Matt Baron: From historical to hysterical, MLB playoff stats abound

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Jay Johnstone, wearing a padded version of manager Tommy Lasorda's uniform, checks the progress of a rain delay before a National League Playoff baseball game in 1981.

    Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Jay Johnstone, wearing a padded version of manager Tommy Lasorda's uniform, checks the progress of a rain delay before a National League Playoff baseball game in 1981. AP File Photo

 
By Matt Baron
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 10/3/2020 9:19 PM

The first round of Major League Baseball playoff action has seen suspense and drama aplenty -- the kind of stuff that we pined for earlier in the year, when a season of any kind was up in the air.

Heroes and goats abound, as does good luck and bad luck, mind-numbing bases on balls (looking at you, White Sox pitching staff), and what seems to be a painfully high frequency of batters getting hit on the hand.

 

On television, there has been something else: numbers-crunching and historical trivia-sleuthing on unbridled (and sometimes unhinged) display.

For the most part, it has been a fascinating supplement to these games' ebb and flow. Not all the mathematical morsels are created equal, however. While some are historical, others are downright hysterical.

On the high end of the scale was an astonishing tidbit on the heels of San Diego Padre teammates Fernando Tatis Jr. and Wil Myers each slugging two home runs in their 11-9 comeback win on Thursday against the St. Louis Cardinals.

The revelation: the feat had occurred only once before in postseason history, by a pair of Hall of Fame teammates.

Q1. Can you name the previous duo that did it -- and, remarkably, did so on another October 1st?

(Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr, 1946; Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra, 1956; Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, 1932)

Alas, some details come from quite out of left field. Do we really care that in the history of series-deciding games, five players last in the batting order had belted home runs?

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This gem emerged because one guy, penciled in that lowest slot, went yard on Thursday. The peculiar fact accompanied his next trip to the plate.

Q2. Can you name the player who became the sixth member of this obscure fraternity?

(Sean Murphy, Oakland; Austin Riley, Atlanta; Harrison Bader, St. Louis)

Twin Trials:

As disappointing as the White Sox's flameout is to fans, how 'bout those Minnesota Twins fans?

Their 18 consecutive playoff losses, going back 16 years and seven playoff appearances, are a staggering defiance of the odds. Assuming a 50% chance of winning any given game, the odds are 262,144 to 1 against such futility.

The Twins' travails are unrivaled not only in MLB annals, but throughout professional football, hockey and basketball.

Q3. Can you identify the franchise that previously had the longest playoff losing streak of 16 games?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

(Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Blackhawks, New Jersey Nets)

Remembering Jay Johnstone

White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson capped another strong season by setting a record as the first player with nine hits in his first three playoff games. Four players had recorded eight hits over the prior three decades, starting with Cubs first baseman Mark Grace in the 1989 National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants.

But another player with a Chicago connection could have exceeded all those totals -- if only he had more opportunity. In 1976, with the Philadelphia Phillies, Jay Johnstone had seven hits in nine at bats. It started with a pinch single in the ninth inning of the first game of the National League Championship Series, followed by a pair of 3-for-4 performances.

Despite Johnstone's heroics, the Cincinnati Reds swept their way into a second straight World Series, which they likewise swept over the New York Yankees. Johnstone, who played for the White Sox (1971-1972) and Cubs (1982-1984), died September 26, of COVID-19 complications, at the age of 74.

In 1991, my wife and I were part of a crew that supported Johnstone's effort to create a baseball documentary. Though the film never came to fruition, the fun-loving Johnstone was at the center of plenty of memories as we shot footage at former Cubs catcher Randy Hundley's fantasy baseball camp at the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa.

Rest in peace, Jay!

Q4. Renowned for his hijinks, Johnstone was also a quality player, with 102 home runs among his 1,254 regular-season hits. His 1981 World Series home run for the Los Angeles Dodgers was pivotal in their championship comeback against one of Johnstone's former teams, the New York Yankees.

In his 20-year career, for how many teams did Johnstone play?

(Five, Six, Eight)

Answers:

1. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, 1932 -- Ruth's "called shot" game against the Cubs; 2. Sean Murphy; 3. Chicago Blackhawks, 1975-1980; 4. Eight

• Matt Baron supplements his baseball brainpower with Retrosheet.org for research.

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