07/28/09 1:04 AM ET
Two slams from Willingham vault Nats
Slugger becomes 13th big leaguer to accomplish rare feat
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
Willingham became the 13th player in Major League history to hit two grand slams in a game.
"That was a special night and one I will never forget," Willingham said after the game. "You don't get the opportunity to do that many times, much less come through in both situations."
In the fifth inning, with the bases loaded and the score tied at 2, Willingham took an 0-1 pitch from Brewers right-hander Jeff Suppan and hit the ball over the left-field wall to give Washington a 6-2 lead.
"I tell you, he had a good day," Suppan said. "As far as the at-bat off me, I was trying to throw a sinker down and away and it ran in the middle. Obviously, he drove the ball very well today."
An inning later, reliever Mark DiFelice was on the mound, when Willingham hit his second grand slam of the night, tying the franchise record with eight RBIs, to give Washington a 13-5 lead. The last player in franchise history to drive in eight was Tim Wallach, who did so with the Expos on May 13, 1990.
"We got a scouting report on him, but I'd never seen him and I missed the first slider or cutter that he threw me, so I thought it was coming again and he threw it again," said Willingham. "I got some good extension on it and hit it out."
The last player to hit two grand slams in a game was Red Sox infielder Bill Mueller, who did the trick on July 29, 2003. Mueller, like Willingham, hit his slams in consecutive innings.
The last National League player to pull it off was then-Cardinals third baseman Fernando Tatis on April 23, 1999, against the Dodgers. Tatis is the only player in history to hit a pair of slams in the same inning.
It seems hard to believe that Willingham started the season on the bench. The Nationals were loaded with outfielders and they were trying to find out if Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes and Austin Kearns were everyday players.
Neither player produced and it took until mid-May for the team to play Willingham on a regular basis. Next to Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman, Willingham has been the best run producer on the team.
Asked if it took the organization too long to realize that Willingham was an everyday player, interim manager Jim Riggleman said, "You really can't look back on it and second guess anything. Everything was done with a good purpose. When Josh got the opportunity, he took advantage of it."
Day to remember
|Josh Willingham became the 13th player in Major League history to slug two grand slams in the same game.|
|Tony Lazzeri||Yankees||5/24/1936||2nd, 5th|
|Jim Tabor||Red Sox||7/4/1939||3rd, 6th|
|Rudy York||Red Sox||7/27/1946||2nd, 5th|
|Jim Gentile||Orioles||5/9/1961||1st, 2nd|
|Tony Cloninger||Braves||4/3/1966||1st, 4th|
|Jim Northrup||Tigers||6/24/1968||5th, 6th|
|Frank Robinson||Orioles||6/26/1970||5th, 6th|
|Robin Ventura||White Sox||9/4/1995||4th, 5th|
|Chris Hoiles||Orioles||8/14/1998||3rd, 8th|
|Fernando Tatis||Cardinals||4/23/1999||Both in 3rd|
|Nomar Garciaparra||Red Sox||5/10/1999||1st, 8th|
|Bill Mueller||Red Sox||7/29/2003||7th, 8th|
|Josh Willingham||Nationals||7/27/2009||6th, 7th|
The way the game was going at first, it looked like Willingham may not have his great day. Washington got off to a slow start at the plate in the first four innings. The team had a runner in scoring position with less than two outs in the first four innings against Suppan, but couldn't score a run.
Milwaukee, on the other hand, had a 2-0 lead against Washington right-hander Craig Stammen after two innings. In the first inning, Prince Fielder doubled near the left-field line to score Ryan Braun. An inning later, Corey Hart took a 2-1 pitch and hit the ball over the left-field wall.
But the Nationals poured it on in the top of the fifth inning off Suppan. Nyjer Morgan made it a 2-1 game by driving in Alberto Gonzalez with a single to right field. Three batters later, Washington had the bases loaded when Dunn walked to force home Morgan.
After Nick Johnson struck out, Willingham hit his first grand slam.
The Brewers made it a 6-5 game in the bottom of the fifth inning, but the Nationals put the game out of reach in the next frame against Suppan. Cristian Guzman drove in two runs with a double down the right-field line.
Following an intentional walk to Zimmerman to put runners on first and second, Suppan was taken out of the game in favor of left-hander Mitch Setter. The lefty-lefty matchup didn't work, as Dunn hit a ground-rule double to send Guzman home.
Johnson was walked to load the bases and Mark DiFelice then entered the game to face Willingham. History was in the making as Willingham hit his second grand slam.
"Josh Willingham is a great hitter," DiFelice said. "My hat's off to him. That hasn't been done for a long time -- two grand slams in one game. But it happens."
The Nationals have won five out of their past seven games and are now 31-68 for the season.
"We are playing better," Willingham said. "That starts with our pitching and defense. If you look at the games, our defense is playing a lot better and we have been getting consistent pitching. When you do that, it gives you a chance on a daily basis to win. We have been getting some key hits lately."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.