Don Mattingly only hit two walk off homer runs in his career. The first, which came against the Minnesota Twins on May 13, 1985, just so happens to be one of my favorite moments growing up as a Yankee fan in the 1980s (the other walk off came against the Brewers in 1989).
To set the stage, the Yankees entered action on May 13 a disappointing 13-15. One week earlier, the team’s slow start had cost Yogi Berra his job as manager and ushered in the fourth installment of Billy Ball. And, it didn’t take long for Billy Martin to raise the roof, literally. During the prior week’s series against the Twins in Minnesota, the Bronx Bombers lost a pair of 8-6 contests. In the first game, the Yankees lost several balls in the murky Metrodome ceiling, prompting Martin to blast the facility.
They beat us tonight. Yesterday, they didn’t beat us; the lights beat us.” – Billy Martin, quoted by AP, May 9, 1985
Martin wound up lodging a protest against the Metrodome, but the Yankees hoped to get their revenge the following week in New York. Unfortunately, on the mound to open the series was Ed Whitson. The former Padres starter was acquired during the winter of 1985, and early on in the season, things weren’t going so well…and, they weren’t about to get any better.
In one-plus inning, Whitson surrendered five runs, and the Yankees soon found themselves in an immediate 8-0 hole. Twins manager Billy Gardner, who earlier stated he might protest the game on account of glare from the Big Dipper, had to have been pleased by the vindication, but then the Yankees started clawing back. A five run sixth inning, highlighted by a rare Butch Wynegar home run, brought the Yankees to within 8-6, but that’s exactly how the scored remained until the bottom of the ninth.
The Yankees last licks started with a walk to Ron Hassey, but Bobby Meacham’s ground out and Henry Cotto’s pop to center left the Yankees on the precipice of defeat. However, another walk to Ken Griffey set the stage for Mattingly, who deposited a 1-0 fastball from Ron Davis into the empty right field seats.
Beyond being a seminal moment in my Yankees’ fandom, Mattingly’s home run was significant for a couple of reasons. The eight-run deficit represented the second largest comeback in team history, which, at the time, had been bettered on only two other occasions (since then, the Yankees also rallied from nine runs down in games taking place in 1987 and 2006). In addition, the dramatic blast still ranks second among all Yankees’ walk off homers since 1950 with a WPA of 0.91. So, Mattingly’s homer not only made an impression on me (and probably thousands of Yankee fans of a similar age), it also left its mark on Yankees’ history.