Pro athletes amaze us all the time with their talents on the field, but sometimes just being on the field at all is a mind-boggling feat.
Whether battling an illness or an injury, players have shown the ability to not only show up, but rise above and deliver, despite being in a physical condition that would keep most of us confined to the couch. The most famous example might be Michael Jordan's "Flu Game" in the 1997 NBA Finals, but baseball also has seen its fair share of admirable performances at far less than 100%.
Here are some of the greatest performances by sick or injured players in MLB history.
Max Scherzer, 2019 World Series Game 7
Scherzer's neck and right shoulder locked up and left him basically immobile in his pitching arm on the morning of World Series Game 5, forcing Joe Ross into an emergency start in a contest the Astros won to take a three games to two lead back home for Games 6 and 7. But Scherzer surprised many when he threw on the field prior to Game 6, and when teammate Strasburg helped the Nationals win that contest to force a Game 7, Scherzer took the ball.
The right-hander was far from his sharpest in the winner-take-all, walking four Astros, allowing seven hits and struggling with his command from the start. But despite numerous close calls, Scherzer gutted through and held the potent Astros to just two runs over five innings, departing with a 2-0 deficit. Scherzer's teammates picked him up from there, scoring six runs over the last three innings as the Nats captured their first title.
Stephen Strasburg, 2017 National League Division Series Game 4
Strasburg was very ill with flu-like symptoms on the day before he was scheduled to start what became a must-win Game 4 of the 2017 NL Championship Series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. But though he was not yet recovered, he took the mound for the Nats and turned in a brilliant effort to help Washington force a Game 5, giving up just three hits while striking out 12 over seven scoreless innings.
Kyle Schwarber, 2016 World Series
Schwarber collided with teammate Dexter Fowler in the outfield in just his second game of the season and tore both the ACL and LCL in his left knee. Just about everyone assumed that Schwarber would miss the rest of the 2016 season, but he made an unexpected fast recovery and came back to star in the Cubs' historic World Series triumph.
Schwarber started as Chicago's designated hitter in Game 1 and hit a double off the wall, making him the first position player to get his first hit of the season during the World Series. He notched seven hits in the Series, including three in the decisive Game 7, as the Cubs captured their first championship in 108 years.
Pablo Sandoval, 2014 World Series Game 4
Nearly two years to the day that he won the 2012 World Series MVP Award, Sandoval had come down with a heavy cold and was unable to participate in his regular pregame activities heading into Game 4 of the 2014 World Series against the Royals.
As it turned out, Sandoval delivered a pair of critical hits, including a go-ahead two-run single in the sixth inning that proved to be the difference as San Francisco tied the Series, eventually winning it in seven games for a third title in five seasons.
Jamie Moyer, 2008 World Series Game 3
Moyer’s Phillies were even after two games against the Rays when the 45-year-old’s turn came up. Unfortunately for the lefty, his long-awaited Fall Classic debut coincided with a severe stomach virus that left him in bad shape the night before his Game 3 start. His wife, Karen, told reporter Ken Rosenthal that Moyer was “the sickest I’ve ever seen him in 22 years.”
Yet Moyer never considered not pitching. Instead, he gave Philly a 6 1/3-inning quality start, leaving with the lead. While the bullpen gave that up, Moyer’s club went on to win the game and the Series.
Curt Schilling, 2004 American League Championship Series Game 6
The greatest postseason series comeback in baseball history would not have happened if not for Schilling and his bloody sock in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees. With the Red Sox trying to make it three straight over New York after being down 3-0 in the series, Schilling took the mound at Yankee Stadium with a torn tendon sheath sutured to the skin of his right ankle.
The veteran right-hander had to push off that ankle to deliver a pitch 99 times in that must-win contest, and surrendered only one run on four hits over seven innings to help Boston force a Game 7, which it would win to advance to the World Series. The Red Sox swept the Cardinals for their first championship in 86 years.
