All 30 MLB Teams' Best Big-Game Player of All Time
Competition from the first five months of the MLB calendar does not compare to September and October baseball.
The latter is comprised of the season's biggest games, and in the past, each team has had at least one player rise to the occasion.
Contenders annually find themselves trapped in a pressure cooker as the media ramps up its coverage and fans become more vocal.
The only escape routes? Victory or elimination.
As you'd suspect, there is considerable overlap between history's top overall performers and those who overachieved with a championship on the line. Though this list includes a handful of future Hall of Famers, it is also sprinkled with forgotten heroes.
Continue reading for my team-by-team presentation of the best big-game players Major League Baseball has ever known.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Curt Schilling
The Arizona Diamondbacks wouldn't even have qualified for the 2001 playoffs had Curt Schilling not been so steady down the stretch.
He went undefeated over his final seven starts, most notably striking out 12 San Francisco Giants during an eight-inning effort on September 5. Losing that game would have kept the D-Backs out of the postseason.
Schilling took full advantage of the opportunity. He maintained a 1.12 ERA and 0.64 WHIP in 48.1 IP that fall.
In their fourth year of existence, the Diamondbacks clinched the World Series. Schilling was named co-MVP after starting three great games against the New York Yankees.
Atlanta Braves: Tom Glavine
Due primarily to excellent pitching, the Atlanta Braves dominated the NL East from 1991-2005. They finished atop the standings every single season.
After reviewing the history, it's clear that their best big-game players during those glory years were Tom Glavine and John Smoltz (with Chipper Jones and Greg Maddux close behind).
In deciding which one was superior, I simply studied the 1995 playoff run that culminated in a championship.
The Braves won it in spite of Smoltz, who couldn't escape the third inning in his lone World Series appearance.
Glavine, on the other hand, overwhelmed the American League's Cleveland Indians. Pitching with a one-run lead in Game 6, the left-hander was outstanding (8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 8 K).
Baltimore Orioles: Jim Palmer
Nine days shy of his 21st birthday, Jim Palmer became a postseason hero. He hurled a complete-game shutout versus the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1966 World Series.
The Baltimore Orioles went on to that Fall Classic—and appeared in five others—with Palmer leading the rotation.
Boston Red Sox: David Ortiz
Without David Ortiz coming through in the clutch, the Boston Red Sox would probably still be "cursed."
Reserve outfielder Dave Roberts famously extended the 2004 ALCS by stealing his way into scoring position with Mariano Rivera on the mound. But Boston's beloved designated hitter delivered the extra-inning walk-off hits to seal victories in Games 4 and 5.
Also, Big Papi doesn't fool around in the World Series. He batted better than .300 during both of Boston's recent appearances to ensure that the NL champs were swept.
Chicago Cubs: Ryne Sandberg
The Ryne Sandberg-led Chicago Cubs were painfully close to clinching World Series berths in 1984 and 1989. In both instances, they held leads in the winner-take-all Game 5. But the team was ultimately unable to clinch a trip to the Fall Classic either year.
Sandberg only participated in 10 postseason games, but he recorded hits in each one (1.098 OPS)..
Chicago White Sox: Shoeless Joe Jackson
He will forever be associated with his Chicago White Sox teammates who purposely lost the 1919 World Series.
However, Joe Jackson was not involved in the heinous scandal. In fact, he batted .375 (12-for-32 with six RBI) against the Cincinnati Reds.
Jackson reached base in all 22 White Sox games that September to lock up the American League pennant.
Cincinnati Reds: Johnny Bench
Johnny Bench was truly a one-of-a-kind catcher. His durability and defensive talent are both reflected in his postseason stats.
The Cincinnati Reds played 45 playoff games during the 1970s, but never had a pitcher give up double-digit runs. Over that span, they played a total of 417 innings.
Guess how many of them were with Bench behind the plate? Believe it or not, 417.
Cleveland Indians: Jose Mesa
All Cleveland Indians from those superb 1990s teams had mixed results in big games.
Jose Mesa was no exception.
He was left in for some unusually lengthy relief appearances, running up pitch counts of 52 and 65 pitches at times during the 1995 and 1996 playoffs, respectively.
Ultimately, he converted six of nine postseason save opportunities while a member of the Tribe.
Colorado Rockies: Matt Holliday
The 2007 Colorado Rockies finally lost momentum upon reaching the World Series, but at least they accomplished enough near season's end to gain entry to the postseason.
Outfielder Matt Holliday had a September to remember: .367/.448/.796, 12 HR, 30 RBI.
His otherworldly performance set up Game 163—a meeting with the San Diego Padres that would decide the NL Wild Card.
