One of the best things about postseason baseball is that you get to expect the unexpected. You never know what it will be, but you can count on seeing something completely unpredictable. And the 2012 MLB postseason is certainly no exception. On Friday night, not only did we witness yet another historic comeback by the St. Louis Cardinals—from 6-0 down in Game 5 of the NLDS to a 9-7 victory courtesy of a 4-run 9th inning—but this comeback came courtesy of two players nobody outside the St. Louis metropolitan area had ever heard of. So today, in honor of the chaos that is baseball in October, we present you with this list of the most unlikely heroes in MLB postseason history. Take a look, and have fun waiting to meet the next guy worthy of being on this list.
Outfielder Billy Hatcher had a very decent season for the Cincinnati Reds in 1990, hitting .276/.327/.381. and posting a WAR of 1.8—meaning he was a little better than the "average" MLB outfielder. However, this Reds team featured Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, plus All-Star sluggers Eric Davis and Paul O'Neil. Nevertheless, it was the unheralded Hatcher who went 9-for-12 to lead the Reds in a shocking sweep of the defending champion Oakland A's.
15. Billy Hatcher (1990)
Cody Ross is a lifetime .262/.324/.460 hitter. Sure, he hit 22 and 24 home runs in 2008 and 2009, but that doesn't exactly qualify him as a secret weapon. Nevertheless, picking this guy up off the waiver wire in August 2010 was the best thing the San Francisco Giants did all season, because all he did was hit .350 with 3 HRs in the NLCS that year against the Phillies en route to the Giants' first World Series Championship since moving to San Francisco. Oh, and 2 of those home runs came against Cy Young winner Roy Hallady in Game 2.
14. Cody Ross (2010)
Journeyman utility infielder Geoff Blum hit .241/.321/..375 in 78 games with the Padres in 2005, then a very sad .200/.232/..274 in 31 games with the White Sox. As a result, he got just 1 AB in the ALCS that year. Then he got just 1 AB in the World Series, too. Of course, in that one AB in the 14th inning of Game 3 in Houston, Blum hit a home run that gave the White Sox the win and a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Astros, helping the South Siders win their first championship in 88 years.
13. Geoff Blum (2005)
Here we have the guy who inspired this list. Descalso played on the Cardinals' World Series Championship team in 2011, filling in for David Freese while he was injured before getting into a utility/defensive replacement role for the playoff run. That year he hit an almost-respectable .264/.334/.353. However, this season Descalso was basically the team's everyday second baseman, and he was pretty awful at the plate, hitting .227/.303/.324. So, obviously, he was just killing the ball during the NLDS, hitting 2 HRs (after hitting only 4 all season) and batting .316/.333/.684. And in Game 5 he hit one of those HRs, a solo shot that got the Cards to within one, then he hit the game tying single in the top of the 9th to help complete the historic comeback.
Obviously we all saw this coming, right?
12. Daniel Descalso (2012)
On paper, Dave Roberts didn't do that much during the 2004 postseason. He appeared in only three games and got exactly 0 plate appearances. However, he will forever be known in Boston as the man who sparked the 2004 ALCS miracle comeback.
You see, as you may recall, the Red Sox were down 3-0 in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, and in Game 4 they were down 4-3 heading into the bottom of the 9th, where they would face the greatest closer in the history of baseball—Mariano Rivera. But Kevin Millar worked a walk off Rivera to lead off the inning, and then the speedy Robert replaced him at first base. Everyone on the planet know Roberts was put there to steal second base, which makes actually accomplishing the task extremely difficult. But of course, he stole that base, and then Bill Meuller hit a base hit and Roberts scored, tying the game.
The rest was history: David Ortiz won the game in the 12th with a HR, then the Sox went on to win Games 5, 6, and 7 to complete the greatest comeback in LCS history.
11. Dave Roberts (2004)
The New York Yankees' backup catcher, Jim Leyritz, hit .264/.355/.381 with 7 home runs in 1996. But with the Yankees down 6-0 to the Braves in Game 4 of the World Series and in danger of going down 3-1 in the series, equally light-hitting starting catcher Joe Girardi was pinch hit for in the 6th. That meant Leyritz would get into the game. And, sure enough, with the Yankees only down 6-3 in the bottom of the 8th, Leyritz came to the plate with two men on—and hit a game-tying home run.
The Yankees then went on to win that game and the series.
10. Jim Leyritz (1996)
Francisco Cabrera spent just 5 seasons in the big leagues, accumulating a measly 374 total plate appearance. Most of those PAs came in 1990 and 1991. In 1992 with the Braves, the guy appeared in only 12 games and got just 11 trips to the plate. Nevertheless, in Game 7 of the NLCS against Barry Bonds and the Pittsburgh Pirates, it was Cabrera who came to the plate with 2 outs, the bases juiced, and the Braves trailing the Pirates 2-1. And all he did was hit a single to left field that scored two runs to win the game and send the Braves—not the Pirates—to the World Series.
