It’s the moment that every youngster on the baseball diamond dreams about; bases loaded, two men out, your team trailing, and hitting a home run to win the game.
Most folks can only imagine that feels like, but Gregg Zaun lived it. For this week’s Flashback Friday, we take a look back at Gregg Zaun’s walk-off grand slam against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The date was September 6th, 2008; the Blue Jays were in the midst of a 6-game winning streak, and the Tampa Bay Rays were in a pennant race holding a 2.5 game lead over the Boston Red Sox.
Even though the Blue Jays were out of the race, pride was still on the line as Toronto was hoping to keep momentum in their favour as they looked to extend their late-season win streak to seven games.
The game appeared to be in the bag as Cito Gaston handed the ball to his closer B.J. Ryan with a relatively comfortable three-run lead going into the top of the ninth. Ryan lead off the inning by walking Carlos Pena, and then giving up a two-run home run to Rocco Baldelli.
Clinging to a one-run lead, the worst was still not over for Ryan. He was a veritable house of cards on it’s way crashing to the ground; B.J. then walked the next batter, who stole second, and then a ground ball through the infield scored the tying run.
The game went into extras and remained tied until Dioner Navarro broke through with an RBI single in the top of the 13th. Now with the lead in hand, the Tampa Bay Rays called upon their recently activated closer; Troy Percival.
It would be up to the heart of the Blue Jays order to come back and either tie the game or end it with a walk-off. The Blue Jays put themselves in an excellent position to win with back to back singles from Vernon Wells and Brad Wilkerson.
With two out, Scott Rolen drew a four-pitch walk which loaded the bases for the most unlikeliest of heroes; Gregg Zaun. Over the course of his career, Gregg was never known for hitting home runs, but this one would cement Zaun with the most memorable moment of his Blue Jays career.
Gregg Zaun proceeded to get a hold of an inside fastball from Troy Percival and golfed it out of the box for a grand slam that just barely cleared the right field fence. Here’s what Zaun had to say about the pitch:
“It just eked over, it was perfect placement. If I hit it anywhere else, it’s a game-ending fly ball, but I got it far enough down the line, and it was a big moment. A lot of fun.”
Zaun made Blue Jays history that day as he hit just the second walk-off grand slam in franchise history, and the first to be hit in extra innings by a Blue Jay.
My own personal anecdote of this moment is somewhat embarrassing in the fact that I missed Zaun’s walk-off grand slam entirely. I had just arrived to my friend’s place and at that point it was the bottom of the 13th. I shelled myself up in my car to get an update on the score, and then proceeded inside.
With two men out and the bases loaded, I thought I had enough time to run from the car to get inside my friend’s house to see the conclusion, but I was too late. When my friend told me that Zaun had just hit a walk-off grand slam, I didn’t even believe him at first.
So I ran downstairs, turned on the TV, and sure enough there were the replays of the grand slam. In the time it took me to get out the car, say a couple of pleasantries and bolt it to the closest television, Gregg Zaun had already rounded the bases and was celebrating in the Blue Jays clubhouse.
It’s a moment that I’ll always remember because Gregg Zaun was not your typical home run hitter. His reputation was more so as a great defensive catcher whose trademark was his ability to get on base.
To see the joy and excitement on Gregg Zaun’s face was amazing. That home run was the culmination of years in the minors, grinding through the major leagues, and it must have been incredible to have that one moment every kid dreams of; to hit a walk-off home run at home.
In the grand scheme of things, Zaun’s grand slam wasn’t the most prolific in Blue Jays franchise history. However, what that home run was give hope to baseball players everywhere … that one day, they too could have a superstar moment just like Gregg Zaun.