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). Next in the countdown: Travis Hafner‘s walk-off grand slam against the Blue Jays on July 7.
The Indians were already in trouble by the time they took the field against Toronto that night. They’d lost their once-large AL Central lead and were now in a close division race with the Tigers. But things were looking up: the Tribe had just taken two of three from the AL East-leading Yankees, including a comeback home run that earned the No. 4 spot on this list.
But once the game got underway at Progressive Field, things didn’t go so well. Carlos Villanueva stymied the Indians through six shutout innings, followed by two more from Marc Rzepczynski and Jason Frasor. By contrast, Zach McAllister gave up three runs in his four-inning MLB debut, and Jose Bautista took Tony Sipp deep in the ninth inning to make it 4-0 Blue Jays.
Things looked bleak as closer Frank Francisco entered the game in the bottom of the ninth. Travis Buck led things off with a single. Matt LaPorta smacked the first pitch he saw to right field for a double, and Jack Hannahan‘s walk loaded the bases. But still, Cleveland’s chances of completing the comeback weren’t very good.
Luis Perez came in and struck out Michael Brantley with a full count for a huge first out. Asdrubal Cabrera kept the momentum going and put the Indians on the board with an RBI single. But even with the bases loaded and the tying run at the plate, Cleveland had less than a 20 percent chance of making up the three-run deficit with only two outs to work with.
It was then that Travis Hafner stepped to the plate.
Pronk was quietly in the midst of a terrific season when he’d been able to stay on the field. He was hitting .338/.423/.545 on the year, including an even better .313/.463/.531 triple-slash since returning from his injury.
So when Perez’ first pitch came exactly where Hafner was looking for it, he didn’t have any trouble sending it way over the right-field fence:
The Indians won, 5-4, on the strength of Hafner’s dramatic walk-off grand slam. It was without a doubt one of the most exciting moments of the season. It sure made an impact, to the tune of .801 WPA—i.e., he improved the Tribe’s chances of winning by more than 80 percent.
And yet, this walk-off home run wasn’t even Pronk’s biggest hit of the season…
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