Cubs' Gonzalez proving to be walkoff wonder

As Bill Mazeroski, Joe Carter and Kirk Gibson would be glad to tell you, there's nothing in baseball more cool and dramatic than a game-ending home run. Unless -- as Carlton Fisk and Kirby Puckett might testify -- it's an extra-inning, game-ending home run.

So in case you hadn't caught on, it's time for our Useless Information topics du jour -- walkoff homers and extra-inning homers. Here goes:

  • Nobody has had a more fascinating season than Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez. He's hit one home run all year in the first nine innings -- but three in extra innings. So if he can keep this up, he can be just the fifth player in history to hit more extra-inning homers in a season than regulation-inning homers. The others, courtesy of the Sultan of Swat Stats, SABR's David Vincent:

    Frank Secory, 1946 Cubs -- 3 HRs, 2 in extra innings
    Ross Youngs, 1923 Giants -- 3 HRs, 2 in extra innings
    Jack Coombs, 1911 A's -- 2 HRs, both in extra innings
    Birdie Tebbetts, 1937 Tigers -- 2 HRs, both in extra innings

  • Gonzalez -- who actually had a fourth extra-inning home run brought back into the park by Geoff Jenkins last Thursday -- is also just the second player in history to hit three extra-inning homers in the same month. The other was Ron Gant, who did it in May, 1995 (against Steve Bedrosian, Brad Clontz and Dave Veres). Gonzalez's three have come off Tim Worrell (May 1), Steve Reed (May 4) and Cal Eldred (May 10).

    Only six men, according to David Vincent, have ever hit more extra-inning homers than Gonzalez in a whole season than Gonzalez has hit just this month. It's quite a list:

    Charlie Maxwell, 1960 Tigers -- 5
    Willie Mays, 1955 Giants -- 4
    Ron Gant, 1995 Reds -- 4
    Mark McGwire, 1998 Cardinals -- 4
    Chipper Jones, 1999 Braves -- 4
    Jim Thome, 2001 Indians -- 4

  • But what you may not know is that this stuff is nothing new for Gonzalez. He leads the major leagues this season in walkoff homers, with two. And what player led all major leaguers in walkoff homers last year? Yep, this very same Alex Gonzalez -- with three (most by any National Leaguer since Sammy Sosa hit three in 1996).

    Since division play began in 1969, only four players have led the big leagues (or tied for the lead) in game-ending home runs for two straight years:

    1972-73 Bobby Bonds. (Tied with Dick Allen, Carlos May and Joe Rudi in 1972. Led outright in '73.)

    1987-88 Cory Snyder. (Tied with Will Clark in '87. Tied with Alan Trammell, Steve Balboni and Claudell Washington in '88.)

    1994-95 Albert Belle. (Tied with Bob Hamelin and Ray Lankford in '94. Led outright in '95.)

    2000-01 Jim Thome. (Seven-way tie in 2000. Led outright in 2001.)

  • Gonzalez is also halfway to the all-time record for walkoffs in a season -- four, shared by Jimmie Foxx in 1940 and Roy Sievers in 1957. Only Sievers has had two seasons of three or more walkoffs. But of the 24 players who have hit three in a season, 10 have done it just since 1987. Here they are:

    Cory Snyder, 1987
    Will Clark, 1987
    Robin Yount, 1991
    Mickey Tettleton, 1992
    Albert Belle, 1995
    Sammy Sosa, 1996
    Rafael Palmeiro, 1998
    Matt Stairs, 1999
    Jim Thome, 2001
    Alex Gonzalez, 2002

  • Speaking of walkoffs by shortstops, Barry Larkin came off the disabled list last week to hit his first game-ending home run in 13 years. Only five players have ever had longer gaps between walkoffs, according to Vincent:

    Cal Ripken, 16 years (7/13/1984 - 4/19/2000)
    Gabby Hartnett, 15 years (8/11/1923 - 9/28/1938)
    Andres Galarraga, 14 years (8/5/1987 - 8/3/2001)
    Edd Roush, 14 years (8/22/1915 - 8/24/1929)
    Carl Yastrzemski, 14 years (9/14/1965 - 5/9/1979)

    Useless Yankees Information

  • How many leadoff men have there ever been like Alfonso Soriano? He's actually led off more games with home runs this year (five) than walks (three). He also did that last year (eight leadoff homers, three leadoff walks). The only other comparable active leadoff man: Jacque Jones (11 leadoff homers last year, eight leadoff walks).

