Odd path to playoffs: Kratz, Voit, Brasier take longer road
Of course Erik Kratz kept hoping for a moment like this. That’s why he stuck around, through a dozen big league organizations, a couple of cruel demotions in the minors, a bunch of near-misses in the World Series.
And the time he accidentally shot himself in the hand with a nail gun.
“I really feel like I’ve played my last game for the last 12 years because the game doesn’t owe anybody anything,” the Milwaukee catcher said. “When you understand that, you appreciate these times more than anything else.”
Luke Voit certainly never expected to hear crowds at Yankee Stadium chanting his name in October, especially when he was stuck at Triple-A for St. Louis in late July. Yet there he was, batting third as New York hosted Boston on Monday night.
Ryan Brasier’s path to these playoffs was unusual, too. The Red Sox reliever is a rookie — even though he made his major league debut in 2013.
To see them here, now, that’s probably not a huge surprise.
But Kratz? Starring on this stage?
Still scrapping at 38, he’s a .211 career hitter in the bigs, the very definition of a veteran backup catcher. He’s been in the system of all four AL teams that reached the Division Series this year, plus the Brewers.
Kratz was with Kansas City in the 2014 World Series, but never got off the bench. He came close in Game 7, lined up to enter if All-Star catcher Salvador Perez had been pulled for a pinch-runner.
The next year, he went 0 for 4 in the regular season for the Royals and was nowhere near the playoff roster. Even so, they rewarded him with a championship ring.
In 2016, Kratz batted .069 in 14 games for Houston.
“I love Kratzy,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said Monday. “I’ve texted back and forth with him like I do a lot of our players or ex-players. I still remember him running out for intros and falling down to win a bet. I’ll always remember that, and got to get the video of that.”
“I remember Erik Kratz, when I told him he was off our team, he was a proud Astro, so I’m happy when guys succeed when they go elsewhere,” he said.
Kratz was in the minors this June when the Yankees traded him to Milwaukee for a player to be named. He impressed the Brewers with his work regimen and knowledge, and produced enough to earn a spot in the playoffs.
Against Colorado last week, he became the oldest position player to start in his postseason debut since Lave Cross for the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1905 World Series.
“Lave Cross from Milwaukee, yeah, he was a really good third baseman. We played together in rookie ball,” Kratz kidded.
“It’s something that is part of history, so maybe in 113 years, some dude is going to be like, Erik Kratz — is it Kratz? What is that?” he said.
No joke: Kratz went 5 for 8 in the NL Division Series sweep of the Rockies, and his Milwaukee teammates started chanting “MVP! MVP!” at him in the bubbly-soaked clubhouse.
“It’s gone from an unsung season to kind of a front-and-center role right now,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.
During the series, Kratz reflected on his future in baseball. He realizes time is running out.
“I haven’t had a good enough career to retire. I’m just going to quit. I’ll just be out. That’s what’s going to happen,” he said.
Brasier’s trip to this postseason also took several turns. He seemed to be off to a good start as rookie with the Angels in 2013, putting together a 2.00 ERA in seven relief appearances.
That was before Tommy John surgery, more time in the minors and a detour to Japan. He signed with the Red Sox in spring training, returned to the majors shortly before the All-Star break and kept a spot in the Boston bullpen.
He’s already made his presence known.
In Game 2 of the ALDS, the 31-year-old Brasier got into a verbal spat with Gary Sanchez, annoyed that the Yankees slugger kept stepping out of the batter’s box. That came as he struck out Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton and Sanchez in the same inning.
At 27, Voit’s trek wasn’t so winding. Rather, he was backed up in the minors for St. Louis behind star first baseman Matt Carpenter. The beefy Voit didn’t exactly fit the physical profile of the athletic-minded Cardinals, either.
Dealt to the Yankees shortly before the July 31 trade deadline for Giovanny Gallegos and Chasen Shreve, Voit got off to a slow start and seemed to be a backup for Greg Bird, at best.
But then, his huge swing started clicking. He connected for 14 home runs down the stretch, hit a two-run triple in the AL wild-card win over Oakland and has two hits and two RBIs in two playoff games against Boston.
In a city known for fashion, Voit also has made his own style statement. He prefers to keep the top button on his jersey unfastened, with no T-shirt underneath.
“Let the chest hair hang, baby,” he said.