There are few more exciting plays in baseball than a walk-off home run, and the Atlanta Braves have had their share over the years.
One Braves player to accomplish the feat was catcher Biff Pocoroba, who spent his entire 10-year major-league career (1975-84) with Atlanta. Pocoroba, who died last week at age 66, was an All-Star in 1978 and a member of the Braves’ 1982 National League West championship club.
Pocoroba — whose given name was Biff, incidentally — hit only 21 home runs during his decade-long career, but two of them were of the walk-off variety. On May 17, 1977, Pocoroba hit a pinch-hit grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning to give Atlanta a 9-6 victory over the Montreal Expos at Fulton County Stadium.
On May 14, 1982 — nearly five years later to the day — Pocoroba turned the trick again with a ninth-inning solo shot for a 2-1 victory over the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. The Braves went on to win the NL West by a single game, so suffice it to say that Pocoroba’s blast was a key moment in the season.
In honor of Pocoroba, here are 12 other memorable walk-off homers in Atlanta Braves history (in chronological order):
1. Tommie Aaron, July 20, 1970: Hank’s younger brother hit only 13 home runs in his career, and the final one was especially memorable. Tommie Aaron had replaced the injured Rico Carty in the middle of this game vs. the Chicago Cubs, which was tied 1-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth. Cubs pitcher Ken Holtzman walked Hank Aaron on four pitches, then Tommie hit his next offering over the fence in left-center field to score along with his big brother in a 3-1 Atlanta victory. The Braves finished a distant fifth in the NL West that season, but Tommie Aaron’s home run heroics provided one of the season’s highlights. (Tommie Aaron had another walk-off homer in his career, a grand slam to beat the Philadelphia Phillies 7-3 on Aug. 4, 1962. But that blast came in Milwaukee, a little before the era we typically cover at Talking Chop.)
2. Bob Watson, Aug. 13, 1983: The Braves were again battling the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL West crown, and held a 5 ½ game lead in the division heading into this Saturday night affair at Fulton County Stadium. The Dodgers jumped on top 7-6 on Greg Brock’s two-out, two-strike, solo homer in the top of the ninth, but Rafael Ramirez led off the bottom of the inning with a single for Atlanta. That brought up the veteran Watson (who also passed away earlier this month) to pinch hit for Claudell Washington. Watson lined a 1-0 pitch from Dodgers closer Steve Howe out to left-center for an 8-7 Atlanta win. (The good times wouldn’t last, however, as star third baseman Bob Horner broke his wrist two days later and the Braves faded down the stretch to finish second).
3. Terry Pendleton, Aug. 4, 1992: The Braves held a half-game lead over the Cincinnati Reds as the National League’s last two pennant winners began a three-game series on a Tuesday night at Fulton County Stadium. The Reds jumped out to a 5-2 lead after six, but Atlanta tied it with three runs in the bottom of the eight against Cincinnati reliever Norm Charlton. Marvin Freeman got the Reds 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth, but Charlton also retired the first two Braves hitters in the bottom of the inning. Otis Nixon then drew a four-pitch walk, and stole second with 1991 NL MVP Terry Pendleton at the plate. Charlton’s 2-1 forkball did not dip low enough, and Pendleton deposited it in the seats just above the Hank Aaron 715 marker in left field for a 7-5 victory. The Braves went on to sweep the series and won the division by eight games.
4. Ron Gant, Sept. 15, 1993: Gant had an incredible September for a Braves team that won 104 games and the took the NL West crown by a single game over the San Francisco Giants. But no moment was bigger than his walk-off homer against the Reds on a Wednesday night in mid-September. Cincinnati scored three runs in the seventh to take a 6-2 lead that stood until the bottom of the ninth. With one out, Ryan Klesko took Reds reliever Johnny Ruffin deep to make it 6-4 and bring on former Brave Jeff Reardon. After Otis Nixon doubled and Jeff Blauser singled, Cincinnati manager Dave Johnson reluctantly signaled for closer Rob Dibble, who had already blown eight saves that season. Dibble threw only one pitch, which Gant lined off the top of the left field wall for a 7-6 victory and one of the iconic moments of the Braves’ 1990s era.
