|Red-hot postseason performers|
By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff
Jiggy. Nick Van Exel. Sometimes, some years, during some playoff runs, someone carries his team to a title. And he does it by getting red-hot just when it counts. Usually, it's a superstar, but sometimes Mr. Red-Hot is a role player and, in a few instances, a fresh-faced rookie. In the past few decades, as even the baseball playoffs stretch into a month-long exercise, it's become increasingly rare for someone to step up and stay up. Who's the bestest of the hottest for more than one playoff round? Hard to say, but we'll give it a shot.
1. Curt Schilling, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2001
Game 1, NLDS: Schilling pitches a 1-0, complete-game shutout vs. the Cardinals.
Game 5, NLDS: He pitches a 2-1, complete-game win, allowing the D-Backs to advance to the NLCS. Totals for the series: 2 G, 2 CG, 2 wins, 18 IP, 18 SO, 0.50 ERA.
Game 3, NLCS: Schilling tosses a complete-game four-hitter as Arizona beats Atlanta 5-1 at Turner Field. D-Backs take the NL flag in five games. Totals for the series: 1 G, 1 CG, 1 win, 9 IP, 12 SO, 1.00 ERA.
Game 1, World Series: He holds the Yankees to one run and three hits in seven innings and gets the W in a 9-1 win.
Game 4, World Series: Schilling exits after seven innings with a 3-1 lead. Byung-Hyun Kim relieves, Yankees come back to win in 10 innings.
Game 7, World Series: His worst outing of the postseason -- the Yankees tag Schilling for two runs and six hits in 7 1/3 innings. Totals for the series: 3 G, 1 win, 21 1/3 IP, 26 SO, 1.69 ERA.
Add it up: 6 G, 3 CG, 4 wins, 48 1/3 IP, 56 SO, 1.12 ERA.
2. Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls, 1993
In the finals, MJ did the impossible -- he took his game to an even higher level, setting a record by averaging 41 ppg during the six-game win over Phoenix. He had a finals record of four 40+ games and scored 55 points as the Bulls won Game 4, 111-105.
In all, during the Bulls/ 19-game playoff run, Jordan scored 666 points, an average of 35.1 per game. He also averaged 6.7 rebounds, had 39 steals, and blocked 17 shots. We could go on and on recounting the superlative performances and game-winners, but MJ's teammate, John Paxson, said it all just before Game 6 of the finals: "Night after night, year after year, he just carries this team."
3. Patrick Roy, Montreal Canadiens, 1986
Roy, who didn't miss a minute of playoff action, went 15-5 and became the youngest player to win the Conn Smythe for Stanley Cup playoffs MVP. "Patrick was very important early in the playoffs when some of the guys didn't believe in themselves and didn't think that we were that good," said Montreal coach Jean Perron.
Added Habs GM Serge Savard, "Roy didn't play like a rookie. I wouldn't have traded him for an experienced goalie because it would have been taking a step backward. We had a lot of confidence in the kid.
4. Paul Molitor, Toronto Blue Jays, 1993
He hit .391 in the ALCS (seven runs, nine hits, three walks, one homer, five RBI in the Jays' 4-2 series win over the White Sox). In the World Series, he stepped it up, hitting .500 -- going 12-for-24 with 10 runs, 2 dingers, 8 RBI, three walks, and a stolen base for good measure.
Postseason totals: .447 BA, .509 OBP, 17 runs in 12 games, four doubles, three triples, three homers, and six walks. When games were played in Philly, he played errorless ball at first and third. In other words, Molitor was superb, and was the key to the Blue Jays' second straight World Series championship. Toronto fans noticed: a national election paralleled the baseball playoffs, and fans hung a banner in the SkyDome that read: "On Oct. 25, Vote For Paul Molitor."
5. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers, 1985
6. Orel Hershiser, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1988
7. Ken Dryden, Montreal Canadiens, 1971
He carried on with his fine performance in the Stanley Cup final against Chicago, which the Canadiens won in seven games. In 20 playoff games, the 23-year-old goalie went 12-8 with a 3.00 goals-against average, a performance that won him the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. The next season -- officially his first full season -- he won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
8. Francisco Rodriguez, Anaheim Angels, 2002
Just one example of his mastery: In Game 2 of the World Series, he pitched three perfect innings, tossing 22 strikes and four balls, holding the Giants scoreless while the Angels scored three runs for an 11-10 win. K-Rod was the youngest pitcher ever to win a World Series game, and also set postseason marks for most wins.
9. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Anaheim Mighty Ducks, 2003
Before this season, his sixth in the NHL, Jiggy had played only 117 games. As a regular this year, he played 65 games, with a solid 2.30 GAA. But he was just getting warmed up. Coming into the Stanley Cup, Jiggy has a 12-2 record in this year's playoffs, with four shutouts and an amazing 1.22 GAA. The Ducks upset Dallas and Detroit in the first two rounds and reached the finals even though they have outshot their opponent in just one game.
After the Wild lost 1-0 in double OT, in the first game of the Western Conference finals, they remained confident. "Giguere, you know, he's on top of his game," said Wild coach Jacque Lemaire after the game. "But like any other goaltender, you look at them closely, and you find they have strengths and weaknesses, and you have to work on his weaknesses. We know where they are and we have to get the opportunity and we'll get there."
10. Timmy Smith, Washington Redskins, 1987
His regular-season totals: 29 rushes, 126 yards, 0 TD. His postseason: vs. Chicago at Soldier Field, 16 carries for 66 yards; vs. Minnesota in the NFC Championship Game, 13 rushes for 72 yards. So, even before the Super Bowl, he'd exceeded his season titles with two solid performances in close games. Then came the Big Game: 204 yards (a Super Bowl record) and 2 TDs on just 22 carries.
Others receiving votes:
Darrell Porter, St. Louis Cardinals, 1982
Dominik Hasek, Buffalo Sabres, 1999