By Paul Casella
The 2014 World Series is a dead heat through two games, thanks in large part to... Omar Infante?
Infante doubled and scored in the second inning and then crushed a clutch, two-run homer in the seventh inning Wednesday night, breaking Game 2 wide open as the Royals evened up the series at one game apiece.
Infante had never previously homered in the postseason, despite logging 144 postseason at-bats before finally breaking through on No. 145. That snapped the second-longest drought among active players, a list topped by the Cardinals' Jon Jay and his 189 homerless postseason at-bats.
The Fall Classic is far from over and it's anyone's guess who will ultimately play the role of hero this October. Still, Infante's performance inspired us to look back on some of the unlikeliest heroes in World Series history, the unheralded players who come out of nowhere to steal the show on the game's biggest stage.
Give us your own favorites in the comments!
10. Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies (2008)
Though Ruiz is more of a well-known player these days, he was certainly an unexpected source of offense during the Phillies' 2008 title run. In just his second full season at the time, Ruiz had hit only .219 during the regular season before struggling mightily in the NLDS where he went just 1-for-14 (.071) against the Brewers.
Ruiz picked things up a bit in the NLCS before really hitting his stride at the plate in the World Series. Ruiz hit .375 (6-for-16) with two doubles, a home run and three RBIs as the Phils knocked off the Rays for their first title since 1980. Ruiz also worked four walks in the series, giving him a robust on-base percentage of .500 against Tampa Bay. Along with hitting .219 in the regular season, he had posted a .320 OBP and hit just four home runs over 117 games.
9. Rick Dempsey, C, Orioles (1983)
Dempsey hit just .231 with 16 doubles and four home runs over 128 games during the 1983 regular season, yet it took him just five games in the '83 World Series to match 25 percent of his yearly production. Dempsey hit .385 with four doubles and a home run en route to being named the series MVP.
Dempsey was never once named an All-Star over his 24-year career, during which he hit just .233 overall.
8. Gene Tenace, C, Athletics (1972)
Few could have expected Tenace would be the guy to step up for the Athletics in the 1972 World Series. After all, he had played just 82 games during the regular season -- and that was a career-high over his first four seasons with the A's. Not only had Tenace never been a full-time player at that point, but he hit just .059 (1-for-17) in the '72 ALCS against the Tigers.
His bat came alive in the World Series, though, as Tenace hit .348 (8-for-23) with four home runs and nine RBIs en route to being named the series MVP. He had hit just five home runs in 258 plate appearances during the regular season.
7. Francisco Rodriguez, RHP, Angels (2002)
It's entirely possible that the Angels franchise would still be searching for its first World Series title if not for the emergence of Rodriguez in 2002. He burst onto the scene in the '02 postseason, despite having just 5 2/3 big league innings under his belt. He had made his Major League debut on Sept. 18.
Rodriguez went on to win five games in relief that postseason, which remains a record for relievers. One of those victories came in the World Series, during which he struck out 13 batters over just 8 2/3 innings en route to helping the Angels win the series in seven games. It was during this run that he earned his widely-recognized nickname, K-Rod.
6. Donn Clendenon, 1B, Mets (1969)
Clendenon did not begin the 1969 season with the Mets, nor did he even see the field during their National League Championship Series sweep of the Braves. Clendenon also sat out Game 3 of the World Series -- but that didn't stop him from earning MVP honors in the Fall Classic.
Nothing more than a part-time player during the regular season after being acquired from the Expos in a midseason trade, Clendenon suddenly became the Mets' biggest offensive threat in the World Series. He recorded at least one hit in all four of his appearances, homering in Games 2, 4 and 5.
Clendenon finished the series with three homers and four RBIs, while the rest of his team combined had three home runs and nine RBIs.
5. Pat Borders, C, Blue Jays (1992)
Borders bailed out an otherwise anemic Blue Jays offense in the 1992 World Series, helping the club win its first title in franchise history. A moderate offensive contributor at best, Borders hit .450 in the '92 Fall Classic while collecting a team-best nine hits. No other Jays player had more than six.
Aside from Borders' .450 average, the rest of the Blue Jays roster combined to hit just .205. The journeyman had hit just .242 during the regular season and was a .253 lifetime hitter, while playing for nine different teams over his 17-year career.
4. Brian Doyle, 2B, Yankees (1978)
Doyle may be the most unknown World Series hero of all-time. If you've never heard of the former Major League infielder, it's probably because he played just 110 career games, split over four seasons. He never played more than 39 in a single season, nor did he ever hit higher than .192.
Yet in the 1978 World Series, Doyle was called upon to replace an injured Willie Randolph at second base. Doyle answered the call to the tune of hitting .478 (7-for-16) with two RBIs -- the first RBIs of his big league career, as he had not recorded a single RBI over 39 games during the regular season.
The Yankees went on to beat the Dodgers in six games, fueled in part by Doyle's unexpected spark.
3. Mickey Hatcher, OF, Dodgers (1988)
Long before Kirk Gibson hit his legendary walk-off home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, it was Hatcher who had started the scoring that night with a two-run homer of his own. And long after Gibson's lone at-bat in the series, Hatcher delivered another crucial homer in the Dodgers' series-deciding Game 5 victory.
Hatcher helped carry the Dodgers' offense in Gibson's absence, hitting .378 (7-for-19) with two home runs and five RBIs. Not bad for a guy who had hit just one home run over 88 games during the entire regular season. Hatcher also went on to hit just two more homers over the next two seasons, his last two in the Majors.
2. David Eckstein, SS, Cardinals (2006)
A light-hitting infielder whose signature was choking up on the bat like a dutiful Little Leaguer, Eckstein was never much of a threat at the plate in his 10-year big league career. But in 2006, the Tigers could not get him out. Eckstein went 8-for-22 in that series with four RBIs in five games, good for an OPS well above his career average. Ah, don't you just love small sample sizes?
He would go on to win MVP for the series, which included guys like Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and Justin Verlander, all in their prime.
1. Don Larsen, RHP, Yankees (1956)
What could possibly be more unlikely than something that is the only one of its kind?
Larsen shocked the baseball world in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series when he twirled a perfect game in one of the greatest individual performances in Major League history. The accomplishment was impressive regardless of the circumstances, but it seems nearly unbelievable when you consider the source.
At the time, Larsen had just a 30-41 career record, including the postseason. He was only two years removed from a 3-21 season with the Orioles, and, just days before his perfect game, he had failed to even make it out of the second inning in his Game 2 start. Larsen walked four of the 10 batters he faced over just 1 2/3 innings in that disastrous outing.
All in all, Larsen went just 81-91 over his big league career and never made a single All-Star appearance. Regardless, he will forever be a part of World Series lore, thanks to his one afternoon of pure perfection.
Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com and a contributor to Sports on Earth.