After two years with no October baseball, the Yankees returned to the postseason in 2015, albeit briefly. They were knocked out in the wildcard game by the Astros. Still, it was fun to have meaningful baseball back in the Bronx this year, even if we all pulled our hair out waiting for the Yankees to clinch a postseason berth and then home field advantage in the wildcard game.
As always, getting to the postseason required some huge hits, and this season was no different. The Yankees had plenty of memorable hits in 2015. In this year’s annual biggest hits post, we’re going to look at those big hits two ways. First we’ll use WPA since that adds some context regarding the game situation and whatnot. Then we’ll look at the what I think are the five biggest hits on an emotional “holy crap that was huge” level. Make sense? Let’s start with the WPA.
5. September 14th: Heathcott gives the Yankees the lead. (box score)
The Yankees were in the middle of their September fade when they arrived in Tampa for a three-game series in the middle of the month. Heading into that September 14th game, the team had dropped five of their last six games, and they were falling further behind the Blue Jays in the AL East. Then, with one swing, Slade Heathcott temporarily made things all better with this go-ahead blast against the Rays:
4. April 10th: Headley ties it up in the ninth. (box score)
The fourth biggest hit of the season came in the fourth game of the season, a game the Yankees lost, believe it or not. It was the nightmare 19-inning game against the Red Sox. The Red Sox were nursing a 3-2 lead in the ninth and had the Yankees down to their final out when Edward Mujica left a splitter up in the zone to Chase Headley. Headley tied the game with a dinger.
3. August 18th: A-Rod’s go-ahead grand slam. (box score)
For me, this was the forgotten big hit. It seems to happen every year when I write this post. I completely forget one of the five biggest hits by WPA. The Yankees were playing well in mid-August, winning four of five heading into this August 18th game. The Twins jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the seventh when Miguel Sano hit a go-ahead two-run homer off CC Sabathia. They stretched the lead to 4-1 later in the inning.
The Twins are the Twins though, and they always seem to find a way to lose to the Yankees. In the bottom of the seventh, generic lefty reliever Ryan O’Rourke loaded the bases with one out on a single (Headley) and two walks (Brendan Ryan, Gardner). The bottom of the order got the rally started. A-Rod capped it off with a go-ahead grand slam:
2. April 13th: Drew’s go-ahead grand slam in Baltimore. (box score)
Two of the five biggest hits of the season came in the span of four days. The Yankees started very slowly this year, losing four of their first five games, but they crushed the Red Sox on Sunday Night Baseball on April 12th to get things moving in the right direction.
The next night the Yankees mounded an impressive late inning comeback against the Orioles, who were the reigning division champs. The two teams traded runs early before Adam Jones gave the O’s a 4-2 lead with a sixth inning two-run home run off Michael Pineda. In the top of the seventh the Yankees loaded the bases with two outs against Tommy Hunter on two singles (Chris Young, Jacoby Ellsbury) and a walk (John Ryan Murphy). Stephen Drew then gave the Bombers a 6-4 lead with two-out grand slam. Here’s the video:
1. July 3rd: McCann’s walk-off homer through the fireworks. (box score)
This came awfully close to being a Fourth of July walk-off home run. The Yankees and Rays played 12 innings on Independence Day Eve, and it was roughly 11:45pm ET when McCann won the game. Of course, the game doesn’t go to extra innings without another big hit earlier in the game. Teixeira tied the game 3-3 with a three-run blast in the eighth inning. That one had a +0.42 WPA. Here’s the video:
Anyway, the game eventually went to extra innings after Teixeira’s homer, and the Rays took a 5-3 lead on two walks and two singles in the 12th. It would have been worse had Headley not made a nice play to turn an inning ending 5-4-3 double play. The Yankees started to chip away in the bottom of the 12th, getting a run when Teixeira singled in Gardner, who drew a leadoff walk. Teixeira had a pretty huge game and absolutely no one remembers it.
Following Teixeira’s single, the Yankees had runners on first and second with one out, so a single probably would have tied the game. (Gregorio Petit pinch-ran for A-Rod.) Singles are for the weak though. McCann clobbered this no-doubt walk-off three-run home run. To the action footage:
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Now that we’ve gone through the five biggest hits according to WPA, let’s add some personal touch. WPA is a fine story telling stat, but it does lack context. It doesn’t know the division race situation, doesn’t know who’s on the mound, doesn’t know the Yankees lost three of their last four games, stuff like that. All of that definitely affects how big a hit can feel while watching a game live.
Anyway, so all things considered, here is my list of the five biggest hits of the season. This is totally subjective, of course. Feel free to disagree:
- August 14th: Carlos Beltran’s three-run homer in Toronto. (video) (box score)
- September 14th: Heathcott’s homer against the Rays.
- July 3rd: McCann’s walk-off homer against the Rays.
- June 2nd: Jones’ go-ahead 11th inning homer against the Mariners. (video) (box score)
- July 25th: A-Rod ties the game with his third homer of the night. (video) (box score)
The Beltran home run is pretty self-explanatory, right? The Yankees were swept at home by the Blue Jays the weekend prior to this game and it felt like the AL East was slipping away. Beltran came off the bench to pinch-hit and gave the team a colossal go-ahead three-run home run. Gosh, that was fun. The WPA of that dinger was a healthy +0.45.
The Heathcott homer ranks second because again, the Yankees were struggling and in the thick of the postseason race, plus Heathcott has been through an awful lot over the years. He’s a real easy guy to root for. Had someone else hit that home run, it still would have been awesome, but the fact Slade did it made it even more special. Seeing him have some success at the MLB was fun.
The Garrett Jones home run to me was huge, obviously. That’s why it’s No. 4. The Yankees did win the first game of that series in Seattle but had still gone 6-13 in their previous 19 games. They needed a big hit, and Drew gave it to them with a game-tying single off Fernando Rodney in the top of the ninth (video). Jones then won the game with a three-run home run off the lefty Joe Beimel in the top of the 11th. That homer had a +0.45 WPA and was by far Jones’ best moment in pinstripes.
Maybe I’m overrating the A-Rod home run. The Yankees were 9-3 in their previous 12 games at the time, after all. It’s not like they were desperate for a win. But still. It was the third of A-Rod’s three home runs on the night and it tied the game in the top of the ninth. Murphy won the game with his first home run of the season later in the inning. Alex’s third homer had a mere +0.34 WPA. It was still pretty damn awesome though.