Be honest, before May had you ever heard of Quintin Berry? Did you even know he existed?
I didn’t think so.
Amazingly, after being drafted, choosing to go to a small college instead, being drafted again, and spending six seasons in the minor leagues, Berry made his major league debut for the Tigers in May. Now, just 18 weeks later, he’s on Detroit’s post-season roster and started Game One against the A’s on Saturday evening.
Berry’s path to the big leagues has been long, winding, and slow, which belies the outfielder’s blazing speed and style of play. “The Q” brings blinding-fast quickness and enthusiasm to this Tigers team. A rookie he is, but then again he doesn’t seem like one. He’s older than five players who were in the lineup on opening day. He’s older than Delmon Young!
Berry may be a rookie technically speaking, but he’s played a lot of baseball, and his exuberance and passion for the game are welcome on a team that often seems to be flat and emotionless. But Berry will be key for the Tigers chances in Round One of the Playoffs because he has something that none of his other teammates have – the nerve of a thief. As Hall of Famer Lou Brock once said, “You have to believe you can steal a bag any time you want.” Brock swiped more than 900 bases in his career, so he knows what he’s talking about.
Berry has yet to be thrown out by a big league catcher. He’s 21-for-21 in stolen bases attempts. At some point during this series against the A’s it’s likely that a base will need to be stolen, and whether he’s getting on base to do it, or whether he’s inserted as a pinch-runner, Berry would be the best chance for Detroit.
In many ways, Don Kelly is about as different from Berry as anyone on the Detroit club. He’s so ordinary, so average, so dull in many ways, that he largely goes unnoticed. Kelly is pretty much the definition of the “last guy on the bench.” He’s the guy who gets in when the game is out of hand, when a defensive replacement is needed, when a regular needs a day off. He’s the third-string emergency catcher, for God’s sake!
But Kelly is on the playoff roster, and as a left-handed batter he could prove crucial for Jim Leyland’s ballclub. The Tigers have only two left-handed bats on their bench for the series against Oakland – Kelly and Ramon Santiago (a switch-hitter). It’s probable that at some juncture, Leyland will need a LH bat to pinch-hit in a spot late in a game. Kelly has more pop in his bat than Santiago, and he hit a pretty important (and unexpected) home run last October in the playoffs against the Yankees. Leyland likes Kelly about as much as anyone on his team (and that’s saying a lot since Smoky has seemed infatuated with the likes of Brandon Inge, Ryan Raburn, and Boesch in the past), and wouldn’t hesitate to go to him.
Miguel Cabrera? Justin Verlander? Prince Fielder? Papa Grande? Yes, those guys will have to perform well for the Tigers to win this series against the A’s.
But the heroes of October are often not household names. Sometimes, a 27-year old rookie or the last guy on the bench step into the spotlight.