This was supposed to be Opening Week, the time when MLB fans everywhere look forward to making a season’s worth of memories. Since we won’t have games to get excited about for a while, we thought it’d be fun to take a walk down memory lane by reliving some of our personal favorite baseball moments.
In the first of a weeklong series focusing on a different baseball theme each day, we asked our MLB reporters to tell us about the best home run they ever saw — with only one rule: They had to be there to witness it.
Jeff Passan: An unbelievable Game 7 home run story
Much of this job entails coming up with words to match the moment, and when I watched Rajai Davis hit a game-tying home run in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, I felt like I was failing miserably, because all I could muster, in the chaotic seconds thereafter, was: “No f—ing way.”
I just kept saying it, first at a whisper when the ball screamed toward left field, then louder when it landed over the 19-foot wall at Progressive Field, then almost sing-song, like a parrot with a cheeky owner might, when I watched Davis round the bases. All of Cleveland was enraptured, and all of Chicago was despondent, and I was simply amazed.
Rajai Davis was a 5-foot-9 outfielder who, in his 3,999 career regular-season plate appearances, had hit 55 home runs. He was facing Aroldis Chapman, the game’s most feared closer, who, though drained by an overworked October, had managed to pump a 101 mph fastball just off the outside corner three pitches earlier and a 99 mph fastball that Davis fought off two pitches earlier and a 101 mph fastball that Davis leaned in to spoil one pitch earlier.
This pitch left Chapman’s hand at 98 mph, low and inside, and Davis, choking up comically, almost 3 inches, dropped the head of his bat and with one swing erased a two-run deficit. Joe Buck’s call was perfectly simple: “Drive into left. At the wall. It’s gone. Tie game, Rajai Davis, 6-6.”
Odd though it may seem to pick a home run hit by a player from the losing team, I think the staying power of Davis’ home run even though the Cubs won the World Series validates the choice even more. It took a historic World Series victory and imbued it with even greater drama and meaning. It wasn’t Bill Mazeroski or Joe Carter. It was still something I’ll never forget.
Dan Mullen: Miggy tears the roof off of Wrigley
When we look back at the 2016 Cubs, we remember the team that made history. It’s easy to forget that while that October played out, we were all convinced that things would go horribly wrong somewhere along the way, just as they had so many times before.
I was watching the National League Championship Series opener from the left-field aux box high above when that feeling of looming doom rolled into Wrigley as a 3-1 lead disappeared in a particularly ugly top of the eighth. The doom level was rising even higher when it appeared the Cubs were about to let a prime scoring opportunity get away when pinch hitter Miguel Montero fell behind 0-2 with the bases loaded and two outs.
But instead of striking out, grounding out or popping out to set in motion the latest chapter in the long book of Cubs collapses, Montero did something else entirely: He hit a baseball harder than he has ever hit a baseball in his whole life (or at least on a home run in 2016, according to Statcast data) and just about tore the damn roof off of Wrigley in the process. Or at least that’s what it felt like in that moment to me, Javy Baez — who said after the game, “I thought the roof was coming down from the fans jumping” — and 42,376 screaming Cubs fans.
I’ve seen home runs hit harder, and I’ve seen home runs hit farther (I grew up going to pre-humidor Coors Field).But Montero’s grand slam was the moment I truly understood that these weren’t those Cubbies and we were weeks away from witnessing history — and it doesn’t get better than that.
Jesse Rogers: Schwarber lands a knockout punch … on top of the scoreboard
The scoreboard beyond the right-field bleachers had just been installed. Otherwise this majestic blast by Chicago Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber would have ended up on the street and eventually be forgotten. But when Schwarber landed his 419-foot home run on top of the scoreboard, it instantly became a legendary blast.
The scene was the 2015 NL Division Series. The hated St. Louis Cardinals were on their last legs, trailing the series two games to one. Anthony Rizzo had put the Cubs in front 5-4 with a solo home run off lefty Kevin Siegrist an inning earlier, in the sixth. Schwarber’s blast would be the final nail in the Cardinals’ coffin — against a team that had owned the division, and the Cubs, for years. Siegrist threw a fastball down the middle, which Schwarber connected on with the kind of uppercut swing that launch-angle fanatics could drool over to this day. It was glorious. Wrigley Field went bananas.
In 79 at-bats against left-handed hitters that regular season, Siegrist had thrown just two home run balls. In less than two innings in Game 4, he had matched that total. The Cubs would leave Schwarber’s ball on top of the scoreboard, eventually encasing it in glass. It became a shrine of sorts and vaulted Schwarber into mythical status. Something he would only enhance a year later during the World Series.
Tim Keown: Wait, who just sent the Giants to the World Series?
This is a tough one. I covered Barry Bonds every day for two seasons, and I’ll never forget him watching him take the air out of an entire stadium with a 450-plus foot homer in Anaheim, California, in the 2002 World Series. I followed the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa circus for several weeks in 1998 and was in a sweltering, B.O.-infused press box in St. Louis when McGwire hit No. 62. I once sat in the bleachers at the Oakland Coliseum and watched Jim Rice hit a homer off Dave Beard that, in my recollection, landed behind me before the sound of contact reached my ears.
But most memorable? This might be a bit esoteric, but in 2014 Travis Ichikawa hit a walk-off homer off Michael Wacha to win the National League pennant for the San Francisco Giants. Even now, more than five years later, that sentence doesn’t make any more sense than it did the day it happened.
Buster Olney: Brosius matches Tino’s Fall Classic feat
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth of Game 4 of the 2001 World Series, Tino Martinez mashed a two-run home run off Arizona closer Byung-Hyun Kim — the first game-tying home run in the ninth inning of a Fall Classic since 1929.
The next afternoon, I bumped into Yankees third baseman Scott Brosius outside of the clubhouse, and he wore the biggest grin, confirming what I assumed, that he was still thinking about Tino’s home run. Scott said he usually did not have trouble falling asleep after games, but following Tino’s home run, he was still wide awake at 5 a.m., and so he called a friend in his home state of Oregon to relive the game and burn off some adrenaline. Before Brosius continued into the clubhouse, he said, in so many words — that’s something we’ll never see again in our lifetimes.
About five hours later, Brosius stood in the batter’s box, in the ninth inning. Byung-Hyun Kim was on the mound. The Yankees trailed by two runs, again. Brosius swung, and as he followed through and tracked the ball soaring toward left field, he raised his arms in celebration; Brosius had tied the game with a home run. Something that hadn’t happened in a World Series game in 72 years happened in back-to-back nights in Yankee Stadium.
Matt Marrone: The home run that wasn’t … then was
I was a freshman in college when I saw the infamous Derek Jeter/Jeffrey Maier home run. Although that’s not entirely true: I didn’t actually SEE it. Yes, I was at Yankee Stadium. Yes, I was laser-focused on every pitch and every play of that 1996 American League Championship Series Game 1. But I was sitting in the right-field upper deck, along the first-base line, and the right-field corner was obscured. No matter: I had been going to Yankee Stadium practically since birth, and I didn’t need to see the whole field to know where a ball was going.
I prided myself on never being one of those fans who go bonkers for every long fly out. So as I watched the arc of the ball as it flew off Jeter’s bat, I sat back in my seat and sighed. This was a fly out to right field. The Orioles still led 4-3 and it was now two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning. The crowd was cheering, but, again, those had to be the fans who assume every deep fly is long gone.