The Long Walk Home

On this day in 1989, Pirates play-by-play man Jim Rooker wrote a check in the bottom of the first inning of a Pirates/Phillies game at Veterans Stadium that he never thought he’d have to cash.  Obviously, the old sports adage that “anything can happen” wasn’t on his mind.

Before Rooker made his now famous quip, the Pirates had 16 batters come to the plate in the top of the first inning which looked more like batting practice than anything else.  Phils starter Larry McWilliams was chased after giving up 4 hits and 6 earned runs while registering just one out.  All in all, the Pirates exploded for 8 hits in the top half of the first frame, after which they boasted a 10-0 lead.

And that’s when Jim Rooker opened his mouth:

If we don’t win this one, I don’t think I’d want to be on that plane ride home.  Matter of fact, if we don’t win, I’ll walk back to Pittsburgh.

Whoops.

It didn’t take long for the Phillies to get on the board.  After a Randy Ready leadoff double in the bottom of the first, Von Hayes blasted a home run.  Then, in the bottom of the third, Hayes cut the lead to 10-4 with another 2 run home run.  In the next inning, a Steve Jeltz (yes, Steve Jeltz,) 2 run bomb made it 10-6.  The Pirates added a run in the 5th, but Jeltz homered again in a 4-run 6th (Jeltz hit two of his five career Home Runs in this game!).  In the bottom of the 8th, with the Pirates leading 11-10, John Kruk scored the tying run on a wild pitch.  Darren Daulton followed that up with a go-ahead 2 run single and Curt Ford added two more runs with an RBI triple.  The Pirates went scoreless in the top of the 9th and the Phillies won by a final score of 15-11.

The next day, Three Rivers Stadium was flooded with calls asking whether Rooker followed through on his promise.  After realizing people weren’t going to let him live it down, Rooker agreed to do it.  After the ’89 season, Rooker strolled the 308 miles from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh over the course of 13 days, raising $81,000 for charity in the process.

Just 10 days after the June 8th Phillies game, the Pirates were up 10-0 in St. Louis.  Larry Fratare, the Pirates other announcer, laughingly asked Rooker “And if we lose this game?”  Rooker’s reply: “Yes, if we lose this game…our road record will be 11-23.”  At least he learned his lesson.

Sidenote: Steve Jeltz’s first home run in the 4th inning was hit lefthanded off Pirates right-hander Bob Walk.  His second came righthanded off the lefty reliever Bob Kipper.  Jeltz became the first player in the Phillies 107-year history to hit a home run from both sides of the plate in the same game.  Tomas Perez (2001) and Jimmy Rollins (2006) are the only other Phillies to do the same.  Of note, the first player in major league history to accomplish this feat was Wally Schang of the Philadelphia Athletics, who did so in 1916.

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4 Comments on “The Long Walk Home”

  1. Andy says:

    I was at the Tomas Perez “Mickey Mantle game.” There weren’t a whole lot of other people there.

    • Lalli says:

      “Mickey Mantle game” sounds a hell of a lot better than “Nick Swisher game;” but if Swisher does it in one more game he’ll have the most in baseball history.

  2. Todd says:

    Here are my three favorite things about this game.

    #1) Steve Jeltz didn’t even start the game. Tommy Herr did and then Nick Leyva pulled Herr and put in Jeltz after the first inning.

    #2) Jeltz hit five HRs in his entire career. That’s it. Five career homers and somehow he hit two in one game from opposite sides of the plate to spark an improbable comeback from 10-0 down.

    #3) According to baseball-reference.com, the Pirates win probability was 99% when third baseman Jeff King stepped into the box to face Steve Ontiveros with two outs in the top of the 1st and the Pirates already up 10-0.

  3. Mary Campbell says:

    One more interesting fact. A few years later, Jim Rooker was replaced in the broadcast booth by Bob Walk.


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