Conor Gillaspie, meet Terry Pendleton. And Mike Scioscia, Derek Jeter, Yadier Molina and Alex Gordon.
The deciding hit in the Wild Card Game Wednesday night was a once-in-a-lifetime shot for the Giants’ backup third baseman, but it was another in a painful string for the Mets and their fans. He was only the latest to break the Mets’ hearts and ruin a season with a home run.
Gillaspie joins a list that includes at least one future Hall of Famer and other solid, regular players. He is a bit of an outlier, considering he was the No. 8 batter who started the one-game “series” only because Eduardo Nunez was injured. Still, the three-run shot to rightfield in the ninth inning Wednesday produced the only runs in a taut, electric game and hit the opponent just as hard as the other notable homers did.
Pendleton crushed the Mets’ hopes of building on their 1986 championship when he hit a shot to centerfield on Sept. 11, 1987. Having overcome an uneven start and some rough months, the Mets had rallied and were set to move within a half-game of the first-place Cardinals. They were one out away from making that happen when Pendleton tied the score with a homer in the top of the ninth against Roger McDowell. The Cardinals won in the 10th, and the Mets never really did recover.
Scioscia, more of a contact hitter than a power threat, jarred Dwight Gooden the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 1988 National League Championship Series against the Dodgers. The Mets led 4-2 in the game and were on the verge of going up 3-1 in the series, with their ace on the Shea Stadium mound. But Scioscia followed a walk with a tying homer to right. Kirk Gibson later won it with another home run.
The home run by Jeter was not as decisive, given that it did not occur during the climactic game of the 2000 World Series. Still, it was pivotal and disheartening, coming off Bobby Jones’ first pitch of Game 4, snuffing out whatever momentum the Mets might have carried from having won Game 3 at Shea. The Yankees put it away the next night, after Jeter tied the game with a homer in the sixth inning.
Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series seemed headed in the Mets’ direction when Endy Chavez leaped above the leftfield fence at Shea to steal a home run from the Cardinals’ Scott Rolen in the sixth inning. But Molina’s blast in the ninth against Aaron Heilman was too high for Chavez to stop, and the Cardinals, enduring a scare in the bottom of the ninth, went on to the World Series.
Who knows how the 2015 World Series would have gone had the Mets held on to win Game 1? Unlike all of the other home runs on the list, this one occurred on the road. The Mets led the Royals, 4-3, with one out in the ninth when Gordon knocked a pitch from Jeurys Familia over the centerfield fence. The Royals won in the 14th inning and wrapped up the Series in five games.
Gillaspie picked up on the theme with his home run against Familia. He was more than an unlikely slugger. He was an unlikely Giant. The club signed him to a minor-league contract in spring training after the Angels released him. If nothing else, the Giants knew him because they had drafted him in 2008 and figured he could provide depth.
There was talk about sending him down to the minors during the season, but the team knew he was out of options and might have lost him on waivers. General manager Bobby Evans told the San Francisco Chronicle late Wednesday night that infield coach Ron Wotus repeatedly lobbied to keep Gillaspie on the roster.
Manager Bruce Bochy said, after the game, “It’s been, I guess, a little bit of a tough road for him. Starts out in the minor leagues and works his way back up here. Here we lose Nunez and we needed help there and he has done more than that. Not just with the bat, but defensively.”
Gillaspie said, “To be able to come into a situation like this and just barrel the ball…Yeah, it went out of the park, but to be able to just come in and have your team behind you and have staff believe in you when somebody goes down, I can’t thank this organization enough. Because there’s plenty of other guys that could go out there and play, and the reality is they chose me and gave me the opportunity. I’ll be forever grateful for this.
“You know, I’d be lying to you if I said I had words to describe that moment,” he said during his news conference. “‘Absolutely incredible,’ I guess is the best I can do. You know, as a kid, and as a player at this level, you look forward to just getting a hit in the postseason to help your team. Wow, I mean, I’m a lucky guy.”
Bochy said, “What he did tonight, he’ll never forget that, nor will I or this whole club.”
It will stay in the Mets’ minds, too.