As the Yankees wrapped up a win over the Rangers on Monday, another game unfolded just hours south of them, which also impacted their playoff hopes. With two strikeouts in the ninth inning, the Rays hung on to a 6-4 lead over the Blue Jays, but Toronto loaded the goals.
To try and get out the last one, Tampa Bay made a pitch change and brought in Dietrich Enns. This name might not mean anything to you, but if you’re a fan of Yankees prospects, it will. Enns was a 2012 Yankees draft pick who spent until 2017 in the system, when he was sent to the Twins in Jaime García’s trade. He wasn’t exactly a high-profile hope in the system, but he was someone you would know if you kept track of the miners.
Enns made his MLB debut during that 2017 season. After that, he no longer played in majors for the Twins, but spent a few more years in their system. He had a season in minors in the Padres organization in 2019, 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 3-0 behind, before getting, uh, help with calls that were called out on a possible strikeout. It was an important victory for the Rays as they tried to finish the AL East, but it was also important for the Yankees in the Wild Card race.
It’s not uncommon for a seemingly random name to end up having to play a big part in an important game, especially in September during appeals season. However, it’s pretty funny that, in this case, the Random Player is a notable name for at least a subset of Yankees fans. It made me think of other times when a random former Yankee appeared on other teams and ended up playing a pivotal role in an important game.
I’m not sure what this says about my brain that during the brainstorming times for this post the first name that came to my mind was Travis Ishikawa.
Ishikawa notably had two full batting appearances during the damn 2013 season for the Yankees, being picked up and then released by the team in just under a week. He then spent the remainder of 2013 with the White Sox organization, was picked up that offseason by the Pirates and started the 2014 season there before being released. The Giants then signed him on April 25, 2014.
He only appeared for San Francisco in late July and has 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 good chunk of time with injury issues.
Then towards the end of the season with a few outfielder struggling with injuries, the Giants brought Ishikawa to left field, something he had never done in the majors before. He continued to hold that position for most of the rest of the playoffs as the Giants ultimately won the World Series. However, before that, he also wrote his name in the lore of the playoffs.
The Giants led 3-1 in the NLCS but entered the eighth inning of Game 5 as the Cardinals threatened to send the series back to St. Louis. Mike Morse tied the game with a homerun in the eighth, setting the stage for the ninth.
With two runs and one out in the ninth, Ishikawa sent the Giants to the World Series with a three-run homerun.
In doing so, he became the fourth player to achieve a winning home run in the LCS and the first to do so in the NLCS.
It might be unfair to call Muddy Ruel a “random” Yankee since he has spent four seasons with the team. However, he only played a lot in two of them, and his career there was not exactly successful.
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 City. He spent two seasons in Boston before a trade in February 1923 saw him move to the Washington Senators. There, Ruel probably had the best seasons of his career, including a highlight in the Senators’ only World Series championship.
The Senators and Giants went all the way to the 12th inning of Game 7 of the 1924 World Series. Washington rallied by two in the eighth, with Ruel scoring one, to send the game to the extras.
Ruel posted an out in the 12th and fouled a pitch. Giants wide receiver Hank Gowdy appeared to have it, but stepped on his mask while going for the catch and dropped the ball, keeping Ruel alive. Ruel took advantage, doubling up and, after another mistake, finally scored the winning point on Earl McNeely’s championship-winning shot.
These are two examples of former Yankees who marked a turning point in the season, now let’s look at which one didn’t.
Chris Martin turned into a pretty good reliever with the Braves, but upon joining the Yankees in 2015 he had a career spanning six years and was mostly fodder for Coldplay jokes. He pitched 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 abroad and returned to MLB in 2018, and has become a good major league reliever. He was particularly impressive last year, posting a 1.00 ERA (479 ERA +!) In 18 innings during the pandemic shortened season. He then allowed a run in 6.2 innings at the start of the playoffs, helping the Braves advance to a World Series game.
However, the Dodgers went from three games to one and then rallied to tie in Game 7 after falling behind in Game 6. Atlanta asked Martin to finish sixth and left him for seventh against the Dodgers Order. He struck out the first two hitters on strikes but gave a home run to Cody Bellinger, himself a descendant of a random Yankee, giving LA a lead they would never give up. The Dodgers would win the game, the series and a World Series championship in the next round.
There are almost certainly other examples, so let us know when your favorite, completely random Yankee played a pivotal role in a major location for another team.