This postseason has been like no other. We have seen 16 teams in the playoffs for the first, and maybe last, time ever. We got to witness the first neutral site World Series in recent history as the contest between the Rays and Dodgers takes place at the brand-new Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. We nearly got to see another team come back down 3-0 and win the series in the Houston Astros. We have seen incredible postseason losing streaks extended (too soon Twins and Indians fans?) and even got to see lengthy postseason losing streaks end (congratulations Braves and Athletics fans).
But above all, there have been incredible postseason heroes this year. There was Michael Brosseau homering off Aroldis Chapman in pure vengeance, UConn alum George Springer performing impressively and even Clayton Kershaw dominating like the regular season. But there are a lot more that deserve their own little statement to describe their glory. Let us look back now on the top 10 (fine, maybe 13) unsung October heroes of all-time, some defined by one moment, others by one postseason.
10. Francisco Cabrera (1992):
Francisco Cabrera will be one of two people responsible for the collapse of the Pirates in the 1990s. The other is Barry Bonds when he left for San Francisco in the offseason, but Cabrera was the one who started the chain reaction. In his twelfth at-bat of the entire season, Cabrera lined a walk-off single into right center field that not only sent the Atlanta Braves to their second straight World series, but also made Cabrera an instant hero. An undrafted rookie from the Dominican Republic, Cabrera’s ten regular season at-bats led to two homeruns on three hits in12 games played the entire season. Cabrera stayed for a 70-game stint with the 104-win 1993 squad but got released after the season. His big hit though still defines an incredible 1992 postseason for the Braves.
9. David Eckstein (2002 and 2006):
There is a YouTube channel called Foolish Baseball that describes Eckstein as having devil magic. Eckstein, a second-year shortstop for the Angels in 2002, hit .310 in the World Series against the Giants with a slugging percentage of .310 and an OBP of .364. Having finished 11th in MVP voting in 2002, this championship was a nice addition to his collection in his young career. But it gets better. Four years later, Eckstein was a vital part of the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals who won just 88 games in the regular season but won the Fall Classic behind Eckstein’s .364 average, .391 slugging, and .500 OBP. As a result, Eckstein took home MVP honors in that year’s World Series and garnered four RBI in doing so. Eckstein is remembered as one of those few assets who really aided with two teams.
8. Rajai Davis (2016):
Davis had been in the league for quite a bit, but he did not have his signature moment until a beautiful Game 7 against the Chicago Cubs. Having been drafted in 2001 out of UConn Avery Point, Davis played for multiple teams such as the Pittsburgh Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays over 11 seasons. In 2016, he led the league with 43 stolen bases, but it got better. Game 7 against the Cubs, Davis entered 0-3 on the night against the flamethrower Aroldis Chapman down 6-4. Davis instantly provided magic by hitting a baseball to left field which carried over the wall for the game-tying home run. Although this play did not seal the deal for the Cleveland Indians, who lost that game in ten innings, Davis will be remembered as a hero here because of his clutch homerun that kept the Indians’ championship hopes alive for another inning.
7. Cody Ross (2010):
The 2010 postseason was defined by two big firsts. The first was Roy Halladay throwing a no-hitter in his first career postseason start against the Reds. The other was this Cody Ross guy who is not related to Cubs manager David Ross. Having been picked up off waivers from the Marlins during the 2010 season, Cody Ross became the greatest postseason waiver acquisition until Justin Verlander was waiver traded in 2017. In the postseason, Cody Ross had a .286 batting average in the NLDS against the Braves, but he will be defined by the NLCS much more. Playing in the outfield, Ross dominated by hitting three home runs out of his seven hits in the NLCS against the defending two-time NL champion Philadelphia Phillies. Those home runs helped Ross became the NLCS MVP and, although his numbers flattened against the Texas Rangers in the World Series, he still picked up a World Series ring in the only postseason of his career. Not bad for a journeyman.
6. Edgar Renteria (1997):
Renteria may not have Hall of Fame talent, but he does have one glorifying moment to his name. Renteria was just a second-year rookie making a name for himself on a young Marlins squad in 1997 when he came up to the plate in Game 7 of the World Series. With two outs in the bottom of the 11th, Renteria hit a single up the middle with the bases loaded that Charles Nagy of the Cleveland Indians just missed. Craig Counsell would go on to score at home plate to give the Marlins their first World Series title in their very first playoff appearance. That walk off hit brought up his batting average to .290 with a slugging percentage of .353 and an on-base percentage of .355. The next best moment after that spectacular finish for Renteria was winning the World Series MVP in 2010 with the Giants. Nonetheless, the Colombian Native changed Florida baseball forever with just one single.
5. Kirk Gibson (1988):
Kirk Gibson was decent when he joined a competitive Dodgers team, but he has one historic instance that defied logic and presented miracles. In his first season with the Dodgers, Gibson would end up winning his only MVP of his career with a phenomenal .290 batting average and 25 home runs. The prime year of Gibson though has to be defined by what happened in Game 1 of the World Series. Hobbling up to the plate as a pinch hitter, Gibson had to go up against Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley and proceeded to hit a walk-off home run that sent Dodger Stadium into a frenzy. His hobbling around the bases defied all odds after hitting .154 in the NLCS against the Mets. Although it was his only hit of the World Series, he made it legendary and eventually won his second ring when the Dodgers brought down the Athletics.
