Pleasant surprise: MLB's unlikely postseason heroes
The MLB postseason is a time to separate the men from the boys. October baseball is a different animal, and history has proven anything can happen. A few players have had career-defining moments in the playoffs, cementing themselves as heroes in baseball history. Every postseason game is an opportunity for an unlikely hero to emerge, so let's take a look back at some of the surprising stars over the years.
LA Times via Getty ImagesJoe Kennedy
Al Weis, 1969 New York Mets
The ’69 Miracle Mets needed some magic in order to upset the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, and light-hitting infielder Al Weis provided them with just that. A career .219 hitter, Weis delivered decisive hits in Games 2 and 5, with both of his key moments coming against O’s pitcher Dave McNally. Weis drove in the go-ahead run in a 2-1 Game 2 win, and then hit a game-tying homer in the seventh inning of Game 5. Of course, Weis finished his career with just seven career long balls, so the timing of his World Series blast couldn’t have been more perfect. He was released by the Mets in 1971 and never played again, making his ’69 heroics truly miraculous.
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Gene Tenace, 1972 Oakland Athletics
Gene Tenace became an everyday player for the A’s beginning in 1973, but he came through in a big way a year earlier. Handed the starting catcher duties in the postseason in place of Dave Duncan (the team’s usual No. 1) in the 1972 postseason, Tenace rewarded their decision. After becoming the first player in league history to hit homers in his first two World Series at-bats, Tenace powered his way to earning the World Series MVP Award after hitting .348/.400/.913 with four home runs, eight runs scored and nine RBI. Talk about making a fast impression.
Walter Iooss Jr.
Brian Doyle, 1978 New York Yankees
For a guy who played in a grand total of 110 regular-seaosn games in his career, Brian Doyle sure made his limited time count. Called upon by the Yankees in the postseason when Willie Randolph went down with an injury, Doyle blitzed the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. He hit .438 (going 7 for 16), scored four runs and drove in two more as he more than adequately made up for Randolph’s absence.
Kirk Gibson, 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers
This one’s a shoo-in for obvious reasons. A hobbling Kirk Gibson, called upon by manager Tommy Lasorda in the ninth inning, stepping up and hitting a completely improbable walk-off home run against vaunted Oakland Athletics closer Dennis Eckersley? This is the stuff of dreams (or nightmares), and it went on to appropriately be considered one of MLB’s most classic moments. Gibson might have been a prime offensive contributor for the Dodgers in the regular season, but injuries cut into his ability level in the postseason … or so folks assumed prior to Game 1 of the Fall Classic.
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Francisco Cabrera, 1992 Atlanta Braves
Francisco Cabrera had a five-year MLB career and topped out at 70 games in 1993, but he’s forever known for his exploits in the ’92 NLCS. A two-out, pinch-hit RBI single scored Sid Bream and sent the Braves to the World Series at the expense of the Pittsburgh Pirates in just Cabrera’s 12th at-bat of the entire season. That’s one way to make it count.
Edgar Renteria, 1997 Florida Marlins
The 1997 World Series between the Florida Marlins and Cleveland Indians was filled with drama, and Edgar Renteria was at the center of Game 7's climax. The game was tied in the bottom of the 11th with the bases loaded and two outs when Renteria came up big with a single up the middle off Charles Nagy's glove. The walk-off hit sealed the World Series championship for the Marlins.
Getty ImagesBrian Bahr
Aaron Boone, 2003 New York Yankees
Aaron Boone’s tenure on the Yankees wasn’t especially memorable – except for his walk-off home run against Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS. The blast propelled the Yanks to the World Series (which they’d lose to the then-Florida Marlins), but the moment remains etched in MLB history. At the time, it prolonged Boston’s World Series drought, giving it even more significance. Before the next season, however, the Yanks cut Boone after he injured his knee in a pickup basketball game.
Geoff Blum, 2005 Chicago White Sox
Journeyman Geoff Blum was a July 31 acquisition by the Chicago White Sox in 2005, and in retrospect it was a great move. Though he hit just .200/.232/.274 with the Sox in the regular season, Blum stepped up in the 14th inning of Game 3 of the World Series and hit a go-ahead home run off Houston Astros reliever Ezequiel Astacio. The run would hold up, and Chicago would win the game and then sweep Houston in Game 4. As a tribute to his October feat, Blum is part of a monument to the 2005 club that the White Sox unveiled at U.S. Cellular Field in 2008.
MLB Photos via Getty ImagesJohn Grieshop
David Eckstein, 2002 Los Angeles Angels/2006 St. Louis Cardinals
The 2002 Angels were a relative surprise, given that they made the postseason as a wild-card team. Pesky second-year infielder David Eckstein was a key contributor all season long for the Halos, but he definitely 'turned it on' in October, hitting .310/.364/.310 and scoring six runs against the San Francisco Giants in the World Series (which the Angels won in seven games). Four years later, Eckstein was back in the Fall Classic with the St. Louis Cardinals -- and he was an offensive star again, hitting. 364/.391/.500, collecting four RBI and earning MVP honors. Considering his diminutive size, that Eckstein was such a serviceable MLB player is a compliment to his determination.
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Cody Ross, 2010 San Francisco Giants
Obtained by the Giants off waivers from the Marlins in 2010, journeyman outfielder Cody Ross went on to be one of the more unexpected October heroes in recent memory. Ross almost single-handedly powered the Giants to the World Series, hitting three home runs against the Philadelphia Phillies and earning himself NLCS MVP honors in the process. The 2010 season gave Ross his only career postseason opportunity to date, but he sure made the best of it.
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Daniel Murphy, 2015 New York Mets
The New York Mets rode the hot bat of Daniel Murphy all the way to the World Series in 2015. The impending free-agent second baseman (who hit .281/.322/.449 with 14 home runs in the regular season) was on fire during the NLDS and NLCS, swatting big home runs off the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, and Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs. Murphy hit seven homers in the first two rounds, slashing .333/.333/.810 and .529/.556/1.294 in the Division and Championship Series, respectively. That’s … very, very good.
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Alcides Escobar, 2015 Kansas City Royals
The swing-happy Alcides Escobar is a career .262 hitter, but the Royals’ shortstop emerged in the ALCS. Against the Toronto Blue Jays, Escobar set an MLB record for first-inning base hits en route to a .478/.481/.652 slash line, and followed that up with a first-pitch inside the park home run in Game 1 of the World Series. As long as pitchers throw him fastballs, Escobar will swing -- and hit them all over the ballpark, apparently.