  • But the big Yankees news of the week wasn't quite that upbeat. The Yankees just lost three straight series, for the first time since May 11-20, 1999 (a year, of course, in which they won the World Series). Before these three series, they'd lost three of their previous 18 series, dating back to last Labor Day.

  • Last time the Yankees lost four straight series: seven years ago (Aug. 9-26, 1996). And yup, they won the World Series that year, too.

  • It's one thing for the Yankees to get swept in a series. Stuff happens. But these Yankees got swept in Yankee Stadium -- by Texas. The Rangers started that series with a 16-24 record (.400 winning percentage). And according to the Elias Sports Bureau, that's the worst winning percentage of any team ever to sweep the Yankees in a series of three or more games at The Stadium. The previous worst:

    '72 Brewers (62-91, .405)

    '94 Athletics (34-46 .425)

    '58 Tigers (23-29, .442)

    '68 Twins (51-59, .464)

  • And, incredibly, the Rangers came into that series having just been swept themselves, in three games in Boston. Last team to sweep the Yankees in New York after being swept: the 1992 White Sox (who had just gone 0-for-Cleveland).

  • Let us not forget that the Rangers are managed by a fellow named Buck Showalter, who managed those Yankees once, several years before his ESPN gig. He's the third ex-manager of the Yankees since 1961 to roll into Yankee Stadium and sweep a series of three games or more. The others, according to Elias: Ralph Houk and Lou Piniella.

  • But all that sweep did was set up one of the great dramas of any baseball season: Yankees and Red Sox, tied for first place, and facing each other. It may seem as if there have been a million Yankees-Red Sox races in the last quarter-century. But believe it or not, according to Elias, this week marked the first time the two teams had gone into a game at Fenway in a two-way tie for first place since The Bucky Dent Game -- the 1978 one-game playoff won by on a fairly memorable home run the Buckmeister.

    Useless Braves Information

  • After 12 years of brilliance, you'd think the Braves would have topped out. Uh, guess again. According to research by the Braves' trusty PR staff, the last time they had a 27-5 streak wasn't 1999, or 1995, or 1991. It was as recently as, oh, 1914, when the "Miracle" Braves hit the accelerator down the stretch and also went 27-5.

  • Over their last 162 games (through Tuesday), the Braves were 110-52. But incredibly, that's not the best record in baseball over that span. The A's were 111-51 in their last 162 games.

  • In case you're looking for an excuse to hold an anniversary party, next Thursday (May 29) will mark exactly one year since the last time the great John Smoltz appeared in a game the Braves lost. That one was a loss and blown save against the Expos.

    Since then, the Braves were an insane 72-0 in games Smoltz had pitched in, through Tuesday -- a streak 19 games longer than Dennis Eckersley's previous-record 53-0 streak with the 1991-92 A's.

    On the one hand, obviously, this streak is partly a tribute to how Smoltz has been used. According to ESPN research maven Mark Simon, he has been brought into just three tie games in that stretch -- and no games in which the Braves were trailing when he left the bullpen.

    On the other hand, Smoltz has blown only two saves (Aug. 6 and May 2, both in Arizona) in which the Braves had to scramble back and win anyway. And Smoltz's numbers in that streak are downright scary: 1.44 ERA, 75 IP, 47 H, 84 K, 59 saves in 61 opportunities.

  • But the man who has really made this team go is leadoff dynamo Rafael Furcal. Braves media-relations whiz Glen Serra reports the Braves are now 88-19 since May 1, 2002, in games in which Furcal scores even one run.

    Useless Tigers Information

  • The strangeness never ends for those Tigers. On Monday in Cleveland, they found a way to lose a game in which Carlos Pena had three home runs and seven RBI. In the last 30 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, only three other teams have lost a game in which one of their players had a three-homer, seven-RBI game:

    Larry Parrish, 4/25/1980, 3 HRs, 7 RBI, Expos lost, 8-7, to Braves.

    Mickey Brantley, 9/14/1987, 3 HRs, 7 RBI, Mariners lost, 11-8, to Indians.

    Mike Stanley, 8/10/1995, 3 HRs, 7 RBI, Yankees lost, 10-9, to Indians.

