Grand slams have certain magic
A-Rod leads all-time list with 25, followed by Gehrig with 23
Everybody loves grand slams. OK, maybe not pitchers.
All you need to know about the mythical ways of a home run with the bases loaded occurred on Tuesday when Alex Rodriguez watched his slump vanish over the right-center-field wall of Yankee Stadium. Just like that, nobody discussed how he had one hit during his previous 28 at-bats. And few cared that was his first home run since his 40th birthday on July 27.
Courtesy of one swing with three men on base, the Yankees slugger pushed his team from a 4-1 deficit in the seventh inning against the Twins to a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Rodriguez actually did more than that. He added to his Major League record for career grand slams with 25. That's a wonderfully outrageous number.
No question, there are other individual highlights that make baseball our national pastime. The great defensive play, for instance. You cherish an outfielder climbing a wall to snatch away a home run from an unsuspecting hitter. Diving plays in the gap? Your eyes grow wider with just the thought. The same goes for an infielder flying through the air to make the impossible stop.
In addition, few things are more exciting than a famed basestealer at first, second or even third. Anything can happen, and it often does.
Inside-the-park homers, triples ...
Give me grand slams.
The drama builds out of nowhere. A guy gets on base, then another, then the batter strolls onto the scene with runners everywhere and the pitcher struggling to hide his fears. When the ball is hit, the tension rises, especially if the pitch is ripped into the air. The ball goes deeper and deeper, and so do the expectations. Then, with everybody in awe (even the pitcher), the ball settles over the fence, the wall, the bullpen, the bleachers or anyplace else where home runs become legend.
Lou Gehrig invented the grand slam, or so it seemed. He had 23 of them when he retired from the Yankees in 1939. For decades, his total was one of baseball's unbreakable records. Rodriguez became the new guy with No. 24 in September 2013, but Gehrig's connection to the unique lore of grand slams remains.
The same is true with Willie McCovey, who was second on the all-time list with 18 behind Gehrig for years after he retired in 1980. Since then, McCovey has been either tied or surpassed by Robin Ventura (18), Eddie Murray (19) and Manny Ramirez (21). But you know what? I continue to go "Wow" whenever I recall a game in Cincinnati during the summer of 1977, when the man they called "Stretch" furthered his legacy as a ferocious hitter with the Giants.
On June 27, McCovey slammed two homers ... in the same inning. One was a grand slam. Both of his rockets are still soaring somewhere over the hills of southern Ohio.
Speaking of McCovey, he was playing for the Giants in 1966 at Candlestick Park, when the Braves' Tony Cloninger did the unprecedented for a pitcher by slugging two grand slams in one game. This also was unique: Until Fred Lynn did so in 1983, nobody ever had a grand slam during an All-Star Game. And this was really unique: Two years ago, David Ortiz kept his Red Sox moving toward a World Series championship with a game-tying homer in the late innings at Fenway Park during Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against the Tigers. It's the game that featured then-Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter tumbling over the right-center-field fence in pursuit of Ortiz's shot as photographers caught Hunter's legs in the air, in contrast to the outstretched arms of a Boston policeman.
Come to think of it, that was among the few homers of lore in baseball history that was a grand slam. This isn't the case for Babe Ruth's Called Shot, Bill Mazeroski's winner of the 1960 World Series or Carlton Fisk's blast against the foul pole. Kirk Gibson's classic was a two-run shot, and Bobby Thomson and Joe Carter hit three-run homers.
What does that mean? Well, during the postseason, it's difficult to get the planets aligned with three guys on base and a batter at the plate who swings at the right pitch. It's even difficult to do during the regular season.
In case you're wondering, Ortiz is tied with Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann with 11 career grand slams among active players. The only active players with more than that are Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols at 13, and they trail only Rodriguez. Right below Ortiz, Beltran and McCann is Hunter, tied with Aramis Ramirez and Mark Teixeira at 10.
None of those players, or anybody else, will surpass whatever Rodriguez's final total will be for career grand slams.
Then again, folks said the same thing about Gehrig.