Yesterday, we counted down the 20th through sixth most impactful plays of the postseason through the prism of WPA. Today we look at the top five. You might notice a theme.
|5||NLDS Gm 3: Francisco homers off Garcia||.399|
Ben Francisco didn’t exactly take the bull by the horns this year. Granted the starting job for the first seven weeks of the season with Domonic Brown on the shelf, Francisco spit the bit — when Brown made his first start of the year on May 22nd, Francisco was hitting .221/.331/.368. He had rattled off five homers, and would add a sixth a few days later, but when he came up to the plate to pinch-hit for Cole Hamels — who had just thrown six shutout innings — Francisco had not homered in 127 plate appearances dating back to that May 25th blast. But with this three-run shot he broke the scoreless tie, turned the series back in the Phillies’ favor and likely erased a lot of the bad memories from his lost season.
|4||WS Gm 6: Hamilton homers off Motte||.442|
Perd Hapley would have loved Game 6, because the story with this game is that it wouldn’t stop developing. Never was this more clear than with Josh Hamilton’s home run off of Jason Motte. When he hit it, your first thought was that this game keeps outdoing itself. Your second thought was that the game had to be over now, but then your third thought was to realize that even with Daniel Descalso, Jon Jay and Kyle Lohse scheduled to hit that this game — just like Councilman Dexhart — probably had a few more surprises in store. And it did.
|3||NLDS Gm 1: Howard homers off Lohse||.448|
The final score would obscure the importance of this at-bat. Trailing 3-1, Ryan Howard would work the count full, and then foul off a changeup below the knees and one way outside before Lohse made a mistake on the eighth pitch of the sequence, flat-lining a changeup letter high. Sluggers call those cookies, and Howard’s blast to right field gave the Phillies the lead. It also opened the floodgates, as the Phillies would tack on two more in the sixth off of Lohse, and then five more in the seventh and eighth off of human white flag Mitchell Boggs. But the blast by Howard got the party, short lived as it was, started for the Phillies phaithful.
|2||WS Gm 6: Berkman singles off Feldman||.468|
It seems fitting that the completion of Game 6’s second dramatic comeback would clock in at second place. For the second time in the game, the Cardinals were down to their last strike, but Lance Berkman roped a single to center that Hamilton might have had a play on had he not been in the ill-fated “no doubles” defense. At the very least, he may have been able to keep Jay at third or had a shot at throwing him out at the plate. But Hamilton was not only playing back, he was also shaded to left field, which was even more curious given the fact that Scott Feldman isn’t likely to be confused with a fireballer anytime soon. By the time Hamilton came up with the ball, Jay was already halfway between third and home, and scored the tying run easily.
|1||WS Gm 6: Freese triples off Feliz||.537|
This isn’t a shocker — this was one of the most exciting plays in the game’s storied history, and it was so because the stakes were high. People were quick to criticize Nelson Cruz, and admittedly Cruz should have either caught it, or played it off the wall and held Berkman at third. But this wasn’t exactly a routine play, and Cruz isn’t exactly known for his glove work. In fact, looking back, you could make the case that Endy Chavez — who had pinch-hit in the top of the inning — should have stayed in the game for defense. Of course, none of this is to take away from the great at-bat from David Freese. Neftali Feliz had fanned Ryan Theriot and Allen Craig for the first two outs of the inning, and had just blown a fastball by Freese for strike two. But Freese was ready the second time, and nearly hit a 98-mph fastball with movement out of the ballpark. It was an incredible performance, and it should be celebrated for what it was — the most impactful play of the 2011 postseason.