There have only been two walkoff homer series clinchers in World Series history -- Bill Mazeroski in 1960 and Joe Carter in 1993 -- which means, almost always, the last image we see of the World Series is a closer being tackled by his catcher. Here are the men who have thrown the last pitch of the World Series since 2003:
That's nine closers in a row. (Josh Beckett of the Marlins threw a complete game to win Game 6 of the 2003 World Series.) The odds are excellent that the last image of the 2013 baseball season will be of one of these four men screaming like a lunatic and having 24 grown adult males jumping up and down on top of them: Koji Uehara, Joaquin Benoit, Kenley Jansen or Trevor Rosenthal.
It's a rare thing to get to be the man who throws the last pitch of a World Series. You're memorialized forever on endless team store trinkets, you'll live on eternally in highlights and if you play it right, you can show up in local commercials until you're 94, maybe even for your own sports bar. You're a legend, instantly: You're immortal.
The path to such a vaunted position can be a twisted, unpredictable one. Wainwright had three saves in the 2006 regular season and nine in the postseason. Foulke had just been the goat of the postseason the year before, in 2003, against the Red Sox of all teams. Motte was a failed minor league catcher just six years earlier. Lidge might still be known more for a postseason homer he gave up than a last out he notched. Jenks, less than a year before his big moment, had been cut by the Angels in part for bringing beer on his minor league team bus.
One of these four men are probably going to be the next unlikely hero. Let's take a look at each.
Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox closer has had one of the best relief seasons in Red Sox history: 4-1, 1.09 ERA, 21 saves, 12.2 K/9, 11.22 K/BB. Uehara has always had ridiculous control -- he has walked less than one man per nine innings for about two seasons now -- but he keeps upping his strikeout rate. As witnessed by Thursday night's five-out save, he's become the ultimate weapon for the Sox this postseason: By the World Series, if the Sox make it, you can imagine him pitching the eighth and the ninth innings, old-school style.
We don't know a lot about Uehara, mainly because he speaks entirely through an interpreter and therefore is too much work for the average reporter. (Often, Japanese players feign not speaking much English to lessen their media burdens.) Uehara actually had the opportunity to come to America back in 1998, but he turned down a $3 million deal from the Angels; he ended up making the Nippon Professional Baseball All-Star Game eight of the next nine years. He hadn't quite achieved that same level of success when he finally came here at age 33, and after he suffered a season-ending injury in 2009, the Orioles shifted him to the bullpen. The Rangers traded for him to fortify their own bullpen in 2011, but they were so frustrated by him that they left him off the World Series roster.
He became another part of the "Red Sox's Sign Veterans To Short-Term Deals" project this offseason and has been brilliant -- his 0.565 WHIP is the lowest mark ever for a pitcher who threw more than 20 innings. His pitching this season has been magic. At 38, he's the oldest man on the Sox's playoff roster; he's seven months older than David Ortiz. If he ends up pitching the last out of the World Series, you can expect him to be a lot more low-key about it than Jonathan Papelbon was.
Joaquin Benoit, Detroit Tigers: Speaking of Papelbon, for most of the season, the general consensus was the Tigers would have to trade one of their young prospects to the Phillies for Papelbon to solve their alleged closer problem. Manager Jim Leyland had been resistant to give the job to Benoit because he counted on him so much as a setup man, but once Benoit got the job, he was outstanding. He nailed down his first 22 save opportunities and essentially allowed the Tigers to cruise to the American League Central title.
Benoit achieved this season what many in baseball consider impossible, irrationally: He went from trusted reliever to established closer, without having to undergo some sort of operation or something. He has spent most of his career as a setup man -- though he once had a seven-inning save with Texas -- and his emergence allowed the Tigers to avoid a potentially costly trade. There be dragons of late, though: Benoit blew two saves in the season's final week and has looked awfully hittable in the postseason..Still: Tigers fans don't exactly miss Jose Valverde.
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers: Jansen's story is not all that different than Motte's, except it happened a lot faster. Jansen was an undrafted rookie catcher rattling around the Dodgers organization, not hitting much or impressing anyone.
2009 was a big year for Jansen, though.
First, you might not remember this game, but the highlight of the World Baseball Classic was when the Netherlands upset the Dominican Republic. Well, Jansen was the catcher in that game, and even threw out Willy Taveras trying to steal in the ninth inning.
Later that year, the Dodgers decided they would try to make him a relief pitcher and, amazingly, it took so quickly that he was up in the majors by July 2010. He's been fantastic since he got here and has now secured the closer job the Dodgers had given to Brandon League earlier this year, for some reason. Jansen gave up the winning hit of Game 1 of the NLCS and struggled in the Dodger's Game 5 win, but he's still the same hard-throwing scary closer he has been his whole career. Who knows, maybe in a pinch he can fill in as a third catcher.
Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals: Of all the guys in their early 20s in the Cardinals bullpen who can throw in the upper 90s -- Carlos Martinez, Kevin Siegrist, Shelby Miller -- Rosenthal throws the hardest. Only 23, Rosenthal had been targeted to be a starter throughout most of his time in the minors, but ultimately the Cardinals have found his ability to come out of the bullpen throwing 100mph BBs right past everyone irresistible. His save in Game 2, in which he struck out Yasiel Puig, Juan Uribe and Andre Ethier on 14 pitches, was dominant in a way that was almost scary.
He's an unlikely one too: When the Cardinals drafted him in 2009, he had only pitched 4 2/3 innings for his community college team. (He'd been a shortstop and had just decided to take it up because everyone told him he threw hard.) It is now extremely unlikely he will ever be a starting pitcher again. No one seems to mind.
One of these men -- two players converted from position play in the past four years, one lifetime setup man finally getting his big break, one Japanese legend displaying his wizardry on the biggest stage of all -- is very likely going to throw the last pitch of the World Series this year, securing his place in baseball history. You can never predict the path anyone's career is going take. Immortality comes out of nowhere.