Unlikely heroes help Yankees, Angels
Quartet emerges to become integral parts of playoff teams
ANAHEIM -- They are script doctors, the ghostwriters who are always saving the studios' nine-figure projects in this town.They are the nerdy efficiency experts who get factories humming. And they are the bean counters who turn red ink black. They are the New York pitchmen: Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small, two right-handers who materialized from a puff of smoke in the middle of the season to save the Yankees' butts. Maybe it wasn't smoke. Maybe it was a cornfield, because the two certainly stepped right into their field of dreams. They also are the Los Angeles Angels: outfielder Juan Rivera and rookie right-hander Ervin Santana, drawn out from obscurity by emergencies to look out for the Angels. Way back in Spring Training, when experts looked into their crystal balls, they predicted division championships for the Yankees and the Angels. And here they are, just as they were supposed to be, about to play off in the Division Series. End of story? Not by a long shot -- precisely what these four integral parts have been to their respective teams. The Yankees were the most frustrated team $200 million could buy, until Small arrived on the Columbus shuttle in mid-July and Chacon from Colorado two weeks later. Where would the Yankees be without their weekly dramatics, inspirations -- and 17 wins? Who knows? But we know where they would not be: Here, on the doorstep of another postseason, preparing to get the World Series trophy back to its rightful New York home. "That's a good thing to hear, and I appreciate it," said Small, seven weeks from his 34th birthday. "I also think that without the defensive and run support, nothing happens. It's a team game." "Hearing that makes you feel good, no doubt," said Chacon, 27. "But I'm not going to sit here and say, 'Yeah, we wouldn't be here without me.' "I'm thinking, 'Without this team, I wouldn't have done as good as I have.'" On both counts, this is what you would call modesty above and beyond the call. The opposite -- pride -- is indeed one of the 10 deadly sins, and both of these fellows are considerably devout. But can't we have some leeway where miracles are concerned? Chacon had a career record of 24-45 -- 2-16 over the last season-and-a-half -- when Brian Cashman waved his magic wand and acquired him for Ramon Ramirez and Eduardo Sierra. Chacon is 7-3 with a solid 2.85 ERA in 12 starts, nine of them of the highest quality. How was this possible? "In the simplest terms, I kept the same mentality coming over here, but I also realized I was getting the opportunity to pitch on a really, really, really good team," said Chacon, who will start Division Series Game 4 Saturday in Yankee Stadium. "And I had to take advantage of it." Compared to Small, Chacon was a phenomenon even before he got to New York. Once upon a time a 22nd-round draft choice of the Toronto Blue Jays, Small had more uniforms in his past than wins. Eleven years after his Major League debut, he came to the Bronx with 15 wins.
Small is 10-0 -- the fourth pitcher in big league history to go undefeated in double figures, joining Tom Zachary (12-0) of the 1929 Yankees, Howie Krist (10-0) of the 1941 Cardinals and Dennis Lamp (11-0) of the 1985 Blue Jays.Does Small -- who will stand by in the bullpen during the Division Series -- entertain a wisp of bitterness, that had his chance come earlier, these results could have, too? "Oh, no. I don't look at it that way," he said. "Maybe I wasn't ready seven, eight years ago for this kind of success." The New York pitchmen pitched in when it became obvious Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, the two free agent pillars of the rotation, wouldn't be making quick recoveries from injuries. Santana answered a similar call when Kelvim Escobar, whom many considered the Angels' most dominant pitcher in 2004, developed an agonizing bone spur in his elbow. Without a day of prior Major League experience, the 22-year-old Dominican right-hander stepped in and won a dozen. They included shutting out the Yankees through the first six innings of a 4-1 Yankee Stadium victory on July 29. "His talent is eye-opening," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "We felt he was ready." Rivera was just the experienced hand Scioscia needed when Garret Anderson's back problems resurfaced. The Venezuelan journeyman set career highs with 15 homers and 59 RBIs. Octobers are legendary for producing unlikely heroes, creating myths out of unknowns. Sometimes the unlikely heroes are responsible for making that October possible to begin with. "Like I tell people," Small said, "when it's all done, I'll look back and think about it more, reflect on everything that has happened. It's been fun; this team made me feel right at home from the beginning. "We both know that we've helped." Joe Torre gives them much more than a mere assist. "Without them, for sure you could have had all the effort you wanted and you were not going to get the job done," the Yankees manager said. It's enough to make a former big loser on a poor team lose his composure. But to succeed, you have to be able to control more than the ball. "You tend to get nervous and excited before and after," Chacon said. "But during the game ... that's when you're the calmest."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.