The 10 Not-to-Be Forgotten Plays of the Postseason

Trevor Rosenthal had two saves in the 2014 NLDS, but they weren't easy. (via Keith Allison)

Trevor Rosenthal had two saves in the 2014 NLDS, but they weren’t easy. (via Keith Allison)

Five years from now, when we think back on the 2014 postseason, we’ll remember Madison Bumgarner. His fantastic October was one for the ages, and it’s easy to say the Giants are champions because of Bumgarner.

In the THT Annual, we use a stat called ChampAdded, which is a WPA-related tool that measures the share of a championship contributed by each player. Bumgarner was credited with .869 ChampAdded. Read another way, he won 86.9 percent of a championship single-handedly. Remember in 2013 when David Ortiz stopped making outs in the World Series? That was worth just 35.2 percent of a championship. In 2012, Marco Scutaro was the hero of the postseason with a measly (by comparison) 19.6 percent of a championship.

The point,  which probably does not need to be made, is Bumgarner was very good. Now let’s put that aside. This article is not a celebration of Bumgarner. It’s about the meaningful plays we’ll forget over the years–those poignant turning points that will get lost in the shuffle of ages. Please join me in enjoying the quirky, unlikely, and tear-breaking moments of the 2014 postseason.

No. 10

Play – Madison Bumgarner’s human side
Series – NLDS: San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals

The third game of the NLDS featured Bumgarner’s biggest mistake of the postseason. After the Nationals got their first two hitters aboard in the bottom of the seventh, Wilson Ramos squared around for a sac bunt. It went back to Bumgarner who attempted to nail the lead runner. He threw the ball away, which eventually led to three runs, two earned. Here’s the play.

Bum Error

Remember, he had a 1.03 ERA on the postseason. It could have been a 0.68 ERA if he had successfully navigated his way out of that inning. Or maybe the postseason would have been completely different. That is how Chaos Theory works, right?

The Nationals won the game 3-2. Bonus: notice the count.

No. 9

Play – Delmon Young double
Series – ALDS: Detroit Tigers vs. Baltimore Orioles

In Game Two of the ALDS, the Tigers built a solid 6-3 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. After starter Justin Verlander lasted just five innings, manager Brad Ausmus avoided a bullpen that collapsed in Game One by turning to a convalescing Anibal Sanchez. Had he been healthier, he might have continued past the two perfect innings he provided. Instead, Joba Chamberlain was cued up for the eighth. For the second straight game, the bullpen imploded.

Five batters and just one out later, pinch hitter Delmon Young came to the plate with the bases loaded in a 6-4 game. Over the years, Young has been a popular whipping boy among online analysts for his low value contributions. In parts of nine regular seasons, he’s posted -0.4 WAR in 4,194 plate appearances. In other words, he’s played an awful lot of replacement level baseball.

He’s been a different animal in the postseason with a .262/.314/.524 line in 137 plate appearances and an oversized mythos. His penchant for timely hits in October led to an ALCS MVP award in 2012. Ironically, he played for the Tigers that year. And here’s Young the Oriole salvaging Game Two against Joakim Soria.

Young 2b

The pitch will forever be described as a hanger. It was a first-pitch slider that broke toward the low and away quadrant of the plate. It did miss middle a bit, but it’s not a pitch that often results in a double to left field. Over the course of a season, you’ll see many dozens of similar pitches taken for strike one. Hitters usually spit on first pitch breaking balls. Of course, Young isn’t most hitters. He’s one of the most aggressive batters in the league, swinging 15 percent more frequently than the league average hitter.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Soria probably wanted to get ahead with a breaking ball, knowing Young’s aggressiveness and the bases-loaded situation would have him eager to swing. Perhaps he would get out in front and roll an easy one to third base. Soria had the right idea, he just missed the execution. Young did not.

