*Today is the 28th anniversary of Matt Stairs’ MLB debut. On that day in 1992, he pinch hit for Montreal Expos left-hander Jeff Fassero in the 10th inning in the Expos’ 3-2 loss to the Reds at Riverfront Stadium. He struck out in that at bat, but he would later hit a MLB record 23 pinch-hit home runs. I thought today would be a good day to revisit those 23 home runs.
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
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 served the New Brunswick native well. On August 21, 2010, Stairs belted his 21st career pinch-hit home run to break Cliff Johnson’s major league record. The ball he hit off Milwaukee Brewers reliever Kameron Loe for his record-setting round-tripper fortuitously ricocheted back on to the field, and Stairs was able to retrieve it.
In all, Stairs would hit 23 pinch-hit home runs – and 265 homers overall – as a major leaguer. For his efforts, he was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.
I decided to study all 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 24 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 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 came off right-handed pitchers.
Of his 23 regular season pinch-hit blasts, 12 were solo shots, while he also clubbed eight, two-run homers, one three-run tater and two grand slams.
Huston Street and Matt Capps allowed two pinch-hit homers each to Stairs. They are the only two pitchers he victimized more than once.
Stairs’ first career pinch-hit homer came off 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 had hit two pinch-hit grand slams. The first was hit on June 24, 1998, while he was with the A’s, off Giants right-hander Steve Reed in the top of the eighth inning. His second was belted off Nationals hurler Zack Segovia in the top of the ninth on September 10, 2009 while he was with the Phillies.
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 Phillies righty Jon Lieber in the top of the eighth inning in Philadelphia. His second came on August 29, 2007 off 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 Blue Jays reliever Cliff Politte in the top of the ninth inning at the Rogers Centre.