Good Decisions in Baseball
Yuniesky Betancourt homers for Brewers
The often-maligned Milwaukee shortstop batted .252 during the regular season, but the Brewers stuck with him. Betancourt rewarded that confidence with a crucial hit in Game 1 of the NLCS. Betancourt homered off Octavio Dotel in the Brewers' six-run fifth inning to extend Milwaukee's lead, helping the team ultimately hold on for a 9-6 victory.
Rangers use bullpen liberally in rain-soaked win
A pair of rain delays shortened Texas starter C.J. Wilson's day, but the Rangers used their deep bullpen to shut down Detroit's offense and collect a 3-2 win in the ALCS opener. Michael Gonzalez replaced Wilson in the fifth inning after the second delay and escaped a bases-loaded jam. Alexi Ogando then pitched two scoreless innings to earn the win. After a pair of pitchers held the lead through the eighth, Neftali Feliz closed out the win.
Texas stays with struggling Nelson Cruz
Even after a hitless division series, Rangers' right fielder Nelson Cruz was in the lineup for Game 1 with the Tigers. Cruz homered to lead off the fourth inning, giving Texas an insurance run that proved decisive in the team's 3-2 victory.
Milwaukee embraces the zaniness of @TheRealTPlush
After wearing out his welcome in Washington, Brewers outfielder Nyjer Morgan found a place that accepted the oddness that accompanies the man who nicknamed himself "Tony Plush." Milwaukee's reward for dealing with the absurdity? A series-winning RBI single in the 10th inning of a 3-2 victory over Arizona. "Everything that I've had to overcome, just the stuff that people go out there and perceive about me, just all my haters, I just wanted to show them that I can play this game, even though I have a fun, bubbly personality," said Morgan, who has nearly 60,000 Twitter followers. "I still come to win."
Diamondbacks start rookie Josh Collmenter
Down 2-0 in the series, Arizona decided to give the ball to Collmenter. The rookie pitcher, who said he had "no butterflies at all," allowed only one run in seven innings in a crucial 8-1 victory over the Brewers. The Diamondbacks would also capture Game 4 before falling in the series finale.
Phillies bring closer in during 8th
Philadelphia closer Ryan Madson didn't have a multi-inning save during the regular season, but with the bases loaded in the eighth inning of Game 3, manager Charlie Manuel brought in his ace reliever. Madson recorded a double play to end the inning and held the lead in the ninth to give the Phillies a 3-2 victory.
"Mr. Squeeze" comes through for Milwaukee
Jonathan Lucroy, nicknamed Mr. Squeeze for his bunting ability, picked a good moment to lay down a beauty. Lucroy bunted home the go-ahead run to key a big sixth inning for the Brewers. "It's a free RBI if you execute, and I really work hard to get that down," Lucroy said. Little things like his safety squeeze helped Milwaukee advance to the NLCS.
Cardinals start Chris Carpenter on three days' rest
St. Louis brought its ace back on three days after he threw a gem in the regular season finale. Carpenter was solid in the Cardinals' 5-4 win in Game 2, but the real reason the decision was important is that it enabled St. Louis to bring him back on full rest for Game 5, where Carpenter outdueled Philadelphia ace Roy Halladay in the 1-0 victory for St. Louis. He was only the sixth pitcher in the past 30 years to throw a shutout in a decisive game.
Rays start rookie Matt Moore in Game 1
A minor leaguer until mid-September, Matt Moore certainly got a taste of life in the big league spotlight. The 22-year-old rookie pitcher, making his second career start, dominated for Tampa Bay in its series opener against the defending American League champs. Moore tossed seven innings of two-hit baseball against the powerful Rangers' offense in a 9-0 Rays' victory. "What he did tonight was spectacular," Rays manager Joe Maddon said afterward.
Yankees move up Robinson Cano in the batting order
Yankees manager Joe Girardi wanted to get Cano more pitches to hit, and the MVP candidate needed only one game to show why moving him to third in the lineup was a smart move. In the rain-delayed opener against the Tigers, Cano broke a tie with an RBI double in the fifth inning, and he put New York out of reach with a grand slam -- his fourth since Aug. 11 -- in the sixth. "You don't want to let your manager down," Cano said about hitting third.
The Angels sign Jered Weaver
Jered Weaver could have been a free agent after the 2012 season and commanded a nine-figure contract. Instead, he chose to stay with the Angels with a five-year, $85 million contract extension. For the Angels, it meant locking up one of the game's best young pitchers. For Weaver, it meant the chance to stay in his native southern California to play for the only organization he's ever known. His first start after signing the new deal, Weaver pitched seven shutout innings in an Angels win.
