Four not to ignore

For each remaining playoff team, a player you may not know has had as great an impact as the ones you do.

Published October 10, 2007

Troy Tulowitzki

Rockies shortstop

Manager Clint Hurdle was walking through the clubhouse one day in late May, his Rockies sputtering along at nine games or so under .500, when he heard a player say something from around a corner that made him pause.

"Enough is enough. Let's play like a good team."

"I expected it to be a 35-year-old guy with 10 years of experience," Hurdle said. "And it's the kid over here. So that kind of caught my attention."

The kid was Tulowitzki, a 23-year-old in his first full season who is doing a lot of things worthy of attention. And with the Rockies advancing to the national stage of the NL Championship Series, people east of the Continental Divide are going to start noticing.

Tulowitzki hit .291 with 24 homers and 99 RBIs while playing top-notch, and tough, defense and emerging as a top candidate for NL rookie of the year.

But that wasn't the best part.

"His passion for what he does; his ability to make all the plays at shortstop; the edge he brought to our team on both sides of the ball; his at-bats; getting very, very gutsy as the game went on; it's been a pleasure and a joy to watch," Hurdle said. "I think he was able to help a lot of guys that maybe didn't have an edge get an edge, and some guys that had an edge get a bigger edge."

Or as assistant GM Bill Geivett said: "I don't think there's any other reason he goes out there but to help his team win the game, and the result is he has outstanding performances. He's a little different than what it seems like where guys go out for different reasons, worried about contracts or their stats, or whatever. He just comes out here to win."

Tulowitzki, who followed A's shortstop Bobby Crosby and preceded Rays blue-chip prospect Evan Longoria at Long Beach State, expected good things to happen as soon as he showed up. Well, at least as soon as he found out in spring training that he made the club.

"I knew we had a good team," he said. "Obviously we're young, but good players and a good team, and an organization headed in the right direction. I expected to win from Day 1."

And as for his own performance?

"I think things worked out all right."

Rafael Betancourt

Indians reliever

What the numbers don't tell about the dominating impact Betancourt has had, the looks on the faces of opposing batters do.

Consider a 1.47 ERA in 68 games (55 scoreless, none with more than one run allowed), a .183 opponents average, only three of 33 inherited runners scoring, 80 strikeouts (in 791/3 innings) as opposed to nine walks and a 19-inning scoreless streak over five weeks.

"He's been a huge part of our success," Indians manager Eric Wedge said.

The key was deciding what they wanted him to do. After signing Joe Borowski to be their closer, the Indians made Betancourt, 32, their primary setup man and kept him in that role. Along with lefty specialist Rafael Perez (1.78 ERA, .145 average against lefties), they form a tough trio.

"He's been as consistent as any relief pitcher we've had over the past 41/2 years," Wedge said. "He's been in pretty much every role that you can have a bullpen guy in. This year, he's definitely been more durable, stronger. In the role we have him in, he's done just about everything you can ask of a guy."

Chris Young

Diamondbacks centerfielder

Young is trying to make a name for himself in his first full major-league season. But he's already drawing comparisons to some of the game's big names, such as Alfonso Soriano.

That's because Young, 24, has the rare combination of speed and power, hitting 32 homers (a major-league-high nine leading off games) and stealing 27 bases and becoming the first NL player in history to have a 20-20 season as a rookie, and the eighth overall. That production alone sets him apart in the light-hitting Diamondbacks lineup. Plus, he plays a pretty good centerfield.

Eventually, Young, a 16th-round pick in 2001 who was acquired from the White Sox, may be a middle-of-the-order hitter, manager Bob Melvin said. But in the Arizona lineup, he's the one that gets things started, just as Soriano does with the Cubs.

"To hear my name in the same category with him with myself being a leadoff hitter lately and having a little power, it's an honor," Young said. "He's a great player, but I try not to think about things like that. ... I only have a year in right now, so hopefully I can continue doing what I do for the next five or 10 years and put my name in that category."

Dustin Pedroia

Red Sox second baseman

Beyond the conscientious objection of Rays manager Joe Maddon, Pedroia has emerged as the leading candidate for AL rookie of the year.

And on a team that is stacked with larger-than-life stars and always playing on big stages, his success is no small accomplishment, especially for the 5-foot-9 and (barely) 180-pounder.

Pedroia overcame a slow start (.172 on May 1) to become a key accessory, hitting a rookie-high .317, playing sturdy defense and showing a little spunk, such as in May when he called out Alex Rodriguez for a dirty slide and said the next time A-Rod comes his way "my arm slot gets dropped to the floor."

Manager Terry Francona was impressed not only with what the 24-year-old did, but how he did it.

"While he was quiet ... the veterans, I think, respected the way he was handling himself, the way he was handling his adversity early on. While he wasn't hitting, he was contributing in making all the plays and helping us win," Francona said.

"Then he got hot and his true personality came out. Then it started being a case where the energy was good, the veterans loved him, and that's the way he needs to be to be a good player."