You’ve heard the cliché “Big time players make big-time plays in big-time games.” That’s true. But sometimes mediocre players make big-time plays in big-time games.
Here’s a list of 10 unlikely World Series heroes.
Kurt Bevacqua, San Diego Padres, 1984
A career journeyman who batted .200 with one home run and nine RBIs the during the 1984 season, Bevacqua had his finest moment as a major leaguer in the ‘84 World Series. With the Padres trailing 3–2 in the fifth inning of Game 2, Bevacqua drilled a 3-run home run off Dan Petry of the Tigers to give his team a 5–3 lead that would stand — and would be San Diego’s only win of the Series. Bevacqua hit .412 with two home runs and four RBIs in 17 at bats in the 1984 World Series, and he will forever be known for his clutch long ball in Game 2.
Donn Clendenon, New York Mets, 1969
The Mets acquired Clendenon from the Montreal Expos on June 15 to play some first base and provide a veteran presence. He did that — and more. Appearing in four games (of a five-series), Clendenon hit .357 with three home runs and four RBIs en route to earning MVP honors for the Amazin’ Mets. His three home runs set a record for a five-game series that was matched by Ryan Howard of the Phillies in 2008. Clendenon retired in 1972 after an 11-year career that included stops in Pittsburgh, Montreal, New York and St. Louis.
Brian Doyle, New York Yankees, 1984
He only had 199 career at bats in four major league seasons, but Doyle will always be remembered by every Yankee fan for his heroics in the ’78 Series. Filling in for injured second baseman Willie Randolph, Doyle hit .438 with seven hits and four runs scored to help the Yankees to their second straight World Series crown. Doyle retired in 1981 after one season with the Oakland A’s. He hit .161 in the big leagues.
David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals, 2011
Freese was a part-timer in his second full season in the big leagues when the 2011 postseason began. He was a St. Louis legend and a World Series MVP by the time it ended. Freese came up big so many times in the memorable seven-game series, but will be best remembered for his unbelievably clutch play in Game 6. First, with the Cardinals facing elimination down by one run in the bottom of the ninth, Freese tied the game with a two-out, two-strike triple to right field. Two innings later, Freese opened up the bottom of the 11th with a home run that forced a Game 7. A native of the St. Louis area who grew up a Cardinals fan, Freese hit .348 with seven RBIs and four runs scored in the ’11 World Series.
Billy Hatcher, Cincinnati Reds, 1990
Hatcher enjoyed a solid 12-year career with seven different teams, but he never hit higher than .296 or more than 11 home runs in a single season. He picked a good time to get hot, however. Hatcher set two World Series records — highest batting average (.750) and most consecutive hits (seven) — to power the Reds past the heavily favored Oakland A’s in a four-game sweep. Hatcher hit four doubles, scored six runs and had two RBIs in the only World Series appearance of his career.
Jim Leyritz, New York Yankees, 1996
The up-and-coming Yankees were searching for their first World Series title in 18 years. But it didn’t look promising. The Braves, already up two games to one in the series, held a 6–0 lead heading into the sixth inning of Game 4. The Yanks chipped away with three runs in the top of the sixth and then tied the game in the eighth when Leyritz, a backup catcher, hit a 3-run pinch-hit blast over the left field wall. The Yankees went on to win the game in the 10th inning and then wrapped up the World Series title with wins in Game 5 and Game 6, both by one run.
Edgar Renteria, Florida Marlins, 1997
Renteria went on to have a brilliant 16-year career, but in 1997 the Colombian-born shortstop was in his second season in the bigs. The Marlins and Indians traded wins through the first six games of the series, setting up a Game 7 for the ages. The Marlins tied the score with a run in the bottom of the ninth and then captured their first World Series title in the bottom of the 11th when Renteria hit a single up the middle with the bases loaded and two outs. It was the ninth hit of the series for Renteria, who went on to hit .333 in 16 World Series games in his career.
Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies, 2008
Ruiz was a part-time catcher who hit .219 with four home runs for the Phillies in 2008. His bat came alive in the World Series, however. Ruiz hit .375 with one home run and three RBIs to help the Phillies get past the Tampa Bay Rays in a five-game series. Ruiz did the most damage in the Phils’ win in Game 3. First, he gave his team the lead with a solo home run in the bottom of the second, then he delivered the game-winner in the bottom of the ninth, a walk-off infield hit that scored Eric Bruntlett.
Gene Tenace, Oakland A’s, 1972
Tenace was the ultimate utility man for the A’s in 1972, appearing in 82 games at five different positions. But in the World Series, Tenace was thrust into a prominent role due to an injury to starting right fielder Reggie Jackson. Tenace delivered — in a big way. He earned World Series MVP honors after hitting .348 with four home runs (after hitting only five during the regular season) and driving in nine runs (no other player on his team had more than one RBI). Tenace was a regular on Oakland’s next two championship teams — though he only hit a combined .178 in the 1973 and ‘74 World Series — but was just a part-timer who stepped up when it mattered most in 1972.
Tony Womack, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2001
The 2001 World Series is remembered by most for Mariano Rivera’s blown save in Game 7, but Diamondback fans and will never forget Womack’s role in the comeback victory. With the D-Backs trailing 2–1 with one out in the bottom of the ninth, Womack smacked a game-tying double to right field. Two batters later, Luis Gonzalez hit a soft line drive past a drawn-in infield to give the Diamondbacks the Game 7 victory. Womack, who played 13 seasons in the bigs, hit .250 with three RBIs in the 2001 series.