No. 8

Play – Hernan Perez series-ending double play
Series – ALDS: Detroit Tigers vs. Baltimore Orioles

Game Three of the ALDS ended in dramatic fashion. The Orioles nursed a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning. With ground ball fascist Zach Britton on the hill, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez led off with back-to-back doubles. That put the tying run on second with no outs. It’s here where Detroit’s weak bench betrayed the Tigers. A strikeout by Brayan Pena and an intentional walk to Nick Castellanos set the stage for the final play of the Tigers’ season. Perez came to the plate with one out.

Hernan DP

That’s Britton being Britton. The Orioles closer leaned on a 75 percent ground ball rate all season long. Elite ground ball specialists usually generate grounders about two-thirds of the time. Convention says to never intentionally walk the potential winning run, but it sure looked smart in this scenario.

No. 7

Play – Critical game-ending outs by Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford
Series – NLDS: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers could have won this series. They didn’t, but the Cardinals narrowly avoided ninth inning disasters on two occasions. The first came in Game One. The Cardinals held a 10-9 lead with two outs, a runner on third, and Yasiel Puig at the plate. Puig featured a .382 on base percentage during the season, which ranked 11th in the league among qualified hitters. He was the Dodgers best hope in this situation. Here’s what happened:

Puig K

St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal had a shaky season, but he racked up strikeouts right through the end. Included is this incredibly clutch out in Game One. What we don’t see above is a previous 1-2 fastball, which was middle-middle. Puig fouled it back and hobbled around the batter’s box for a moment after the pitch. Health may have influenced the outcome of this at bat.

Game Four found Rosenthal back in hot water in the top of the ninth. The Cardinals were up 3-2. Carl Crawford came to the plate with runners on first and second and two out. Crawford had a solid season which finished with a scorching September. He posted a 234 wRC+ in the final month, meaning he was 134 percent better than the league average hitter. It was another comeback in the making. Instead, first pitch swinging:

Crawford GO

The Dodgers worked themselves into two favorable situations for ninth inning heroics, but two of their best hitters came up short.

No. 6

Play – Buster Posey out at the plate
Series – NLDS: San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals

Fun fact: for the series, the Giants and Nationals each scored nine runs. The Giants won in four games, but the teams played an incredibly even series.

In many ways, it feels silly to reduce Game Two to a 18th inning home run. Yet, here is Brandon Belt effectively ending the longest game in postseason history.

Belt HR

This was a game that featured heroic performances from Jordan Zimmermann, Yusmeiro Petit, and Craig Stammen. Nobody will forget the Belt home run, but the same cannot be said about another play in the ninth inning. Zimmermann pitched masterfully over 8.2 innings, but manager Matt Williams turned to Drew Storen after Joe Panik reached on a walk. Storen allowed a single to Posey and then a double to Pablo Sandoval. Posey attempted to score on the play, but made the third out at the plate.

Posey out

The play was challenged, but as you can see in the slow-mo, Posey is barely out. Had Posey stayed at third, we could have missed the extra-inning spectacular provided by Petit and Belt. Storen was rattled, and Hunter Pence was next to the plate.

No. 5

Play – Caleb Joseph loses control
Series – ALCS: Kansas City Royals vs. Baltimore Orioles

With the Royals up three games to none in the series, the Orioles needed to start a four game winning streak to advance. The first inning did not bode well. With runners on second and third and one out, Eric Hosmer hit a chopper to first baseman Steve Pearce. He tried to cut down the lead runner at home on a tag play. And this is what happened.

Joseph E (2)

The ball kicks free, two runs score on the play, and the Orioles wind up losing 2-1. Ultimately, the play probably didn’t influence the overall outcome of the series, but it sure ruined that game for Baltimore.

No. 4

Play – Randy Choate pulls a Bumgarner
Series – NLCS: San Francisco Giants vs. St. Louis Cardinals

In a postseason where Bumgarner was the star of the world, you would think “pulling a Bumgarner” was a good thing. Alas, the “Bumgarner” Choate pulled was throwing a bunt down the line. After Brandon Crawford and Juan Perez reached on a walk and single, Gregor Blanco attempted to give himself up. This was the result.

