Like many Yankees fans my age, or slightly older, I grew up idolizing Don Mattingly. He was the Yankee when I was a kid and if you had a poster on your wall it was probably one of him. It broke my heart when he retired before he could win a World Series and ever since then I’ve always wanted him to manage the team to a championship (until then I will be forced to root silently for him in another uniform).
Seeing him during the doubleheader on Wednesday was fun except rooting for him while he’s playing against the Yankees is really no fun. And being that it was just two games on one day it wasn’t even like he was around for a while. So I thought I would make things a bit more interesting with a look back at his 10 best games in Pinstripes.
10. Game winning homer: September 15, 1986 – 2-for-3, 2 R, 3 RBI, BB, 2B, HR (5-3 win vs Baltimore): Mattingly came to the plate in the seventh inning trailing 3-2, but put the Yankees ahead for good with a three-run shot.
9. A walk-off: September 21, 1989 - 3-for-5, 2 R, 2 RBI, HR (5-4 win vs Milwaukee): During an already productive game, Mattingly hit a walk-off home run off Dan Plesac to beat the Brewers 4-3 in 10 innings.
8. Not quite a walk-off: August 8, 1993 – 3-for-4, 2 R, 2B, HR, 4 RBI (8-6 win at Minnesota): Trailing 1-0, Mattingly’s sixth inning double gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Then in the 10th inning, with the game tied at 6-6, Mattingly hit a two-run home run that would win the game.
7. Another walk-off: May 13, 1985 - 2-for-4, 2 R, 4 RBI, 2B, HR, Sac Fly (9-8 win vs Milwaukee): Trailing 8-1, Mattingly starts an amazing comeback with a sac fly in the sixth inning that made it 8-2. Then in the bottom of the ninth inning, trailing by two runs, Mattingly hits a three-run walk-off home run off Ron Davis.
6. Wild Card clinching game: October 1, 1995 – 2-for-4, 1 R, 1 RBI, BB (6-1 win vs Toronto): Being a Yankee is all about postseason success so to me it’s only natural that one of Mattingly’s best moments in Pinstripes was helping them to clinch the 1995 Wild Card on the final day of the season. Mattingly’s hits weren’t pivotal moments in the game, but it was clear that he wasn’t going to be the person who kept them from his only chance at playoff baseball.
5. Winning the batting title: September 30, 1984 – 4-for-5, 2 2B, 1 RBI (9-2 win vs Detroit): Mattingly and teammate Dave Winfield were in a battle for the batting title down to the very last day of the season in 1984 when Donnie went 4-for-5 on the final day to finish three points ahead of Winfield with a .343 average.
4. Grand slam record: September 29, 1987 - 2-for-5, 1 R, 4 RBI, HR (6-0 win vs Boston): Donnie never hit another grand slam before or after 1987, but for one year he was outstanding when he came up with the bases loaded and set the record for most slams in one season. For his record breaking shot, he broke open a 0-0 game in the third inning as the Yankees went on to an easy victory.
3. Homers in 8 consecutive games: July 8-18, 1987 – 17-for-37, 11 R, 2 2B, 10 HR, 21 RBI, 2 BB, .459/.487/1.324: This was in the prime of his career when it looked like Mattingly was just starting a Hall of Fame career. Not only did he tie the record of home runs in eight consecutive days, but he hit 10 home runs in that span. He was a beast (Mattingly tied Dale Long and Ken Griffey Jr. would eventually tie him too).
2. 1985 MVP Award: His best season was probably in 1986, not 1985, but winning that MVP award is a nice cherry. Both years were amazing and in ’85 he hit .324/.371/.567 with 48 doubles, 34 home runs and 145 RBI’s. I’m not a big RBI guy, but it must have been fun watching The Hit Man drive in Ricky Henderson so often (Donnie drove him in 56 times).
1. 1995 ALDS: October 3-8, 1995 – 10-for-24, 3 R, 4 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 1 BB, .417/.440/.708 (3-2 ALDS Loss to Seattle): Perhaps it’s because I was too young to remember the MVP season, but to me Donnie Baseball’s best moment in Pinstripes came at the same time all the Yankees best moments usually occur — in the playoffs. His only time in the playoffs was during the 1995 ALDS and he was amazing. It’s really a shame they lost that series, but I will still remember it fondly for the way Mattingly played.
** “I still like him better than Steinbrenner” – Mattingly’s appearance on The Simpsons would certainly have been on this list, but unfortunately it wasn’t in Pinstripes so it doesn’t qualify.
Photo credit: (Photo by Jerry Wachter /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images).