Stephen Drew and pinch-hit grand slams

When Stephen Drew pinch-hit for Brett Gardner last night, the immediate reaction was concern about Gardner’s wrist. For a short moment, Drew made everyone forget about Gardner’s health when he launched a grand slam to give the Yankees a 6-4 lead against the Orioles. It proved to be the game winner. Who would have thought Drew would deliver?

It turns out that Drew’s grand salami put him in rare company. In major league history*, only 287 other players have accomplished the feat of a pinch-hit bases loaded homer. This is only slightly more common than a no-hitter, which has happened 232 times in regular and postseason history since 1914, the earliest date available via the Play Index. In Yankees history*, there have only been 15 pinch-hit grand slams.

*Note: Regular season only, 1914-present.

From the records available, the first major leaguer to do this was Marty Kavanagh in 1916, and the last player was Chris Heisey last April. Jorge Posada was the last Bronx Bomber to do what Drew did last night, back on June 6, 2001. It just so happens that the opponent was also the Orioles on that day. At the time of the event, Baltimore had a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium. Buddy Groom had started the inning, allowing a single and double to Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez respectively. Groom then induced a groundout against Paul O’Neill, holding the runners at second and third. That was the end of Groom’s day — enter Dave Trombley. Strangely, Trombley’s first task was to intentionally walk Scott Brosius. Next came Posada in place of Todd Greene. And as you know, Posada delivered a grand slam. Wish I could dig up a video, but it is what it is. Hard to find regular season highlights from nearly 15 years ago. Thanks to Posada’s dinger, the Yankees were victorious, 7-4.

I can’t say I recall Posada’s grand slam, nor any of the others on the list above. I wouldn’t stand a chance to remember any of the ones before Charlie Hayes‘ pinch-hit grand slammer back in 1997, anyway. One I do remember, and is not included in the list above, is Ricky Ledee achieving this rarity in the 1999 ALCS:

This was in game four of the series against the Red Sox, which the Yankees went on to advance in five games. Ledee pinch-hit for Clay Bellinger with the bases juiced against Rod Beck, and delivered. Not only is it the only postseason pinch-hit grand slam in the team’s history, but baseball history as well. The tater gave the Yankees a 9-2 lead which ultimately was the final score.

So, who would have thought that Drew could do something almost as rare as a no-hitter? He was certainly in the right place at the right time. Indeed, it’s a bit of a frivolous exploit that will never be celebrated like a no-hitter or three home run game because of the degree of luck it requires. Regardless, it’s a pretty cool moment for Drew that I’m sure he’ll remember for the rest of his life.

Baseball-Reference’s Play Index was used to research the event history presented in this post.

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