“Down to their last strike.” In terms of one individual game, is there any more dramatic phrase? Often times, when a team is a strike away from winning, needless to say, the result is positive. Consider than there were 2,430 games played this season (not even including the 32 postseason games). Though not every single game involved a team being down to its last strike — games that were tied after eight innings and won by the home team, or games that were called early due to weather — the fact is this: only 20 times did a team in that position rally to win the game.
Mathematically speaking, that means this heart-stopping instance occurred in 0.8% of all games played this season. That’s eight-tenths of one percent, not eight percent, meaning fans saw this less than once every one hundred games.
Ever since Game 6 of the 2011 World Series – perhaps the game that brought the term “down to their last strike” into focus considering the Cardinals were in that situation two different times – it’s been a phenomenon that’s left many hardcore baseball fans wondering if we’d ever see anything quite like David Freese’s and Lance Berkman’s heroics again.
For that reason, we’ve compiled a list of the 20 occasions in 2014 in which a team’s back was literally against the wall and yet it found a way to pull a victory from the jaws of defeat:
March 31 – Nationals 9, Mets 7 (10), Citi Field
The Mets lead 5-4 in the ninth with two outs and no one on base. Danny Esponisa falls behind 1-2 but works a walk before the next batter, Denard Span, doubles home the tying run on the first pitch. The Nationals go on to score four runs in the 10th and hang on to win, 9-7.
April 2 – Pirates 4, Cubs 3 (16), PNC Park
The Cubs tie the Pirates with two outs in the 9th, 2-2, and take the lead on an Anthony Rizzo homer in the top of the 12th. In the bottom half, Starling Marte gets to a 2-2 count, works the count full, then re-ties the game at 3-3 on a single, and the Bucs end up winning, 4-3, in 16.
April 3 – Twins 10, White Sox 9, US Cellular Field
The Twins trail on the road 9-8 and get a one-out walk from Josh Willingham, who moves to second on a Chris Colabello groundout. Trevor Plouffe falls behind 1-2, works the count full, then ties the game with a single to score pinch-runner Jason Bartlett. One batter later Oswaldo Arcia triples home Plouffe and the Twins win, 10-9.
April 16 – Rangers 3, Mariners 2, Ameriquest Field
The Rangers trail the M’s at home, 2-1, but Kevin Kouzmanoff keeps hope alive with a two-out single. Mitch Moreland gets ahead 3-0 before Fernando Rodney throws two called strikes, but Rodney would walk Moreland, and an error by Brad Miller loads the bases, a wild pitch ties it, and Leodys Martin caps the comeback with a single.
April 22 – Rangers 5, Athletics 4, O.Co Coliseum
It’s the Rangers again as they trail 4-3 in the 9th but get a leadoff double from Moreland, who is sacrificed to third by Robinson Chirinos but is thrown out at home on a fielder’s choice by Martin. However, Martin would steal second and Josh Wilson delivers him on a 2-2 double, then two pitches later ex-Athletic Michael Choice singles him home for a 5-4 road win.
April 23 – Diamondbacks 7, Cubs 5, Wrigley Field
The Diamondbacks trail the Cubs at Wrigley 5-2 going into ninth but score two on a Martin Prado single. After Paul Goldschmidt strikes out with runners at first and third, Miguel Montero works a full count and singles home A.J. Pollock to tie the game, then Aaron Hill hits a two-run triple one batter later to cap a five-run inning.
April 30 – Diamondbacks 5, Rockies 4, Chase Field
The D-backs strike on their last strike again, this time at home against Colorado. Trailing 4-2 against LaTroy Hawkins, Cody Ross leads off with a single, but after a popout and a forceout, Hawkins gets ahead of Chris Owings 0-2. Still, Owings wins the battle and doubles A.J. Pollock to third, then after Gerardo Parra is hit by a pitch to load the bases, Hawkins again falters on 0-2 as Prado singles home two runs to tie the game at 4-4. Montero hits a walk-off home run leading off the 10th.
How the 30 teams fared in the 20 games. Four teams, all in the NL, were not involved in these games and are noted with asterisks.
