1) Randy Johnson
A common thread among World Series heroes is their willingness to sacrifice self for the good of the team. Johnson’s story is no different. Just a day after throwing 107 pitches in Game Six of the 2001 World Series, Johnson returned in the eighth inning of Game Seven with the go-ahead run on base and tore through the middle of the Yankees lineup for 1 1/3 innings. Tony Womack and Luis Gonzalez would play their parts in the bottom of the ninth to tie and win the game, but Johnson and Curt Schilling shared the Series MVP award. Johnson was not just a guy afterward, of course, as he won his fourth-straight Cy Young award in 2002 and found regular season success until his retirement, but his postseason conquests left something to be desired. In four appearances, he went 19 innings, allowed 30 hits, and yielded 16 runs (those numbers include 4 1/3 innings of shutout relief work). Yet because of Johnson’s 2001 heroics, nobody will remember his failures in the postseason thereafter. —R.J. Anderson
2) Orel Hershiser
Orel Hershiser closed 1988 on one of the greatest runs in baseball history, having broken fellow Dodger Don Drysdale’s long-standing record with 59 consecutive scoreless innings and six straight shutouts. After winding up on the short end of his Games One and Three starts against the Mets in the NLCS, he came out of the bullpen to get the save in the 12th inning of a thrilling Game Four—filling in for suspended closer Jay Howell—and spun a five-hit shutout in the decisive Game Seven. He bettered that in the World Series against the heavily-favored A's, twirling a three-hit shutout in Game Two and applying the coup de grâce in Game Five with a complete-game four-hitter and three hits of his own. After taking MVP honors in both rounds of the playoffs, he unanimously won the NL Cy Young thanks to his 23-8, 2.31 ERA line and was named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year.
No one who saw the Dodgers' meager offense in that postseason could have been surprised that he dropped to 15-15 the following season despite a virtual carbon copy of his stat line; his run support fell from 4.1 runs per game to 3.2. He tore his rotator cuff on April 25, 1990 and missed 13 months; when he returned, he would never again be the dominant hurler he was in 1988-1989, but the Bulldog would grind his way to 204 wins in a career that lasted until 2000, accompanied by a few more October highlights. He stuck with the Dodgers through the strike-shortened 1994 season, then signed with the Indians as soon as the strike ended.
Hershiser enjoyed a renaissance in Cleveland, where he was backed by a fearsome offense—Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Eddie Murray, Carlos Baerga—that cranked out a league-high 5.83 runs per game en route to an MLB-best 100-44 record. Even better, he posted a 1.53 ERA over five postseason starts, combining on a shutout of the Red Sox, beating the Mariners twice, and splitting a pair of decisions against the Braves in the World Series; with his team down 3-1, he outdueled Greg Maddux in Game Five to stave off elimination, but the Braves clinched the championship in the next game. Hershiser helped the Indians to the 1997 World Series as well, but his postseason magic finally ran out; he was tagged for 13 runs in 10 innings over two World Series starts. After bouncing around to the Giants and Mets, he returned to LA for a short-lived reunion in 2000. When he walked off the mound amid an eight-run second inning on June 26—one of many awful starts—Dodger fans recognized that the end had arrived and gave him a warm and lengthy standing ovation in gratitude for his past heroics. —Jay Jaffe
3) Kirk Gibson
Kirk Gibson was the phenom, the homegrown, hometown hero; he was Deion Sanders before there was a Primetime. The anticipation for Gibson’s career knew no boundaries; Hall of Fame Manager Sparky Anderson anointed Gibson as the “Next Mickey Mantle”. Unfortunately, the similarities between the two would be most closely linked by their lack of health when it came to their knees. As a Tiger, Gibson had your typical slugging outfield numbers; he batted .273 as a Tiger and belted 195 regular season homeruns. It was, however, one World Series homerun during the magical Bless You Boys summer of 1984 that forever etched Gibby in Detroit Tigers history.
1984 was a break-out year for Gibson as he belted 27 home runs, stolen 29 bases, knocked in 91 RBIs, and a .282 batting average. This would have been enough most years, but in Game Five of the 1984 World Series versus the San Diego Padres, Gibby strode to the plate with a 5-4 Tigers lead to face Goose Gossage. The story that unfolded from this moment is the stuff of legend; on one hand, you had the fifth-year outfielder who had once been called the “Next Mantle,” and on the other hand, you had a future Hall of Fame reliever who talked his manager into pitching to Gibson. With Sparky yelling "He don't want to walk you!" from the third base dugout, Gibby took aim at Gossage’s 1-0 fastball, then with one mighty swing, he launched that 1-0 pitch into the upper deck in right field of Tiger Stadium. One swing doesn’t normally get remembered, but there isn’t a Detroit Tigers that was alive in 1984 that can’t picture that moment in their minds eye as if they were there.
