The MLB Playoffs begin on Tuesday, and every year, a few players rise above the rest in the game’s biggest moments. Most people remember Madison Bumgarner‘s legendary run in the 2014 playoffs, or David Ortiz‘s monstrous performance in 2013, but then there are times where some lesser-known players steal the spotlight. In fact, sometimes these players bounce around a few different clubs in the season before playing hero in the playoffs.
MLB Playoffs: One Obscure Hero, 2010-Present
Cody Ross, SFG, 2010
A fourth-round pick in 1999, Cody Ross became an every day with the Marlins after brief stints with the Tigers, Dodgers, and Reds between 2003-2006. In August of 2010 though, Ross was back on the waiver wire when the Giants added him.
In the NLDS, Ross went 4-for-15 and drove a game-tying home run in the decisive Game 4. Facing the two-time defending NL champion Phillies in the NLCS, Ross opened the series with a bang, crushing two home runs off Cy Young winner Roy Halladay in a 4-3 victory in Game 1. Ross went deep in Game 2 against Roy Oswalt, and he opened the scoring in Game 3 with an RBI single, kickstarting a 3-0 Giants win. Overall, Ross went 7-for-20 in the series, recording a hit in each game and picking up NLCS MVP honors.
In the World Series, Ross smacked his fifth homer of the postseason. He finished the MLB Playoffs with a 1.076 OPS in 59 plate appearances and a World Series ring. This ended up being the only postseason Ross played in.
Allen Craig, STL, 2011
After a slow start in the NLDS, Craig made the most of his eight at-bats in the NLCS, collecting three hits including a home run in Game 4 and a pinch-hit two-run single to cap a four-run third inning in the decisive Game 6. Craig began the World Series with a pair of pinch-hit RBI knocks in games 1 and 2, then went deep in a 16-7 victory in Game 3.
In Game 6, Craig homered off Derek Holland to trim the Texas lead to two before Freese’s heroics sent the series to a Game 7. In the fourth inning, Craig untied the game with his third homer of the series, a solo shot off Matt Harrison. In the sixth, Craig robbed Nelson Cruz of a potential homer, and the Cardinals went on to claim their ring with a 6-2 victory. Overall, Craig finished the postseason with four homers and eight RBIs, all of which came in the final two rounds.
Phil Coke, DET, 2012
Phil Coke won a World Series ring with the Yankees in 2009, but he’d had an up-and-down tenure in Detroit after getting traded in 2010. In 2012, he posted a 4.00 ERA in 54 innings, largely working as lefty specialist.
In the ALDS, Coke dodged traffic, but held the A’s in check over 1 2/3 scoreless innings as the Tigers advanced in a five-game showdown. With Jose Valverde struggling, Coke assumed the closer’s role during the ALCS. In Game 2, he struck out three in a six-out save, then he danced out of danger to earn a save in Game 3. In Game 4, he tossed two scoreless innings to send the Tigers to the World Series.
While Coke was charged with a loss in the final game of the Fall Classic, he struck out eight batters in 3 1/3 innings of work. Overall, he finished the 2012 MLB Playoffs with a microscopic 0.84 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings.
Junichi Tazawa, BOS, 2013
Junichi Tazawa had a strong regular season in 2013, serving largely as the setup man for Koji Uehara. In Game 2, Tazawa pitched a scoreless eighth inning to earn a hold before Uehara locked down the save in the ninth. In Game 4, Tazawa struck out the only batter he faced, Matt Joyce, before handing the ball to Uehara, who secured the series with a four-out save.
In the ALCS, Tazawa began his series with a scoreless outing, retiring two batters in a 1-0 loss in the series opener. In Game 3 though, Tazawa entered with a man on with a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning and allowed a single to Torii Hunter. However, Tazawa struck out Miguel Cabrera, before giving way to Uehara for another four-out save.
Tazawa gave up a run in his appearance in Game 5, but recorded four outs and racked up his fourth hold of the postseason in a 4-3 victory. In Game 6, Tazawa entered with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning, but got Cabrera to ground out to keep the Tigers off the board. In the bottom half of the inning, Shane Victorino belted a grand slam over the Green Monster, and Tazawa was credited with the win after Uehara finished off the series.
In the World Series against the Cardinals, Tazawa pitched in each of the first three games of the series, allowing an inherited runner to score in Game 3 but racking up two strikeouts. In Game 4, Tazawa entered with two men on and two out in the bottom of the seventh inning and earned his fifth hold of the postseason, getting Matt Holliday to ground out to end the threat.