May 10 – Orioles 5, Astros 4 (10), Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Twice the O’s are down to their final strike after blowing a lead in the top of the ninth with two outs on a Jose Altuve single. Jonathan Schoop falls behind 1-2 and singles off Anthony Bass on a 2-2 pitch to keep hope alive, then after a Nick Markakis single and Manny Machado walk, Delmon Young pinch-hits for David Lough and falls behind 0-2 before taking two balls in the dirt. He then bounces a ball over the mound and just beats the throw from shortstop Jonathan Villar to tie the game at 4-4, and Steve Clevenger doubles home J.J. Hardy in the bottom of the 10th for a walk-off, 5-4 win.
May 13 – Tigers 4, Orioles 1, Oriole Park at Camden Yards
The Orioles giveth, and they taketh away. Leading 1-0 over the Tigers in the ninth, Detroit gets a break when a caught stealing is overturned on Rajai Davis, who is pinch-running for Alex Avila. With two outs Torii Hunter falls behind 1-2 but works a walk to give Miguel Cabrera a chance, and he delivers on a 1-0 pitch with a three-run homer to dead center field. Victor Martinez goes back-to-back for insurance as Detroit wins, 4-1, and goes on to sweep the Orioles.
May 18 – Braves 6, Cardinals 5, Busch Stadium
The Braves appear on their way to being swept in St. Louis, but a ninth-inning rally salvages the finale. Freddie Freeman singles leading off against closer Trevor Rosenthal, but Rosenthal retires the next two batters to bring up Ryan Doumit, who doubles Freeman over to third. Rosenthal intentionally walks Evan Gattis to bring up Jordan Schafer, batting .115 with one RBI on the season. Schafer takes a called strike on 3-1 before fouling two full-count pitches off. On the 3-2 offering, Schafer takes a pitch just below the knees to force home Freeman and chase Rosenthal. Carlos Martinez enters and on his second pitch uncorks a wild one to bring home Doumit, and Craig Kimbrel nails down the save to give Atlanta the 6-5 win.
May 20 – Rockies 5, Giants 4, Coors Field
Sergio Romo had his chances to end this one, but as we’ve learned through the years, at Coors Field no lead is safe. Carlos Gonzalez swings through a 3-1 pitch but singles on the 3-2 pitch to move Justin Morneau, who led off the frame with a walk, to third. Romo gets ahead of Nolan Arenado 1-2 before a foul, a ball, and another foul. On the seventh pitch of the at bat, Arenado drills a shot off the very top of the left field wall, bringing home Morneau and Gonzalez as the Rockies rally for a 5-4 win.
May 22 – Rays 5, Athletics 2 (11), Tropicana Field
A 1-0 game after eight innings turned into an absolute thriller. Tampa Bay could not hold the lead at home as Yoenis Cespedes doubles home Craig Gentry, and the A’s take the lead in the 11th on a Cespedes sac fly. But Dan Otero gives it right back, as Evan Longoria singles leading off before two fly outs to left. A James Loney single pushes Longoria to second before Otero has a chance to put Desmond Jennings away at 0-2. But Jennings works the count full and singles home Longoria, and one batter later, Sean Rodriguez sends the fans at Tropicana Field home happy with a three-run homer.
May 24 – Yankees 4, White Sox 3 (10), US Cellular Field
A night after blowing a 5-4, ninth-inning lead at US Celluar Field, the Yankees turn the tables on the White Sox, scoring three in the ninth and one in the 10th for a 4-3 win. A one-out single by Jacoby Ellsbury leads to a two-out RBI double by Alfonso Soriano, but Ronald Belisario has a chance to finish off Yangervis Solarte and the Yankees as he gets ahead in the count 1-2. However, Solarte singles home Soriano, and after Ichiro Suzuki walks, Brian McCann bloops a single into center to score Solarte and tie the game. Ellsbury homers with two outs in the 10th to cap the comeback.
May 29 – Royals 8, Blue Jays 6 (10), Rogers Centre
The Blue Jays are a strike away from their 10th straight win when Casey Janssen jumps ahead of Alex Gordon 0-2 in a 6-5 game in the top of the ninth. But Gordon works the count full and keeps the game alive with a single, and Jarrod Dyson pinch-runs for him and steals second as Salvador Perez falls behind 1-2. Perez rolls a grounder to shortstop Jose Reyes, but Reyes’ throw short-hops first baseman Edwin Encarnacion, allowing Dyson to score. In the top of the 10th, Omar Infante drives home a pair with a single and the Royals steal an 8-6 victory in Canada.
