Heroes of the LCS

I was five years old when that jerk, Chris Chambliss, crushed a Mark Littell pitch and my hopes and dreams with one swing of the bat.

It was my indoctrination to postseason baseball, League Championship Series style.

Growing up in Kansas City in the late ’70s and early ‘80s, my Octobers were filled with baseball. But thanks mostly to the Yankees, there ended up being more LCS games than World Series contests. Maybe that explains my fascination with the LCS, or as they simply used to be called before the wild card foolishness entered the equation, The Playoffs.

Every October in the mid-’80s, I’d get the issue of USA Today with the special postseason section and peruse the list of playoff records, which were usually heavily populated by Yankees, Royals, Philles, Dodgers, Reds and—thanks to their success in the early ‘70s—the Athletics. Now, with the expansion of the LCS to seven games, a new generation of Yankee hegemony and a great postseason run by the Braves, the names have changed as Steve Garvey, Pete Rose and Reggie Jackson have been replaced by Derek Jeter, David Justice and Chipper Jones.

Really, my true fascination with the the LCS records was because you couldn’t help but notice George Brett’s name was prominently featured. His accomplishments included hitting the game-tying home run in the eighth inning of the fifth game of the ’76 LCS, hitting home runs in three consecutive at bats in Game 3 of the ’78 LCS, blasting the pennant-clinching home run in Game 3 in ’80 and single-handedly saving the Royals in Game 3 of the ’85 ALCS by hitting a double and two home runs while going 4-4 and scoring four runs. From 1976 to 1985, the Royals appeared in six league championship series and Brett was a pivotal figure in each playoff.

   Year      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
   1976     .444     .476     .778     1.254
   1977     .300     .333     .500     .833
   1978     .389     .389     1.056    1.445
   1980     .273     .333     .909     1.242
   1984     .231     .231     .231     .462
   1985     .348     .500     .826     1.326
  Career    .340     .400     .728     1.128

By the end of the ’85 postseason, Brett owned a ton of playoff records, including home runs (9), runs scored (22), total bases (75) and OPS.

He was the king of the LCS until the Yankees’ recent stellar LCS run came to an end in 2004, when his name was supplanted by Bernie Williams. Williams’ LCS highlights include hitting a game-tying home run against Seattle in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the ’01 series, winning Game 1 of the ’96 LCS (the Jeffery Maier game) with a home run in the bottom of the 11th inning, and collecting three hits in the clinching sixth game of the ’00 LCS. From 1996 to 2004, the Yankees appeared in seven League Championship Series and Williams was a key figure in most of the games, often batting fourth or fifth.

   Year      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
   1996     .474     .583     .947     1.530
   1998     .381     .536     .429     .965
   1999     .250     .318     .450     .768
   2000     .435     .481     .609     1.090
   2001     .235     .409     .765     1.174
   2003     .192     .300     .231     .531
   2004     .306     .306     .556     .862
  Career    .321     .413     .549     .962

After the ’04 LCS, Williams had passed Brett by becoming the LCS record-holder in runs (31), hits (52) and total bases (89) just to name a few.

As Brett passed the mantle to Williams, it’s now time for Williams to hand it off to Manny Ramirez.

Unlike Brett and Williams, who did their October damage with one team, the Dodgers are the third team Ramirez has played for in the LCS. His most notable LCS appearances have been… odd. He was the batter when Roger Clemens delivered a pitch high and tight in Game 3 of the ’03 series which precipitated the benches clearing and Pedro Martinez body slamming Don Zimmer. He was on deck when Marquis Grissom hit the home run in Game 6 of the ’97 LCS against the Orioles to break a scoreless tie in the 11th which sent the Indians to the World Series. Then there was Game 5 of last year’s LCS when he hit a fly ball that bounced off the top of the outfield wall, but because he thought he hit it out of the park, he had to settle for a single.

While Ramirez has had his share of interesting League Championship Series moments, he’s also been a consistent hitter, performing at a very high level in most contests.

   Year      AVG      OBP      SL       OPS
   1995     .268     .348     .571     .919
   1997     .286     .444     .619     1.063
   1998     .333     .423     .667     1.090
   2003     .310     .333     .552     .885
   2004     .300     .400     .333     .733
   2007     .409     .563     .727     1.290
  Career    .319     .422     .563     .985

While Ramirez hasn’t necessarily had many “flash bulb” moments in the LCS that remain etched in your memory, you can’t deny (power outage in ’04 aside) he’s been a steady—and quality—player throughout his LCS history. So steady in fact, that last October Ramirez saw his hitting streak in the League Championship Series snapped at 15 games, which is a record he now shares with Pete Rose.

Now Ramirez is one solid LCS away from supplanting Williams as the main record holder in championship series history.

Here are some numbers to ponder as the Dodgers square off against the Phillies. All stats are through the 2007 postseason.

Ramirez’s 46 hits rank second in LCS history.

He needs six hits to tie Williams for the record. What’s interesting is that both players have around the same number of plate appearances—Williams has 189 and Ramirez owns 173. Can Ramirez tally six hits in his next 16 LCS at bats?

Ramirez’s 81 total bases rank second in LCS history.

A comparative study on an unwritten rule of baseball.

George Brett, with 75 total bases, held this record until Williams surged past him with 20 total bases in his final League Championship Series appearance in 2004. As someone who witnessed each one of Brett’s total bases first hand, I’ll note that he compiled his record in 115 plate appearances.

Ramirez has hit exactly two home runs in five of his six LCS appearances.

The lone exception was in 2004, when he hit .300/.400/.333 for the Red Sox in their seven-game comeback against the Yankees. He rapped nine hits, but just one double for his lone extra base hit. His 10 career LCS home runs already represent a record.

Ramirez ranks third with 15 extra base hits.

Again, Brett held this record with 18 extra base hits until Williams passed him with a run-scoring double in his second-to-last LCS at bat.

Ramirez is tied for third with 23 RBI.

He shares the third spot with John Olerud and is 10 behind Williams, who has 33 RBI.

Ramirez ranks seventh in LCS history in runs scored with 21.

Williams is first with 31 runs, but Ramirez is just five runs away from passing Jeter for second place on the list. For being on the winning side in four of his previous six series, it’s interesting to note that he’s averaged just 3.5 runs per LCS. He’s scored more than five runs in just two of his six LCS appearances.

Barring a monumental slump, by the end of the Dodgers’ series with the Phillies, Ramirez will own a bulk of the career LCS records. According to the oddsmakers, Ramirez is a 3-1 favorite to be the NLCS MVP. Based on his play down the stretch and his penchant for performing at a high level in mid-October, I wouldn’t bet against him.

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