Throughout baseball history, there have been key players who became September heroes for their clubs by helping lift them into the postseason. Whether it's turning in gem after gem on the mound down the stretch, or coming through with clutch hits late in critical games, these are the players who rose to the occasion when the pressure was at its peak during the regular season.
Here's a look at each team's greatest September hero:
Angels: Vladimir Guerrero, 2004
The best season of Guerrero's Hall of Fame career came in his first year with the Angels, when he captured his lone American League MVP Award and led the club to its first division title in 18 years. He carried the Halos in September, batting .500 (15-for-30) with a 1.783 OPS, six home runs, 11 RBIs, six walks and zero strikeouts over his final eight games to fuel a 7-1 run that allowed the Angels to overcome a three-game deficit and edge out the A's in the AL West race on the penultimate day of the season.
Astros: Lance Berkman, 2004
The 2004 Astros -- a star-studded team that included Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, along with Jeff Kent and an up-and-coming Carlos Beltran for the second half of the season -- were sputtering at the All-Star break, which led to Phil Garner replacing Jimy Williams as manager. Houston had to go 36-10 down the stretch to win the National League Wild Card on the final day of the season, and Berkman spearheaded the surge by hitting .350 with 13 homers, 17 doubles and 45 RBIs in the final 68 games (1.056 OPS).
Athletics: Jason Giambi, 2000
Giambi's storied 20-year career featured 440 home runs -- 43 of them recorded during his 2000 AL MVP Award-winning campaign. The slugger guided the A's to their first postseason appearance in eight years that season, absolutely demolishing the ball down the stretch with 13 multihit games and 13 home runs in the final month of the regular season.
Blue Jays: David Price, 2015
The Blue Jays were one game above .500 when David Price walked into the clubhouse on July 31. Toronto went 41-18 the rest of the way to snap a 22-year postseason drought, and Price was a major reason why. The former rival turned teammate won all but two of his 11 starts for the Blue Jays, with a 5-0 record and a 2.32 ERA in September. Price won both of his September starts against the Yankees, and in four starts vs. New York after the trade, he allowed just five runs over 26 1/3 innings. Toronto acquired five players before the 2015 Trade Deadline, but Price was by far the biggest addition of all.
Braves: Chipper Jones, 1999
While Jones had many great performances over the course of his Hall of Fame career, he arguably peaked in the second half of the 1999 season, when he hit .328/.464/.693 with 24 homers, 62 walks, and 33 strikeouts after the break en route to his only NL MVP Award. He all but sealed that award when he homered four times in a three-game September series against the Mets that helped secure Atlanta's eighth straight division title.
Brewers: Christian Yelich, 2018
Yelich's incredible finish to 2018 saw him chase a Triple Crown into the season's final days, run away with the NL MVP Award and slug the Brewers to their first division title since 2011. The Brewers started September four games behind the Cubs; on the penultimate day of the regular season, Milwaukee drew even. And when 162 games weren't enough to decide an NL Central champion, Yelich went 3-for-4 with an RBI single in the Brewers' win over Chicago in the tiebreaking Game 163. All told, Yelich hit .370/.508/.804 with 10 home runs, 34 RBIs and a 1.313 OPS in the season's final month.
This is with all due respect to CC Sabathia, who carried the 2008 Brewers to their first postseason appearance in 26 years -- making each of his final three starts on three days' rest and allowing just two earned runs in 21 2/3 innings in those games, including a complete-game effort against the Cubs in the regular-season finale that clinched the NL Wild Card.
Cardinals: Tyler O'Neill, 2021
On Sept. 10, St. Louis sat at 71-69 and 3 1/2 games out of a playoff spot. No one could have predicted then that the Cardinals' next loss wouldn't come for more than two weeks. O'Neill was a big reason why the team embarked on a franchise-record 17-game winning streak, as he hit seven home runs and recorded a 1.041 OPS during that span. The Cardinals were comfortably positioned for the second NL Wild Card spot by the end of the streak, and O'Neill received NL Player of the Month honors soon afterward. He compiled a .328/.377/.731 slash line and hit 13 homers during the final month, the most by a Cardinals player during September/October since Mark McGwire in 1999.