  • Then the next night, the Tigers lost on a walkoff homer by Brandon Phillips, off a reliever (Matt Roney) who was a Rule 5 draft pick and had no professional saves. But that's nothing new for the Tigers in Cleveland. It made Alan Trammell 0-2 as a manager at Jacobs Field. As a player, according to Booth Newspapers Tigers beat man Danny Knobler, Trammell went a frightening 1-18 at the Jake. And he didn't play in the game they won.

  • Over the last 20 years, the Tigers have had more three-homer games in Cleveland (three) than in Detroit (two). Pena, Bobby Higginson and Cecil Fielder all did it in Cleveland. Higginson and Bill Madlock are the only Tigers since 1982 to hit three in Detroit. And Madlock is the only one to do it against an American League team. (Higginson hit three in an interleague game against the Mets on June 30, 1997.)

  • Pena hit his three homers on three consecutive swings -- but not in three consecutive trips to the plate. He hit the first two, drew a four-pitch walk, then hit the third.

  • The Tigers are in one of those funks where they can't seem to win when they're behind or ahead. They're 9-9 when leading or tied after six innings.

  • Finally, we know that the last of the 20-game losers, the immortal Brian Kingman, isn't enjoying Mike Maroth's terrifying 0-9 start. The last pitcher before Maroth to lose nine times in his team's first 41 games, according to Elias, was the ever-memorable Chuck Stobbs, who did it in 36 games for the 1957 Senators. He finished 8-20.

    Really Useless Information


    We've heard people suggest that Nate Cornejo ought to be the Tigers' All-Star Game representative, since he is their only starting pitcher without a losing record (3-3). But let's just say he's not exactly Kerry Wood.

    Over Cornejo's last five starts, he has faced 129 hitters -- and struck out one of them (Brook Fordyce, on May 5). For the season, he's at three wins and seven strikeouts. But over those last five starts, he's got two wins, one strikeout. So we wondered if any starting pitcher has ever had as many wins as strikeouts in a season, without having a losing record.

    We checked pitchers with three wins or more and three starts or more in every season since 1901. And the answer is ... it's happened exactly twice:

    1928 Stan Coveleski (5 strikeouts, 5-1 record, 8 starts)
    1918 Jake Northrop ((4 strikeouts, 5-1 record, 4 starts)

    Closest calls in the last 50 years:

    1997 Mark Thompson (9 strikeouts, 3-3 record, 6 starts)
    1976 Mark Lemongello (9 strikeouts, 3-1 record, 4 starts)

    (Source: Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia CD-rom)


    On June 13, 1993, Expos catcher Tim Laker stole a base against the Cardinals. It was the third of his career. Little did he know that by the time he stole his fourth, there would be a whole lot more channels on his local cable package.

    How would a team of nine Mark Priors do if you could roll them out there for 162 games? That's a question some fantasy-game programmer somewhere can answer. But all we know is that this is one pitcher who takes that old saying, "Drive in more than you let in," seriously.

    Opposing hitters against Prior in his career (through Tuesday): .221 batting average, .286 on-base percentage, .355 slugging percentage.

    Prior the hitter against opposing pitchers in his career: .246 batting average, .270 on-base percentage, .410 slugging percentage.

    If Prior, who is batting a ridiculous .346 this year, keeps up this pace over his first 500 at-bats, he'd have 73 RBI and (gulp) 57 doubles.

    This month, in a May 3 game against Texas, Laker finally stole again, against his old pal, Einar Diaz. So that's 10 years between SBs in the box score, if you're keeping track. And you might say that hadn't been done in a while.

    The Elias Sports Bureau's Kevin Hines reports that Laker was the first player to go 10 years in between stolen bases since (ahem) 1926. Frank Emmer and Merwin Jacobsen were the perpetrators back then. But neither of them even played in the major leagues in the seasons between 1916 and 1926. So it isn't quite the same thing.

    In between Laker's steals, he played in 12 different cities, changed organizations six times, was released three times, claimed on waivers once, traded once, pitched once, tried to steal (without success) twice, threw out 25 runners who tried to steal on him and stole 29 bases in the minor leagues (which we can conveniently ignore).

    And in between Tim Laker's steals, Kenny Lofton stole 417 bases. So way to go there, Tim.