Brian Bogusevic walk-off grand slam
Of all the pinch-hits and walk-off hits this season, none was more impressive than what Houston's Brian Bogusevic did on Aug. 16, when he hit a pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam to beat the Cubs 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth. Even more impressively, the man who sent him into the game, Astros manager Brad Mills, predicted it, saying after the game that he told one of his coaches that Bogusevic was about to hit a home run. "He pulled it a little more [than I thought he would] but I'll take it," said Mills afterward.
Tigers acquire Delmon Young
The difference-making bat in Detroit's series win over New York didn't arrive until mid-August, but Delmon Young made the most of his time during the postseason. Acquired from Minnesota late in the season, Young had two timely home runs in the Tigers' series with the Yankees. In Game 3, the outfielder hit the tiebreaking blast in the seventh inning. In Game 5, Young added the second of back-to-back first-inning home runs that gave Detroit a lead it clung to for the rest of the night.
Denorfia steals home to beat Lee
Chris Denorfia took advantage of a lazy pick-off throw by Cliff Lee to steal home and help the Padres beat the Phillies. Denorfia was first alerted to the possibility by third base coach Glen Hoffman, but didn't decide to go until he saw Lee throw over to first. He easily beat the throw to the plate, giving San Diego an unexpected run in a most surprising win, their first over the Phillies in 11 tries.
Mets trade K-Rod and Beltran
The Mets' season never gained much traction in the difficult NL East, so the organization cast its eye toward the future. Looking to shed payroll, the Mets traded expensive closer Francisco Rodriguez and All-Star outfielder Carlos Beltran before the July 31 deadline, getting super pitching prospect Zack Wheeler for Beltran, helping the team turn the page from a brutal stretch of years and perhaps turning in the best performance by any team at the deadline.
Derek Jeter goes on the DL
When Derek Jeter pulled up lame with pain in his calf on June 13, he didn't think he'd need to go on the disabled list. After an MRI and consultation with Yankees officials, he neither wanted to nor felt he should. But he was told to and spent the next three weeks resting and rehabbing. When he returned, he was like the Jeter of old, batting .361 (compared to .257 before) and picking up his 3,000th hit along the way in dramatic fashion: on a home run as part of a 5-for-5 day.
First-year Pirates manager Clint Hurdle sent a message to his team and its young star when he benched outfielder Andrew McCutchen for one game for not running out a dropped third strike on May 11. At the time McCutchen was hitting just .239, but he hit .337 the rest of the first half, earning his first All-Star game selection and carrying the woebegone Pirates into contenders for a brief time.
Royals call up Hosmer
Blessed with a loaded farm system, the Royals elected not to bring any of their much-anticipated prospects to the majors when the season started, but after K.C. got off to a typically poor start, it wasn't long before the young reinforcements began arriving. On May 5, Kansas City promoted Eric Hosmer and shortly thereafter the club also brought up Mike Moustakas, the first wave of talented players the team is hoping to build its future around. Hosmer hit .274 with 12 home runs,through August, showing star potential.
Braves make Kimbrel closer
Coming out of spring training, it looked like Craig Kimbrel might share time with Jonny Venters as the anchor of Atlanta's revamped bullpen that had lost Billy Wagner to retirement. But Kimbrel earned saves in his first three appearances of the season and never looked back, topping the rookie saves record of 40 with 46 and establishing himself as the runaway favorite for NL Rookie of the Year honors. Venters, meanwhile, settled into a set-up role and in some ways was even better than Kimbrel, notching a 1.84 ERA to Kimbrel's 2.10.
Red Sox don't panic
Boston was expected to be the AL's best team in 2011 but the Red Sox lost their first six games. Instead of trashing the blueprint that had raised those expectations or giving into the worrying in their hometown, the Red Sox stayed the course, and without making any major moves on the field or to the management, they soon played just as everyone expected they would. By mid-May they were over .500 to stay. By the summer, they had the best record in the AL and were all but assured of returning to the postseason.
Rangers sign Adrian Beltre
Some thought Texas overpaid the slugging third baseman this offseason, but in the Rangers' series-clinching victory, Beltre was worth every penny of his six-year, $96-million deal. He smashed three home runs in Texas' 4-3 win in Game 4. It was only the seventh time a player hit three homers in a postseason game.
Alomar elected to Hall of Fame
The election of Bert Blyleven to the Hall of Fame was controversial but there was no such discussion about Roberto Alomar, the 12-time All-Star who got 90 percent of the vote to earn election on his second year of eligibility. Alomar was enshrined as a Toronto Blue Jay, making him the first player to represent that franchise in Cooperstown.
D-backs not trading Upton
Justin Upton was a popular topic of discussion at the winter meetings and with good reason: he was young (23 at the time), cheap (signed for another five years at less than $50 million) and talented (he made his first All-Star team at 21). But the D-backs, coming off a 97-loss season, elected not to trade Upton and were rewarded with the best season of his career, as he has hit .296 with 25 home runs, made the All-Star Game that was played in Phoenix and helped lead a worst-to-first turnaround in Arizona.