When Canadian slugger Matt Stairs was signed by the Detroit Tigers in September 2006, he discovered three beer cans and a fluorescent green softball in his locker when he arrived at Comerica Park. The gifts were a light-hearted welcome from his new teammates and another jab at his “beer-league” physique and swing.
“Everyone throughout my career has said I would be a perfect softball player with the low hands, upper-cut swing and, I guess, being short and stocky,” Stairs told me in a 2007 interview.
But his 5-foot-9, 215-pound frame and distinctive hitting style have served the New Brunswick native well. Last Saturday, Stairs belted his 21st career pinch-hit home run to break Cliff Johnson’s major league record. The ball he hit off of Brewers reliever Kameron Loe for his record-setting round-tripper fortuitously ricocheted back onto the field, and Stairs was able to retrieve it. The Canuck slugger has since hinted that that ball will likely end up in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ontario.
It’s not often that a Canadian sets a big league record, so I decided to study all 21 of Stairs’ pinch-hit homers to see if I could uncover any trends. Here’s what I discovered:
If you count his most famous long ball, Stairs has 22 career pinch-hit homers. On October 13, 2008, he belted a pinch-hit, game-winning homer in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series off of Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton in the top of the eighth inning. The two-run homer shifted the momentum in the series to the Phillies and was arguably the key hit in the club’s charge to their second World Series title.
All of Stairs’ pinch-hit homers have come off right-handed pitchers.
Of his 21 pinch-hit blasts, 11 have been solo shots, seven two-run homers, one three-run tater and two grand slams.
Huston Street and Matt Capps have allowed two pinch-hit homers each to Stairs. They are the only two pitchers he has victimized more than once.
Stairs’ first career pinch-hit homer came off of Tigers right-hander Mike Christopher on April 5, 1996. A member of the A’s at the time, Stairs slugged a three-run homer off the Tigers reliever in the bottom of the eighth at the Oakland Coliseum.
He has hit two pinch-hit grand slams. The first was hit on June 24, 1998 off of Giants right-hander Steve Reed in the top of the eighth inning. His second was belted off of Nationals hurler Zack Segovia in the top of the ninth on September 9, 2010.
The only Canadian pitcher to surrender a pinch-hit homer to Stairs was Ryan Dempster. Playing for Milwaukee, Stairs hit a two-run homer off Dempster, then with the Reds, in the top of eighth on August 30, 2002 in Cincinnati.
Stairs never hit a pinch-hit home run as a Montreal Expo, but he did sock two during his tenure with the Toronto Blue Jays. On May 18, 2007, he slugged a pinch-hit homer off of Phillies righty Jon Lieber in the top of the eighth inning in Philadelphia. His second came on August 29, 2007 off of Huston Street in the top of the ninth in Oakland.
While with the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 12, 2003, the New Brunswick-born slugger also hammered a pinch-hit homer off of Jays reliever Cliff Politte in the top of the ninth inning at the Rogers Centre.