    In our last edition of Useless Info, we chronicled the exploits of Zach Day in day games. Now it's time for the Knights -- or knights -- to get equal time.

    It's now nearly a month since Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson and Tigers outfielder Eugene Kingsale were knighted in their native Aruba. So we know what you're thinking: Is knighthood good for a guy's career? Sure is. Check it out.

    Ponson this year since being knighted: 2-1, 2.57 ERA.
    Ponson this year before being knighted: 2-2, 4.80 ERA.

    Kingsale this year since being knighted: .276, 3 doubles, 1 triple.
    Kingsale this year before being knighted, .241, 0 extra-base hits.


    The Twins were six games out of first place entering May -- and were in first place 18 days later. And that, friends, is hard to do. According to Elias, they're only the second team in the division-play era to be that far out heading into May and make it all the way back into first place before June 1. But nobody ever did that faster.

    The other team to do it was the 1984 Braves, who were six out at the end of April and moved into first place May 26.


    Now that Kelvim Escobar has joined the parade from the bullpen to the rotation, we want you to know what a cool thing Danny Graves did last week, with his complete-game shutout May 14 in St. Louis.

    According to Elias, he's only the second pitcher since the dawn of the modern save rule to pitch a shutout after racking up 100 career saves. The other: the legendary Bob Stanley, who mysteriously gave up closing after 123 saves (and the 1986 World Series), then shut out the Royals on April 22, 1987.


    Curt Schilling just knocked off a 10-strikeout, four-hit shutout of the Pirates and a 14-strikeout, two-hit shutout of the Phillies in back-to-back starts. And if you thought that looked familiar, well, you were wrong.

    Schilling was only the second pitcher since 1970 to throw back-to-back road shutouts featuring double-digit strikeouts. The other, according to Elias: Fernando Valenzuela, on April 18 (San Diego) and 22 (Houston), 1981 -- thus launching Fernandomania with the third and fourth starts of his career.


    The Devil Rays and Diamondbacks came into existence at the same time, in 1998. The Devil Rays just won three straight road series for the first time in franchise history. The Diamondbacks have won three or more in a row on the road seven times (including a streak of 11 straight in 1999).


    But the Devil Rays have done something Arizona has never done: They've now made it through two nine-inning games without any of their fielders recording an assist. They did it first last May, then duplicated that feat last Friday, making them the first team in history to go assist-less twice.

    Which led ESPN research genius Jeff Bennett to compare them to a guy you could always count on for a good assist -- Magic Johnson.

    Devil Rays Magic Johnson
    Games played 850 906
    All-time assists 8,890 10,141
    Games with 0 assists 2 1


    The Padres sent catcher Wiki Gonzalez to the minor leagues over the weekend. That'll teach him to show up the pitchers -- by throwing a shutout inning against the Braves last Thursday, in a game in which the real Padres pitchers gave up 15 runs.

    Gonzalez's line: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB (Chipper Jones), 1 K, 1 fastball clocked at 87 mph.

    While we kill time between 500th homers, let's contemplate 500th hits.

    Ichiro Suzuki got his 500th last Friday, in just his 1,503rd at-bat.

    Last guy to get to 500 hits that fast, according to Elias: Wade Boggs, who got his 500th hit on Sept. 9, 1984 -- in his 1,463rd at-bat.

    Stat of the day: Gonzalez became the first player to catch and pitch in the same game since Shane Halter played all nine positions for the Tigers on the final day of the 2000 season.

    Quote of the day: "Gonzalez has got good (stuff)," said Braves first baseman Robert Fick. "They should probably put him in their rotation."


    Jesse Orosco, age 46, walked Julio Franco, age 41 (or thereabouts), on Thursday.


    It took 44 games and an unbelievable 191 trips to the plate, but the Pirates finally became the last team in baseball to get a home run from their cleanup hitter, when Aramis Ramirez homered Sunday off Mike Koplove at the BOB. The team with the most homers from its cleanup hitter: (surprise) Toronto, with 14 (13 of them from Carlos Delgado).


    If you're trying to determine the Mets' most bizarre moment of the season, you have many, many candidates. But we might pick last Saturday, when a $120-million baseball team ran out an entire lineup that was earning less money than Mo Vaughn. You can look it up.

