Will Leitch’s series on the Data Decade, closing out this remarkable decade in the year of baseball, runs every week until the end of the year. Today: A look at the most unlikely heroes of the decade.
One of our favorite bits from the old, lamented Deadspin was David Roth’s “Let’s Remember Some Guys,” a way to look back at players from baseball history who weren’t necessarily stars but will live forever in our collective baseball memories. As we look back further at this decade in baseball, we take a nod from Roth and Remember Some Guys. Here are 10 otherwise mostly obscure players who had standout moments from this decade that we’ll never forget. (Players are listed in reverse chronological order with the team they were playing for at the time of their most memorable feat.)
Tony Wolters, C, 2018 Rockies
Did Wolters end the would-be Cubs dynasty? Maybe! The Rockies’ backup catcher -- who owns a career .651 OPS despite calling Coors Field his home -- came into the game on a double switch in the bottom of the 12th of a 1-1 tie in the 2018 National League Wild Card Game and, with two out in the top of the 13th, lined an RBI single up the middle to give the Rockies a 2-1 lead. The Cubs would go down in order in the bottom half, and they haven’t been back to the postseason since. Wolters is a lifetime .667 hitter (2-for-3) in the postseason.
Scooter Gennett, 2B, 2017 Reds
Five days before Opening Day in 2017, the Reds grabbed Gennett off of waivers. On Opening Day, he hit a two-out walk-off home run. And on June 6, Gennett had the day of his life, becoming the first Red to hit four homers in a game, totaling a team-record 17 total bases against the Cardinals. He made the All-Star Game in 2018 and then, as quickly as he arrived, he was gone, traded by the Reds in '19 and waived by the Giants less than a month later. But it’s better to burn out than fade away.
Mike Montgomery, LHP, 2016 Cubs
Of all the possible humans any Cubs fan could have predicted would be the one who would throw the pitch that clinched their first World Series win in more than a century, Montgomery wouldn’t have been at the top of anybody’s list. But with Aroldis Chapman out of gas, Montgomery got the call to finish off the Indians after the Cubs scored two in the top of the 10th of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. It wasn’t easy: Carl Edwards Jr. gave up a run and had a runner on when Montgomery came in. But Montgomery threw two pitches, and the second one got Michael Martinez to ground out to Kris Bryant, and the Cubs had their title … and Montgomery his immortal moment.
Christian Colon, INF, 2015 Royals
Colon only had 49 plate appearances for the 2014 Royals, but in the postseason, he was responsible for one of the biggest ones of the year, batting in the tying run of the American League Wild Card Game against the A’s and scoring the winning run. But he was only getting started. Colon only had 119 plate appearances in 2015, and he didn’t have a single one in the World Series … until he entered Game 5 as a pitch-hitter in the top of the 12th and singled in what would end up being the winning run against the Mets. Colon is still rattling around: He had eight plate appearances for the Reds last year and somehow managed to torment the Mets again in one of them.
Chris Heston, RHP, 2015 Giants
Outside of the 2015 season, Heston only made two starts his entire career. But on June 9, 2015, at Citi Field in Queens, he finished one of his 31 starts that season with a no-hitter. His major stat that year was that he led the Majors in hit-by-pitches, and he actually had three in his no-hitter. (He also had a two-run single.) Heston lost his rotation spot by the end of the year and was actually sent down to the Minors in September. He has only pitched in 10 MLB games since, but he is apparently eyeing a comeback.
Travis Ishikawa, OF, 2014 Giants
The world may never know or understand why Cardinals manager Mike Matheny brought in Michael Wacha, who hadn’t pitched all postseason, with a tie game and his team facing elimination in Game 5 of the 2014 NL Championship Series against the Giants, in the bottom of the ninth. But after Wacha gave up a single and a walk, Ishikawa was the happy recipient of Matheny’s charity, smashing a walk-off three-run homer to send the Giants to their third World Series in five seasons.
Pete Kozma, SS, 2012 Cardinals
The light-hitting Cardinals shortstop -- who was actually picked in the first round of the 2007 Draft, 30 spots ahead of Josh Donaldson -- was the furthest thing from an offensive force. But his ninth-inning double off Drew Storen finished off the Cards’ amazing comeback against the Nationals in Game 5 of the 2012 NL Division Series and made sure his name was an expletive in the D.C. area the rest of the decade.
Aaron Hill, 2B, 2012 D-backs
Hill actually led the Majors in plate appearances in 2009, the year he made his lone All-Star Game for Toronto, and he had a 13-year career, including a home run in the 2011 NLDS for the D-backs against the Brewers. But over the span of 11 days in 2012, he did something that hadn’t been done since 1931: He hit for two cycles in a month, the first one on June 18 against the Mariners, and again on June 29 against the Brewers. This was his best offensive season, as he posted a career-high .882 OPS and even showed up on a couple of NL MVP Award ballots. Hill hung around enough to play into his mid-30s, for the Giants in 2017.
Philip Humber, RHP, 2012 White Sox
Humber was the No. 3 pick of the Draft by the Mets in 2003 and a key piece of the trade that brought them Johan Santana, but he hadn’t lived up to that promise and only started 30 games when he took the mound in Seattle on April 21, 2012, and he’d never thrown a complete game. But he was perfect that day, throwing only 96 pitches and never having a pitch go over 92 mph. Humber would only make 20 more starts the rest of his career, and he was out of baseball after the 2013 season, a year he went 0-8 with a 7.90 ERA for the Astros.
Dan Johnson, 1B, 2011 Rays
Great tidbit about Johnson: He won the MVP Award in two Triple-A leagues, six years apart: the Pacific Coast League in 2004 and the International League in '10. But of course that’s not how baseball fans (and definitely not Red Sox fans) will know him: They know him as the guy who hit a two-out, two-strike, game-tying homer against the Yankees on the last day of the 2011 season. (The seat where the ball landed is still known as the “Dan Johnson Seat” at Tropicana Field.) Evan Longoria’s walk-off would eventually win the game for the Rays and eliminate Boston. Amusingly, Johnson has been rattling around the Minors the last few years as a knuckleball pitcher.