I was bad at baseball as a kid.
On my fourth-grade baseball team, we barely had enough players to field a team. Come playoff time, I stood at second base, unsure of how I ended up there. I could not hit well. I could not field well. I was slow. What was I doing in a playoff game?
The final inning rolled around, and my team found itself up by one run. One mistake would be the difference between victory and heartbreak.
Then it happened.
With one out and a runner on base, the opposing batter hit a sharp ground ball straight to my position on the infield dirt.
I was terrified. The ball had found its way to the one person it did not need to go to: me.
It was a routine grounder, but I knew of only one way I could guarantee I would stop the ball. I sprawled out on the ground (I called it a dive at the time) and put my entire body between the ball and the outfield.
It hit my chest and fell harmlessly in front of me. I grabbed the ball and chucked it over to first base. As it hit the first baseman’s mitt, the roar of the crowd in my head went wild. I was so giddy. I had saved the day.
Playoff baseball produces the most unlikely of heroes. Last year, Alex Bregman, in just his first full MLB season, was the hero in two major comebacks for the Houston Astros on the team’s World Series run. Los Angeles Dodgers legend Kirk Gibson hit a memorable walk-off home run against the Oakland Athletics with only one properly functioning leg in 1988.
Tuesday night, in front of a raucous Wrigley Field crowd, Colorado Rockies backup catcher Tony Wolters drove in the game-winning run in the 13th inning of the National League Wildcard Game. Wolters entered the game as part of a double switch in the 12th inning. His 13th-inning hit was his first since Sept. 10.
The magic of October baseball is that every pitch, at-bat and fielding opportunity carries extra weight and significance. Even the routine ball to the no-good second baseman is a potentially season-changing play.
Here are some unlikely heroes to watch for in this year’s Major League Baseball Playoffs.
1. Jake Marisnick, OF, Houston Astros
Marisnick has had an on-and-off 2018 season. Despite his struggles at the plate, Marisnick is an expert outfielder who could save the Astros some runs late in games. With Houston’s pitching, runs will already be at a premium for opponents.
2. David Freese, 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers
The former Cardinals infielder has already been a postseason hero once before, propelling St. Louis to the 2011 World Series. Freese has only appeared in 19 games since being acquired by the Dodgers in late August, but he could provide a spark off the bench.
3. Orlando Arcia, SS, Milwaukee Brewers
Arcia is only batting .236 this season, but his speed could make him an essential piece at the bottom of the Brewers lineup. Expect Arcia to be put in motion on the base paths and to potentially spark a rally by beating out an infield single.
4. Nathan Eovaldi, RHP, Boston Red Sox
Eovaldi enters the playoffs as the Red Sox’s fourth starter, making his first playoff appearance in his seven-year career. Should the Sox face the Astros in the ALCS, Eovaldi will need to log a long start against one of Houston’s four aces.