Cubs: Rick Sutcliffe, 1984
Sutcliffe's late-season performance was one of the keys to winning Chicago's first pennant in 39 years. His best work came following the All-Star break, and, particularly in September. In the first half of the season, the right-hander posted a 4.26 ERA over 20 starts, but over 15 second-half outings, Sutcliffe's ERA was 2.93, helping the Cubs turn a 4 1/2-game deficit in the NL East on July 26 into a 6 1/2-game lead by the end of the season. In September, he posted a 2.06 ERA over five starts, including a two-hitter against the Pirates on Sept. 24 to clinch the division title.
D-backs: J.D. Martinez, 2017
Martinez will go down as one of the great Trade Deadline acquisitions. Although he performed well in his first month and a half with the D-backs, he saved his best for September as he helped them to the top NL Wild Card spot. Martinez hit .396/.431/.950 during the month for an OPS of 1.382, and his biggest night came Sept. 4 at Dodger Stadium when he hit four home runs. Martinez's 16 homers in September tied him with Pittsburgh's Ralph Kiner for the most September long balls in NL history and was one shy of the Major League record set by Cleveland's Albert Belle in 1995 and the Yankees' Babe Ruth in '27.
Dodgers: Orel Hershiser, 1988
With apologies to Manny Ramirez, whose ridiculously torrid bat helped lift the Dodgers into the postseason after his 2008 arrival, what Hershiser did still stands as an MLB record and he continued right through the World Series clincher. He finished the regular season with 59 consecutive scoreless innings, went 5-0 in September, won the NL Championship Series MVP Award and the World Series MVP Award.
Giants: Tim Lincecum, 2010
Lincecum sustained many stretches of dominant pitching during his Giants tenure, but none was more essential than his final-month flurry in 2010, the first of San Francisco's three World Series-winning even years. After a dreadful August in which he went 0-5 with a 7.82 ERA, Lincecum was superb in six September starts, going 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA. That effort went a long way toward helping the Giants overtake the Padres in the NL West race.
Guardians: Gene Bearden, 1948
With apologies to former ace Corey Kluber, who was 6-0 with a 0.84 ERA in September 2017 to help Cleveland clinch the top AL seed, Bearden's performance down the stretch in 1948 was the stuff of legend. Starting on Sept. 7, Bearden went 7-0 with a 1.57 ERA in his last nine outings, including six complete games and back-to-back late-inning relief appearances (Sept. 12-13). He finished that stretch with four consecutive complete games, culminating in a win over the Red Sox on Oct. 4 in a one-game tiebreaker game that punched the club's ticket to the World Series. Bearden then spun a 0.00 ERA against the Boston Braves in Cleveland's last Fall Classic triumph.
Mariners: Randy Johnson, 1995
The Mariners' magical late-season run to their first playoff appearance in franchise history had a number of heroes. But down the stretch, the "Refuse to Lose" campaign rode heavily on the shoulders of their big ace. Seattle won all 10 of Johnson's final starts from Aug. 11 on, with the Big Unit going 7-0 with a 1.45 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings. Opponents' slash line in those starts: .168/.240/.256. Johnson capped his dominating run by beating the Angels in the one-game tiebreaker to settle the AL West, allowing just three hits and one run in a complete-game 9-1 win. The future Hall of Famer wound up winning the first of his five Cy Young Awards after going 18-2 with a 2.48 ERA and 294 strikeouts in 214 1/3 innings in 30 starts in the strike-shortened season.
