They exist in every sport - players who can deliver when it counts the most and when the pressure is on. After a while the feats of such players take on a life of their own - a mythology starts to surround them. In baseball, their final inning home runs soar out of stadiums like guided missiles, their fielding plays start to include jumps and stretches that would rate "10's" from Olympic diving judges, and their willingness to take one for the team makes you think they deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor. So who are those few ball players who rise to the occasion when that occasion demands something big, stunning, and final?
Part fact and part fiction, clutch players aren't judged so much by how many game-winning plays they make but by the circumstances under which they make them. Reggie Jackson built a career on heroics that annually occurred during the tenth month of the year, earning him the appellation "Mr. October."
Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez has had a lot of hits that have won games, but often they've come early in the game or in contests that were not in the limelight. He's also made amazing defensive plays throughout his career. However, large numbers of fans, including many lovers of the Bronx Bombers, see him as a goat - the ultimate choke artist. That's because more often than not when in a big game, he hasn't come through or he's made a mistake. His other problem is that he has never been on a World Series winning team.
His teammate, Derek Jeter, is known as one of the best clutch fielders and hitters in the game. When in the national spotlight, Jeter has delivered. Who can forget the play against the Red Sox a few years ago when Jeter gave up his body and sailed into the stands to catch a foul ball, getting injured in the process?
There's a certain cache that comes with being a cardiac kid - someone who takes the final game, the last play, the ultimate moment to the limit. In 2004, David Ortiz did it in both American League playoff series - first against the Angels and then against the Yankees. Last inning game tying and winning home runs and hits seemed to fly off his bat at will. Big Papi became ensconced on the public stage. The following season, he continued his late game clutch performances, which resulted in Ortiz being compared to Boston's patron saint of the big hit - Carl Yastrzemski.
Chicago White Sox third baseman Joe Crede, of last year's World Series Champs, was given the name Captain Clutch due to his unbelievable defensive plays and decisive late-inning hits. Crede had a dismal first playoff series, batting only .111. But in the American League Championship Series and the World Series, he banged a total of 4 homeruns and hit .333. The thing about being known as a clutch player is people will forget and forgive the .111 performance if you make up for it later in an even bigger situation. That's exactly what Crede did.
Consider Albert Pujols, first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals. Many feel he's the best hitter in baseball and his performances in post-season contests underpin this reputation. Pujols has been in the post-season for the past 4 out of 5 years. His batting average for those games is .336. In 37 games, he's had 10 homeruns, 29 RBI and 28 runs scored. He's struck out only 27 times.
Is Pujols a clutch hitter? He is. Is he known as one? Pujols has only been in one World Series and in those four games he had 5 hits, 0 RBI and 1 run scored. Although he batted .333, he didn't have one extra-base hit. It was the series in which the Boston Red Sox easily won their first World Series in 86 years. In those games, Pujols was a non-entity, as was the entire Cardinal team, and his former achievements paled in the glow of the charismatic Red Sox team of Idiots.
Clutch players are known as clutch players as much due to the public's perception of them as for their achievements, and the more buzz those achievements create the more clutch a player becomes.
The Braves' Andruw Jones, Blue Jays' Troy Glaus, and Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki, like Pujols, are some of the finest defensive and offensive forces presently in MLB. They've all had amazing performances in numerous games. They are true clutch players, especially in the eyes of the fans who see them play day-in and day-out.
However, where the general public is concerned, these players have not reached the status of a David Ortiz or a Derek Jeter. Before they can do that, they'll have to do amazing things on the biggest stage in Major League baseball. In order for that to happen, they need a little bit of luck, the right circumstances, and a great team that can give them the chance to make the unbelievable catch or smash the huge hit that wins the game and solidifies their reputation forever.
This article was written by Paul Mrocza for http://www.thegreek.com
. The Greek Sportsbook & Casino, winner of Gambling Online Magazine's Top Payouts Sportsbook two years in a row, is host to one of the top online sportsbooks
. The Greek is a must have sports betting and entertainment portal with one of the largest wagering menus available online. Reproductions of this article are encouraged but must include a link pointing to http://www.thegreek.com