June 19 – Indians 5, Angels 3 (10), Progressive Field
After the Angels piece together a two-out rally in the top of the 10th, capped by an Albert Pujols two-run single, to take a 3-1 lead, the Indians load the bases against Cam Bedrosian before Ernesto Frieri comes on to retire David Murphy on a fly out. Frieri has Nick Swisher 1-2, but Swisher launches a grand slam to right to give the Tribe a thrilling, 5-3 victory at Progressive Field.
June 20 – Yankees 5, Orioles 3, Yankee Stadium
The Orioles tack on an insurance run in the top of the ninth to go up 3-1 on the Yankees, but Zach Britton stumbles in the bottom half after appearing poised to lock down the save. Brett Gardner leads off with a single but Britton gets the next two hitters before going to 2-2 on Mark Teixeira. Britton ultimately walks Teixeira in front of Brian McCann, who brings home Gardner with a single to cut the deficit to 3-2. One batter later, Carlos Beltran gives the Bombers their first walk-off win of 2014 by launching a 3-1 pitch into the left field seats.
July 5 – Marlins 6, Cardinals 5, Busch Stadium
It’s deja vu for Rosenthal, again a strike away from a save when things go awry. Donovan Solano hits a one-out single but Rosenthal has a chance to end things against Casey McGehee. However, McGehee works the count full before fouling off five pitches, and on the 11th pitch of the at-bat he laces a hit into right. Jon Jay’s throw home handcuffs Yadier Molina, allowing Solano to get in just ahead of the tag as McGehee takes second on the single. Sam Freeman relieves Rosenthal and Jeff Baker greets him with an RBI single, sending the Cardinals to an eerily familiar 6-5 loss at Busch Stadium.
July 8 – Marlins 2, Diamondbacks 1, Chase Field
Addison Reed blows his fifth save of the first half of the season after a two-run homer by Marcell Ozuna. Ed Lucas walks leading off the top of the ninth, but Reed gets Giancarlo Stanton and McGehee. After falling behind Ozuna 2-0 he battles back to make it 2-2, but Ozuna drills a liner over the left-center field fence and the Marlins earn a 2-1 win.
August 22 – Mariners 5, Red Sox 3, Fenway Park
Mr. Automatic from 2013 has a massive implosion. Koji Uehara enters with the Red Sox leading the Mariners 3-0, but Seattle just won’t quit. In an inning in which Uehara throws 38 pitches and still can’t complete, 10 of those pitches could have ended the game with one more strike. But Endy Chavez works a 10-pitch walk after falling behind 1-2 with a runner at first and two outs, and Chris Denorfia falls behind 0-2 but singles two pitches later to load the bases. Uehara has a chance to put away Austin Jackson on 0-2, but Jackson laces a two-run double into the left-field corner to score two and cut Boston’s lead to 3-2. Dustin Ackley then bloops a single into left just past the outstretched glove of a flying, diving shortstop Brock Holt, and Seattle takes an improbable 4-3 lead, which becomes 5-3 when Robinson Cano rips a single into right and Ackley just keeps running and scores from first. Seattle holds on and wins its first game at Fenway Park since 2011.
September 5 – Phillies 9, Nationals 8, Nationals Park
This one cements why Rafael Soriano was pulled from the closer role. The Nats lead the Phillies at home 7-4, but Carlos Ruiz hits a two-run homer to make it 7-6 in the ninth with nobody out. Soriano gets the next two outs, however, and jumps ahead of Ben Revere 1-2. A foul and a ball later, Revere hits his second career – career – homer to tie the game at 7-7. Revere would come through again in the 11th after the Phillies had taken the lead on a fielder’s choice and an error, tacking on a key insurance run with a single that makes it 9-7. The Nats get one back in the bottom half, but Jonathan Papelbon strikes out Ian Desmond and gets Bryce Harper to line out to left with two men on to seal the 9-8 win for the Phillies.