Marlins: Miguel Cabrera, 2003
The legendary hitter broke in as a 20-year-old, and he emerged as a force in the middle of the order for the Marlins during their drive to the NL Wild Card and the World Series title. Down the stretch, manager Jack McKeon moved Cabrera from hitting mostly seventh to mostly fifth. Cabrera responded, and after struggling with a .230 batting average in August, the rookie took off in September, slashing .308/.370/.505 with nine doubles, three home runs and 20 RBIs in the month. Cabrera found himself hitting cleanup in the World Series.
Mets: Yoenis Céspedes, 2015
Few trades in franchise history altered the Mets' trajectory more than their July 2015 deal for Céspedes. Over his final 47 games of the season, Céspedes hit 17 home runs with a 1.014 OPS, including 10 homers in his first 13 September games. Just two games above .500 when they acquired Céspedes, the Mets went 37-22 with him on the roster, made the World Series, then re-signed him after the season.
Nationals: Adam LaRoche, 2012
LaRoche slashed .324/.390/.667 with eight doubles and 10 homers over the season's final month, helping vault the Nationals to their first NL East title since moving from Montreal to Washington, and second postseason appearance in franchise history (also the 1981 Expos). Overall, LaRoche finished sixth in NL MVP Award voting that season, hitting .271/.343/.510 with 33 homers, including 18 in the second half.
Orioles: Cal Ripken Jr., 1983
A follow-up to a stellar rookie campaign, Ripken's second-half performance is one of the best in team history. He was particularly dangerous in September, hitting .393 with 11 doubles, six homers and 19 RBIs. Ripken also scored 30 runs and posted a 1.023 OPS. He helped lead the O's to a World Series win that year, taking the AL MVP Award as well.
Padres: Kevin Brown, 1998
The Padres acquired Brown prior to the 1998 season with the goal of adding an ace who could put them over the top. Brown did exactly that. As San Diego steamrolled its way to 98 wins and an NL West title, Brown posted a 2.06 second-half ERA. In five starts over the season's final month, he struck out 35 and walked only six, foreshadowing a dominant first two rounds of the postseason.
Phillies: Ryan Howard, 2008
Howard always seemed to hit well late in the season, and 2008 proved to be no exception. He hit .352 with 11 home runs, 32 RBIs and a 1.274 OPS in September. It ranks as the fourth-best OPS in September in franchise history. It helped the Phillies overcome a 3 1/2-game deficit against the Mets with 16 games to play to win the NL East.
Pirates: Barry Bonds, 1992
There is an argument for Ralph Kiner, who hit 16 of his 54 homers and recorded 33 of his 127 RBIs in 1949 after Sept. 1. More recently, Gerrit Cole (2013) and J.A. Happ ('15) pushed the Pirates into the postseason with strong stretch-run performances. But the pick here is Bonds, who capped his 1992 NL MVP Award-winning campaign with an absurdly productive final month. Bonds slashed .392/.537/.833 with 11 homers, 27 RBIs, nine steals and more than twice as many walks (33) as strikeouts (15) as the Bucs went 22-10 after Sept. 1 to win the NL East.
Rangers: Adrián Beltré, 2015
Beltré fueled the Rangers' second-half drive to a division title by hitting .344 with five home runs, 38 RBIs, a .403 on-base percentage percentage and a .555 slugging percentage over 32 games in September and October. He hit .424 with a .707 slugging percentage with 33 RBIs in the last 23 games. Texas didn't clinch the division title until the last day of the season. The Rangers trailed the Angels, 2-1, in the bottom of the fifth when Beltré put them ahead for good with a two-run home run off Garrett Richards. Texas ended up with a 9-2 victory.
Rays: Randy Arozarena, 2020
Acquired from St. Louis before the season in a trade that hardly made waves, Arozarena was called up on Aug. 30 and immediately began putting his stamp all over the 2020 campaign. The young outfielder exploded with a .288/.377/.678 slash line, seven homers and three steals across 21 September games to help the Rays pull away from the Yankees for the AL East title. Somehow that was just a preamble to Arozarena's October, when he set MLB all-time postseason records with 10 homers and 29 total hits while leading Tampa Bay to an AL pennant.