Pedro Martinez, 1999 ALDS Game 5
Pedro was at the absolute peak of his powers in 1999, when he had one of the greatest pitching seasons in baseball history. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, though, his start in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Indians lasted just four innings due to a strained back muscle. By the time the winner-take-all Game 5 rolled around, Martinez had not reappeared in the series, and once again, he didn’t start.
But with the game tied 8-8 heading to the bottom of the fourth, he emerged from the bullpen. "I put my career jeopardy” Martinez would say years later. The gamble paid off, as he tossed six hitless innings against a stacked Cleveland lineup to help lift Boston into the ALCS.
Kevin Brown, 1997 NLCS Game 6
After winning Game 1 of the NLCS at Atlanta, Brown came down with the flu, fighting it as the teams split the next four games. As the series headed back to Atlanta for Game 6, Brown boarded a flight “looking gaunt and tired,” according to a New York Times report. That didn’t prevent the right-hander from gutting out 140 pitches in a complete-game victory, outpitching Hall of Famer Tom Glavine as the Marlins clinched the pennant.
Kirk Gibson, 1988 World Series Game 1
It’s simply one of the most iconic moments in sports history. The 1988 NL MVP Award winner for the Dodgers hurt both knees in that year’s NLCS against the Mets, leaving Game 7 in the fourth inning. The World Series against the favored A’s began just three days later, and Gibson was not physically able to start. Instead, he remained in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, icing his ailing legs.
But with Los Angeles trailing by a run in the bottom of the ninth inning, one runner on base and two outs, Gibson hobbled to the plate against star closer Dennis Eckersley. A 3-2 slider tailed back over the plate, and Gibson somehow launched it into Dodger Stadium’s right field bleachers for a walk-off home run. Gibson slowly rounded the bases, pumping his arm in celebration.
“In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened,” said Vin Scully.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., April 13, 2022
Guerrero had his right hand stepped on by the Yankees' Aaron Hicks as Hicks crossed the first base bag on an infield single in the second inning at Yankee Stadium. Guerrero's hand was bloodied and as he went into the Blue Jays' dugout, it appeared for a moment that he may not return.
Then, he came back out onto the field, and little did anyone know what he would do next -- after launching a solo home run off Yankees ace Gerrit Cole in the first inning, Guerrero stepped to the plate against the hard-throwing right-hander again in the third, and again took him deep. It was a 98-mph fastball off the plate inside that appeared to actually jam Guerrero a bit, and he smashed it over the left-field wall with an exit velocity of 109.1 mph, according to Statcast, the exact same exit velocity as his first homer of the night.
Following a sixth-inning double, Guerrero became the second-youngest player in AL/NL history to record his second career three-homer game when he crushed a laser over the wall in left field off Jonathan Loáisiga to lead off the eighth. That homer had an exit velocity of 114.4 mph.
At 23 years and 28 days old, Guerrero was older than only Boog Powell, who had two three-homer games by the time he was 22 years and 315 days old on June 27, 1964. It was an incredible night for one of the most incredible players in baseball.
Max Scherzer, June 19, 2019
Scherzer suffered a broken nose as a result of a batting practice mishap in which he bunted a ball off his face prior to Tuesday’s scheduled game against the Phillies. But that didn’t stop him from taking the mound in the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader and dominating Philadelphia hitters for seven scoreless innings in the Nationals’ 2-0 victory. With a four-seam fastball averaging 96.2 mph, Scherzer struck out 10 in a memorable and gutsy performance.
Shohei Ohtani, Sept. 5, 2018
On the very same day as he was told he’d need Tommy John surgery, two-way star Shohei Ohtani went out and delivered an incredible performance with his bat, homering twice in a four-hit game against the Rangers. Following the season, he had the operation on the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, sidelining him until May of this year. But not before he added another amazing moment to his American League Rookie of the Year Award campaign.
Mark Teixeira, Aug. 20, 2007
Teixeira was ailing from a 24-hour stomach virus, but was in the starting lineup for the Braves against the Reds at Great American Ball Park. And for the second consecutive game, he launched two home runs in a 14-4 Atlanta victory.