Baseball is the only professional sport in which fate, in search of a hero, points to the least likely guy and says: “You’re the man.”
Fate singled out Detroit Tigers utility man Don Kelly in game 2 of the 2012 American League Division Series.
Kelly delivered the walkoff sacrifice fly that gave the Tigers a 5-4 win, and put them up 2 games to none over the Oakland Athletics.
Every team needs in reserve a couple guys like Kelly, who come to the park ready to play, and play everywhere. Yes, everywhere.
Rewind to June 29 of last season, when the Tigers were down 16-9 in the ninth inning of a game at Comerica against the New York Mets, one night after losing 14-3 to the very same team.
Skipper Jim Leyland came out to take the ball from David Purcey, who had just allowed a two-run double – but no one was warming up in the pen.
Kelly emerged from the Tiger dugout and trotted to the mound. The fans who stayed until the bitter end roared, their patience rewarded with something unusual.
“He’s got a fastball,” said Jim Price in the radio air time reserved for the color man to preview entering pitchers.
The Gameday pitcher’s box showed all zeroes. Kelly didn’t have any numbers, this being his first major league pitching appearance.
Mets’ DH Scott Hairston was up. Kelly got him on five pitches, on a fly to center, and earned a second salute from the Tiger faithful.
With that low a pitch count, he could have gone the next night. Skipper Leyland didn’t need him, and, fortunately, hasn’t had to wave him in since then.
Kelly is still the only active player who’s played all nine positions in the major leagues.
When the Tigers designated him for assignment this August, this writer couln’t believe it. “They designated WHO?” he spluttered.
Kelly cleared waivers and, unwanted by all 30 major league teams, went to Toledo. When the rosters expanded on September 1, the Tigers added him, after they never should’ve subtracted him in the first place.
Miguel Cabrera slugged the Tigers to post-season. But it was Kelly, the last man on the bench, who won what’s arguably their most important game so far in 2012.
Baseball is the only one in which serendipity creates such unlikely heroes. Think of Al Gionfriddo, Al Weis, Cody Ross, Bucky Dent, Brian Doyle.
And – speaking of players who could be managers – there’s Don Kelly on the Tiger bench, and this writer wouldn’t be surprised if he works his way up, through the low minors, and one day finds a big league job.