As the Yankees were wrapping up a win over the Rangers on Monday, there was another game happening hours south of them that also had an impact on their playoff hopes. With two outs in the ninth inning, the Rays were clinging to a lead 6-4 against the Blue Jays, but Toronto had loaded the bases.
To try and get the last out Tampa Bay made a pitching change and brought in Dietrich Enns. That name might not mean anything to you, but if you’re a follower of Yankees’ prospects, it very much will. Enns was a 2012 Yankees draft pick who spent until 2017 in the system, at which point he was sent to the Twins in the Jaime García trade. He wasn’t exactly a top prospect in the system, but he was a person who you knew if you were keeping track of the minors.
Enns made his MLB debut in that 2017 season. After it, he didn’t pitch again in the majors for the Twins, but spent a couple more years in their system. He had a season in the minors in the Padres’ organization in 2019, had signed a minor league deal with the Mariners in 2020 before COVID hit, and then resurfaced with the Rays this year.
In the game against the Blue Jays, Enns fell behind 3-0, before getting some, um, help with some called strikes in an eventual game-ending strikeout. It was an important win for the Rays as they try to finish off the AL East, but it was also important for the Yankees in the Wild Card race.
It’s not unheard of for a seemingly random name to end up having to play a big part in an important game, especially in September during callup season. However, it is pretty funny that, in this case, the random player was a notable name to at least a subset of Yankees’ fans. It got me thinking about other times when a random former Yankees popped up on other teams and ended up playing a crucial role in an important game.
I don’t know what it says about my brain that when brainstorming moments for this post, the first name that came to mind was Travis Ishikawa.
Ishikawa notably got two whole at-bats in the cursed 2013 season for the Yankees, getting picked up and then released by the team in little under a week. He then spent the rest of 2013 with the White Sox organization, was picked up that offseason by the Pirates, and started the 2014 season there before getting released. The Giants then signed him on April 25th, 2014.
He didn’t appear for San Francisco until late July and only made 81 plate appearances for them in the regular season. However, Ishikawa became semi-important for the Giants as their regular first baseman, Brandon Belt, missed a decent chunk of time with injury issues.
Then late in the season with a couple outfielders dealing with injuries, the Giants had Ishikawa play left field, which he had never done in the majors before. He went on to hold that position down for most of the rest of the playoffs as the Giants eventually won the World Series. However prior to that, he also wrote his name in playoff lore.
The Giants were up 3-1 in the NLCS but went into the eighth inning of Game 5 trailing as the Cardinals threatened to sent the series back to St. Louis. Mike Morse tied the game with a homer in the eighth, setting the stage for the ninth.
With two on and one out in the ninth, Ishikawa sent the Giants to the World Series with a three-run home run.
In doing so, he became just the fourth player to hit a LCS-winning walk-off home run, and the first to do so in the NLCS.
It might be unfair to call Muddy Ruel a Yankee “random” since he spent four seasons with the team. However, he only played a lot in two of them, and his career there wasn’t exactly fruitful.
After the 1920 season, the Yankees sent him to the Red Sox in a deal that notably brought 1923 championship ace Waite Hoyt to New York. He spent two seasons in Boston before a February 1923 trade saw him go to the Washington Senators. There Ruel had probably the best seasons of his career, including a big moment in the Senators’ only World Series championship.
The Senators and the Giants went all the way to the 12th inning of Game 7 in the 1924 World Series. Washington had rallied from two runs down in the eighth, with Ruel scoring one of the runs, to send the game to extras.
Ruel came up with one out in the 12th and fouled a pitch off. Giants’ catcher Hank Gowdy seemed to have it, but stepped on his mask while going for the catch and dropped the ball, keeping Ruel alive. Ruel took advantage, doubling, and, after another error, eventually scored the winning run on Earl McNeely’s championship winning hit.
Those are two examples of former Yankees coming through in a season-altering moment, now let’s look at one who did not.
Chris Martin has turned himself into a pretty good decent reliever with the Braves, but back when he came to the Yankees in 2015, he had a career ERA over six and was mostly fodder for Coldplay jokes. He threw 20.2 innings with the Yankees in 2015, wasn’t particularly great, was released after the season, and spent the next two years in Japan.
Martin was excellent overseas and returned to MLB in 2018, and has became a good major league reliever. He was especially impressive last year, putting up a 1.00 ERA (479 ERA+!) in 18 innings in the pandemic-shortened season. He then allowed one run in 6.2 innings in the early stages of the playoffs, helping the Braves get within a game of the World Series.
However, the Dodgers rallied from down three games to one, and then rallied to tie game seven after trailing in the sixth. Atlanta called on Martin to finish the sixth and left him in for the seventh against the heart of Dodgers’ order. He struck out the first two hitters, but allowed a home run to Cody Bellinger, himself a progeny of a random Yankee, giving LA a lead they would never relinquish. The Dodgers would win the game, the series, and a World Series championship the next round.
There are almost definitely other examples, so let us know the time your favorite completely random Yankee played a pivotal role in a major spot for another team.