Several jokes were flying yesterday about Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez after 170-pound Endy Chavez popped a ninth-inning, go-ahead homer off him. It was the first homer of the season by Chavez and the fact it came in a pinch-hit appearance was even more impressive.
According to Mariners PR and history maven Jeff Evans, the last Mariners pinch-hit home run was by Franklin Gutierrez on June 20 of last year. It was the first pinch-hit home run to give the Mariners a lead by the seventh inning or later since Dan Wilson hit one on May 5, 2001. The last pinch-hit homer that gave the Mariners a lead in the ninth inning or later came when Ken Griffey Jr. hit one on Sept. 16, 1990.
So, that was a pretty rare feat by Chavez
Turns out, though, this isn’t Chavez’s first go-around with this late-homer stuff.
“I never did it in the minor leagues but I did it in the majors once with the Mets,” Chavez said. “It was the same situation. I was leading off an inning, the game was close and I hit a home run to keep the game going.”
Well, not exactly the same situation, but pretty close. I looked it up — not tough to do when a guy has just 27 homers in 12 years — and there it was, five years ago this month on May 28, 2008, with Chavez going deep off Kevin Gregg of the Florida Marlins at Shea Stadium. The Mets were down 5-4 and Chavez led off the bottom of the ninth with a line drive deep beyond the right field wall to tie it.
Florida actually regained the lead in the 12th inning of that game, but the Marlins scored twice in the bottom of the frame to win it. No, not off Chris Perez. It was actually off former Mariners spring training hopeful Justin Miller, known as baseball’s tattoo king. Anyhow, I digress.
Chavez said there is no real secret to going deep in a situation like that. It’s not like he’s trying to hit a home run.
“Oh, no, no,” he said, laughing. “I was just trying to get on-base and put the ball in-play. I guess I hit it pretty good.”
He didn’t think the ball had any hope of going out.
“I was pretty sure that I’d hit some balls harder than that in that stadium and they stayed in,” he said. “Plus, the wind was blowing in the whole series and keeping balls from going out.”
As for mental preparation, Chavez is used to the whole late-game sub routine by now. He also went to the plate with an idea of what Perez might show him, then unloaded on an 0-1 pitch.
“He’s very aggressive with the fastball and he likes to attack the strike zone,” Chavez said. “I’d faced him before, so I knew what he might try to do, but I wanted to see how his fastball was running first, then after I took my swing.”