    Loyal reader Jerry Beach, Mets beat man for ESportsNY.com, reports that the Mets' lineup that day -- featuring Marco Scutaro, Raul Gonzalez and Jason Phillips as the 1-2-3 hitters -- was earning a mere $12.22 million ($9.5 million of it by Cliff Floyd and Steve Trachsel).

    Even more amazingly, that lineup entered the day with a combined 6,544 career at-bats -- nearly half as many as the lineups the Devil Rays (12,766) and Tigers (11,318) rolled out that day. Who'd have thunk it?


    When Carlos Baerga homered Friday off Pirates left-hander Joe Beimel, you might not have realized what a fascinating little boxscore entry that was. The East Valley (Ariz.) Tribune's Ed Price reports it was Baerga's first home run while batting right-handed since 1998. And only one other player on either team was in attendance for both of those homers.

    That, naturally, was the man who gave up the previous homer, Baerga's current teammate, Mike Myers.


    Bruce Chen has a lot of traveling to do to catch Mike Morgan. But pitching for seven teams by age 25 is still one of the most impressive nomadic achievements in history.

    On the way to his record 12-team journey, it took Morgan until age 32 to pitch for seven teams. And Chen, who was just cut loose by his sixth NL team, is already just one short of the all-time record for most National League teams pitched for. Mike Maddux holds that record, with seven. But he didn't pitch for his sixth NL team until age 36.

    Useless Minor-League Information

  • This really happened: Brewers media-relations ace Jon Greenberg reports that in Monday's Indianapolis-Buffalo game, Indianapolis pitcher Pasqual Coco was ejected for exchanging several angry, unprintable words with (who else?) Buffalo outfielder Coco Crisp. So make that two hot Cocos to go.

  • Minor-league name of the week: Tennessee second baseman Caonabo Cosme.

    The Sultan's Corner

  • When the Indians allowed Rafael Palmeiro's 500th home run, it tied them for the all-time lead in one of our favorite departments -- teams giving up the most 500th home runs. The leaders, courtesy of the Sultan of Swat Stats, SABR historian David Vincent:

    Indians -- 3 (Babe Ruth off Willis Hudlin, Ted Williams off Wynn Hawkins, Palmeiro off Dave Elder)

    Braves -- 3 (Mel Ott off Johnny Hutchings, Ernie Banks off Pat Jarvis, Willie McCovey off Jamie Easterly)

    2 Giants (Eddie Mathews; Hank Aaron)
    2 Orioles (Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew)
    2 Tigers (Frank Robinson, Eddie Murray)

  • In Milwaukee, Brooks Kieschnick is trying to be a modern Babe Ruth, but he now has done something the Babe never did -- hit a home run and give up a home run in the same inning.

    Kieschnick allowed a home run May 12 to Damian Miller in the fourth inning, but then homered off Mark Prior in the bottom of the fourth. He's only the fifth active player (if we count the designated-for-assignment Esteban Yan) to do both in the same inning. The others, courtesy of the Sultan:

    Mike Hampton, Rockies, June 5, 2001, fifth inning (to Craig Biggio, off Wade Miller)

    Livan Hernandez, Giants, June 28, 2000, third inning (to Mike Lansing, off Julian Tavarez)

    Esteban Yan, Devil Rays June 4, 2000 second inning (to Jay Payton, off Bobby Jones)

    Eric Gagne, Dodgers, June 3, 2001, second inning (to Vinny Castilla, off Kent Bottenfield)

  • Aaron Boone just had the second three-homer game of his career. Which puts him on quite a list of third basemen who have had two or more games of at least three homers. The others, courtesy of the Sultan:

    Larry Parrish 3 (May 29, 1977, July 30, 1978 and April 25, 1980)
    Mike Schmidt 3 (April 17, 1976*, July 7, 1979 and June 14, 1987)
    Pinky Higgins 2 (June 27, 1935 and May 20, 1940)
    George Brett 2 (July 22, 1979 and April 20, 1983)

    Doug DeCinces 2 (Aug. 3, 1982 and Aug. 8, 1982)
    Darnell Coles 2 (Sept. 30, 1987 and July 5m 1994)
    Vinny Castilla 2 (June 5, 1999 and July 28, 2001)
    Aaron Boone 2 (Aug. 9, 2002 and May 8, 2003)

    (* - 4 HR game)

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your Useless Information to: uselessinfodept@yahoo.com