9. Francisco Cabrera (1992)
Third baseman Aaron Boone wasn't a power hitter by any means. However, in 2002 he jacked 26 over the wall, and in the first half of 2003, with the Reds, he hit .273/.339/.469 with 18 HRs. So the Yankees thought they were really adding some depth to their lineup when they traded for him. Then Boone hit just .254/.302/.418 with 6 HRs the rest of the way. And it only got worse in the playoffs, with Boone hitting .200 in the ALDS and .176 in the ALCS.
Of course, all that was forgotten when Boone hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th in Game 7 to send to Yankees to the World Series.
8. Aaron Boone (2003)
Bucky Dent played back when middle infielders weren't expected to hit very well. All teams wanted was impeccable defense, and that's exactly what he gave the Yankees from 1977 to 1981. His hitting? It was brutal. In 1978 he hit .243/.286/.317 with 5 home runs. So nobody in their right minds figured he would be the one to hit a three-run homer to give the Yankees 3-2 lead over the Red Sox in the one-game playoff that determined the 1978 AL East Champion. And yet he did. The home run changed the entire momentum of the game, the Yankees won 5-4, and then went on to win the ALCS and the WS.
7. Bucky Dent (1978)
Speaking of light-hitting shortstops...The St. Louis Cardinals' Ozzie Smith is one of the greatest defensive shortstops of all time. And, over the years, the switch-hitter managed to turn himself into a reasonable hitter through hard work and dedication. In 1982 he hit just .248/.339/.314, but in 1985 he hit .276/.355/.361, and in 1987 he hit .303/.392/.383.
However, no matter what his batting average or on-base percentage were, "The Wizard" never hit many home runs. In fact, he only hit 28 in his entire 19-year career. And heading into Game 5 of the 1985 NLCS, precisely 0 of his 13 career home runs to that point has come from the left side of the plate.
You see where I'm going with this, right? Right. The Dodgers won the first 2 games of that series, but the Cardinals struck back to take Games 3 and 4. In Game 5, the score was tied 2-2 in the bottom of the 9th when Ozzie came to the plate with one out. That's when he hit his first career home run from the left side of the plate—the least likely scenario anyone could have imagined.
6. Ozzie Smith (1985)
Second year rookie Ed Sprague appeared in only 22 games for the Blue Jays in 1992, going .234/.280/.340 in only 47 at-bats. However, in Game 2 of the World Series agains the Braves, with the Jays trailing the 4-3 and just a double play away from going down 2-0 in the series, Sprague corked a 2-run homer to left field that won the game for Toronto.
The guy only got 2 other plate appearance in the series, and that was his only hit.
5. Ed Sprague (1992)
In 1972, Oakland A's catcher Gene Tenace hit .225/.307/.339 with 5 home runs. In the Worlds Series that year against the Reds? Sure, of course he hit .348/.400/.913 with 4 home runs. Why wouldn't he, right? And two, a two run shot and a solo job, came in Game 1, which the A's won 3-2. The others came in Games 4 and 5.
As for the rest of the series, the A's won it in 7 games, and Tenace was named WS MVP...obviously.
4. Gene Tenace (1972)
The 1960 World Series featured legendary sluggers such as Micky Mantle, Roger Maris, and Roberto Clemente. So who was the first person to hit a walk-off home run to win a World Series? That would be Pittsburgh's weak-hitting second baseman Bill Mazeroski. The guy was one of the best defensive second basemen ever, but offensively he wasn't much to write home about. In 1960 the guy hit .273 with only 11 home runs. That's by no means a bad season, but he was hardly a slugger you'd expect to be responsible for the most dramatic ending to a World Series ever.
3. Bill Mazeroski (1960)
Kirk Gibson hit .290/.377/.483 with 25 home runs in 1988—numbers that would win him the NL MVP. But heading into Game 1 of the World Series agains the Oakland A's, Gibson was suffering from knee and hamstring injuries that left him barely able to walk and kept him out of the Dodgers lineup.
However, with the Dodgers trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th, a man on first, two outs, and the pitcher's spot in the lineup coming up, manager Tommy Lasorda took a huge gamble and sent the visibly injured Gibson hobbling to the plate. And of course, you know what happened next: a gimpy Gibson hit a two-run, game-winning home run off the most dominant closer in the game (Dennis Eckersly), and the Dodgers went on to win the series 4-1.
2. Kirk Gibson (1988)
In 103 games with the Mets in 1969, middle infielder Al Weiss hit an anemic .215/.259/.291 with 2 home runs. It just doesn't get much weaker than that. However, in the '69 Series, he crushed Orioles pitching at a .455 clip and, in Game 5, he hit a home run that tied the game and helped the Miracle Mets close out their first Championship.