CHASE UTLEY – Sully Baseball Unsung Post Season Hero of November 2

 (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

NOVEMBER 2, 2009 – World Series Game 5

There is a disconnect that happens in baseball from time to time. It is a team sport that celebrates the individual. The way to measure wins and loss and the essential point of the game is to score runs or drive in runs. And yet people measuring player’s individual value often ignore runs scored and RBI in the process.

A great individual accomplishment can sometimes be overshadowed or ignored because of the team’s performance. A case in point is Chase Utley, hardly an unknown player, but someone whose individual achievement in the 2009 World Series should have put him in the pantheon of greats. Instead, it has mainly been forgotten.

The Phillies were the defending World Champions in 2009. And despite some subpar performances from their pitchers, especially the once dominant and now explosive Brad Lidge, they won the NL East again. Then after dramatic if strange post season series against Colorado and Los Angeles, were back in the World Series.

They faced the Yankees, in the World Series for the first time since 2003. In Game 1 of the World Series, Chase Utley homered twice and mid season pick up Cliff Lee went the distance, giving the Phillies the early lead.

Then the Yankees won three straight wild games. Despite another homer by Utley in Game 4, the Phillies found themselves entering Game 5 with the season on the line.

Cliff Lee once again took the hill for Philadelphia. A. J. Burnett, coming off of surprise Game 2 win, started for New York.

An Alex Rodriguez double in the first game put Philadelphia in an early 1-0 hole. In the bottom of the first, Chase Utley took care of that. His no out, 3 run first inning homer gave the Phillies a 3-1 advantage. Now he had 4 homers over the first 5 games.

Utley walked to lead off the third, sparking a three run rally to chase Burnett. In the 7th Utley faced Yankee reliever Phil Coke.

On a 3-2 pitch, Utley launched a ball into the right centerfield seats. Utley had matched the highest post season series home run total. Five in a single World Series had only been accomplished by Reggie Jackson. Utley’s feat should have become the stuff of legends.

The Phillies would hang on and win Game 5 as Ryan Madson, NOT Brad Lidge, finished the game up, 8-6.

In Yankee Stadium for Game 6, Utley would go hitless. The one time that he reached base on a walk, he was driven home by Ryan Howard’s homer. The Yankees would go on to win the game, 7-3 and take the series in 6.

In the end, Utley’s posted an OPS of 1.448 in the World Series with his record tying 5 homers. But nobody remembers great performances when the team loses. Instead of being a great moment in World Series history, Utley’s home run barrage has become a foot note.

Utley has become more famous for breaking Ruben Tejada’s leg in the 2015 Division Series than any World Series heroism. But this author recognizes his greatness. That’s why I am declaring him the Sully Baseball Unsung Hero of November 2.

MIKE MUSSINA – Sully Baseball Unsung Post Season Hero for November 1

Al Bello/Getty Images Sport

Al Bello/Getty Images Sport

NOVEMBER 1, 2001 – World Series Game 5

Mike Mussina joined the Yankees after they won the 2000 World Series. He retired after the 2008 regular season. That means his 8 year tenure with the Yankees was perfectly bookended with World Championships that he did not participate in.

Oddly, he never seemed to be embraced by Yankee fans despite some fine seasons. Perhaps his never getting a ring with the team hurt his cause. (Although Kenny Rogers, Denny Neagle and Jose Canseco all won rings with the Joe Torre Yankees and they are not exactly beloved members of the franchise.)

And in his first year with the Yankees, 2001, he put together a pair of performances that showed he was able to produce when the Yankees needed him the most.

His first post season start for the Yankees was Game 3 of the Division Series. The A’s were up 2-0 in the series and looking for the sweep. With the season on the line, Mussina threw 7 shutout innings (the final out recorded on “The Jeter Flip.”) Had Mussina been roughed up and did not match Barry Zito’s 8 inning, 2 hit performance, there would not have been any of the post September 11th World Series drama in the Bronx.

After a win in the ALCS against Seattle, Mussina was clobbered in Game 1 of the World Series in Arizona. His chance for redemption came in Game 5.

Tino Martinez and Derek Jeter hit their dramatic homers that turned Arizona’s chance to take a 3-1 lead into a tied 2-2 series. With Schilling already used in Game 4, Diamondbacks started Miguel Batista. He was more than up for the challenge, keeping the Yankees off the board over 7 2/3 innings.

Mussina could not afford to let up a big rally to the Diamondbacks. Despite their flair for the dramatic, the Yankees offense was stagnant against Arizona pitching. They were 1-24 with runners in scoring position going into the 9th of Game 5.

