October 5, 2011
The Lineup Card
10 Players Whose Careers Were Defined by Big Postseason Moments
1) Charles "Boss" Schmidt
2) Derek Jeter, "Mr. November"
3) Francisco Cabrera
The Braves’ third-string catcher had broken Pirates fans' hearts the previous October. Cabrera's two-run single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning rallied the Braves to a 3-2 victory over the Pirates in Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Yet he was still anonymous.
Cabrera's hit meant, in an instant, that the Braves were headed back to the World Series and the Pirates were headed home for a third straight season with an NLCS loss. Little did anyone know at the time that the Braves were in the early stages of a record run of 14 consecutive post-season appearances and the Pirates would begin a streak of 19 consecutive losing seasons the following year, a skein still active and a record for major North American professional team sports.
As for Cabrera, he remains a hero in Atlanta and a villain in Pittsburgh, even though nine out 10 fans probably wouldn't recognize him. Except for his big hit, Cabrera is nothing but a blip in baseball history as he barely played above replacement level. He played in just 193 games in five seasons with the Blue Jays (1989) and Braves (1989-93), hitting .254/.294/.453 with 17 home runs and 0.8 WARP. —John Perrotto
4) Bill Bevens and Cookie Lavagetto
Nobody had ever thrown a no-hitter in World Series history, but Bevens took one into the ninth inning at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field. Though he held the Dodgers hitless, he walked eight hitters through the first eight innings, allowing a run in the fifth when the Dodgers paired a couple of inning-opening walks with a couple of groundouts. The Yankees led 2-1 going into the bottom of the ninth, but the Dodgers had life in the form of a one-out walk to Carl Furillo, who yielded to pinch-runner Al Gionfriddo (whose heroic catch of a potential Joe DiMaggio extra base hit in Game Six would stand as his own career highlight in his final major league appearance). One out later, Gionfriddo stole second, so Bevens responded by intentionally walking Pete Reiser, whom he was behind 3-1 on. Reiser yielded to pinch-runner Eddie Miskis.
With light-hitting Eddie Stanky due up, Dodgers manager Burt Shotton called upon pinch-hitter Cookie Lavagetto, a 34-year-old, high-OBP infielder who had been with the club since 1937 (save for a four-year military stint). Lavagetto, who had hit .261/.370/.406 with three homers in just 82 plate appearances for the season, was all that stood between Bevens and history, but he played the spoiler. After a swing-and-miss on the first pitch, he drove the second one to right field, where it bounced off the scoreboard not only with the Dodgers' first hit but with the tying and winning runs. Brooklyn had evened the series at two games apiece, but they would go down in seven. Neither Bevens nor Lavagetto would ever play another major league game. —Jay Jaffe
5) Babe Adams
Adams lived up to the assignment. In Game 1, he held the Tigers to one run in a complete-game victory. Adams was roughed up a bit in Game 5, allowing four runs on two home runs but struck out eight against one walk as the Tigers went down 8-4. The win put the Pirates up three games to two, but the Tigers took Game 6 to force a seventh game. Adams came back on two days' rest to start. The Tigers never had a chance. While Buccos hitters bombed Wild Bill Donovan and George Mullin for eight runs, Adams was nearly flawless, scattering six hits and one run over nine innings. His final record for the Series: 3-0, three complete games, 1.33 ERA. Adams hung around long enough to pitch an inning in another Pirates World Series 16 years later, contributing to the 1925 championship team, and isn't it weird enough thinking about the Pirates being in one World Series, never mind two? —Steven Goldman
6) Rick Ankiel
Unfortunately for the Cardinal faithful, and more so for Ankiel himself, this was not a Cinderella story, and there would be no Hollywood ending for the young left-handed pitcher. Ankiel took the mound in that first game of the NLDS, and what happened next would be a moment that would define his career and overshadow those gaudy regular season rookie numbers. Innings one and two went as planned: no runs allowed, and Ankiel was dialed in … until the 3rd. If Rick Ankiel could rewind and redo one moment in his baseball life, it would undoubtedly be the 3rd inning of Game 1 of the 2000 NLDS. Ankiel’s pitching line for that inning looked like this: eight batters faced, 35 pitches, four earned runs, two hits, four walks, and five wild pitches.
The fact that the Cardinals would win the game 7-5 was a tribute to the lineup and the bullpen. The comeback, however, was not the story; the story was the meltdown of the phenom. The questions would come. “Can he bounce back?” “Is this an injury, or is Ankiel lost?” The Cardinals and Ankiel didn’t have to wait long, as Ankiel would take the mound again in Game 2 of the NLCS where he would throw 20 pitches, of which five sailed to the backstop but only two would count as wild pitches since there were no runners on base for the rest. The control was gone, the phenom was a basket case, and the Cardinals were at a loss for answers. Still, they would try him one more time that postseason; in Game 5, Ankiel would come on in a relief role. He would pitch in the 7th inning, face four batters, walk two, and add two more wild pitches to his resume.
