The Dodgers outfield was supposed to be overmanned, with four star-caliber players for three spots. So, Schumaker would get, what, a pinch-hit appearance here or there, maybe?
Then, on Sept. 13, Andre Ethier doubled and limped his way to second with a sore left shin. He hasn’t played the outfield since and he probably won’t until at least Game 3 of the Dodgers’ NLDS with the Atlanta Braves. Two weeks later, Matt Kemp woke up one Sunday morning feeling extra soreness in his left ankle. The team ordered an MRI and the test found enough damage in Kemp’s ankle that he was shut down for the entire postseason.
So, depending on your perspective, the Dodgers are either stuck with Schumaker or they’re lucky to have him. There is a good chance he will play every inning of the Dodgers’ first playoff series in four seasons as the team's center fielder.
“For the most part, Schu’s our guy,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Schumaker doesn’t have the power of Kemp or the gap-to-gap doubles ability of Ethier, but he’s been a better postseason hitter than either of them, in a far larger sample size. And sometimes in October, it only takes one moment.
Schumaker had his when he drove in Rafael Furcal with the only run of the St. Louis Cardinals’ 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS. Schumaker won two World Series rings with the Cardinals.
Hitting coach Mark McGwire, who had just gone from the Cardinals to the Dodgers, liked him so much, he gave a ringing endorsement when general manager Ned Colletti called to say he had an opportunity to trade for Schumaker in January.
“Actually, I thought he was our best outfielder in St. Louis. He definitely has the strong arm. He’s very, very accurate and he battles out his at-bats,” McGwire said. “He does his homework, he does his studying. I’ve just got to keep him relaxed.”
At 5-foot-10, Schumaker is one of the least-intimidating Dodgers players to look at, but he’s one of the edgiest when it comes to playing the game. Teammates have learned that he doesn’t like a lot of small talk before games. He thinks his intensity has helped him make the transition to postseason games, where the stakes are higher and the atmosphere more tense. As he puts it, the game "speeds up."
“Tony LaRussa taught me that, when you get mad, it builds adrenaline. I feel you can do more things when you have more adrenaline,” Schumaker said. “I only know how to play when I’m kind of upset. If I play kind of low-key and happy like Hanley [Ramirez], I don’t know how he does it, I don’t think I’d be very good at it.
“I just feel like I’m going into the final game of the World Series and that’s how I play in the regular season. So, I don’t feel like the postseason sneaks up on me.”