Tazawa entered in a jam again in Game 6, but got Allen Craig to ground out with the bases loaded to end the seventh inning. Brandon Workman and Uehara finished the series off with a pair of scoreless innings. All told, Tazawa finished the 2013 MLB Playoffs with a 1.23 ERA and six strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings across 13 games.
Travis Ishikawa, SFG, 2014
Travis Ishikawa was a member of 2010 Giants team that won it all, but since then had struggled to find a permanent home. He began the 2014 season with the Pirates, but hit the open market again in April before the Giants re-signed him. He had a respectable .731 OPS in 47 games with the team and found himself as the starting left fielder in the NLCS.
Ishikawa began the series with a 2-for-3 outing in Game 1, including an RBI single to open the scoring in a 3-0 Giants win. In Game 3, Ishikawa delivered a bases-clearing double to cap a four-run first inning in a game the Giants won 5-4 on a walk-off. In Game 5, Ishikawa came through with the signature moment of his career, drilling a walk-off three-run homer to send the Giants to the World Series, where they ended up claiming their third title in five years. Ishikawa finished the NLCS going 5-for-13 with seven RBIs.
Bartolo Colon, NYM, 2015
Bartolo Colon threw a team-leading 194 2/3 innings in 2015, but he was shifted to the bullpen for the postseason. In the NLDS, Colon gave the Mets consecutive multi-inning outings, combining to allow just one run with five strikeouts over four innings. The righty made just one appearance in the NLCS, but he recorded four outs to earn his first postseason win since 2001 as the Mets finished off a series sweep of the Cubs to advance to the World Series.
In the Fall Classic, Colon got charged with the loss in Game 1 on an unearned run, but he ate up 2 1/3 innings to give the Mets some much-needed length. In Game 4, he faced just one batter, but struck out Salvador Pérez to escape a jam in the sixth inning. Overall, Colon concluded the 2015 MLB Playoffs with a 2.08 ERA and seven strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings.
Travis Wood, CHC, 2016
The 2016 Cubs had no shortage of heroes in the playoffs. In Game 2 of the NLDS, Travis Wood entered with two outs in the top of the fourth inning, and struck out Conor Gillapsie looking to end the frame. In the bottom half of the inning, Wood belted a solo home run off George Kontos to extend the Cubs lead to 5-2. Wood then tossed a scoreless fifth inning and earned the victory as the Cubs took a 2-0 series lead. After somewhat of a rocky outing in Game 3, Wood recorded four outs in Game 4, and the Cubs rallied for a 6-5 victory to advance to the NLCS.
Wood pitched in just 1 1/3 innings in the NLCS but wasn’t charged with a single run, earning a hold in Game 1. In the World Series, Wood recorded the final out in Game 6, extending the series before the Cubs won their first title in 108 years. He finished the 2016 MLB Playoffs with a 2.84 ERA and seven strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings.
Brandon Morrow, LAD, 2017
Morrow‘s postseason numbers may look rather ugly, but that’s due in large part to a disastrous outing in Game 5 of the World Series. Before that, Morrow was a huge reason why the Dodgers even made it that far.
Serving mostly as Kenley Jansen‘s setup man, Morrow pitched in all three games on the NLCS, recording four outs and a hold in games 1 and 3. Morrow was at his best in the NLCS, pitching in four of the five games and not surrendering a single run. He recorded a hold in Game 1, then kept Game 2 tied with two scoreless frames. Morrow tossed a scoreless eighth inning in both Game 3 and Game 5 as the Dodgers advanced to the World Series.
While Morrows didn’t record a single out in Game 5, he pitched in all seven games on the World Series and went unscored upon in five of the other six games. Overall, he appeared in 14 of the Dodgers’ 15 games in the 2017 MLB Playoffs, only allowing runs in three of those games.
Steve Pearce, BOS, 2018
The 2018 Red Sox weren’t short on superstars, but it was Pearce, who they picked up from Toronto in June, that stole the show in the World Series. He got off to a solid start in the ALDS, going 4-for-12 with two RBIs, then hit a home run in the third game of the ALCS for his lone RBI of the series as Boston knocked off the reigning champion Astros.
In the World Series, Pearce didn’t record a hit until the eighth inning of Game 4, but it was a game-tying home run off Kenley Jansen. The following inning, Pearce came through with a bases-clearing double, giving the BoSox some breathing room in a 9-6 victory.
The 35-year-old wasted no time getting Boston on the board in Game 5, blasting a two-run homer off Clayton Kershaw in the top of the first inning. Pearce padded the Boston lead in the eighth inning with his second homer of the night, and the Red Sox sealed their fourth World Series in the last 15 years. For his efforts, Pearce was named World Series MVP. Unfortunately, he struggled in 2019 and was out of baseball by season’s end.