But this World Series hero wasn’t done there …
By the summer of 1988, Gibson was no longer a Tiger; he had moved to the National League and was now manning the outfield for the Dodgers. Gibson brought his championship pedigree with him from Detroit, putting together an NL MVP-winning season in Los Angeles thanks to a .290 average with 25 home runs, 76 RBIs, 106 runs, and 31 stolen bases. Once again though, a career regular season wasn’t enough to satisfy Gibby. In Game One of the 1988 World Series, Gibby made his one and only appearance of the Series. Since he had a stomach virus and two injured legs from the NLCS, he had not been expected to play in the Series at all. Yet with a man on and the Dodgers down a run in the 9th inning, manager Tommy Lasorda sent Gibson to the plate to face another future Hall of Fame reliever in Dennis Eckersley. On a 3-2 pitch and badly hobbled, Gibby put one of the most awkward upper body swings on a baseball that anyone will ever see. The result of this swing was pure legend as he made contact and sent the ball into the right field stands, limping around the bases and into history with one of the most iconic images of all times.
Gibson was never the same player after those injuries in 1988, but on the biggest stage, with the brightest lights, Kirk Gibson was a two time World Series hero and a fan favorite forever. —Adam Tower
4) “Smokey” Joe Wood
In 1912, right-hander “Smoky” Joe Wood went 34-5 for the Boston Red Sox. That works out to an .872 winning percentage—third all-time among 30-game winners, behind only Lefty Grove (.886 in 1931) and Al Spalding (.915 in 1875). Wood led the American League in wins, complete games (35, in 38 starts), and shutouts (10). He finished a mere second in strikeouts with 258 because some guy named Walter Johnson pitched in the same league.
Wood then went 3-1 in the World Series. In Game One, he outdueled the Giants' Jeff Tesreau, going the distance and fanning 11. Wood also scored his team's final run in a 4-3 victory at the Polo Grounds.
Three days later, Wood beat Tesreau in New York, this time allowing one run and registering eight punchouts. He again helped his own cause, going 2-for-4 with an RBI. (With a 2-1 lead and two out in the top of the ninth, he batted for himself and drove home Hick Cady to finish the game's scoring.)
Four days later, the two hooked up a third time in Boston, and Wood got shelled. He gave up six runs in the first and was yanked by skipper Jake Stahl. The Red Sox lost, 11-4, but Wood's early departure meant that he would be available for the deciding game.
The next day, Boston starter Hugh Bedient matched New York's Christy Mathewson for seven innings. Then, with the score tied, 1-1, Stahl summoned Wood, who stayed with Mathewson until the Giants broke through with a run in the top of the 10th. Fortunately for Wood, Fred Snodgrass committed his famous “****” in the bottom half, which opened the door for Boston's 3-2 victory and championship.
Wood was worked hard in 1912 and never recovered (344 regular-season innings, plus 22 more in the World Series, at age 22 is a bit much):
Qualitatively, those post-1912 numbers are good (he led the AL in winning percentage and ERA in 1915—his last full season as a pitcher), but he couldn't be counted on for more than 140-150 innings. Wood therefore did the only sensible thing; after three years of hurling, he went to the Cleveland Indians and became an outfielder, hitting .297/.374/.431 (116 OPS+) for them from 1917 to 1922.
Wood didn't become a star in the outfield as he was on the mound, but he had a career. And although he never reached the postseason before or after 1912, there's a lot to be said for being credited with three of your team's four World Series wins. —Geoff Young
5) Scott Brosius
The 1998 Yankees were a powerhouse, winning 114 regular season games en route to their first of three consecutive championships. Despite a roster filled with All-Stars and future Hall of Famers, it was the performance of Scott Brosius that helped put them over the top in the playoffs. In the World Series sweep of the Padres, Brosius hit .471 and slugged .824, including winning Game Three with a three-run homer off of Trevor Hoffman—his second of the game. Brosius won the World Series MVP and capped off a 1998 season which blew away his abysmal 53 OPS+ 1997 performance with the A’s. The best offensive season of Brosius’ career was 2008, so for him to have an outstanding October was fitting.
Although the Yankees would win the next two championships, it was not due to Brosius’ bat. His OBP dipped from .371 in 1998 to .307 in 1999 and bottoming out at .299 in 2000, one of the most prolific offensive seasons in MLB history. WARP had him at -0.7 in 2000—the worst season of his career by that measure. The one area where Brosius continued to do well was the playoffs, putting up an OPS of .927 with a home run in the Yankees’ Subway Series win over the Mets in 2000. His final season was 2001, when he rebounded with a 2.6 WARP and 105 OPS+. Though the Yankees lost the World Series to Arizona and Brosius only hit .167, he provided more postseason heroics with his game-tying home run with two outs in the 9th inning of Game Five. Brosius had an easily forgettable career but will certainly be remembered for his performance in the 1998 World Series which capped off one of the best seasons by any team ever. —Sam Tydings
6) Jermaine Dye
In the market for a new right fielder to replace departing free agent Magglio Ordonez after the 2004 season, the White Sox bought low on Jermaine Dye. A free agent himself, Dye had earned $11 million the year before in Oakland, but Chicago GM Ken Williams managed to lock him up for just $10.15 million over the next two seasons.