Again, the stud slugger was a hero (video courtesy of MLB.com).
Detroit Tigers: Alan Trammell
Shortstop Alan Trammell was as indispensable as any member of the 104-win Detroit Tigers of 1984. After setting career-bests during the regular season, he retained enough energy to crush the San Diego Padres with nine hits in the Fall Classic.
Getting to the playoffs was more of a grind. The Tigers needed a strong final month to edge out the Toronto Blue Jays.
Trammell's 1.167 OPS after September 1 was obviously crucial. Specifically, going 10-for-24 against the Jays during that period made all the difference.
Houston Astros: Carlos Beltran, Randy Johnson
Midseason rentals worked out beautifully for the Houston Astros in 1998 and 2004.
Randy Johnson was defeated once after switching leagues, but only because he didn't receive any run support. He averaged better than 10 strikeouts per outing and received recognition on the NL Cy Young ballot.
For his part, Carlos Beltran put on an unprecedented power display.
His 1.022 slugging percentage from the 2004 postseason stands as the highest mark ever for an MLB batter during a playoff run (min. 40 AB).
Kansas City Royals: George Brett
George Brett's 1985 season was his last as an MVP-caliber player. Shockingly, the Kansas City Royals haven't qualified for the postseason since.
Brett was awesome in that World Series, but he was even better five years earlier when the Royals played the Philadelphia Phillies.
Los Angeles Angels: Troy Glaus
There were two things Troy Glaus did with great regularity: hit home runs and whiff at the plate. Fortunately for him, enough of the former tends to make us forget about the swings and misses.
His triple-slash line of .297/.370/.672 and eight home runs during the final three weeks of the 2002 regular season kept the then-Anaheim Angels from collapsing down the stretch.
The third baseman was actually more effective in October, driving in 13 runs to compensate for his 14 strikeouts.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Sandy Koufax
Sandy Koufax just needed to be himself every October to clinch championships for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
He was exactly that in 1959, 1963 and 1965—an unhittable pitcher who wouldn't step off the mound until the game was decided. The third title was clinched against the Minnesota Twins after the southpaw tossed back-to-back shutouts on two days' rest!
His final MLB appearance in 1966 was also impressive, though Koufax was unable to recover from three unearned runs.
Miami Marlins: Josh Beckett
It may sound crazy now, but character concerns weren't always Josh Beckett's claim to fame.
He struck out 47 batters during the 2003 postseason—including 19 New York Yankees in the Fall Classic—as a co-ace of the Florida Marlins' unheralded rotation.
Beckett was entrusted with eliminating the Bombers in Game 6. His complete-game shutout did the trick, with the right-hander making the final put-out.
Milwaukee Brewers: Yovani Gallardo
A pair of knee injuries—torn left meniscus, torn right ACL—kept Yovani Gallardo on the disabled list through most of the 2008 season.
However, the MLB sophomore played a prominent role in ending the Milwaukee Brewers' playoff drought after 26 years. He tossed four solid innings on September 25 in a victory that would keep the club deadlocked with the New York Mets in the National League wild-card race. He also started Game 1 of the ensuing NLDS.
Last year, Gallardo pitched well again. His three straight double-digit strikeout performances to close out the campaign helped secure the franchise's first NL Central title.
Minnesota Twins: Kirby Puckett
Like Sandy Koufax, Kirby Puckett had to hang up his cleats prematurely despite ample remaining ability. He still accomplished plenty in the big leagues.
The 1987 Minnesota Twins were barely a .500 team entering August 29. From that point on, Puckett carried the group with a .397/.418/.722 triple-slash line.
That fall, the Twins would fend off World Series elimination in Game 6 because of his four runs scored.
He later contributed a dramatic, season-saving blast in a similar scenario versus the Atlanta Braves.
New York Mets: Jerry Koosman
Jerry Koosman was a prominent starter on the pennant-winning New York Mets of 1969 and 1973. In my opinion, he fared better under pressure than rotation-mate—and future Hall of Famer—Tom Seaver.
When the Miracle Mets of '69 fell behind in the World Series, Koosman responded with a two-hit masterpiece. He reappeared in Game 5 and wrapped up the matchup.
The postseason seemed like a pipe dream for the 1973 club through 120 regular season contests (54-66 record). But Koosman rose to the occasion. He won six of seven decisions over his final 10 starts while maintaining a 1.30 ERA.
New York Yankees: Lou Gehrig
I lost sleep over this selection because there are so many worthy candidates.
Yogi Berra amassed nearly 300 plate appearances in the Fall Classic. Reggie Jackson single-handedly led the New York Yankees to a championship in 1977.
Active great Derek "The Captain" Jeter has more postseason experience than anyone (ever). The Captain's numerous clutch performances speak volumes about his composure.