Adam Eaton, WAS, 2019
Stephen Strasburg and Howie Kendrick got most of the love for helping bring the Nationals their first title, but Adam Eaton caught fire during the World Series and was one of the team’s best hitters in the Fall Classic.
After a relatively quiet NLDS and NLCS, Eaton began the World Series with three consecutive multi-hit efforts. In Game 2, Eaton smacked the first home run of his postseason career, a two-run shot off Josh James in a 12-3 Washington victory. In Game 6, Eaton reached base three times and crushed a game-tying home run off Justin Verlander in the top of the fifth inning as the Nats evened the series with a 7-2 win. Eaton reached base twice more in Game 7, and came through with a two-run single in the top of the ninth inning, giving some breathing room for Daniel Hudson, who slammed the door on the series in the bottom half of the inning.
Pete Fairbanks, 2020, TB
The 2020 MLB Playoffs were unlike any other, with 16 teams making it in after a shortened 60-game season due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Fairbanks entered the season with just a 6.86 ERA in 21 career innings, but he emerged as a key arm for Tampa Bay during the regular season.
Fairbanks opened the playoffs by recording a save in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series against the Blue Jays, striking out two in a scoreless ninth inning. In the ALDS against the Yankees, Fairbanks allowed a run but escaped further damage to nail down a save in Game 2, evening the series. He didn’t appear in the series again until Game 5, when held the Yankees scoreless over two innings before Mike Brosseau‘s home run in the eighth inning gave the Rays a series win.
Facing the Astros in the ALCS, Fairbanks recorded a hold in games 1 and 3, recording six outs in the series opener. The righty didn’t appear again in the series until Game 7, when he danced out of trouble to record a four-out save to send the Rays to the World Series. Like most the Tampa Bay arms, Fairbanks struggled a bit in the World Series, but it can’t unnoticed that the Rays likely wouldn’t have made it that far without him.
Kendall Graveman, HOU, 2021
In his first taste of the MLB Playoffs, Kendall Graveman was fantastic for the Astros. He pitched in three of the four ALDS games, recording the final three outs in Game 2 and tossing a scoreless inning in the decisive Game 4. In the ALCS, Graveman got some more high-leverage opportunities against the Red Sox. In the series opener, Graveman worked around a two-out single by Christian Arroyo in a scoreless eighth inning, before Ryan Pressly closed out the win.
In Game 4, Graveman entered with the Astros trailing by a run and tossed a clean seventh inning before Jose Altuve evened the score with a solo home run. Graveman kept the game tied with a scoreless eighth, before the Astros exploded for seven runs in the top of the ninth inning, giving Graveman the victory. The right-hander returned to the mound in the decisive Game 6 and earned a hold when he worked out of a two-out, one-on jam thanks to a strike-him-out, throw-him-out double play.
While the Astros came up short in the World Series, Graveman did everything he could to keep them in the series. He recorded the final three outs in Game 2, retiring the side in order as Houston evened up the series at a game apiece. After he allowed a run in Game 3, Graveman got the final six outs of Game 5, which kept the Astros alive. Overall, Graveman finished the postseason with a 1.64 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 11 innings of work.
Bryan Abreu, HOU, 2022
The Astros’ bullpen was dynamite all postseason long, and Abreu may have been the most dominant arm for any team in October. He appeared in all three games of the ALDS against the Mariners, recording a hold in Game 2 and striking out six of the 12 batters he faced in 3 1/3 innings in the series.
In the ALCS, Abreu recorded another hold in Game 2, striking out Giancarlo Stanton to keep the Astros in the lead. In Game 3, Abreu struck out two in a scoreless ninth inning, giving Houston a 5-0 victory and a commanding 3-0 series lead. The fireballer appeared again in Game 4, setting down the Yankees in order, punching out Gleyber Torres to end the frame. Houston went on to win the game 6-5 and advance to the Fall Classic.
Pitching in his first World Series, Abreu recorded four outs, striking out two in a scoreless outing in the series opener, though Houston dropped the game, 6-5. In Game 4 though, Abreu struck out the side in order in the seventh inning as part of the first-ever combined no-hitter in World Series history. In Game 5 the next night, Abreu got out of two-on, two-out pickle in the seventh inning, then struck out two in a 1-2-3 eighth inning before Pressly nailed down the save. In Game 6, Abreu tossed a perfect eighth inning, striking out Kyle Schwarber on a foul bunt attempt, then Pressly finished off the series in the ninth.
All told, Abreu tossed 11 1/3 scoreless innings in the 2022 postseason, striking out 19 of the 43 batters he faced.
main image credit: Embed from Getty Images