The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
It's uncanny how improbable stars rise to the occasion in the MLB post-season

You would expect perennial stars like Reggie Jackson (AKA Mr. October) and Derek Jeter (AKA Mr. November) to have spectacular performances in post-season play. They seemed to have a knack for hitting a home run or making a dramatic catch at the right time to lift their respective New York Yankees teams to critical playoff victories.


But if I had mentioned at the end of the regular season names like Kike Hernandez, Tyler Matzek, Yordan Alvarez, or Eddie Rosario as potential playoff heroes, it would have raised a few eyebrows. By and large, these players don’t have familiar names associated with superstardom. Not even during the regular season, much less the playoffs.


But have you noticed how every season seems to have at least one player, well short of superstar caliber, who puts his team on his back and carries them toward the prized World Series ring?


This year it just happens to be those not-so-familiar names like Hernandez, Matzek, Alvarez, and Rosario who are rising the occasion.


Boston’s Kike Hernandez had prior experience in World Series play with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017, 2018, and 2020. He had gained a reputation as an effective utility player, but the Dodgers felt he was expendable and granted him free agency after the 2020 season. He finally secured a full-time job as the Red Sox’s center fielder this season. He became a Red Sox hero in the ALDS against Tampa Bay when he went 5-for-6 with a home run and two doubles in Game 2 and went on to lead the team with nine hits in the series. In Game 1 of the ALCS against Houston, he made a spectacular catch in center field while also hitting another home run. He wound up leading the Red Sox with 10 hits in the ALCS.


Yordan Alvarez made a splash in his MLB debut in 2019 with Houston, but then missed all but two games last season from having surgery on both knees. In the shadows of established Astros stars Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Yuli Gurriel, he quietly led the Astros with 33 home runs and 104 RBIs and posted a 136 ERA+ this year. When some of these other players struggled at the plate in the post-season, Alvarez put on a hitting clinic against Red Sox pitchers. He had five extra-base hits among his 12 safeties for the ALCS and led the Astros offensively with a slash line of .522/.538/.970.  He was named the MVP for the ALCS.


Eddie Rosario was acquired by the Atlanta Braves at the trade deadline this year to bolster their outfield after having lost Ronald Acuna Jr. to injury. With a team that already featured offensive threats Freddie Freeman, Austin Riley, Adam Duvall, Ozzie Albers, and Dansby Swanson, not much was expected from Rosario. But all he did was get the walk-off winning hit in Game 2 of the NLCS, go 4-for-5 with a homer and triple in Game 4, and hit a 3-run homer in the decisive Game 6. Altogether, he banged out 14 hits in the NLCS (a franchise record) and captured the MVP award for the series.


Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Tyler Matzek, who was practically out of baseball a few years ago due to a case of the yips, has had incredible post-season.  In nine appearances, he has yielded only two runs in 10 1/3 innings. The outing that best illustrated his impact with the Braves came in NLCS Game 6 against the Dodgers where he struck out the side in the seventh inning with the Dodgers having runners on second and third. He’s had 11 strikeouts with runners in scoring position during the post-season.

  

Here are a few other improbable stars of past post-seasons.


Last year there was Randy Arozarena of the Tampa Bay Rays. He had played a total of 42 major-league games spread over two partial seasons with St. Louis (2019) and Tampa Bay (2020). He got on a hot streak during the post-season and wound up banging out 10 home runs in 20 post-season games while batting .377. His performance earned him the MVP award for the ALCS against Houston.


Steve Pearce had been a platoon player for practically all of his major-league career that started in 2007. The Red Sox became his seventh major-league team in 2018 when they acquired him from Toronto at the end of June. He appeared in 50 games for the Red Sox, filling in as a reserve first baseman and outfielder, in addition to DHing and pinch-hitting. In Games 4 and 5 of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pearce hit three home runs with seven RBIs, helping Boston win the Series in just five games. He was voted the MVP of the Series, while playing on a team that featured Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and Mitch Moreland.


Ben Zobrist was the epitome of a “super utility” player with the Chicago Cubs in 2016 when he played three infield and two outfield positions during the regular season. In the Cubs’ historic World Series championship that year, it was Zobrist who led the Cubs. Playing left field in the Series against Cleveland, the switch-hitter went 10-for-28 at the plate and was named the Series MVP.


In 2015 the Mets appeared in their first post-season since 2006. The team was only a little better than average offensively in the National League. However, the Mets got past the Dodgers and Cubs to reach the World Series. 30-year-old second baseman Daniel Murphy was the key player that propelled them into the Fall Classic. Seven of his 16 hits in the NLDS and NLCS went for home runs after he hit only 14 during the entire regular season. The Mets wound up losing to Kansas City in the World Series, but Mets fans will forever remember Murphy’s unexpected power surge that got them there.


David Freese was in his third major-league season in 2011 with the St. Louis Cardinals, having missed almost two months due to injuries. The Cardinals had been led offensively by Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, and Allen Craig during the regular season. But it was Freese who stepped up his game in the post-season to help the Cardinals franchise win its 11th World Series. He was the MVP of the NLCS against Milwaukee when he hit three home runs and batted .545. The Rangers were one out away from capturing its first-ever world championship in Game 6 of the World Series, but Freese hit a triple in the ninth inning to tie the score. He later smacked a walk-off home run in the 11th to keep the Cardinals alive in the Series. The Cardinals went on to win Game 7, with Freese named the MVP. 

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