The beauty of postseason baseball is turning on your TV set and saying, “Hey, that’s Conor Gillaspie. Wasn’t he on the White Sox?”
And then he hits a tie-breaking home run in the ninth inning of an epic duel between two of baseball’s top pitchers.
Yes, that was Conor Gillaspie, designated for assignment last July to make room on the Sox roster for Matt Albers. Weather bug, Tom Skilling fan and tornado chaser from Nebraska. The San Francisco Giants’ hero in the National League Wild Card game Wednesday.
“He’ll never forget that,’’ Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “Nor will I.’’
Gillaspie, a 29-year-old .256 career left-handed hitting third baseman with marginal defensive skills, started because All-Star Eduardo Nunez is nursing a tender hamstring. The Giants drafted him 37th in 2008 but he was made expendable for a low-level Sox prospect during spring training 2013. His quality at-bats earned two Opening Day starts for Robin Ventura, including one in the 3-hole in the batting order. But he batted .237 in 2015 and was let go when his bat couldn’t carry his defensive shortcomings.
After the DFA, “I went home and I did some soul searching, I guess you could say, and realized that I had kind of made baseball the number one thing in my life,’’ Gillaspie said. “It’s not anymore and I’m proud of that.’’
To have been around the ultra-serious Gillaspie during his time with the Sox is to hope he is finding some joy in his craft. Even when he succeeded, he carried himself with a head-down, nose-to-the-grindstone manner.
He looked a tad – maybe – looser with champagne-soaked hair and beard as he answered questions after that homer.
“Just to play in a postseason game is something I’ll never forget as a player,’’ he said.
All that from one who signed a minor-league contract to return to the Giants in February and didn’t make the team out of spring training. To be back with the Giants, and in Chicago this weekend to face the Cubs in whatever capacity Bochy assigns him, had Gillaspie’s head spinning.
It might not have happened without him.
“To come into a situation like this and just barrel the ball … to have your team behind you and have staff believe in you when somebody goes down, I can’t thank this organization enough,’’ Gillaspie said. “Because there are plenty of other guys that could go out there and play when we have a guy down, and the reality is they chose me.’’
The Giants, hot starters, August faders and late-season survivors, now stand between the Cubs and a second trip to the NLCS. They have been here before having won World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Gillaspie wasn’t part of those but knows enough from coming up in the organization to see why.
“The way this team is built, the staff has done an incredible job bringing good, hard-nosed players in and players that do things the right way,’’ he said. “It’s amazing how so many of them have the same mentality.’’
The Giants are a threatening underdog in the postseason for numerous reasons. Included, perhaps, the underdog karma of a player like Gillaspie.
“We went through a tough month but there isn’t a guy in our clubhouse that doesn’t believe in each other,’’ he said. “It’s a special team and guys never quit. That’s what is so fun to play in this organization because there is nobody out there who is timid.’’
Or afraid of the Cubs.
“The Cubs are the best team in baseball, in the regular season, everybody knows that,’’ former Sox right-hander Jake Peavy said. “This team will go in and play as hard as we can play. We understand they [the Cubs] have a lot of energy, a very deep roster and complete team in every capacity. For me, it’s two teams laden with experience and incredible young talent, with the two best managers in the game.
“We will have our hands full with Jon Lester but we’ll be back at them Friday expecting to find a way to win.’’