Murphy, Escobar become the latest surprise stars in October
Daniel Murphy sent yet another shot soaring over the wall and thrust his right arm in the air – he was in the record book, his Mets were headed to the World Series.
Alcides Escobar made his mark with a single, double, triple and bunt. That made him the first player to lead off four straight games in a postseason series with a hit, and he wound up as MVP of the ALCS.
For both, a charmed October.
Far from superstars or the highest-paid guys on their teams, Murphy and Escobar became the latest surprise sensations on baseball’s biggest stages.
Murphy might be having the best month of them all. After hitting a career-best 14 homers in the regular season, the free agent-to-be connected seven times in nine playoff games. He hit four longballs, went 9 for 17 and drove in six runs in New York’s four-game sweep of the Cubs to earn NLCS MVP.
”He’s incredible,” Mets first baseman Lucas Duda said after Game 4. ”He’s on a different planet right now.”
Planet Postseason, that is.
Escobar got off to a fast start, too. A lifetime .262 hitter in eight seasons, the Royals shortstop quickly turned into the No. 1 pest for the Blue Jays.
He finished 11 for 23 (.478) in the six-game ALCS, scoring six runs and driving in five. Escobar leads all players with 17 hits this postseason, one more than Murphy.
Escobar has also played sparkling defense, including his much-replayed, run-saving, diving grab of Russell Martin’s liner in Game 2 against Toronto.
”When the pressure seems to get a little bit or mount a little bit is when he plays his best baseball, where he really focuses on getting the job done,” Royals manager Ned Yost said this week.
The newest Mr. Octobers have plenty of company. Here’s a look back at some of the surprise stars of postseasons past:
David Freese, Cardinals, 2011: Raised in the St. Louis area, he had played only 184 games in the regular season when he emerged as just the sixth player to win MVP of the LCS and World Series. The third baseman drove in 21 runs in 18 games. He had four RBIs in a 5-3 win over Philadelphia that forced a deciding Game 5 in the NL Division Series. He hit three homers and drove in nine runs against the Brewers in the next round. Freese really put his stamp on the postseason in the Fall Classic, especially Game 6. One of the most exciting games in baseball history, Freese had a tying triple with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and a walkoff homer in the 11th.
Cody Ross, Giants, 2010: He went from unwanted man in August to MVP of the NLCS with an impressive power display against the Phillies’ Big Three of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. Claimed off waivers from the Marlins, Ross didn’t even have a permanent spot in the San Francisco outfield until Jose Guillen was hurt late in the year. He homered twice against Halladay and once off Oswalt, then kept it simple, breaking a scoreless tie with an RBI single.
”I could never imagine being in a situation like this,” Ross said then. ”I’m just going to cherish it. This is a special time for me.”
David Ortiz, Red Sox, 2004: Before he was the beloved Big Papi, Ortiz spent six middling seasons with the Minnesota Twins before moving to Boston in `03. A year later he had his first 30-homer season. But it wasn’t until he led the Red Sox to the majors’ only comeback from an 0-3 deficit in a best-of-seven series – against the rival Yankees – that he really broke out. Ortiz drove in 11 runs and went 12 for 31 (.387) with three homers to notch MVP honors in the ALCS.
Mike Devereaux, Braves, 1995: Mike who? The 1995 NLCS MVP, that’s who – on a stacked Atlanta team with the likes of Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. Devereaux ended Game 1 with an 11th-inning single, but wasn’t penciled into the lineup for Game 4 until David Justice was hit by a ball in batting practice. A late August acquisition from the White Sox, Devereaux proceeded to connect for a three-run homer iced the Braves’ four-game sweep of the Reds. He only got six at-bats in the World Series.
Pat Borders, Blue Jays, 1992: Never an All-Star in a 17-year career during which he hit .253, the catcher helped lead Toronto to its first of two straight World Series titles, going 9 for 20 (.450) while spending all 55 innings behind the plate in being selected Series MVP.
Billy Hatcher, Reds, 1990: This career .264 hitter broke a World Series record by getting seven straight hits. He batted .750 (9 for 12) in Cincinnati’s four-game sweep of Oakland with four doubles, a triple and six runs.
Bucky Dent and Brian Doyle, Yankees, 1978: Perhaps the most unlikely duo to find October fame, especially on a Bronx Zoo team featuring Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson and other big games. Dent hit the famed home run to beat Boston in a one-game playoff at Fenway Park and enjoyed a splendid postseason that culminated in the World Series MVP. The shortstop hit .417 with seven RBIs against the Dodgers.
The real surprise, though, was Doyle, a bit major leaguer whose career lasted all of four seasons. He got shoved into the spotlight when second baseman Willie Randolph was hurt. Doyle stepped up, batting .438 (7 for 16) – he was a .161 career hitter in 199 at-bats – driving in two runs and scoring four.