11 years later Rick Ankiel is still in baseball… as a journeyman outfielder. —Adam Tower
7) Joe Carter
By just about any measure, Carter had an excellent career, collecting 2,184 hits and 396 home runs in 16 seasons in the majors. But he’s remembered for one swing: his walk-off, three-run home run to win the 1993 World Series for the Toronto Blue Jays.
His swing still draws onlookers, even if his power displays come on the driving range these days. People stop. Gawk. Whisper. And if there’s any doubt about just who that is out-driving everyone on the practice tee, it usually only takes 10 or 15 minutes before you hear something like, “Hey Joe! That one took off like the ball you hit off Mitch Williams.”
You’d think that gets old after awhile. He’s prepping for a round of golf with friends and some stranger wants to talk about a ball he hit 18 years ago. Then you see Carter flash a big smile—not unlike the ear-to-ear grin he carried around the bases that night at Toronto’s Skydome—and you realize that it really never gets old at all. —Jeff Euston
8) Jim Leyritz
Leyritz made an impact in each of his four postseason appearances. On the 1995 Yankees team that rallied in the last two months of the year to take the first wild card, Leyritz capped off a wild Game 2 of the ALDS with a 15th inning home run off of the Mariners’ Tim Belcher. It was his only hit of the series. Another added bonus to this homer: it gave the win to a 25-year-old, super-skinny Mariano Rivera. Clearly Leyritz’s super clutch postseason magic gene wore off on Mo, right? I’m mildly surprised no one pushed that narrative in the mid-90’s.
The next year, Leyritz contributed his most famous playoff moment to the Yankees. His three-run homer off of a Mark Wohlers’s hanging slider to bring the Yankees back from a 6-0 deficit in Game 4 of the World Series turned the tide of the game and the series. In 1998, Leyritz returned to October with the Padres. In the NLDS vs. Houston, he put up an OPS of 1.664 and hit three homers as the Padres advanced. In 1999, he made the Yankees’ playoff roster as the 3rd catcher. With the Yankees three outs from a repeat in Game 4, Leyritz iced the game with a solo homer in the bottom of the eighth. Once again, it was his only hit in the series. His off-the-field issues aside, Jim Leyritz probably would not be remembered today if it weren’t for his flair for the dramatic in late 90’s Octobers. —Sam Tydings
9) Dave Henderson
The same can’t be said about Game 5 of that year’s ALCS, however, when the Angels were one strike away from clinching their first World Series appearance:
Dave Henderson’s two-run shot off Donnie Moore put the Red Sox ahead, and after the Angels tied it in the bottom of the ninth, Henderson’s sacrifice fly in the 11th provided the winning margin. If Henderson had struck out in the ninth, the Sox wouldn’t have had a chance to endure their Bucknerian nightmare; his blast, however, produced a 74 percent win expectancy swing and an even bigger change in championship expectancy since an out would have ended Boston’s season then and there. Hendu spent 14 years in the majors and left with almost 200 home runs in the books, but they all fade in comparison to the one he launched in Anaheim that left him bounding down the first base line in child-like wonder. —Ken Funck
Overall, Sojo produced quite poorly at the plate—he finished with a negative VORP at primarily defense-first positions—but his empty batting averages hovered around league average. That meant that he was generally a safe bet to do something on the rare occasions that he was given a full game’s complement of plate appearances, though it wasn’t often pretty. His obvious imperfections as a player made him an unlikely candidate to become a first-division fixture and a bad-bat blemish on the otherwise clear complexions of several championship teams—if the 1998 Yankees had rostered a replacement player instead of him, they might have won 115—but his glove and good nature gave him a Zelig-like ability to blend in with his more talented teammates until he seemed almost equally integral to the squad's success. (As Sojo once said, "Everywhere I go, I get a standing ovation.")
Sojo specialized in singles that weren’t fit for TV, since his ungainly swing was light on line drives but served up a steady supply of bloopers, bleeders, and seeing-eye grounders that appeared destined for an infielder’s glove until they improbably found outfield grass. One of the last variety won a World Series for the Yankees, as Sojo scored Jorge Posada and Scott Brosius with a weak single off Al Leiter in the top of the ninth inning in Game Five of the 2000 Fall Classic (a game he hadn’t even started) to give Mariano Rivera a lead he wouldn’t relinquish. That hit is the highlight most often associated with Sojo, but for a player whose playing time came so infrequently, the Venezuelan had more than his fair share of memorable moments.
Jay Jaffe once penned a paean to Sojo (whom he dubbed “a lumpy role player trapped in the body of a third base coach”) far longer than this space (or even a single webpage) permits, so be sure to read what he had to say to learn more about the man, the myth, the light-hitting middle infielder. —Ben Lindbergh