While outfielder Skip Schumaker is leading the category in the early days of 2008, the best single-year performance by any Cardinals player in history was delivered by first baseman Albert Pujols, with eight final at-bat winning hits during the 2006 World Championship season.
In fact, since 2003, Pujols (right) has collected 23 such hits, head and shoulders above any other Cardinal during that period. If this isn't a clear justification for opponents not to pitch to El Hombre late in games, I have never seen one.
Going further, Cardinals fans know that Pujols has won many a game not just with any hit, but with the longest, highest-impact hit of all, a huge home run which decides the outcome of the game.
Looking at all Cardinals players in history, Albert and nine other men have collected at least 20 game winning hits in their last at-bat. The list of qualifiers below is ordered by the total number of such career hits. Also included is the percentage of them that were home runs.
St. Louis Cardinals Career Leaders: Last At-bat Winning Hits and Home Runs
|Player||Last AB||Last AB||HR|
|GW hits||GW HR||Percent|
Hall of Famer and our greatest Cardinals player of all-time, Stan Musial (right), is the leader with 52 game-winning hits in his last at-bat. His 23 home runs among them is also the top total in team history.
Yet, by a huge margin, Pujols has the highest percentage of game-winning hits in last at-bat that were homers. With many playing years still ahead of him, El Hombre is only five last at-bat winning home runs behind The Man (18 vs. 23).
By dropping the bar a bit beneath the 20 career winning hits or more mark while with the Cardinals, we find several other interesting results. Though he was a Cardinal longer than Pujols, now-San Diego Padres outfielder Jim Edmonds numbers are exactly half of Albert's at 13 such hits, of which nine were home runs. When Edmonds did deliver, he struck a long ball with the same frequency as Albert (69%).
Other standouts from the Cardinals past with fewer than 20 such hits in total but a high home run ratio of all game-winning hits in last at-bat include Ron Gant, who was 5-of-10 (50%), Mark McGwire at 4-of-7 (57%) and Jack "the Ripper" Clark with a very impressive 5-of-6 (83%).
Recent Cardinals walk-offs
While noted in the previous article, it is worth mentioning again that not all of the above hits were walk-offs, meaning the game ended right there. Some of the home winning hits were delivered in the bottom of the eighth. Those cases, along with the road winning hits, required the Cardinals to secure three more outs from their opponent in the final inning.
Pujols' feats are so legendary, and the walk-off variety of these hits are so noteworthy and memorable, that we are listing here all of the Cardinals' 15 walk-off home runs since 2003. As noted above, Pujols has 23 game-winning final at-bat hits during that time, of which seven were walk-off home runs. By definition, all occurred at Busch Stadiums II and III.
Taking it one final step, three of these walk-off long balls brought the Cardinals from behind to win, as opposed to breaking a tie. Of course, it could probably be assumed without even saying so that Pujols has two of those three. What could be more exciting than a multi-run home run to turn a likely loss into an instant Cardinals home win with a single swing of the bat?
All Hail, King Albert!
St. Louis Cardinals Walk-off Home Runs (since 2003)
As previously, a major tip of the cap is offered to reader Tom Orf for sharing his fantastic research. Otherwise, this article would not exist. Thanks, Tom!
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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