Choate E

The situation for the Cardinals would have been dire without the error, but bases loaded and no runs is always preferable to a walkoff error. The play gave the Giants a 2-1 lead in the series.

No. 3

Play – Aaron Barrett uncorks some wild ones
Series – NLDS: San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals

Here’s the scene. It’s Game Four, the score is 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning. The bases are loaded with one out and Aaron Barrett on the mound for the Nationals. Washington’s best relievers look on from the bullpen. It’s in this critical situation where Barrett lets one fly.

Barrett WP1

Joe Panik scored on the wild pitch. Barrett wasn’t done with the backstop. Here’s his attempt to intentionally walk Pablo Sandoval after the wild pitch.

Barrett WP2

Buster Posey is tagged out at the plate on this one, and Rafael Soriano finished off Brandon Belt to end the inning. The Nationals lost this game by one run, a run that scored on a wild pitch. To add insult to injury, the Giants scored their other runs on a bases-loaded walk and an RBI fielder’s choice.

No. 2

Play – #YOSTED
Series – World Series: San Francisco Giants vs. Kansas City Royals

Ned Yost has drawn a lot of criticism for his penchant for using the bunt. We sabermetric types generally scorn the automatic out. To Yost’s credit, Royals hitters are generally good bunters and their speed puts pressure on the defense to make a tough play. However, when Yost asked Alcides Escobar to bunt in the fifth inning of Game Seven, he may have made a tactical error.

Bumgarner had just entered in relief, a role to which he was unaccustomed. And he was on short rest to boot. Bumgarner looked sloppy when facing Omar Infante, who ultimately singled. After taking two very wild balls, Escobar followed with this easy out.

Escobar bunt

The bunt itself is well executed; it’s the decision to bunt that could have altered the postseason landscape. Beginning with that fifth inning sacrifice, the Royals failed to reach base until Alex Gordon’s three-base single with two out in the ninth. Did Yost help Bumgarner settle in? Was the dominance inevitable? Who knows?

No. 1

Play – Geovany Soto injury
Series – AL Wild Card: Oakland Athletics vs. Kansas City Royals

The very first game of the postseason may have been the best. Jon Lester was paired against James Shields in this winner-takes-all contest. We know the Royals won; it’s how they won that deserves remembering because it set the stage for the entire postseason.

Around the end of the season, the A’s garnered a reputation for allowing easy stolen bases. The Royals led baseball with 153 steals in the regular season, so they figured to take advantage of a good match-up.

In the first inning, A’s catcher Geovany Soto injured his thumb while making a tag. He remained in the game until the third inning, but then Derek Norris replaced him. While Soto caught, the Royals were 1-for-2 in steal attempts. Once Norris took over, the Royals stole another six bases without being caught. The lone caught stealing was this disaster of a play. Here’s Billy Butler on the front end…

Butler pickoff ALWC

…and Eric Hosmer on the back end.

Hosmer slide ALWC

Soto was injured when Hosmer was gunned down at the plate. Looks innocent, doesn’t it? Nobody can say Soto would have restrained the Royals, but he did gun down 10 of 23 runners on the season. By comparison, Norris caught 12 of 72. There was a reason Soto started the game despite having never caught for Lester.

Without those seven steals, the Royals don’t win the game. If Jarrod Dyson didn’t steal third with one out in the ninth, Nori Aoki’s sacrifice fly wouldn’t have driven in the tying run. Had Christian Colon not taken second in the 12th inning, he wouldn’t have scored the game-winning run on Salvador Perez’s two-out single. Soto might have made this an entirely different game, one where Brandon Moss and his two home runs played the role of hero. The A’s could have spoiled the Royals’ postseason magic.

Honorable Mention

Play – Oscar Taveras’ game-tying blast
Series – NLCS: San Francisco Giants vs. St. Louis Cardinals

With the Giants leading the series, the Cardinals were in search of a series-tying win. In a game that featured a walkoff home run, Taveras’ seventh inning solo blast is the one that should be remembered. It was the pinnacle of a playing career that promised so much more. Let’s complete our exercise with a moment of silence for Taveras, who was so unexpectedly torn from baseball and the world.

Taveras HR Taveras

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Calvin Liu
9 years ago

While I’m precisely not a Dodger fan, I think calling Crawford one of the top 2 hitters on the Dodgers is a great stretch.
Adrian Gonzales? Matt Kemp? Hanley?
Puig is somewhat more defensible, although he was not particularly good in the playoffs to my knowledge.

9 years ago

what about panik’s diving double play starting grab in the WS?

9 years ago
Reply to  Clock

I was thinking the same thing. THE play of the post-season.

9 years ago
Reply to  Clock

Me three.

But to be fair, the author did say plays that will probably be forgotten over the years. Given that Panik’s play helped the Giants win Game 7 of the World Series, most likely it will not be easily forgotten.

But to play devil’s advocate, why was Bumgarner’s error listed, I’m not sure what type of turning point that is to be considered. Seems more like a purposeful juxtaposition given how well he played otherwise (and I have no problem with it, I agree that it was certainly an anomaly that would be forgotten otherwise). I would replace that with Ishikawa’s walk-off homer. Yes, one of the few ever, but I don’t think that will be remembered, say, like Thomson’s homer.

I was thinking Tavares homer too, good call by the author. And what a waste. I loved that extra touch asking for silence. As much as I was spellbound by that game, once I heard about his death, made everything seemed so much less important. And for Juan Perez to then later come to bat and hit, while thinking of the loss of his good friend, made his hit all the more amazing.

I would also add in the Cards leaving Wacha in there to sink or swim when they had Rosenthal and Maness in the bullpen, ready to throw as well (similar to the situation noted above about the Nats and Barrett). Or even bringing in a lefty like Choate or Gonzales, as Ishikawa is very vulnerable to LHP. Morse was already out of the game, and Perez vs. Choate or Ishi vs. Wacha, well, Perez hasn’t even hit LHP all that well even though a RHB, during this career. And his numbers in the playoffs weren’t that far from what he’s done during his MLB career, whereas Ishikawa is a proven hitter vs. RHP, or certainly much more proven than Perez. And as good as Wacha is normally, he did allow two runners as well as a long out to Pence, with the season on the line, might be the time to bring out Rosenthal (though perhaps he was a bit shellshocked himself, he was beat up by the Giants in his prior appearance).

9 years ago

Oh, and I just realized, I repeated myself on the Ishikawa homer, looking at it from both teams’ viewpoint, so you get two for one there.

Jon L.
9 years ago

Nice article!

John Autin
9 years ago

Nice job on spotlighting and writing up those key plays. I watched almost all of those games, but I’m sure I was on the verge of forgetting a moment or two. So, thanks!

Escobar’s bunt … On a 2-0 count, I just can’t give an easy out to a pitcher who’s shown no command yet — especially when an out just might flip his switch back to Unhittable. But for all that, Aoki darn near cashed in the sacrifice. So, who knows? It was a good Series and a good postseason. Can’t wait ’til next year!

Steve Wischer
9 years ago

First, I know I am biased, however, Matt Williams taking out Zimmerman, after retiring 20 straight prior to the walk; imo was the turning point of that series. Yes, I know, that had he left him in and bad things happened, he would probably be getting blasted by multitudes as well. However, at that point in time, Zimmerman was on fire, much like MadBum; he HAD just thrown a no-no his last outing; let him get that last guy out, he was the best play at that point in time.

9 years ago

RE: #8 – Brayan Pena didn’t play for the Tigers this year.