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In search of a true 'Natural' home run

I recently watched the last half hour or so of "The Natural," the 1984 movie starring Robert Redford as right fielder Roy Hobbs of the New York Knights.

Hobbs belts a home run with 2 men on base and 2 outs in the ninth inning to beat the Pirates, 3-2, in a one-game playoff for the pennant.

The ball hit by Hobbs strikes a light tower, high atop the upper deck of the ballpark, sending showers of sparks flying from it and the other towers as Hobbs circles the bases.

Major League players have hit light towers a couple of times, though never with such fantastic results.

But has any real player matched all the other aspects of Hobbs' home run?

..........

9TH INNING

According to baseball-reference.com, through Wednesday there had been 4,215 walk-off home runs since the start of 1915, the first season for which the site has searchable data for such homers.

The Cubs hit 177 walk-off homers during those seasons. I have documented 14 more, in 1876-1914, for a total of 191.

2,142 of all walk-off blasts since 1915 came in the 9th inning, as Hobbs' homer did.

Among them were 81 by the Cubs. I have documented 11 more, in 1876-1914, for a total of 92.

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9TH INNING, 2 OUTS

728 of all ninth-inning walk-off homers since 1915 came with 2 outs, as Hobbs' homer did.

The Cubs hit 36 of those homers. I have documented 2 more, in 1876-1914, for a total of 38.

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9TH INNING, 2 OUTS, 2 ON BASE

186 of all ninth-inning, 2-out walk-off homers since 1915 came with 2 men on base, as Hobbs' homer did.

The Cubs hit 8 of those. I have documented 3 more, in 1876-1914, for a total of 11.

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9TH INNING, 2 OUTS, 2 ON, DOWN BY 2 RUNS

65 of all ninth-inning, 2-out, 3-run walk-off homers since 1915 erased a 2-run deficit, as Hobbs' did. There were 69 with the score tied and 52 with a deficit of 1 run.

The Cubs hit 3 of the 65 when behind by 2. I have documented 4 more, in 1876-1914, for a total of 7.

Among the the 3 earlier ones by the Cubs: their first walk-off homer in the National League, period. It was hit by Fred Pfeffer, on May 30, 1884, and defeated the Detroit Wolverines, 11-10.

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9TH INNING, 2 OUTS, 2 ON, DOWN BY 2, RUNNERS ON CORNERS

Just 16 of all ninth-inning, 2-out, 3-run walk-off homers since 1915 that erased a 2-run deficit came with the runners on first and third, as Hobbs' did.

The only Cub to hit such a homer was Mark Koenig, nearly 90 years ago, on Saturday, Aug. 20, 1932.

The Cubs trailed the Phillies, 5-2, when they came to bat in the ninth.

Kiki Cuyler tried to bunt for a hit and was thrown out by the catcher.

Riggs Stephenson flied to left.

Then Johnny Moore singled and Marv Gudat walked.

Gabby Hartnett grounded to the second baseman, who couldn't handle the ball. Moore scored and Gudat raced to third.

Koenig lined a pitch high over the right field wall to win the game.

...

Two of the 15 other such homers came against the Cubs.

Gus Suhr of the Pirates did it on April 20, 1936, to win the game, 9-8.

Fred McGriff of the Braves did it on Aug. 24, 1996, to win the game, 6-5

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9TH INNING, 2 OUTS, 2 ON, DOWN BY 2, RUNNERS ON CORNERS, SCORE 0-2

Remarkably, there have been 2 homers meeting all 6 of those criteria, as Hobbs' did.

And they were 2 of the 3 most recent among the 16 that met all the criteria except the specific score.

...

The first player to accomplish the feat was Josh Willingham of the Twins, on May 29, 2012 -- just short of 10 years ago.

Jamey Carroll greeted reliever Brian Fuentes of the Athletics with a single. Fuentes then walked Denard Span.

Ben Revere popped up a bunt attempt, with Fuentes making the catch.

Joe Maurer grounded to the first baseman, who threw to second, forcing out Span. But Maurer beat the shortstop's return throw to first, setting the stage for Willingham's drive over the fence in left-center.

...

Ryan McMahon of the Rockies also emulated Hobbs, on Aug. 11, 2018.

Scott Alexander of the Dodgers struck out the first batter in the ninth, then gave up a double to Trevor Story.

JT Chargois came in to face pinch hitter Nolan Arenado, whom he hit on a 3-1 pitch.

Arenado was forced out at second on Ian Desmond's grounder to the right side, but Desmond was safe at first. Moments later, McMahon homered to deep right.

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COUNT ON BATTER

Neither Willingham nor McMahon duplicated Hobbs' homer in 1 respect.

Each of the real homers came on a 1-0 pitch.

Hobbs' came with the count 2-2 -- although there is some dispute over that!

...

In the movie, Hobbs takes the first pitch, which the umpire calls a strike.

He calls the second pitch a ball.

The manager of the Pirates then brings in a different pitcher, "Nebraska farm boy" John Roades.

Hobbs fouls off Roades' first pitch, shattering a window in the press box, and making the count 1-2.

Hobbs then swings and misses, which should have been strike 3.

But he remains at the plate, hitting a long foul, then unloading his incredible, game-winning homer.

Clearly, the first pitch of the at bat was intended to have been called a ball, as it is shown to be outside the strike zone.

The next pitch then would have made the count 2-0, a count much more likely to prompt a manager to change pitchers than with a count of 1-1.

The glass-destroying foul would have made the count 2-1, and the subsequent swing and miss would have made it 2-2.

..........

THEY CAME CLOSE

9 Major League players since 1915 have hit 3-run, walk-off homers in the 9th inning with their team behind, 0-2, but with fewer than 2 outs, and/or with runners not on the corners.

The most recent, Jorge Alfaro of the Padres, did it on just 11 days ago, on May 8, against the Marlins, with 2 outs and runners on first and second.

I have documented 1 player who did so even earlier: Wilbur Good of the Cubs, who smacked an inside-the-park home run with 1 out and men on first and second on Sept. 5, 1914. Good's homer beat the Pirates, just as Hobbs' did. None of the subsequent 0-2 to 3-2 homers came against Pittsburgh.

.Here are all 9 such homers since 1915, in chronological order:

June 2, 1934: Ski Melillo, Browns, vs. Indians: 1 out, runners on 1st and 3rd

June 29, 1952: Dick Kryhoski, Browns, vs. Tigers, 2 outs, runners on 1st and 2nd

June 7, 1962: Dick Stuart, Pirates, vs. Dodgers, 0 outs, runners on 1st and 3rd

Aug. 5, 1969: Bobby Murcer, Yankees, vs. Angeles, 2 outs, runners on 1st and 2nd

Sept. 15, 1970: Curt Blefary, Yankees, vs. Red Sox, 1 out, runners on 2nd and 3rd

July 28, 1971: Frank Robinson, Orioles, vs. Athletics, 0 outs, runners on 1st and 2nd

June 24, 1984: Tim Teufel, Twins, vs. White Sox, 1 out, runners on 1st and 2nd

July 9, 1995: Fred McGriff, Braves, vs. Giants, 0 outs, runners on 1st and 2nd

May 8, 2022: Jorge Alfaro, Padres, vs. Marlins, 2 outs, runners on 1st and 2nd



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