Nationals

Bellinger joins Howie Kendrick in rare group of Game 7 heroes

Nationals

There are playoff heroes, and then there are Game 7 playoff heroes.

Cody Bellinger punched the Dodgers’ ticket to the World Series on Sunday night in just about the most emphatic way anyone could: a go-ahead home run in the late innings.

The blast put Bellinger in rare company. He became just the ninth player in MLB history to hit a go-ahead home run in the seventh inning or later of a Game 7. It’s only been a year since the last such home run, but the feat remains one elusive to all but a select few postseason performers.

Here are all eight of the previous players to become Game 7 heroes by way of the long ball.

Howie Kendrick (WSH) – 2019 World Series

Situation: Top 7, runner on first, one out, Nationals trail Astros 2-1

The Nationals went into the top of the seventh inning scrambling for offense after Astros starter Zack Greinke held them to just one hit over his first five frames. Washington finally found some life when Anthony Rendon hit a solo shot and Juan Soto drew a walk against Greinke, prompting manager A.J. Hinch to pull him from the game. Howie Kendrick greeted reliever Will Harris by sending his second pitch off the rightfield foul pole to give the Nationals a lead they’d never relinquish.

Yadier Molina (STL) – 2006 NLCS

Situation: Top 9, runner on first, one out, Cardinals and Mets tied 1-1

A pitchers’ duel between Cardinals starter Jeff Suppan and the Mets’ Oliver Pérez sent this Game 7 into the later innings with the score tied 1-1. Both teams were into their bullpens by the ninth when the Mets turned to set-up man Aaron Heilman instead of All-Star closer Billy Wagner. With one out, Heilman battled Scott Rolen for nine pitches before giving up a single. That brought Yadier Molina, who hit .216 that season, to the plate. The catcher smoked a two-run homer to cap off a series in which he hit an unlikely .348 against New York.

 

Aaron Boone (NYY) – 2003 ALCS

Situation: Bottom 11, bases empty, no outs, Yankees and Red Sox tied 5-5

Only one pitch was thrown in the bottom of the 11th inning of the 2003 ALCS Game 7. Tim Wakefield entered the game for the Red Sox in the 10th and retired Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada and Jason Giambi in 1-2-3 fashion. He came back out for the 11th to face Aaron Boone, who had only entered the game as a pinch runner in the eighth before taking over for Enrique Wilson at third. Boone stepped up to the plate against Wakefield for his first at-bat of the game and needed just one swing for only the second Game 7 walk-off homer in history.

Alfonso Soriano (NYY) – 2001 World Series

Situation: Top 8, bases empty, no outs, Yankees and Diamondbacks tied 1-1

One of baseball’s most forgotten home runs, Alfonso Soriano was the hero the Yankees needed — until they needed more. Diamondbacks starter Curt Schilling was dealing all night, holding New York to one run through seven. He came back out for the eighth and faced Alfonso Soriano to lead off the inning. Schilling got him down 0-2 but continued pounding the strike zone. On the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Soriano took Schilling deep to give New York the lead. Two innings later, however, Mariano Rivera imploded and Arizona won the Series on a walk-off single.

Ray Knight (NYM) – 1986 World Series

Situation: Bottom 7, bases empty, no outs, Mets and Red Sox tied 1-1

This home run isn’t even remembered as Ray Knight’s biggest moment of the 1986 World Series, never mind one of the greatest of all time. But where the infamous Bill Buckner error in Game 6 that allowed Knight to score the winning run lacked in flash, Knight’s home run two nights later more than made up for it. The two-time All-Star came to the plate to lead off the bottom of the seventh against Red Sox reliever Calvin Schiraldi, who had a 1.41 ERA that season. Knight hit a line drive to left-center field that just cleared the wall, putting the Mets in front for the first time all game.

Hal Smith (PIT) – 1960 World Series

Situation: Bottom 8, runners on first and third, two outs, Pirates trail Yankees 7-6

Bill Mazeroski (PIT) – 1960 World Series

Situation: Bottom 9, bases empty, no outs, Pirates and Yankees tied 9-9

The only Game 7 ever to feature two go-ahead home runs in the late innings was the final game of the 1960 World Series. New York tacked on a few insurance runs to go into the bottom of the eighth leading 7-4. Dick Groat and Roberto Clemente each hit RBI singles to pull Pittsburgh to within one before Hal Smith launched a three-run homer to take a 9-7 lead with three outs to go. But the Yankees roared back as Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra drove in a pair of runs to tie the game in the ninth.

 

The Pirates sent Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski to the plate to face Yankees pitcher Ralph Terry. Mazeroski wasn’t much of a power hitter, known more for his slick fielding at second base than his production at the plate. But on the second pitch he saw from Terry, Mazeroski hit a ball over the fence in left to give Pittsburgh the walk-off win. It still stands as the only walk-off home run in Game 7 of a World Series.

Roger Peckinpaugh (WSH) – 1925 World Series

Situation: Top 8, bases empty, one out, Senators and Pirates tied 6-6

The first ever go-ahead home run hit in the seventh inning or later of a Game 7 came in a losing effort. The Senators, looking to repeat as champions after winning the World Series in 1924, earned the dubious distinction of being the first team in MLB history to blow a 3-1 series lead. Washington even jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning of Game 7, giving Hall of Fame starter Walter Johnson plenty of room to work with.

But Pittsburgh chipped away before tying the game in the seventh. Roger Peckinpaugh looked the part of the Senators’ savior with a home run off Ray Kremer in the eighth. The Pirates just wouldn’t go away. Senators player-manager Bucky Harris stuck with Johnson for the bottom of the eighth despite him allowing six runs over the first seven innings. It came back to bite them, as the Pirates scored three more to emerge with the championship victory.