5. Dwight Smith, May 19, 1995: The Florida Marlins were a terrible team in 1995 and the eventual World Series champion Braves won the NL East in a walk, but the circumstances of Smith’s homer earn it a spot on this list. Not only was it a walk-off homer, but it was a pinch-hit, walk-off homer. Not only was it a pinch-hit walk-off homer, but it was a pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam. Not only was it a pinch-hit walk-off grand slam, but it was a pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam in a game that was scoreless to that point. After Steve Avery retired the Marlins in the top of the ninth, Jeff Blauser doubled to lead off the bottom of the inning. Rookie Chipper Jones bunted (!) Blauser to third, and Marlins manager Rene Lachemann elected to have Fred McGriff and David Justice intentionally walked to load the bases. Richie Martin, the third pitcher of the inning, then struck out Jose Oliva for the second out. However, he left a 3-1 fastball up for Smith, who slammed it into the right-center field bleachers to end a 4-0 victory. (Incidentally, Jones hit his own walk-off homer vs. Florida closer Robb Nen the following night, for an 8-7 Braves win).
6. Brian Jordan, Sept. 29, 2001: The country was still recovering for the horrors of 9/11 and the Braves held a slim one-game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East with one week left in the 2001 regular season. They doubled their margin in the division on the strength of a seven-run ninth inning vs. the New York Mets on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Turner Field. Atlanta trailed 5-1 when they began their comeback vs. Mets reliever Armando Benitez, pulling within one run on Javy Lopez’s RBI single and Marcus Giles’ two-run double. Benitez then intentionally walked Julio Franco before exiting the game in favor of veteran lefty John Franco (no relation to Julio). Wes Helms worked a walk to load the bases, then Jordan jumped all over an 0-2 hanger and ripped it over the 380 sign in left-center for an 8-5 Braves win. Atlanta won the division by two games over Philadelphia, then swept Houston in a Division Series before losing to eventual World Series champion Arizona in five games in the NLCS.
7. Rafael Furcal, Oct. 7, 2004: The lone walk-off homer in Braves postseason history is less remembered because Atlanta lost the series in five games, but Furcal’s shot vs. the Houston Astros deserves a spot on any list of this kind. It came in the 11th inning of Game 2, after the Astros had won the opener at Turner Field 9-3 behind Roger Clemens. The following night, Houston took a 2-0 lead on homers by Jeff Bagwell and Raul Chavez against Mike Hampton. Atlanta clawed back, however, reaching Roy Oswalt for Furcal’s RBI single in the seventh and Brad Lidge for Adam LaRoche’s game-tying double in the eighth. John Smoltz (then the Braves’ closer) and Antonio Alfonseca held the Astros off the board through the top of the 11th, allowing the Braves to win it in the bottom of the inning against Dan Miceli. Charles Thomas singled with one out, then stole second with two outs after pinch-hitter Eli Marrero was retired on a foul pop-up. After Thomas’ steal, Furcal ripped a 1-2 breaking ball deep into the right field bleachers for a 4-2 win and arguably the most memorable postseason moment in Turner Field history.
8. Jeff Francoeur, May 13, 2006: The Braves began a nearly half-decade slide into mediocrity in 2006, but no one really knew that in mid-May of that season. The “Baby Braves” were all the rage, and the most-celebrated of that group had one of the shining moments of his career on a Saturday night at Turner Field against the Washington Nationals. A two-run homer by Alfonso Soriano in the sixth put the Nationals up 5-3, a score that stood until the bottom of the ninth. Brian McCann — Francoeur’s close friend and roommate at the time — greeted Washington closer Chad Cordero with a solo shot that pulled Atlanta within a run, then singles by Ryan Langerhans, Marcus Giles and Chipper Jones loaded the bases with one out. All appeared lost when Andruw Jones struck out looking for the second out, but Francoeur stepped forward and roped a 1-0 breaking ball into the left-field stands for an 8-5 Braves victory. (Apologies because the quality on the accompanying video is not great).
9. Brooks Conrad, May 20, 2010: There have been some crazy, unlikely moments in Atlanta Braves history, but Conrad’s pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam against the Cincinnati Reds 10 years ago probably ranks near the top. Conrad’s blast capped a seven-run ninth inning, in a game the Braves trailed 8-0 after two innings. Conrad was only used in that situation because the Braves had double-switched Chipper Jones out of the game in the top of the ninth, when Craig Kimbrel came on to pitch with Atlanta down 9-3. After Kimbrel escaped a jam with a double play and a strikeout, the Braves began their rally in the bottom of the ninth against Reds reliever Mike Lincoln. Four consecutive singles (the third of which could have been a double play if played cleanly by Reds shortstop Orlando Cabrera) plated two runs and made it a 9-5 game, with Nick Masset replacing Lincoln. Masset walked David Ross, then Reds third baseman Miguel Cairo booted a potential double-play grounder off the bat of Martin Prado, allowing another run to score. Arthur Rhodes came on and struck out Jason Heyward for the second out. Reds closer Francisco Cordero then entered the game to face Conrad, who was pinch-hitting for Kimbrel. With a 2-2 count, the switch-hitting Conrad lifted a long fly ball to the opposite field. Cincinnati left fielder Laynce Nix arrived at the wall at the same time as the ball and got his glove on it, but couldn’t hang on and it fell over the wall for the game-winner in a 10-9 victory. The Braves went on to secure a wild-card berth in the final season under manager Bobby Cox (Conrad also figured heavily in Atlanta’s NLDS loss to San Francisco, but we’ll leave that discussion for another time.)
