Allen Craig, who spent most of the season being a utility-type bench player, has become a central figure in the 2011 World Series. In game 1, with David Freese on third and Nick Punto on first, he came off the bench to face Alexi Ogando and drove home the go-ahead run with a single to right field. Then, in game 2, he again faced Ogando as a pinch hitter, with Freese and Punto in the same position on the bases, and recorded another base hit to right. Somewhere, Yogi Berra must have been smiling.
Since the first World Series in 1903, there have been 1,409 plate appearances by a pinch hitter, and in only 32 did the batter’s cameo end up giving his team the lead (including 22 times involving a hit). Among that select group, Craig is the only pinch hitter to do it twice, which isn’t too bad for his only two World Series at bats. Unfortunately for Ogando, he finds himself on the other end of that historical footnote, but at least he has some company. On two occasions during the 1995 World Series, the Indians’ Julian Tavarez also surrendered the go-ahead run while facing a pinch hitter.
With one more pinch hit, Craig would also tie several others, including the Yankees’ Johnny Blanchard (10 PA), Bobby Brown (7 PA), and Bob Cerv (3 PA), for the most in World Series history. In terms of Win Probability Added (WPA), however, Craig’s exploits off the bench haven’t been as impressive.
Craig’s two singles recorded a WPA of .181 and .212 in games 1 and 2, respectively, which ranks 39 and 50 on the all-time World Series pinch hit list. Although nothing to sneeze at, Craig’s combined WPA for both hits would barely crack the top-10. Listed below are the 10 most impactful pinch hits based on their WPA contribution.
Not surprisingly, the list is topped by Kirk Gibson’s dramatic walk-off home run against Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series’ opener. Add in the theatrics of Gibson’s at bat, not to mention his triumphant tour of the bases, and it’s no wonder Jack Buck couldn’t believe “what he just saw”.
The second pinch hit on the list is equally famous, or infamous, and once again involved a Dodgers’ walk-off victory. In game 4 of the 1947 Fall Classic, Yankees’ right hander Bill Bevens was one out away from pitching the first no-hitter in World Series history, but Cookie Lavagetto, a bench player like Craig, doubled to ruin his effort. Adding insult to injury, the hit, which plated two runs, not only kept Bevens’ name out of the record book, but added it to the loss column.
Carlton Fisk’s 12th inning, game winning homerun in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series is still widely considered to be among the most dramatic events in baseball history, but it wouldn’t have been possible without Bernie Carbo’s three-run blast in the eighth. With two on and two out, Carbo slammed Rawly Eastwick’s offering over the center field wall, momentarily giving the Fenway Faithful hope that the Red Sox’ championship drought might be coming to an end. Unfortunately for Boston, the Reds rebounded from the Game 6 disappointment, and the Curse of the Bambino survived for another 29 years.
Considering that the Yankees have won more World Series games than any other team in history (134, or more than the next three teams combined), it’s no surprise that they’ve had two pinch hitters make a historic impact. However, ask most Yankees’ fans which of team’s pinch hitters has made the biggest contribution during the World Series, and very few will likely answer Ruben Sierra.
In five career plate appearances in the Fall Classic, Sierra only had one hit, but he really made it count. With two outs in the top of the ninth, the Yankees were trailing the Marlins 3-1 in game 4 of the 2003 World Series, but Sierra helped stave off defeat by tripling home two runs off closer Ugueth Urbina. The dramatic game tying hit was just a temporary reprieve, however, which probably accounts for why so many Yankees’ fans don’t remember it. Instead, that game became infamous for Joe Torre’s decision to use Jeff Weaver in the 12th inning. With the immortal Mariano Rivera watching from the bullpen, Weaver allowed a game winning home run to Alex Gonzalez, effectively erasing Sierra’s clutch hit from the annals of Yankees’ post season lore and crippling the team’s chances of winning another World Series.
The extent to which Allen Craig’s name will become a part of World Series history will likely be determined by how well the Cardinals do going forward. With the Rangers rallying to win game 2, some of the luster has already been removed from his back-to-back clutch performances, but maybe the third time will be a charm? Alexi Ogando had better be on alert.