They’re among the greatest moments in sports: walk-off hits. As a fan of the Atlanta Braves, I’ve witnessed many, except for perhaps the most famous one in franchise history.
It was October 14, 1992, a Wednesday, I was 10 and excited to see Atlanta host Pittsburgh in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. It didn’t begin as Braves fans hoped. The Pirates were leading the Braves 2-0 going to the bottom of the ninth. Pittsburgh Pitcher Doug Drabek was having a good game, but he gave up a leadoff double to Atlanta’s Terry Pendleton before an error by Jose Lind allowed Atlanta’s David Justice to reach. Drabek later walked Sid Bream to load the bases and Pirates manager Jim Leyland went to his bullpen. Moments later, reliever Stan Belinda got two quick outs, including a sacrifice fly by Atlanta’s Ron Gant to make it 2-1.
With Justice now at third and Bream at second, on came pinch hitter Francisco Cabrera. He was 0-1 in the series, and had only battled 10 times with three hits for Atlanta that season. As a result, Cabrera was, as one television said, “A most unlikely man in the spotlight for Atlanta.” Still, Cabrera got a hit into left field, scoring Justice and providing enough time for Bream to round third for home. A member of the Pirates got the ball, hurled it to the catcher, and Bream was ruled safe after a moment now referred to as “the slide” at the plate.
Unfortunately, I didn’t see this live. I’d fallen asleep on our living room couch at some point near the end of the game. If it were not for my mother hollering in excitement, I might’ve kept on sleeping. Apparently, my mom—who told me that I could stay up late to watch the game—kept the television on and started watching the game at some point near the end.
The point is not to re-live a memory I never experienced. It’s not to brag for the Braves. Instead, it’s to urge you not to fall asleep on baseball. You never know what you might miss, and that goes for fans who give up and leave early or turn off the game when things are looking bleak. Who knows, your team might have an all-star or “a most unlikely man in the spotlight” that delivers victory.
Examples? The walk-off home run that Boston’s Ted Williams hit to win the 1941 All Star Game. Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off home run for Pittsburgh in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series. Johnny Bench’s walk-off home run for Cincinnati in Game 1 of the 1973 NLCS. Carlton Fisk’s home run for Boston in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. LA Dodger Kirk Gibson’s home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Joe Carter’s home run for Toronto in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. Yankee Aaron Boone’s home run in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. David Ortiz’s three walk-off postseason hits in 2004 that finally broke Boston’s Curse of the Bambino.
It’s not just (MLB) that enjoys walk-off hits. There have been many walk-offs in college baseball. Think of Greg Ellena’s home run for the University of Miami in the 1985 College World Series, the bomb Warren Morris hits for LSU in the 1996 College World Series, and Mississippi State’s walk-off versus Texas in the 2021 College World Series.