Really? This guy beat me? A History of Lesser Known Players Coming up Big in Baseball’s Postseason

  1. By Chris Murray

If ever there was an unlikely hero in a postseason series, San Francisco Giants outfielder Cody Ross was certainly the guy.

Here was a guy who was cut by the Florida Marlins in August and gets picked up by the Giants and helps lead them to an improbable upset of the heavily-favored Philadelphia Phillies in the 2010 National League Championship Series.

In that series, Ross batted .350 and hit three homeruns. Two of those dingers came off the Phillies Cy Young candidate Roy Halladay, who will spend the winter wondering how did that guy, who hit just 14 homeruns during the regular season, get a couple of dingers off him after he threw the second no-hitter in postseason history?

But Halladay should take comfort in the notion that he is far from the only big-time pitcher to surrender a home run to some relatively unknown average Joe of a player during the postseason. Baseball history is full of its share of non-descript players who’ve had their moment in the sun and made some big play during the postseason. I believe that moments like this is what makes us love the game of baseball.

As a guy who grew up as a diehard Baltimore Orioles fan, especially during the 1970s and early 1980s, the one player I will never forget out all the great players like Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray is one Terry Lee “Tito” Landrum.

Landrum hit the greatest homerun in Orioles history or at least the greatest in all my years as O’s fan.

In 1983, the Orioles picked up the 28-year-old Landrum from the St. Louis Cardinals on Aug. 31 of that year. He started the 1983 season playing for the Cardinals Class AAA farm team in Louisville.

In fact, he was the player to be named later in the trade that sent catcher/third baseman Floyd Rayford to the Cardinals in June 1983.  Between Baltimore and St. Louis, Landrum played in just 33 games during the regular season and batted .298.

In Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, the Chicago White Sox were down 2-1 and on the brink of elimination in what was then a best of five series. Britt Burns was the starting pitcher for the Chisox and was brilliant for nine and one-thirds innings.

Burns had scattered just five hits during that span and kept the Orioles off the scoreboard. Unfortunately, the White Sox didn’t push across any runs thanks in part to a base running mistake by Jerry Dybsinski with two out in the bottom of the seventh when he overran second base with Vance Law already on third. During the rundown, Law tried to score from third and was thrown out at the plate. The game went into extra innings.

With one out in the 10th, Landrum, who was the O’s right fielder in that game, crushed a 1-0 fastball into the left field seats at Comiskey Park. As Landrum trotted around the bases, I will never forget the stunned look on Burns’ face. It was like how did the player to be named in a later in a trade get one off me like that?

Burns had eight strikeouts in that game. The Orioles, who scored two more runs in the 10th, went on to win the game, the American League Pennant, and ultimately the 1983 World Series.

Landrum, who was traded back to the Cardinals before the 1984 season, would go on to taste more postseason success with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985. In the NLCS that year, he batted .429 and he batted .360 with nine hits in the World Series.

Looking at his career in its totality, Landrum was primarily a bench player, who finished his nine-year career with a .249 batting average, 111 runs batted in and 13 homeruns.  He will always be remembered for the homerun that propelled the O’s to their last World Series title.

Brooklyn Dodgers outfielder Sandy Amoros was definitely not a household name in the 1950s nor is he one of those guys you hear talked about much if you’re talking about the great players in the team’s history.

Amoros will always occupy a special place in the hearts of Dodgers fans for what he did with his glove.

In Game 7 of the 1955 World Series, the Dodgers were holding a precarious 2-0 lead over the New York Yankees in the bottom of the sixth inning. With a man on first and nobody out, Yankees catcher Yogi Berra hit what looked to be a double or a triple into the  spacious, deep left field corner of Yankee Stadium

However, Amoros, who throws lefthanded, reached out for the ball with his glove hand and made the catch.  He then threw the ball back to shortstop Pee Wee Reese who relayed the ball to Gil Hodges at first to double up Gil McDougald. Hank Bauer grounded out to end the inning for the Yankees, who didn’t threaten the rest of the way. The Dodgers finally won the World Series against their hated crosstown rivals after four tries.

Then there’s the story of New York Mets infielder Al Weis and the 1969 World Series. Talk about a player and a team that would have opposing players talking to themselves in the offseason.

In just five games, the Mets beat an Orioles team that won 109 games during the regular season with three future Hall-of-Famers in Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and Jim Palmer. The Mets had a whole team of guys, with the exception of Tom Seaver, Tug McGraw, and Nolan Ryan, you probably never heard of before and after that Series.

Donn Clendenon, who started the season with the Montreal Expos in 1969, won the MVP Award.  Meanwhile, guys like outfielder Ron Swoboda were flying around the outfield making diving catches and looking like the second coming of Willie Mays while robbing the Orioles of extra base hits.

But it was Weis who came up huge in the Mets improbable upset of the Orioles.

In Game 2, Weis, who finished his career with a .218 lifetime batting average, hit a game-winning RBI-single off Dave McNally in the ninth to give the Mets a 2-1 victory.  In Game 5, Weis, who had just six lifetime homeruns to that point in his career, hit the game-tying homerun of McNally, a 20-game winner that year.

I suspect that as Weis was rounding the bases, McNally had to be thinking, “that guy hit a home run off me? Really? Really? Who is this guy?”  In an 800-game career (1962-1971), Weis had just seven career homeruns—two of them off McNally.

That was Weis’ last glimpse of glory in baseball, the Mets released him in July, 1971.

A final postscript to that 1969 World Series.  As an intern at the Milwaukee Journal in 1990, I ran into Brooks Robinson at Milwaukee’s old County Stadium and struck up a conversation. He told me that losing that 1969 Series  bothered him because he felt that was the Orioles best team even better than the team that won it 1970.

Robinson told me it really hit him during a taping of the old ABC TV series, “The  American Sportsman,” when he asked himself  (paraphrasing) how did those guys beat us?

If you’re a Boston Red Sox fan, turn away from this section. The story of New York Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent or as Boston fans like to refer to him, Bucky “F—-g” Dent is another in the stories of unlikely heroes coming through in crunch time.

Here was a guy who, in the eyes of some White Sox fans, failed to fill the big shoes left by Hall of Fame  shortstop Luis Aparicio and then comes to the New York Yankees to become a hero in 1978.

In the one-game playoff between the Yankees and the Red Sox at Fenway Park, Dent hit a three-run homerun that put the Yankees on top for good.  In his  12-year career, Dent hit just 40 homeruns.  New York would go on to win the 1978 World Series with Dent as its MVP.

Perhaps the ultimate obscure player story in baseball’s postseason is the story of New York Yankees pitcher Don Larsen, the journeyman pitcher who threw the only perfect game in World Series history.

A relatively unknown player who played with about seven teams and had a 3-21 record with the then expansion Baltimore Orioles, Larsen had a reputation for being a carouser and partier like his teammate Mickey Mantle.

But Larsen started Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the defending champion Brooklyn Dodgers. According to many accounts at the time, Larsen’s teammates were shocked that he was on the mound for that game after he lasted just two innings in Game 2 of that series.

Larsen pitched liked he was the second coming of Walter Johnson and Cy Young and shut down a Dodgers team that had Hall-of-Famers like Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider and Roy Campanella. One sportswriter described him as an “imperfect man who pitched the perfect game.”

That’s the real beauty of baseball, where the sun can really shine on a dog’s ass once and it’s not a bad thing.

One thought on “Really? This guy beat me? A History of Lesser Known Players Coming up Big in Baseball’s Postseason

  1. Pingback: October Surprise: KC’s Guthrie Joins List of Unlikely World Series Heroes | The Chris Murray Report

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