants never got an out in the 12th. Wladimir Balentien (whatever happened to him?) led off with a walk, Branyan singled him to third, and Rob Johnson walked to load the bases. Lopez then drilled a single off the hand-operated scoreboard in left off Giants’ reliever Patrick Misch.

June 3: Mariners 3, Orioles 2: Adrian Belte, who had been slumping so badly he was briefly benched, singled home Gutierrez, who had tripled with one out, for the game-winner. Gutierrez’s drive to left center was almost caught by a leaping Adam Jones but banged off the top of the wall. The Orioles then intentionally walked both Ichiro and Branyan to bring up Beltre. His hit, a line drive into left, came on a 3-2 pitch.

June 21: Mariners 3, Arizona 2. In one of the weirder finishes, Diamondbacks first baseman Tony Clark dropped a routine throw from third baseman Mark Reynolds that allowed Ronny Cedeno to score the winning run with two outs. Gutierrez hit the slow grounder against reliever Chad Qualls, which Reynolds charged and threw perfectly to Clark. But instead of extra innnings, the ball popped out of Clark’s glove to allowe the Mariners move above .500 for the first time since May 7. Cedeno had walked, moved to second in Ichiro’s infield single, and took third on Mike Carp’s ground out. Sweeney was intentionally walked to bring up Gutierrez.

July 28: Mariners 4, Blue Jays 3. Ichiro picked up the first game-ending hit of his Mariners’ career, golfing a low 0-2 pitch from Toronto reliever Scott Downs into center. The Mariners had blown a 3-1 lead in the eighth and were in danger of dropping their fifth straight. The M’s had loaded the bases with no outs, but Lopez hit a chopper to third that resulted in a force out at home, and Cedeno struck out on three pitches before Ichiro singled home Rob Johnson.

Aug. 7: Mariners 7, Rays 6 (11 innings). This was probably the most dramatic of the Wak-offs, the only one that turned defeat into victory. The Mariners were trailing 6-5 and down to their last strike when Langerhans hit a two-run homer off J.P. Howell. Jason Bartlett had homered in the top of the 11th off Shawn Kelley, but Howell walked Franklin Gutierrez, who had struck out four times previously. Gutierrez moved up on Jack Wilson’s sacrifice, but Johnson flied out. Langerhans worked the count to 2-2 before connecting.

Aug. 12: Mariners 1, White Sox 0 (14 innings). Ken Griffey Jr. got into the act to end the longest scoreless game in Seattle history. He lined a single off the right-field wall with two outs to bring in Beltre, who unbeknownst to anyone had been playing five innings with a severely contused testicle. Beltre singled with one out. Reliever Tony Pena struck out Branyan but walked Hannahan before Griffey lined a 1-2 pitch into the corner.

Aug. 25: Mariners 4, A’s 2. Langerhans comes through again to hand Oakland their third Wak-off loss to Seattle this season. Langerhans hit a two-run homer with one out off Craig Breslow to bring in Gutierrez, who had singled.

(Photo by Otto Greule, Getty Images)

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