In the 5th inning with the game scoreless, Mussina allowed home runs to Steve Finley and catcher Rod Barajas. But they were both solo shots and the score was 2-0.

Mussina allowed only 3 other hits over the course of 8 innings. The night after an emotional extra inning game, Mussina was doing his best to take the pressure off of the bullpen, wiggling out of a first and third pickle in the 8th. He struck out 10 along the way and kept the Yankees in the game.

Finally he gave way to Ramiro Mendoza in the 9th, still on the hook for a tough luck loss. Scott Brosius came to his rescue with his 2 run homer off of Kim in the 9th. The Yankees would ultimately win in the 12th when Alfonso Soriano singled home Chuck Knoblauch. Reliever Sterling Hitchcock was credited with the win but it was Mike Mussina’s performance that set it up.

The Yankees would lose the World Series in the 9th inning of Game 7. But the likes of Jeter, Soriano, Martinez and Brosius were all long remembered for raising the spirits of the heart broken city.┬áMussina’s heroism would not be noted as a contributor to a title. His relief performance in the Aaron Boone game also never seems to be brought up.

His contributions are not lost on this author, making him the unsung hero for November 1.

ANDRES TORRES – Sully Baseball Unsung Post Season Hero for October 31

Tim Sharp/Reuters

Tim Sharp/Reuters

OCTOBER 31, 2010 – World Series Game 4

Andres Torres is one of those players that a fan base loves disproportionately to their stats.

A casual look at his career shows he was a journeyman minor leaguer with some cups of coffee in the big leagues before earning a starting job with the Giants while in his 30’s.

He had one good full season and followed that up with 3 nondescript seasons before seeing his career end in the minors.

Bring his name up among Giants fans and see them light up. Still a fan favorite at AT&T Park, he cemented his status of permanently loved Giant when they played on Halloween, 2010.

The Giants won a hotly contested NL West title over a surprising Padres squad. After beating Atlanta in the Division Series, they stunned the heavily favored two time defending NL Champion Phillies in the NLCS.

Bruce Bochy’s squad was filled with solid starting pitching, led by Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, and an outrageously deep bullpen, anchored by eccentric Brian Wilson. They would face the Rangers in a World Series of snake bitten franchises.

The Giants took the first two in San Francisco but Texas won Game 3. The fourth game was a showdown between two young pitchers who shone that regular season. Rangers pitcher Tommy Hunter was 23 years old, had the best winning percentage in the American League after going 13-4 and threw to a 3.73 ERA. The Giants threw 21 year old rookie Madison Bumgarner. He would show up again in subsequent Octobers.

The Rangers hoped that with a win, they could hand the ball to Cliff Lee to get a 3-2 lead. The Giants knew a Game 4 win would mean handing the ball to Lincecum with a chance to clinch.

The Giants leadoff man was Andres Torres. He had been drafted back in 1998 by the Tigers but never caught on in Detroit. He played 19 games for the Tigers in 2002, 59 in 2003 and 3 in 2004 before making an 8 game cameo for Texas in 2005 and returning to the minors.

After bouncing around between the Twins, Cubs and Tigers again, Torres landed with the Giants in 2009 and stayed with the big league club for most of the season.

In 2010, he started 124 games, making the most of the playing time opened up with injuries to Mark DeRosa and Aaron Rowand. Torres won the Willie Mac Award, given to the Giant who showed the greatest leadership and spirit on the Giants. On a roster filled with beloved San Francisco stars, that was quite an honor.

The leadership, and more importantly the bat, of Torres was on display in the World Series. He led off Game 4 with a single and stole second. He would not score but he was setting the tone for the game.

He led off the third with a double and would score on Aubrey Huff’s homer. Meanwhile, Bumgarner held the Rangers scoreless inning after inning.

In the 7th, the score was still 2-0 Giants. A modest Texas rally would tie the game. With 2 outs in the top of the 7th and Edgar Renteria on first, Torres stepped up to the plate again.

He lined a double to centerfield on the second pitch and Renteria came all the way around to score. Now the Giants had a 3-0 lead. Bumgarner and Wilson would make it stand as the final was 4-0.

Torres final line was 3 for 5 with 2 doubles, a run scored and another knocked in. The Giants would clinch the next day. For the series, Torres batted .318 with an OPS of .984. Not bad for a career minor leaguer.

Eventually, Torres was dealt to the Mets for Angel Pagan, who would go on to become a World Champion Giant himself. Torres returned to San Francisco in 2013. He hasn’t played in the bigs since.

But he will always be a beloved World Champion Giant and his worth will go beyond the box score. That makes him the Unsung Post Season Hero for October 31.