4. Aaron Boone (2003):
Yankees fans talk about how their current manager successfully postponed the end of the Red Sox’ drought for just one year. The brother of Bret Boone had been acquired from the Reds at the trade deadline and tried to add to his All-Star season in a big way. After a decent ALDS where he got a hit once every five at-bats, Boone ended up proving his worth in the ALCS. Entering in the bottom of the 11th for his first plate appearance of the evening, Boone immediately took Tim Wakefield deep on the first pitch to send the Yankees to the World Series for the sixth time in an eight-year span. Although the Yankees lost the World Series, Boone provided his only Bronx miracle that will go down in history as one of the greatest home runs of all time.
3. Geoff Blum (2005):
People forget sometimes that the White Sox won the 2005 World Series, their first title in 88 years, but this man will not be forgotten. Upon being acquired from the San Diego Padres, he was just average. When the postseason came around, Blum got just one at bat during the ALDS and ALCS combined but got one significant plate appearance in the World Series against Houston. Although not being a starter, Blum would hit a go-ahead home run in the 14th inning that eventually became the game winner. From there, the White Sox won Game 4 and the World Series, but that one hit by Blum really helped bring all the momentum into the White Sox’s hands. Blum got a monument with the 2005 White Sox outside of Guaranteed Rate Field and although he never played for the White Sox again, he will always be remembered for his lone World Series at-bat.
2. David Freese (2011):
Honestly, no one could have possibly heard about this guy before Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. A ninth-round pick out of South Alabama, Freese was subpar in the NLDS against the Phillies, but then erupted in the NLCS. Against the Brewers, Freese had a .545 batting average, 1.091 slugging, and .600 OBP and proceeded to make a name for himself as the NLCS MVP after a competitive seven-game series. In Game 6 against the Texas Rangers, Freese stepped up having gone 0-3 on the day down to the Cardinals’ last possible out. On a full count pitch, Freese sent a pitch into right field that Nelson Cruz just missed to tie the game at seven. Freese was not done yet, in the bottom of the 11th inning, he came up clutch again and hit a walk-off home run into center field that extended the series to Game 7 the next day. The Cardinals won Game 7 and Freese won World Series MVP. It does not get any better than that.
Honorable Mentions Daniel Murphy (2015):
Is it possible to say he had one of the best postseasons for a guy on a walk year? He was the average second baseman during the entire regular season but took over the show upon entering the playoffs. In the NLDS against the Dodgers, Murphy batted .333 with an OBP of .333 and a slugging percentage .810. In the NLCS against the Cubs, Murphy got better, batting .529 with a .556 OBP and 1.294 slugging. These incredible numbers gave Murphy the NLCS MVP as the Mets went back to the Fall Classic for the first time since 2000. During those two rounds and nine games, Murphy slapped together seven home runs against incredible pitchers from Zack Greinke to Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. He may have tapered off in the World Series, but Murphy added some monetary value to his name during the postseason.
Kyle Schwarber (2016):
In a regular season game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in April, Schwarber tore his ACL and was lost for the remainder of the year. That would have been the statement if the Cubs did not go deep in the postseason. When he did return in the World Series, Schwarber helped motivate a Cubs team that was down on their luck. Originally down three games to one, Schwarber was one of the stars who helped the Cubs win the World Series for the first time in 108 years, batting .412 with a .500 OBP and .471 slugging percentage. Although he did not win World Series MVP, he will be remembered as a hero because of his incredible comeback from injury to help a team win the World Series.
Brett Phillips (2020):
In one of the most insane plays in postseason history, a hero emerged from the shadows. Traded away to the Tampa Bay Rays from the Royals this season, Phillips found a way to pull through for the Rays. Phillips, who was not even on the ALCS roster, was asked in Game 4 of the World Series to deliver in the biggest situation of his life. With two runners on and two out down 7-6, Phillips delivered. There were a lot things that went right for the Rays and a lot of things that went wrong for the Dodgers, but Phillips’ walk-off double will go down in both history and infamy. In the biggest at-bat of his career, Phillips provided the biggest hit of his career that had the result shock everyone. The sixth-round draft pick’s first ever postseason hit ended up being the best first career postseason here ever. Like the play itself, unbelievable.
1. Randy Arozarena (2020):
This man has had a postseason for the ages. The undrafted Cuban was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals in the offseason, but if the Rays offer you a trade be very careful with what you send over. Part of that might also be St. Louis’ bad luck with recent trades (see Luke Voit), but Arozarena literally came out of nowhere to erupt in the postseason. In the ALDS, Arozarena added three home runs while batting .421 with a .476 OBP and .895 slugging in a great series with the Yankees. He was taken more seriously against the Astros, when he hit four home runs to go with a .321 average, .367 OBP, and .786 slugging percentage. In addition, Arozarena took home the ALCS MVP as his home runs helped send the Rays to the World Series for the first time in 12 years. At the time of release, Arozarena, who has broken most rookie records in the postseason including bases (59) and hits (27) as well as the most home runs hit in a single postseason at nine. To put that number into perspective, that is more home runs hit than Barry Bonds (eight, 2002), Manny Ramirez (four in 1998, 2007, and 2008), Carlos Beltran (eight, 2004), Corey Seager (eight, this postseason) and Nelson Cruz (eight, 2011) slugged in a single postseason. This man is unstoppable and will be a tour de force next season on a young Rays team.
So there is the top 10, plus a few honorable mentions that really deserved a spot on the top 15. This list will differ for everyone and nonetheless, this year has been crazy, but the postseason has made it even crazier. Right now is a great time to be a baseball fan.