The new year is almost upon us, and with it will come a fresh start and fresh hope for the Cleveland Indians. But before we turn our calendars to 2012, we at Wahoo’s on First wanted to look back at the highlights of the 2011 season.
This week, we’ll be counting down the top Tribe plays of the 2011 season, as determined by Win Probability Added (check out the FanGraphs Saber Library entry for a full explanation). Now we finish the countdown with Travis Hafner‘s walk-off home run against the Mariners on May 13.
The Indians were still growing their AL Central lead when they took the field against Seattle that night. At 23-13 they had the best record in the league, and their 3.5-game lead over the second-place Kansas City Royals (at this point, they too were ahead of the Tigers) gave them the biggest division lead in baseball.
It was about to get even bigger.
Things started off pretty well for the Tribe. Shin-Soo Choo went yard against his former team with a solo shot in the first inning, and Michael Brantley hit one of his own off Seattle starter Doug Fister in the third. For most of the game, it looked like that would be enough: Fausto Carmona took a no-hit shutout into the fifth inning, and after six Carlos Peguero‘s solo homer was the only run or hit the Mariners had managed all game.
Carmona hit trouble in the seventh. Justin Smoak hit a two-run shot to put the Mariners on top, and Brendan Ryan‘s RBI single gave Seattle a 4-2 lead, which still stood when closer Brandon League took the ball in the bottom of the ninth.
The Indians weren’t out yet. Brantley led things off with a double, and when Asdrubal Cabrera followed with one of his own on the very next pitch, the score was 4-3 with the tying run in scoring position and nobody out.
But League wasn’t rattled. Shin-Soo Choo grounded out on the next pitch—Cabrera advanced to third, but it wasn’t worth the tradeoff of making the first out. Especially when Carlos Santana fell to the same fate. With the tying run at third and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, it all came down to Travis Hafner.
Hafner was in the midst of a mild power outage when he stepped to the plate. He hadn’t homered in almost a month and had a meager .353 slugging percentage in his last 15 games. It wasn’t in a slump by any means—he’d hit .314 with a .386 OBP in that stretch—but for more than three weeks he’d been struggling to hit the ball as hard as he normally does.
But after Pronk fouled off the first pitch he saw, he put an end to that:
Hafner cleared the wall in the deepest part of the ballpark with a shot to dead-center field, giving the Indians a 5-4 walk-off victory. Cleveland had less than a 1 in 6 chance of winning when Pronk stepped to the plate, meaning his blast was worth a whopping .839 WPA.
This home run might not have seemed as dramatic as the walk-off grand slam Pronk hit in July—the Indians were down by only one run instead of three, and come on, it was a grand slam—but this one was more clutch because the game was on the line. The Indians had a better chance of winning the other game with one out and the bases loaded than this one with two down and a runner on third, even though they were farther behind.
The Full Countdown
No. 1: Travis Hafner’s Walk-Off Home Run, May 13
No. 2: Travis Hafner’s Walk-Off Grand Slam, July 7
No. 3: Asdrubal Cabrera’s Game-Winning Homer, August 27
No. 4: Austin Kearns’ Go-Ahead Home Run, July 4
No. 5: Jack Hannahan’s Game-Tying Home Run, June 8
No. 6: Travis Buck’s Go-Ahead Home Run, May 21
No. 7: Travis Buck’s Game-Tying Double, July 9
No. 8: Travis Hafner’s Game-Tying Double, July 25
No. 9: Orlando Cabrera’s Game-Winning Homer, June 27
No. 10: Matt LaPorta’s Walk-Off Home Run, July 30