Late-season saviors (cont.)
Here are four other late-season saviors keeping their teams in the race:
Denard Span, Twins OF
Speedy, with a spectacular glove and a bat that is surprising just about everybody, Span has been a major player on the Twins' no-name roster which is challenging the White Sox in the AL Central.
Span, Minnesota's first-round draft choice in 2002 (and the 20th pick overall), was sleepwalking his way through an unspectacular minor-league career when he finally caught on and hit .340 for the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings earlier this year. When Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer injured his finger, Span made his way up to the big-league team and has made it almost impossible to think about sending him back.
Since he took over in right field on June 30 -- he spells Carlos Gomez in center, too -- Span is hitting .329 with a .417 on-base percentage. He also has 19 extra-base hits in the 45 games.
Span, a patient hitter who utilizes his speed to get on base (only K.C.'s Joey Gathright has a better groundball-to-flyball ratio in the AL), has been the Twins' leadoff man for the last 28 games, during which he's scored 22 runs and the team has gone 18-10. His latest contribution came Thursday night, when the lefty-swinging Span slapped a single down the left-field line in the 12th inning that scored the winning run in a 2-1 decision over the Angels.
Jed Lowrie, Red Sox SS
Julio Lugo, who started the season at short for the Red Sox, was beginning to frustrate Boston fans. He wasn't hitting particularly well, although for a famously light-hitting shortstop, it was about what you could expect. His defense, though, was awful. He had committed 16 errors in 81 games when, on July 11, he pulled up with a torn quadriceps muscle.
He'll be lucky to work his way back into the lineup -- ever -- with the rookie Lowrie now there.
Lowrie, 24, started the season with Class AAA Pawtucket, but he came up in April when third baseman Mike Lowell hurt his thumb. Lowrie was bounced back to the minors when Alex Cora came off the disabled list in May, and brought back up in July when Lugo was hurt.
Since he took over at short on July 12, Lowrie has started all but eight games (Cora has filled in) and hit .313 with a .391 on-base percentage. Lowrie is no homer-hitter himself, but he does have 11 doubles and three triples among his 31 hits.
More important to the Sox: In 30 games overall at shortstop this season, in 238 innings, he has not made an error. In fact, in 10 other starts at second and third, he hasn't made an error at either of those positions, either. "He's playing shortstop in an important time for us, and he seems pretty comfortable doing it," manager Terry Francona told Boston reporters earlier this month.
Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers closer
Intimidating in size and stuff -- he's 6-foot-4 and every last ounce of 240 pounds, with a fastball in the mid-90s -- Broxton always has looked like a closer. Yet he had been used primarily as a setup man in his first two full-time seasons in L.A.
When Takashi Saito landed on the disabled list with a sore elbow in July, though -- an injury that may end up costing him the rest of the season -- new manager Joe Torre turned over the primary closing duties to Broxton, a man that former manager Grady Little liked to call "Big Drawers."
He has been big, indeed. In 28 games since Saito went down, in 28 1/3 innings, Broxton has struck out 33 batters, held opponents to a .210 batting average and chalked up 10 saves, blowing only one. He's had rough patches this year -- he blew four save chances in May -- but he seems to have hit his stride now. He registered 101 mph on the Dodgers stadium radar gun Thursday afternoon in striking out three Colorado batters in the ninth to end the game and earn the save.
Daniel Murphy, Mets OF
The Mets' outfield has been a mess all season long, with the ongoing injury problems of Moises Alou (hamstring pull) and, later, Ryan Church (concussion). Angel Pagan, Endy Chavez and Marlon Anderson have chipped in quite a bit, as has Fernando Tatis, who has hit .291 as a starter in the outfield, a role he first grabbed onto in late May.
Lately, though, the boost has come from the 23-year-old Murphy, a 13th-round pick of the Mets in the 2006 draft who was called up from Class AA Binghamton to help. His big-league debut came on Aug. 2 when he started in left field. Since then, he's hitting .404 with a .491 OBP, with two homers and 11 RBIs in 18 games. The Mets have moved into a 2 1/2-game lead in the National League East.
Manager Jerry Manuel still doesn't start the lefty-swinging Murphy against lefties -- he sat out Thursday's win over Mike Hampton and the Braves as Nick Evans started -- but it's not a hard-set rule that Murphy won't get any at-bats from that side. Manuel used Murphy as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning of a game against Florida on Aug. 9, and the kid responded with his first major-league home run. It came off Renyel Pinto, a lefty.
"We couldn't have acquired, probably, a better player [in a trade]," Manuel told reporters earlier this month.