And let's not forget about lights-out closer Mariano Rivera or hallowed slugger Babe Ruth!
But in terms of big-game excellence, Lou "The Iron Horse" Gehrig trumps them all. His triple-slash line was an unbelievable .361/.477/.731 over 34 World Series games, and those percentages are actually watered down.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) compromised his play in 1938 against the Chicago Cubs. Though Gehrig wasn't removed at any point, physical weakness rendered him powerless at the plate (4-16, 0 XBH).
The Yankees established themselves as baseball's premier franchise thanks to The Iron Horse.
Oakland Athletics: Rickey Henderson
Rickey Henderson started for the Oakland Athletics in the 1981 playoffs as a 22-year-old and didn't make a significant impact (.273/.360/.455, 3 R in 6 G).
But he returned to October in 1989 as the A's featured player.
The team's 8-1 record against the Toronto Blue Jays and San Francisco Giants was enabled by Henderson's .568 on-base percentage and 11 stolen bases.
Philadelphia Phillies: Cole Hamels
The Philadelphia Phillies inked Cole Hamels to a monster contract extension this past July. You can bet that agent John Boggs squeezed an extra few million out of the organization by emphasizing the left-hander's playoff achievements.
He was named MVP of the NLCS and World Series when the Phillies went all the way in 2008.
Overall, Hamels has started 13 times in October without allowing more than five runs in any outing.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Willie Stargell
Willie Stargell's 1979 season isn't comparable to any other in baseball history.
With his 40th birthday approaching the following March, he was the league's top player during the regular season and postseason.
The cold weather revived him from a terrible September slump. He didn't miss an inning of the NLCS or World Series (5 HR, 13 RBI).
San Diego Padres: Tony Gwynn
Collectively, the San Diego Padres were embarrassed in the 1998 World Series.
But by averaging two hits per game against the New York Yankees, Tony Gwynn seemed to be the only one resisting the inevitable.
San Francisco Giants: Barry Bonds
Opponents were scared to pitch to Barry Bonds in big games.
He drew 13 walks (seven intentional) and went deep four times during the 2002 World Series. That's right, those numbers were accumulated over a seven-game span.
Every postseason series he played as a San Francisco Giant unfolded similarly.
Bonds was also a steady producer every September.
Seattle Mariners: Ken Griffey Jr.
Junior scored the game-winning run to win the 1995 ALDS. Seattle Mariners fans have seen the highlight a million times, but it never gets old.
St. Louis Cardinals: Albert Pujols
You're all familiar with this story too: The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals clinched the NL Wild Card on the final night of the regular season and went on to capture the World Series title.
In a pivotal series against the Atlanta Braves that September, first baseman Albert Pujols was phenomenal. The Cards completed a nail-biting sweep, and their star drove in four runs.
He later went deep three times in Game 3 of the Fall Classic.
Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria
Though not single-handedly, Evan Longoria helped change the culture of the Tampa Bay Rays franchise.
Longoria played smooth defense at third base in September 2008 after a returning from a wrist injury. His bat came alive that postseason, and his six home runs through two rounds clinched the club its first pennant ever.
Of course, his No. 1 big-game moment occurred in Game 162 of the 2011 campaign. An extra-inning walk-off blast combined with a Boston Red Sox defeat to send the Rays to the playoffs again.
Texas Rangers: Neftali Feliz
Though the Texas Rangers seem playoff-bound for the third year in a row, their best big-game player has already been ruled out. Closer-turned-starter Neftali Feliz underwent Tommy John surgery on August 1—a procedure that will sideline him into 2013.
He helped the Rangers separate from their AL West rivals by catching fire late in 2010. Feliz put on only seven total baserunners during his final 15 games of the summer. He held opponents scoreless throughout that hot streak.
His 1.93 ERA and .131 batting average against in the postseason further validate his case.
Toronto Blue Jays: Duane Ward
Duane Ward was born to pitch in the World Series.
Long lay-offs during the previous round affected him negatively, but he thrived in opportunities to pitch on back-to-back days.
The Toronto Blue Jays relied on Ward to punch their ticket to the 1992 playoffs. He didn't blow a single save in August or September, and the team finished four games up in the AL East standings.
Washington Nationals: Steve Rogers
Going back to its 1969 inception, the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals franchise has rarely geared up with anything at stake.
That will change this fall with the 2012 Nats cruising toward the playoffs. But in the meantime, it feels odd to laud any current or former player.
Even Steve Rogers, a three-game winner in October 1981, doesn't have an immaculate record. He surrendered a deflating home run in the final inning of the 1981 NLCS.
For now, though, nobody has a better case.
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