Before he became a mainstay as a coach in the A’s organization, Craig Lefferts hit one of the weirdest home runs of the past half-century.
“It was a shock to everyone,” Lefferts said, “including me.”
It gets more surprising with each passing year: Lefferts remains the last pitcher to hit a walk-off home run, and he did it more than 30 years ago, on April 25, 1986.
Hitting only because the Padres were out of pitchers in extra innings, the left-handed reliever made his way toward the bat rack and searched for any knob marked “No. 19.” He knew those bats belonged to Tony Gwynn, which, at 33 inches, 31 ounces, were light enough for Lefferts to swing.
Lefferts then stepped to the plate against Giants reliever Greg Minton, a sinkerballer who specialized in keeping the ball in the park. Lefferts fell behind 0-and-2 in the count and then hammered a curveball into the seats, just over the outstretched glove of Chili Davis.
The 12th inning blast gave San Diego a 9-8 victory at Jack Murphy Stadium.
And that, folks, is the last time a pitcher hit a walk-off home run. In fact, Lefferts remains the only pitcher to turn that trick over the past 47 years.
“I remember it was like it was yesterday,” said Lefferts, 59, now the A’s minor league pitching rehab coordinator. “Actually, when I got to the ballpark that day I had the flu. I had 102-degree fever and I was not supposed to play.
“I was on the trainer’s table for the first six innings of the game. And then we ran out of pitchers, so I had to go put my spikes on and run down to the bullpen.”
Before Lefferts, no pitcher had hit a walk-off home run since Jim Hardin of the Baltimore Orioles hit one against Moe Drabowsky of the Kansas City Royals on May 10, 1969.
Did Lefferts savor the only home run of his 12-year career? Hardly. The man who had a distinctive ritual of sprinting from the bullpen to the mound when he pitched did the same thing during his trip around the bases.
A trot this was not.
“You know how after a walk-off home run, everybody is there at home plate?” Lefferts recalled. “I got to home plate and nobody was there yet.”
Lefferts is still on the go — albeit several steps slower these days.
He is in his 16th season in the A’s organization but remains best known in the Bay Area as a mainstay of the Giants bullpen in the late 1980s.
Lefferts was a late-inning weapon for manager Roger Craig, who used the left-hander often and extensively. This was back in the days when it was common for relievers to pitch multiple innings. When the Giants won the pennant in 1989, for example, Lefferts appeared in 70 games and totaled 107 innings.
“I don’t think my role exists in the game today,” Lefferts said. “My arm was kind of like a rubber band. And because I didn’t throw hard, I didn’t lose a lot from day to day. If I threw three days in a row, I could pitch that fourth day.”