Unlikely Stars Flourishing Again In Postseason
NOAH TRISTER,AP Baseball Writer
Quintin Berry slapped a slow grounder to the right side of the infield and took off toward first base, arriving safely when an Oakland pitcher fumbled the ball and had to chase after it.
A run scored on the play, giving Detroit the lead in its postseason opener — and raising a couple immediate questions for the casual viewer:
1. Who in the world is Quintin Berry?
2. What’s he doing altering the course of a playoff game?
Berry’s hustle was only the beginning. Throughout the first week of the postseason, unknowns and journeymen have enjoyed moments in the spotlight. It’s all part of the game’s October Surprise. At this time of year seemingly anybody — remember Francisco Cabrera? — can take a star turn.
Just before his 27th birthday last November, Berry signed with the Tigers as a minor league free agent. He made his big league debut in May and stole 21 bases in the regular season without being caught.
On Saturday night, Berry’s infield single — and the error by Jarrod Parker — gave Detroit a 2-1 lead. The Tigers went on to win 3-1, and Berry reflected afterward on whether all this seemed possible last winter.
“I would have said, ‘No chance.’ Are you crazy? Wouldn’t have believed it,” Berry said. “I can’t believe it. I wasn’t going to be here, let alone get a chance to start. Amazing. I’m blessed.”
Not every unexpected contribution comes from an unheralded rookie. Sometimes, it’s a veteran whose career was all but forgotten.
In Game 2, Detroit’s Don Kelly — who was designated for assignment by the Tigers in early August — entered as a pinch-runner in the eighth inning and scored the tying run. Then he hit a sacrifice fly in the ninth to give Detroit a 5-4 victory.
Not to be outdone, the Athletics rallied for two straight victories at home. Oakland confounded the experts all season. Coming into the year, first baseman Brandon Moss had hit 15 homers in his career and none since 2009. He hit 21 this season.
“We have a catcher playing third, we have a shortstop playing second, we have an outfielder playing first and we have a converted first baseman as our best left-handed reliever,” general manager Billy Beane said.
That reliever is Sean Doolittle, who started to throw bullpen sessions last year to distract him from the frustration of another injury that derailed a once-promising career as a power-hitting first baseman.
“The journey that Doolittle has taken is pretty amazing,” Beane said. “Now we all look for him in the bullpen and forget that he was in the instructional league last year and throwing about his third or fourth inning in professional baseball — if you count that as professional baseball. So that journey’s been pretty incredible.”
The Baltimore Orioles — who were sort of the AL East’s version of the A’s this year — beat Texas in a wild card game behind two RBIs by Nate McLouth. That’s the same Nate McLouth who hit .190 for Atlanta in 2010 and wasn’t much better last season. He was in the minor leagues as recently as August.
McLouth might feel at home on a roster that also includes outfielder Lew Ford, who was with Minnesota from 2003-07, then played in Japan, Mexico and the independent Atlantic League before returning to the majors with the Orioles less than three months ago.
And then there’s Miguel Gonzalez, the Game 3 starter for Baltimore.
The 28-year-old Gonzalez, born in Mexico, sat out the 2008 and 2009 seasons because of a knee injury and Tommy John surgery. He was 0-7 with a 5.40 ERA at three spots in Boston’s farm system last season, then was released by the Red Sox in December. He signed with Baltimore during spring training and began the season at Triple-A Norfolk.
“I did have my ups and downs. It was tough playing in the minors for seven years and being on the disabled list for two years,” he said. “I got called up this year, even playing in Triple-A with the Norfolk Tides, and I just went out there to have fun, and things changed. From one year to another, you never know where you’re going to be at, and I’m really happy where I’m at right now.”
Gonzalez calmly pitched seven impressive innings Wednesday night, but he ended up with a no-decision when New York’s Raul Ibanez hit two late home runs to lift the Yankees. Ibanez was an unlikely standout, but he at least hit 19 homers this year. Postseason history is filled with memorable performances by less accomplished players.
Cabrera had the winning hit for Atlanta in Game 7 of the NL championship series in 1992. That was an extreme example, but the postseason is compressed enough that a player need only play well for a week or so to become an overnight sensation.
It’s enough to leave a manager scratching his head. Washington’s Davey Johnson was facing elimination Thursday after a big home run the previous afternoon by St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma. In 2007, Kozma was a first-round draft pick, but he hit .236 in nearly 2,500 at-bats over six seasons in the minors.
St. Louis second baseman Daniel Descalso hit only .227 in the regular season. In the division series against Washington, he hit .300 with a homer and three RBIs in the first three games. He also had a homer robbed by right fielder Jayson Werth in Game 1.
“Descalso, .220 hitter — he looks like Rod Carew out there, with power,” Johnson said before Thursday’s Game 4.
Of course, back in 1986, Johnson managed the New York Mets to a World Series title behind the exploits of third baseman Ray Knight, who’d had a fairly nondescript career to that point but ended up as the World Series MVP.
Now, Johnson has been on the other end of baseball’s fickle postseason, and it was St. Louis manager Mike Matheny who was savoring his good fortune.
“As far as Pete Kozma goes, nobody knew what to expect. Pete’s been just a great shot in the arm for us, much needed,” Matheny said. “Coming into that eighth hole in this lineup, sometimes that does cause a team or a pitcher to take a breath. Next thing you know … Pete comes up with a big hit, and that can be a little bit of a shocker.”
AP Sports Writers Howard Fendrich, Janie McCauley and Mike Fitzpatrick contributed to this report.
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