10/14/09 4:39 PM EST
LCS clubs sparked by their leadoff men
Jeter, Figgins, Rollins, Furcal all bring something different
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
The four leadoff men who helped steer their clubs into the two League Championship Series -- the Yankees' Derek Jeter, the Angels' Chone Figgins, the Dodgers' Rafael Furcal and the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins -- form a truly special group.
Combined, the quartet has appeared in the postseason 30 times, been fitted for six World Series rings, played in 15 All-Star Games, won five Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers, two Rookie of the Year Awards and a Most Valuable Player Award.
Only one of them is about to add a World Series championship to his resume, but all four are at the forefront of their clubs' campaigns to sustain the dream into November.
And only one of them, of course, is out to defend his title.
"We're going to give it our all. I can tell you that much," said the Phillies' Rollins, leading the charge into another NLCS against the Dodgers. "It's going to be one of those epic series. We're not afraid of anybody."
There are no young turks among these leading men. Each is in his 30s, and has been at it for at least eight seasons. They all do the same thing -- give their teams wings, give their fans hope, give the opposition headaches -- but go about it differently.
Jeter is the unquestioned captain of the Yankees, with four World Series titles under his belt, and he had an MVP-type season in the Bronx this year. He's the best pure hitter of the group, as evidenced by his .317 career average and his Yankee-record 2,747 hits.
But being the leading man is relatively fresh for him, certainly in comparison to these peers. He filled the role this season, when Yankees manager Joe Girardi decided to lower Johnny Damon.
For Jeter, it was a case of a new location, the same business. Not getting caught up in labels, he remained faithful to his mantra of trying "to contribute and [being] consistent."
Come October, Jeter's performance graph does tend to spike. As New York right fielder Nick Swisher promised, "Once the lights hit the postseason, it's Jeter time."
Figgins is also the catalyst for his team's offense, with an impressive .395 on-base percentage this year that helped him finish second in the American League with 114 runs.
Unlike the others, all shortstops, Figgins is an out-of-the-box third baseman. Corner infielders are supposed to pound, but Figgins burns. And thereby is another irony: At the hot corner, speed is of no use; you need quick reactions, and Figgins complies with cat-like reflexes that snap up lasers headed down the line.
"Chone's a Gold Glove third baseman," said teammate Torii Hunter, who knows some things about Gold Gloves. "When you talk about a guy who loves the game and plays every day with everything he's got, that's Chone.
"He's been our energy guy all year, getting us going. He never wears down, never wants to come out of a game."
Meanwhile, over in the National League, Furcal has been a constant in the postseason, making the eighth appearance of his 10-year career. He is still chasing the carrot: He is the only one of the four leading men still without a ring, or even a World Series appearance.
Rollins is the quartet's only MVP winner, as the shortstop won the coveted award in 2007 and then followed that up by helping his team win the World Series in 2008.
Jeter has hoisted four World Series championship trophies, but never an MVP Award. So assessing the leading men's impact can be quirky.
But you didn't need to see the Oscar in Cary Grant's hand to know he could act. Same here.
As Hunter said of his teammate, while he could've been talking about any of the four, "Chone's a player, man."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.