Major League Baseball's slogan for the 2011 playoffs is "Legends are Born in October," reflecting the countless greats of the game who sealed their legendary statuses with great performances in the postseason. From Babe Ruth's called shot in the 1932 World Series to Willie Mays's incomparable catch in the 1954 World Series to Curt Schilling's bloody sock in the 2004 ALCS, the annals of baseball history are full of unforgettable performances from baseball's immortals.
Yet not only legends have propelled their teams to victory. Just as often, forgettable players who can only get to Cooperstown by paying admission have gotten hot at exactly the right time and excelled in the postseason. In this year's playoffs, stars like Ryan Braun and Adrian Beltre have earned their October paychecks, but so have a number of players whose names are far less familiar to the casual fan.
Here we take a look at the most notable of these unexpected performances from surprising contributors.
Yuniesky Betancourt earns his spot in the Milwaukee Brewer's power-packed lineup due to his glove, not his bat. He hasn't batted above .260 since 2008, and has only twice topped 10 home runs in a season. In 2011, he batted .252, with a meager on-base percentage of .271.
After a decent performance in the NLDS, in which he hit .278 with two extra-base hits in 18 at bats and a single walk—actually a higher than usual walk rate for the free-swining Betancourt—he made a statement in Game 1 of the NLDS, going two for four with a home run, a double and two RBI's.
His Game 1 performance raised his numbers to .318 with a .984 OPS, .259 than his best ever full-season OPS.
Normally Betancourt provides a break to pitchers who have faced Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and the rest of the Brewers, but if he keeps up his current streak for a bit longer, pitchers will think twice before throwing anything over the plate.
After the season he had in 2011, in which he batted .320 with 30 home runs, it's questionable whether Mike Napoli can still be classified as a mediocre player. This is still the same Napoli however, who is a lifetime .264 hitter—.251 before this season—and who batted .194 in his three previous postseason appearances.
Napoli has continued performing at the level at which he performed in the regular season. In the ALDS, he hit a home run and drove in four runs in 14 at bats, while batting .357 with an OPS of .971.
In Game 1 of the ALDS, Napoli went one for three with a single and a strikeout.
Jerry Hairston is invaluable to the Brewers due to his ability to play a multitude of positions—he played five different positions in 2011. Hairston isn't successful at the plate though, as he has a lifetime batting average of .258, with only 64 home runs in just under 4,000 career at bats.
This postseason, Hairston has spent so much time on-base that he might consider pitching a tent and taking up residence. He has batted .400 with a .440 on-base percentage in 20 at bats, and his OPS has risen to .990.
The Yankees may have been shrinking violets in the ALDS, but Brett Gardner made the most of the opportunity. The lifetime .264 hitter with only 15 career home runs to his name had batted .175 in his two previous playoff appearances.
Gardner's performance in this year's ALDS was one of the few bright spots for the Yankees. He hit six singles and a double in 17 at bats, batting .412 in the series.
Gardner may have batted ninth in the lineup, but he had a better batting average than any Yankee, other than Jorge Posada.
It's far too early in Paul Goldschmidt's career to determine if he is a mediocre player or destined for something more, but in his partial season playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks, he didn't do much to stand out. In the regular season, he batted .250 with decent power, providing a solid glove at the first base position.
Goldschmidt turned in a strong performance in his first postseason appearance, batting .438 with an outstanding .526 on-base percentage with two home runs in 16 at bats. His OPS was 1.339, one of the best performances of anyone in the postseason.
Goldschmidt's performance wasn't enough to push the Diamondbacks into the next round of the playoffs, but he did more than anyone else on the team to try to get them there.
Light hitting Brandon Inge has been one of the worst hitters of any everyday player in the majors over the past decade, batting a lifetime .235. In 2011, he fell below the Mendoza line, batting an anemic .197 with only three home runs in 269 at bats. He has managed to stay in the league, and occasionally thrive, due to sporadic power and the versatility he provides at defense.
Inge's bat has come alive this postseason. In limited play, he batted .429 in seven at bats, and racked up an OPS of 1.071. He earned more playing time in Game 1 of the ALCS, in which he went zero for two, with a walk in a game in which the Tigers managed to put only two runs on the board.
Due to his performance so far, Inge is likely to continue to get playing time this postseason, and if he can find his power, he could be an asset not only to the Tigers' defense, but also to their offense.
In the decade he's been in the Major Leagues, Willie Bloomquist has never hit more than four home runs, driven in more than 29 runs, or batted over .279 in a full season. It's therefore quite surprising that he was one of the best hitters in the Diamondbacks lineup this postseason.
In 22 at bats in the NLDS, Bloomquist batted .318. He had no power, hitting seven singles and drawing a walk in 22 at bats, but his regular presence on the basepaths was valuable to the Diamondbacks in a series in which they actually outscored their victorious opponents.
In his first Major League season, Josh Collmenter went 10-10, pitching fourth in the Diamondbacks' rotation. He showed serious promise, posting a 3.38 ERA and keeping his walk count low, but was not nearly as dominating as he was in his sole NLDS appearance.
Collmenter started one game in the NLDS, and in seven innings gave up only two hits, two walks, and one earned run, holding his opponents to a .087 batting average and earning a 1.29 ERA in his first ever postseason win.
Of everyone who has pitched thus far in the 2011 playoffs, no one has been as dominating as Bryan Shaw. In four innings pitched, Shaw did not allow a single hit, and has only allowed one batter on base. Shaw struck out three batters during the postseason, all of them coming during the seventh inning of the Diamondbacks losing effort in Game 5 of the NLDS.
Shaw has only spent one season in the Major Leagues, in which he posted a commendable 2.54 ERA and 1-0 record, but didn't garner much attention outside of Arizona.