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The 15 Greatest Walk-Off Home Runs: #11

 Every time we venture back into the world of the MLB’s greatest walk-off home runs, it reinforces a wonderful concept. Namely, that anyone of any stature can be a hero at any time. We’ve seen this already in the case of Brooks Conrad. However, the home run featured today ranks where it does because it’s our first postseason home run. Not only that, but it was hit off one of the National League’s better relievers. So, the secondary score gets just a little bit higher, and readers’ collective pulses race faster as we get ever closer to that elusive number one spot.

In terms of heroics, our subject here might never have had any kind of exposure were it not for this moment. He was mostly known for being a journeyman backup catcher. His career home run total was a whopping 49. In 1999 alone, there were six players who hit 45 or more homers. It took this catcher 14 years to accumulate anything close to that. In other words, he didn’t have a lot of power. Considering that this was the age of the steroid-fueled home run, that meant his offensive contributions were minimal. That said, Todd Pratt is also known for being the hero of the 1999 NLDS for the New York Mets. It’s good enough to land him at #11 on our list of the greatest walk-off home runs.

The Greatest Walk-Off Home Runs

#11: Todd Pratt – October 9, 1999

Let’s begin with the teams themselves. First, the 1999 Mets, who went 97-66 in their third full season under Bobby Valentine. This was a team that thrived on contact hitting. Indeed, their .276 average and 1,553 hits were both in the NL’s top three. Mike Piazza posted an average over .300 with 40 homers, while the steady bats of Edgardo Alfonzo, Robin Ventura, and Roger Cedeno kept things steady. Even 40-year-old Rickey Henderson showed that he still had some fuel left in the tank. Meanwhile, the pitching was akin to a rubber band, bouncing back and forth. The bullpen was good to excellent, led by the 41 combined saves of Armando Benitez and John Franco. Rotation-wise, nobody had an ERA below four. However, staff ace Al Leiter and ageless wonder Orel Hershiser both posted 13 wins.

On the other side of the diamond lay the 100-win Arizona Diamondbacks, led by Buck Showalter. In only their second year as a franchise, Arizona had managed to grab a division title. They carried one of the best offenses in baseball. Power was a major focal point, as Jay Bell, Matt Williams, and Steve Finley all crested 30 homers. Meanwhile, outfielder Tony Womack swiped 72 bags while hitting .277. The Diamondbacks could also pitch with the best of them. Hall of Famer Randy Johnson posted 17 wins and a staggering 364 strikeouts. Omar Daal, Andy Benes, and Armando Reynoso all finished with double-digit win totals. In the bullpen, closer Matt Mantei picked up 22 saves with a sub-three ERA. Greg Swindell, Bobby Chouinard, and Vladimir Nunez also had ERAs under three.

Game Four

Heading into game four of the NLDS, the Mets had a surprising 2-1 advantage. Home-field advantage was theirs as well, as Shea Stadium was filled to bursting for this playoff game. The Mets sent Leiter out to face the Diamondbacks’ Brian Anderson. For the first three and a half innings, they looked almost untouchable. Leiter had given up two baserunners and no hits. Meanwhile, Anderson had only given up a single to John Olerud. Both pitchers had definitely hit their stride. It seems that this list of the greatest walk-off home runs is somewhat incomplete without a pitcher’s duel somewhere.

 Then, in the bottom of the fourth, the Mets offense managed to find a chink in Anderson’s armor. Alfonzo went deep and, later in the inning, Ventura doubled. Though they couldn’t bring him in, they had proven that they could get to Anderson. Not to be outdone, the Diamondbacks tied things in the bottom of the frame courtesy of a Greg Colbrunn home run. Thus, the back-and-forth continued and would do so for another inning.

The Greatest Walk-Off Home Runs: Where Legends Rise

In the bottom of the sixth, the Mets broke through once again. Henderson led off with a single and went to third on Olerud’s single two batters later. Following him was Benny Agbayani, who doubled to bring Henderson home and give the Mets a 2-1 edge. However, the Diamondbacks were not finished. In the top of the eighth, against a seemingly unstoppable Leiter, pinch hitter Turner Ward drew a walk. Womack followed with an infield hit to put runners on first and second with Bell coming to the dish. Valentine went to his bullpen and called on Benitez. He promptly gave up a ringing double to left that brought home both runs. The Diamondbacks led 3-2 and seemed on the verge of tying the series.

The bottom of the frame began when Alfonzo walked. Olerud reached when Womack, who had moved from shortstop to right field, booted a fly ball. Cedeno followed with a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Fortunately for the Diamondbacks, Mantei was able to restore order. An uneventful ninth led to extras. That’s where this story of one of the greatest walk-off home runs truly takes form. The Diamondbacks were set down in order by Franco. Ventura and Pratt were due up first in the bottom of the inning. Between them, they had gone 1-for-7 in the game. However, neither had struck out, so they were making contact. Ventura was retired via a fly ball. Then Pratt, the unlikeliest of heroes, launched a Mantei offering that the center fielder Finley just couldn’t quite grasp. In one second, Pratt had gone from a journeyman catcher to a franchise legend.

Photo Credit: © Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports


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