10. Chipper Jones, Sept. 2, 2012: Jones had nine walk-off homers in 19 seasons as a Brave, but this one on a Sunday evening at Turner Field not only capped another amazing Atlanta comeback, but also a Hall-of-Fame career. Atlanta starter Paul Maholm didn’t make it out of the third inning against the Philadelphia Phillies, allowing seven runs to put the Braves in a 7-1 hole. The Braves got two runs back on Reed Johnson’s double in the sixth, but trailed 7-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth. With one out, Johnson singled off Jeremy Horst, then Paul Janish walked. That brought on Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, who promptly struck out pinch-hitter Lyle Overbay for the second out. Michael Bourn worked a walk to load the bases, then Martin Prado slapped a hard grounder toward Kevin Frandsen at third base. The ball went off Frandsen’s glove, allowing Johnson and Janish to score and sending Bourn to third and Prado to second. With Freddie Freeman on deck, the Phillies elected to pitch to Jones, who had already announced that the 2012 season would be his last. With a 1-1 count, Jones unloaded on Papelbon’s four-seam fastball and hit it over the right-center field wall for the last of his 468 career homers and an 8-7 Braves victory. It was the second walk-off homer against the Phillies that season for Jones, who also took Brian Sanches deep with a two-run shot in the bottom of the 11th inning for a wild 15-13 victory on May 2. (In that game, Jones narrowly missed a homer earlier in the same at-bat, but the ball hooked foul.) The 2012 Braves earned a wild-card berth, but lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the infamous “infield fly” game, which wound up being the last of Jones’ career.
11. Freddie Freeman, Sept. 25, 2012: A year after a stunning late-season collapse kept the Braves out of the postseason, Freeman’s walk-off homer against the Miami Marlins at Turner Field sent Atlanta back to the playoffs. Donovan Solano homered twice off Braves starter Kris Melden, the second a two-run shot in the seventh that gave the Marlins a 3-2 lead. Former Braves left-hander Mike Dunn took the mound for Miami in the bottom of the ninth, and promptly surrendered Chipper Jones’ double to the right-center field gap. Jones took third on a wild pitch with Freeman at the plate. The Braves first baseman then turned around a 95-mph fastball from Dunn and sent it over the center-field fence for a 4-3 victory that clinched a playoff spot with less than two weeks remaining in the season. It amounted to a passing of the torch from the 40-year-old Jones — who had already announced his retirement at season’s end — to the 23-year-old Freeman, who soon became the face of the franchise. As with many Braves seasons in recent years, the postseason failure against the Cardinals ended up tarnishing what was a memorable 2012 stretch run.
12. Nick Markakis, March 29, 2018: The second season at SunTrust (now Truist) Park and the first of two straight (and counting) NL East title runs got underway in memorable fashion, as the Braves and Markakis walked it off against the Philadelphia Philles in the 2018 opener. The Phillies took a 5-0 lead in the top of the sixth against Braves pitchers Julio Teheran and Rex Brothers, but a two-run homer by Freddie Freeman off Philadelphia reliever Hoby Milner in the bottom of the inning made it 5-2. Atlanta tied it in the eighth, a rally that included a solo homer by Ozzie Albies, a passed ball with a man on third and Preston Tucker’s RBI single. Braves closer Arodys Vizcaino struck out the side in the top of the ninth, setting the stage for the walk-off win against Phillies reliever Hector Neris. Charlie Culberson beat out a slow roller for an infield hit, then took second on Ender Inciarte’s bunt. Albies flew out for the second out, then Freeman was intentionally walked. That brought up Markakis, who sent a hanging slider from Neris out to right-center field for an 8-5 Braves win. Atlanta won 90 games and its first division title in five years that season before losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in four games in the NLDS.
So that’s one man’s list? What’s on yours?
Darryl Palmer is a contributing writer for Talking Chop. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. No, that’s not his real name.
Sources: Newspapers.com; Baseball-Reference.com; ESPN.com; YouTube