In 118 years of playoff baseball, there have been 76 grand slams hit. Some of these have been the cherry on top of dominating wins. Others have potentially swung the momentum, changing a season’s champion. Let’s take a look at the five biggest playoff grand slams.
World Series grand slams are featured in a separate ranking. Only one World Series grand slam, Paul Konerko’s in the 2005 Fall Classic had a higher win probability added than the five playoff grand slams included here.
Playoff Grand Slams:
Playoff Grand Slams – Honorable Mention: Nelson Cruz
Welcome to Game 2 of the 2011 ALCS. It is the bottom of the 11th inning, and the Tigers and Rangers are tied at three. There are no outs, and Cruz stands in the batter’s box with three ducks on the pond.
Cruz has the only walk-off playoff grand slam. One could argue that it should be the obvious top choice for the list, but it is circumstantially not as clutch as one would imagine.
Cruz’s blast only represented a 6% change in win probability: 94% to 100%. There were 22 “more important” plays in this game including Cruz’s first home run of the night. Three factors are working against Cruz’s win probability here. First, the Rangers were tied, not trailing. Second, there were zero outs – if Cruz did not deliver, the Rangers had two more outs. Third, the bases were loaded.
To use an analogy, it would be akin to a game-winning shot in basketball coming in a tie game on a shot the player is fouled on. Even if he missed the shot, he would have free throws to win the game.
Playoff Grand Slams – Honorable Mention: Howie Kendrick
It’s Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS in Los Angeles. The Nationals came back from down 3-0 to force extra innings, and they now have the bases loaded with no outs. Kendrick is 0-for-4 with two strikeouts on the night.
Cue the most important swing in Nationals history to that point.
Similar to Cruz, win probability fails to capture the gravity of the moment. Kendrick’s blast came in extra innings of a do-or-die game, the only such grand slam in playoff history. However, Kendrick only added 15% to Washington’s win probability – the third-biggest swing of the game and the second-biggest swing of the 10th innings. Washington jumped from 84% to 99%.
The Nationals held on in the bottom of the 10th, swept the NLCS, and eventually won the World Series with more help from Kendrick in Game 7. The home run might not be among the biggest swings in win probability added, but it is one of the biggest reasons why the Nationals finally got over the hump.
Playoff Grand Slams – No.5: James Loney
Wrigley Field plays host to Game 1 of the 2008 NLDS between the Dodgers and Cubs. The Cubs struck first with a Mark DeRosa two-run shot in the second inning, but the Dodgers are threatening in the top of the fifth. Three walks have loaded the bases, but James Loney has to contend with two outs and a locked-in Ryan Dempster.
The Dodgers’ win probability jumped from 29% to 71% in one of just two 10% or larger swings (DeRosa’s home run). The Dodgers’ win probability would not drop below 60% for the rest of the game. The only factor working against Loney is that his salami came in the fifth inning, the earliest of any home run on the list.
After the four-run fifth inning, the Dodgers tacked on additional runs in the seventh, eighth, and ninth to secure a 7-2 win. They cruised to a 10-3 win in Game 2 before closing out the series with a 3-1 win at home in Game 3.
Playoff Grand Slams – No.4: Ron Cey
We are back at Dodger Stadium. It is Game 1 of the 1977 NLCS. The Phillies are in town, and they are mashing. They lead 5-1 in the bottom of the seventh. Cey comes to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs facing future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton.
On the eighth pitch, Cey blasted one into the seats.
Entering the play, the Dodgers had just a 10% chance of winning. Cey’s home run boosted their odds to 52%, the first time they had been over 50% since the first inning. Steve Garvey followed with a single to chase Carlton from the game, but a Dusty Baker strikeout sent the game to the eighth.
After Cey’s home run, the Dodgers’ bats fell silent, and the Phillies broke through in the ninth to scratch across the winning runs. However, the Dodgers replied to win the next three games, clinching a trip to the World Series where they would lose in six games to Reggie Jackson and the Yankees.
Playoff Grand Slams – No.3: Edgardo Alfonzo
Bank One Ballpark is playing host to its first-ever playoff game – an NLDS clash between the Mets and Diamondbacks. It is tied at four entering the top of the ninth. The Mets chase Randy Johnson after three of the first four men in the inning reach bringing up Rickey Henderson.
Reliever Bobby Chouinard coaxed a groundout from Henderson, but he was not so lucky against Alfonzo.
Alfonzo’s home run increased the Mets’ win probability from 53% to 98%. The Mets’ win probability had been 71% before Henderson’s grounder, but fate was on Alfonzo’s side from a win probability standpoint.
By a different metric, leverage index, Alfonzo’s grand slam came in the biggest situation of the 76 playoff grand slams. There was a massive leverage index of 6.9, the only grand slam coming in a situation with more than a 5.35 leverage index.
The Diamondbacks bounced back to win Game 2, but the Mets won both games in Queens – including a walk-off to end the series. They lost in the NLCS to the Braves.
Playoff Grand Slams – No.2: David Ortiz
It’s Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS. The Tigers led the series 1-0, and they hopped out to a 5-1 lead thanks to a four-run sixth inning. However, it is now the bottom of the eighth, and starter Max Scherzer has exited.
Reliever Jose Veras retired Stephen Drew before allowing a Will Middlebrooks double. Drew Smyly entered to walk Jacoby Ellsbury before being pulled for Al Alburquerque. Alburquerque faced two batters, allowing Dustin Pedroia to load the bases. At this point, the Tigers brought in their closer Joaquin Benoit.
With one titanic blast (and a Torii Hunter tumble into the bullpen), Ortiz had tied the game with a 45-point swing in win probability. It did not quite have the same leverage as Alfonzo’s grand slam because it came with the Red Sox trailing in the eighth, but Ortiz swung the entire momentum of the series, fueling the Red Sox to an ALCS win and a World Series triumph.
In a career fueled with iconic moments, Ortiz’s grand slam was his second-most influential playoff hit by win probability, surpassing any of his previous ALCS or World Series heroics. By championship win probability added, only his home runs in Game 2 of the 2013 World Series and Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS surpassed this blast.
Playoff Grand Slams – No.1: Devon White
Welcome to 3Com Park in San Francisco. The Giants are up against the wall as the Marlins lead the 1997 NLDS 2-0. San Francisco struck first with a Jeff Kent home run, but the Marlins have the bases loaded with two outs in the top of the sixth. The Marlins have a 38% chance of victory.
Time for a man known for his defense to have his iconic offensive moment.
When White’s home run landed, the Marlins had an 85% chance of winning. The Giants clawed within two runs with another Kent home run in the bottom of the sixth, but Charles Johnson and Craig Counsell came through with RBI doubles in the eighth to push the Marlins to their first NLCS.
The Marlins famously knocked off the Braves and then the Indians (on a walk-off) to win the franchise’s first World Series in just their fifth year of existence.
White’s win probability narrowly edges Alfonzo’s and Ortiz’s because it reversed the score. Alfonzo turned a neutral game into a likely win while Ortiz turned a likely loss into a neutral game. White traversed the gap, turning a likely loss into a likely win.
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