In baseball, a walk-off home run is a home run that ends the game. It must be a home run that gives the home team the lead in the bottom of the 9th inning or the bottom of any extra inning. It is called a "walk-off" home run after because since the teams walk off the field immediately afterward. Sportscasters will also use the term "walk-off double" or other such terms if such a hit drives in the winning run to end the game. Although the concept is as old as baseball, the term itself has come into use only in the last several decades.
Walk-off home runs are uncommon enough to be dramatic when they occur, especially during the post-season. The subject of the most famous walk-off home run in the history of the Major Leagues is one that creates a lot of argument: some argue for Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard Round the World" that gave the New York Giants an NL pennant-clinching victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951; others say it was the home run hit by Bill Mazeroski of the Pittsburgh Pirates, clinching the 1960 World Series against the New York Yankees. Other notable post-season walk-off home runs include the one hit by Chris Chambliss of the New York Yankees in 1976 that clinched the American League pennant.
There have been only 13 walk-off home-runs in the history of the World Series, two of which have won the World Series. They include:
- 1960 - Bill Mazeroski of the Pittsburgh Pirates becomes the first person to win the World Series with a walk-off home run, defeating the New York Yankees. The section of the outfield wall in Forbes Field in Pittsburgh where the ball crossed to become a home run has been preserved after demolition of the rest of the field.
- 1988, Game 1 - In one of the most enduring moments in the history of televised baseball, an injured and hobbling Kirk Gibson of the Los Angeles Dodgers comes off the bench to hit a walk-off home run against the Oakland Athletics. The Dodgers, heavy underdogs, go on to take the series in five games.
- 1991, Game 6 - Minnesota Twins star Kirby Puckett, who had made a game-saving defensive play earlier in this game, hits a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning against the Atlanta Braves to tie the Series. The Twins win Game 7 and the Series the following night.
- 1993, Game 6 - Joe Carter of the Toronto Blue Jays becomes the second person to win the World Series with a walk-off home run, against the Philadelphia Phillies. This was the first come-from-behind homer to end a World Series; Mazeroski's blast came with the score tied.
- 2001, Game 4 - In the first-ever World Series at-bat by any player in the month of November (just after midnight on November 1), Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees hits a walk-off home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks (the series had been delayed because of the September 11, 2001 attacks). However, the Diamondbacks go on to win the series in 7 games.
A technicality of the walk-off home run is that the game is not officially over until the winning run crosses home plate (in the case of a solo walk-off home run, the batter must round all the bases). This fact almost caused a serious problem in the 1976 American League Championship when jubilant fans running onto the field at Yankee Stadium nearly prevented Chris Chambliss from rounding the bases (the Yankees had not won the pennant in 12 years). Chambliss had to negotiate a sea of fans in order to place his foot on home plate.
Another example is Robin Ventura's "grand slam single" in the 1999 National League Championship Series. In the bottom of the 15th inning, the New York Mets tied the score against the Atlanta Braves at 3-3. Ventura came to bat with the bases loaded, and hit a walk-off grand slam to deep right. Roger Cedeno scored from third and John Olerud scored from second, but Todd Pratt, on first when Ventura hit the home run, went to second, then turned around and hugged Ventura, as the rest of the team piled onto the field. The official ruling was that since Ventura never rounded the bases, it was not a home run, and thus only Cedeno's run counted, making the official final score 4-3. Ventura was not credited with a home run, but a game-ending single.