Playoff experience: 3 make MLB debuts in 2020 postseason

Five players in the modern era have made their major league debuts in the postseason, and three of them did it this year

Via AP news wire
Wednesday 07 October 2020 08:48 BST
NLDS Padres Dodgers Baseball
NLDS Padres Dodgers Baseball (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

It's normal for a baseball player to dream of making his big league debut or pitching in the postseason.

Doing both at the same time? That's a lot to digest — but Ryan Weathers handled it OK.

“We felt confident we were going to use him tonight, and how he performed was everything we could have asked for," San Diego manager Jayce Tingler said. "He was confident, he was throwing strikes, he was pounding the zone, he was using all his pitches. It was very impressive.”

Weathers pitched for the first time in a major league game Tuesday night when he appeared in relief for the Padres in Game 1 of their NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He became the fifth player in the modern era to make his big league debut in a postseason game — and three of those newcomers did it this year. Minnesota outfielder Alex Kirilloff and Tampa Bay left-hander Shane McClanahan were the others.

Maybe nothing should seem surprising in this unusual season, but considering the lack of minor league games in 2020, it's pretty remarkable that teams feel comfortable inserting players into the postseason with no recent game experience.

“Those guys have been competing, they’ve been practicing, they’ve been working out. Ultimately we made our decision," Tingler said before Tuesday's game. "I think guys improved throughout the year over at the alternative sites, just as they would if they were in Double-A or Triple-A and continued to log innings, log at-bats.”

It's not unheard of for a player to shine in the postseason with almost no major league experience. During their 2002 championship run, the Anaheim Angels leaned heavily on reliever Francisco Rodriguez, a rookie who had pitched just 5 2/3 innings in that regular season. The lack of familiarity for hitters may have worked in his favor, in addition to his obvious talent.

Weathers had even less experience. The 20-year-old left-hander hadn't pitched above Class A when he was summoned from the bullpen in the third inning Tuesday to face Corey Seager. Weathers ended up pitching 1 1/3 hitless innings, although he did issue a couple of walks.

The Padres lost 5-1, but it was scoreless when Weathers came in — a reasonably high-pressure situation, compared to other players who made their debuts in the postseason.

In 1885, outfielder Bug Holliday debuted for the Chicago White Stockings in the World Series — but that version of the postseason isn't recognized by Major League Baseball as part of World Series history, which began in 1903.

In 2006, Oakland infielder Mark Kiger appeared twice in the AL Championship Series as a defensive replacement. He never came to bat, and he never did appear in a regular-season game. In 2015, Adalberto Mondesi made his debut for Kansas City in Game 3 of the World Series. He struck out as a pinch hitter in the fifth inning.

This year, Minnesota was swept in its best-of-three series against Houston. Kirilloff started Game 2 and went 1 for 4.

“We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think highly of Alex Kirilloff’s ability, both as a player and as a guy, as a person. He’s a very talented ballplayer," manager Rocco Baldelli said prior to that game. "He’s here to play, and that’s why we carried him on this roster.”

McClanahan's debut came in Game 1 of the AL Division Series on Monday night. The New York Yankees had taken a 9-3 lead on Giancarlo Stanton's ninth-inning grand slam. McClanahan came on shortly after that and eventually got the third out without any more scoring.

“I think the deficit probably helped ease his mind a little bit, because that’s a pretty big deficit to come back from," said Charlie Morton, Tampa Bay's 36-year-old right-hander. "Any time you make your debut, I’m sure a lot of people were watching on TV. I do think, from my perspective, it would be easier to pitch in front of a stadium with no fans in it, in a deficit, so I think getting him in there, in that situation, it’s good to see him pitch.”

McClanahan called it a dream come true — but said he wished the Rays could have won. McClanahan said his parents were able to fly out for the game, and he was grateful for that.

“With everything going on in the world, and all the tragedies going across the country and the entire world, it makes you really appreciate the small things," he said. "Not so much the MLB debut. I was just thankful to have my parents there, have them in good health and good spirits.”


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