Dye provided solid middle-of-the-order production in his first season on the South Side as the White Sox rolled to their 2005 division title. Then, on the game’s biggest stage, he got hot. But as impressive as Dye was in propelling the Sox to their ’05 Series sweep—he hit .438/.526/.688 in the four games—there was no hangover effect the following year. He put together the best season of his career in 2006, posting a 5.7 WARP mark while blasting 44 home runs and hitting .315/.385/.622. The effort not only earned Dye an All-Star selection and a fifth-place finish in the AL MVP voting, it made him one of the better free-agent bargains in recent years. —Jeff Euston
7) Jack Morris
Being a World Series hero in one city is more than enough for an average ballplayer, but being a World Series Hero in three cities is the stuff of legend—the stuff of Jack Morris.
Morris and the Detroit Tigers got off to a 35-5 start in 1984, the summer that all of Detroit came to know as the “Summer of Sparky” and the “Bless You Boys”. This historic Tigers start was highlighted by Morris throwing a no-hitter against the White Sox on April 7. This no-hitter, coupled with 19 regular season wins, was enough to cement him as one of the elite pitchers of his day, but it would be the two complete games he threw in the Tigers’ 4-1 World Series win over the San Diego Padres that confirmed him as the greatest pitcher of the 1980s. He won 21 games in 1986, finishing second in the Cy Young voting to Roger Clemens, but in 1987, Morris and the Tigers were back in the playoffs. Unfortunately, Morris was physically present but statistically absent, and the Tigers failed to reach the World Series.
However, like any good legend, Jack Morris was not done. In 1991, Morris returned home to his native Minnesota and the Twins and the Twins, behind Morris and his 18 regular season wins, reached the World Series. Morris would start three times in the Series, with his final outing being Game Seven. In what would prove to be a postseason performance for the ages, the 36-year-old hurler lived up to his billing by throwing 10 innings of shutout baseball against the Braves as the Twins won the world title on a 10th inning single that scored Dan Gladden. Having started three of the games and throwing 10 innings in Game Seven, Morris was named the World Series MVP
Once again though, Morris wasn’t done. This time, he took his talents north of the border to Toronto. 1992 and 1993 would see Morris win his third and fourth World Series rings. In ’92, he won 21 regular season games and was largely responsible for their reaching the postseason, although his numbers in the playoffs were less than stellar. In ‘93, he once again “won the ring,” although in far less glory as he did not pitch in the playoffs, and the hero of the World Series for the Blue Jays was Joe Carter.
Not many guys win one World Series ring, and even fewer win four rings, and fewer still win them in three different cities as a key player. Jack Morris is without a doubt one of the greatest postseason figures of all time. —Adam Tower
8) David Freese
David Freese hit his way into the national spotlight this October as the St. Louis third baseman won the Most Valuable Player award in both the National League Championship and World Series while helping his hometown Cardinals win an improbable championship. Will Freese's postseason heroics serve as a springboard to stardom in 2012? Probably not, according to both scouts and our own resident projection expert, Colin Wyers. Three scouts who saw Freese play quite often this past season were polled, and none thought the 28-year-old had star potential. "He's a good, solid ballplayer," one scout said. "He'll give you a good effort every day, but for me, he's not a guy who is going to carry a ballclub or someone you build around. He's a nice complementary player on a good team." The early PECOTA projections for Freese in 2012 by Wyers are nothing to get overly excited about either. Freese is preliminarily forecast for a .269/.328/.435 triple-slash line with 15 home runs in 450 plate appearances. —John Perrotto
9) Francisco Rodriguez
When the Angels broke camp in 2003, Francisco Rodriguez was a 21-year-old with five career regular season innings, though he was coming off a dominant postseason performance. In his first outing of the 2003 season, he allowed a solo home run. In his second, he walked two batters, allowed three runs, and blew a seventh-inning lead. In his third, he allowed two hits, and in his fourth, he allowed two runs, including another home run. By May 21, he had pitched in 15 games with an ERA of 5.48, less than a K per inning, five walks per nine, and the Angels had dropped him into low-leverage work. Rodriguez could have easily had this bad stretch during the 2002 postseason, and if he had, the Angels wouldn't have won the World Series. Teams often win the World Series because they get a great performance from a non-great player; just as importantly, though, is dodging the anomalously bad performance from a star, as the Angels did. And Rodriguez was definitely a star: from May 22 until the end of the 2003, he had a 2.14 ERA and nearly doubled his whiff rate. The bad month was merely a bump, and it came, fortunately, when it didn't matter. —Sam Miller
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