Red Sox: Carl Yastrzemski, 1967
To complete the "Impossible Dream" and get to the World Series, the Red Sox needed a superhuman effort from Yastrzemski in the final two games of the regular season -- both must-wins against the Twins. That's exactly what Yaz provided, going 7-for-8 with a double, a homer and six RBIs as Boston won both games by scores of 6-4 and 5-3. In the final month of the season, when his team needed him most, Yaz slashed .417/.504/.760 with nine homers and 26 RBIs.
Reds: Jose Rijo, 1990
As the Reds completed their wire-to-wire claim of the NL West title, Rijo was brilliant down the stretch. In seven starts in September, he was 4-2 with a 1.26 ERA and four complete games, with five games of nine innings pitched. Rijo allowed only one home run over 57 innings in the month. He went on to allow one run in 15 1/3 innings in the 1990 World Series vs. Oakland, while winning Games 1 and 4 to earn MVP honors.
Rockies: Matt Holliday, 2007
The Rockies' miracle run that kickstarted "Rocktober" and landed them in the World Series was fueled by the big bat of a young Holliday, who hit .365 with 12 home runs and 32 RBIs and a 1.236 OPS down the stretch. What's funny is another Colorado September was actually better in terms of run production -- Troy Tulowitzki's 15 homers and 40 RBIs in 2010 -- but the Rox fell just shy of the postseason.
Royals: George Brett, 1985
The Royals entered the final week of the season one game behind the Angels with seven to go. Over the next six games, Brett hit .450 (9-for-20) with five home runs and 11 RBIs, carrying Kansas City to five wins -- the only game it lost in that stretch was the game Brett didn't hit a homer. And his second and fourth home runs during that week were inside-the-park homers. Brett got blue-flame hot when the Royals needed it most, and he helped them clinched the division and eventually win their first World Series crown.
Tigers: Miguel Cabrera, 2012
Take your pick of stretch-run performances for Cabrera, who batted .358 with a 1.073 OPS in September/October from 2011-14. While his .333 average in September 2012 seemed low by comparison, he homered 11 times with 30 RBIs in 31 games, helping the Tigers rally past the White Sox in the final week for their second consecutive AL Central title -- and baseball's first batting Triple Crown in 45 years.
Twins: Joe Mauer, 2009
After missing the first month of the season due to a back injury, Mauer more than made up for it the rest of the way, having a career year en route to winning the AL MVP Award and his third career batting title. Mauer was particularly strong down the stretch, hitting a blistering .373/.460/.570 with 10 homers, 15 doubles and 39 RBIs over his final 60 games from Aug. 1 until the end of the season. His impressive performance helped the Twins overcome a seven-game deficit in the AL Central in early September, as they caught the Tigers and forced a one-game tiebreaker that was memorably won by Minnesota in the last regular-season game played at the Metrodome.
White Sox: LaMarr Hoyt, 1983
This honor could go to either Hoyt, Richard Dotson (14-2, 2.25 ERA in the second half) or Floyd Bannister (13-1, 2.23 ERA), who combined with Hoyt to finish 42-5 in the second half of the 1983 AL West championship season featuring 99 victories. But in his AL Cy Young-winning campaign, Hoyt posted a 15-2 record with a 3.16 ERA in 18 second-half starts. He finished 12-0 with a 2.63 ERA over 13 starts covering August and September.
Yankees: Ron Guidry, 1978
"Louisiana Lightning" completed the best season of his career in strong fashion, going 12-2 with a 1.48 ERA in 17 starts for the eventual World Series champions, including 10 complete games and seven shutouts. Guidry limited opponents to an 0.823 WHIP over that span and was rewarded with the AL Cy Young Award after finishing 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA.