The Red Sox had a lot of guys who were in their first World Series. It made for a lot of great stories. Rookies Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daisuke Matsusaka and Hideki Okajima made huge contributions in their first World Series. Kevin Youkilis did, too. Even though he was on the team in 2004, he didn’t get to play in that Series. 2nd-year player Jonathan Papelbon also made a huge contribution, getting 3 saves in his first World Series. Another 2nd-year pitcher, Manny DelCarmen, had some inconsistent middle-inning relief, but did get used in some key situations.
Then there’s Julio Lugo, in his 8th season, but almost 4 of them with Tampa Bay, getting only his 3rd chance at the playoffs, and first in the World Series, and he hit well and fielded well.
Royce Clayton didn’t really play much in the playoffs, but was on the roster, and I think he pinch ran at some point during the playoffs. He’s in his 16th or 17th season, depending on whether you count his 26 ABs in ’91. He was a lifetime .258 hitter whose main assets were speed (231 career stolen bases) and defense at shortstop. At 37, this might be his last season. His stints with teams were getting shorter: 5 season with San Fran, then 2.5 each with St Louis & Texas, then 2 with the White Sox, then 1 each with Milwaukee, Colorado and Arizona, then half a season each with Washington, Cincinnati, Toronto and finally Boston. He’d been in the playoffs 3 times in the late 90’s, but never in the World Series. Despite not getting to contribute much, you could see he was visibly emotional in the clubhouse after the Sox won the World Series. He probably figured this was his last chance. He’ll be wearing a ring next spring. You could see Papi and others noticing his emotion, and going up to give him pats on the back and hugs.
One of the best stories was another young, 2nd-year pitcher named Jonathan. This one’s last name is Lester, not Papelbon. (Hey, I’ve got the first name, just not the "young" and the "pitcher", but I can dream, can’t I?)
Before game 4, I posted this comment on the "Red Sox Angst" blog:
To me, the great thing is that no matter how long the Series goes, there can be a great story, and I’ll be happy and entertained, which is what it’s all about after all, isn’t it?
If the Sox win it in game 4, it could be a great story if Jon Lester wins the clinching game of the World Series, can you imagine a better way to cap a comeback from cancer, and a better inspiration for cancer survivors?
If the Sox win in game 5, it’s Beckett who could be breaking the record for wins in a single postseason with 5.
If the Sox win in game 6 or 7, we get to see the instantaneous wild celebration which we missed out on in 2004, and we either have the first Halloween clincher or the first November clincher. …
So fortunately, Lester did pitch well, and got the win, and we got the great story of the cancer survivor winning the clinching game of the World Series exactly a year after he was undergoing chemo, while his cancer-surviving teammate, Mike Lowell, hit a homer and won the Series MVP. Plenty of good stuff for the sportswriters!
My favorite story, however, was Bobby Kielty‘s. He started the season with the Oakland A’s. He’s been a lifetime *backup* outfielder. He knows that’s his career. He gets traded mid-season to the team with the best record in baseball, and doesn’t play much, but makes a solid contribution when he plays, and wins lots of respect from his teammates.
In the playoffs, however, his only chance to play was when CC Sabathia was pitching, because he had good numbers off Sabathia, and gave them an extra right-handed bat against him. So, Kielty didn’t get into any of the 3 games of the ALDS against Anaheim, then started games 1 and 5 of the ALCS, going 2 for 5 off Sabathia. In both games, JD Drew replaced Kielty in rightfield as soon as Sabathia was out of the game. So through the first 2 series, Kielty only had "Sabathia duty", and nothing else.
He knew that his only way into the World Series, barring injury to a starter, was as a pinch hitter for the pitcher in the National League park, and he’d only get that chance if the game situation were right, and if they needed a righty.
With the Sox leading by 2 in the clinching game, time was running out on Kielty’s chance to play in a World Series, when finally, in the 8th inning, he got his chance. He said he was going to make the best of it by being aggressive. He got a first pitch fastball up and over the plate. He didn’t waste it.
By being aggressive, he actually shortened his only World Series appearance to about one minute. He didn’t stay in the game to play the field. That was it, just the one at bat. But it’s all about quality, not quantity, in this case.
That one minute was a glorious one minute!
One minute, one pitch, one swing, one well-hit home run, one grown man feeling like a little kid again, running around the bases in his backyard. Wow.
And this wasn’t just a home run in a World Series, it was a home run that mattered a lot, giving the Red Sox their margin of victory, their 4th run in a 4-3 win to clinch the World Series. It also preserved Lester’s storybook win by coming before the Rockies scored their 3rd run.
That home run was about as significant as a solo home run can get, and it came to a guy who has a career total of one minute of playing time in World Series games.
Now that’s making the most of your opportunities!
Bobby Kielty, if you ever felt disappointed about being a career backup player and never achieving the status of a regular starter, you can wash all those feelings away. You’ll always have that home run to look back on at the end of your career. You’ll always be able to tell your kids and grandkids how you won a World Series with a home run. You’ve been to the top of your profession. You’ve climbed Mount Everest. You’ve reached the peak. You’ve lived the dream. Everything after this is icing on the cake.