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Monday, May 26, 2003
Updated: June 2, 11:33 AM ET
Red-hot postseason performers

By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff

Jiggy. Nick Van Exel. Sometimes, some years, during some playoff runs, someone carries his team to a title. And he does it by getting red-hot just when it counts. Usually, it's a superstar, but sometimes Mr. Red-Hot is a role player and, in a few instances, a fresh-faced rookie. In the past few decades, as even the baseball playoffs stretch into a month-long exercise, it's become increasingly rare for someone to step up and stay up. Who's the bestest of the hottest for more than one playoff round? Hard to say, but we'll give it a shot.

1. Curt Schilling, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2001
Unlike some others on this list, it wasn't like Schilling came out of nowhere -- the veteran had gone 22-6 with a 2.98 ERA and 293 K's during the regular season. But check this out for postseason dominance:

Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling
Schilling was dominant during the 2001 postseason -- and teammate Randy Johnson wasn't too shabby, either.

Game 1, NLDS: Schilling pitches a 1-0, complete-game shutout vs. the Cardinals.

Game 5, NLDS: He pitches a 2-1, complete-game win, allowing the D-Backs to advance to the NLCS. Totals for the series: 2 G, 2 CG, 2 wins, 18 IP, 18 SO, 0.50 ERA.

Game 3, NLCS: Schilling tosses a complete-game four-hitter as Arizona beats Atlanta 5-1 at Turner Field. D-Backs take the NL flag in five games. Totals for the series: 1 G, 1 CG, 1 win, 9 IP, 12 SO, 1.00 ERA.

Game 1, World Series: He holds the Yankees to one run and three hits in seven innings and gets the W in a 9-1 win.

Game 4, World Series: Schilling exits after seven innings with a 3-1 lead. Byung-Hyun Kim relieves, Yankees come back to win in 10 innings.

Game 7, World Series: His worst outing of the postseason -- the Yankees tag Schilling for two runs and six hits in 7 1/3 innings. Totals for the series: 3 G, 1 win, 21 1/3 IP, 26 SO, 1.69 ERA.

Add it up: 6 G, 3 CG, 4 wins, 48 1/3 IP, 56 SO, 1.12 ERA.

2. Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls, 1993
Even though the Bulls had won two straight titles, in 1992-93 MJ's team was less than great during the regular season (No. 2 seed in the East). But Jordan carried the Bulls through the postseason, including an Eastern Conference title win against a very tough Knicks squad.

In the finals, MJ did the impossible -- he took his game to an even higher level, setting a record by averaging 41 ppg during the six-game win over Phoenix. He had a finals record of four 40+ games and scored 55 points as the Bulls won Game 4, 111-105.

In all, during the Bulls/ 19-game playoff run, Jordan scored 666 points, an average of 35.1 per game. He also averaged 6.7 rebounds, had 39 steals, and blocked 17 shots. We could go on and on recounting the superlative performances and game-winners, but MJ's teammate, John Paxson, said it all just before Game 6 of the finals: "Night after night, year after year, he just carries this team."

3. Patrick Roy, Montreal Canadiens, 1986
What is it about rookie Canadiens goalies? Roy, only 20 during the 1986 playoffs, pulled a Ken Dryden, leading Montreal, a team which finished seventh during the regular season, to a Stanley Cup victory over the Calgary Flames. Roy ran through the playoffs with a 1.92 goals-against average, and made an incredible diving stop with just 14 seconds left in Game 5, preventing a tie and sealing a 4 games to 1 series victory.

Patrick Roy
Roy cemented his legendary status with the Avalanche, but his rookie performance in '86 may rank as his greatest playoff achievement.

Roy, who didn't miss a minute of playoff action, went 15-5 and became the youngest player to win the Conn Smythe for Stanley Cup playoffs MVP. "Patrick was very important early in the playoffs when some of the guys didn't believe in themselves and didn't think that we were that good," said Montreal coach Jean Perron.

Added Habs GM Serge Savard, "Roy didn't play like a rookie. I wouldn't have traded him for an experienced goalie because it would have been taking a step backward. We had a lot of confidence in the kid.

4. Paul Molitor, Toronto Blue Jays, 1993
Molitor, the Blue Jays' 37-year-old DH, signed with Toronto after the 1992 season, after spending his first 15 MLB seasons with Milwaukee. It was the right move. He was great during the regular season, finishing second in the MVP voting with a .332 BA, 22 HR, and 111 RBI, but he was red hot in the playoffs.

He hit .391 in the ALCS (seven runs, nine hits, three walks, one homer, five RBI in the Jays' 4-2 series win over the White Sox). In the World Series, he stepped it up, hitting .500 -- going 12-for-24 with 10 runs, 2 dingers, 8 RBI, three walks, and a stolen base for good measure.

Postseason totals: .447 BA, .509 OBP, 17 runs in 12 games, four doubles, three triples, three homers, and six walks. When games were played in Philly, he played errorless ball at first and third. In other words, Molitor was superb, and was the key to the Blue Jays' second straight World Series championship. Toronto fans noticed: a national election paralleled the baseball playoffs, and fans hung a banner in the SkyDome that read: "On Oct. 25, Vote For Paul Molitor."

5. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers, 1985
Sure, the Great One was the best player in hockey, but he dominated the '85 playoffs like no non-goalie ever has, leading the Oilers' offensive juggernaut with an astounding 47 playoff points in 18 games. Edmonton scored 44 goals in a six-game Campbell Conference final win over Chicago and went on to their second straight Stanley Cup. Gretzky scored 17 goals and had 30 assists.

6. Orel Hershiser, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1988
You can't argue that Hershiser suddenly got hot in the 1988 playoffs, considering he closed out the regular season by breaking Don Drysdale's record for consecutive scoreless innings. But Hershiser actually got better during the playoffs. In the NLCS against the Mets, he started three games, pitching a shutout in Game 7 to complete the upset win, and also picked up a save in relief. In the World Series, he shut out the A's in Game 2, and pocketed the Series-winning complete-game victory in Game 5. In his 18 World Series innings, he had surrendered only seven hits. Postseason totals: 3-0, 42 1/3 IP, 1.05 ERA, and two additional pieces of hardware: NLCS MVP and World Series MVP.

7. Ken Dryden, Montreal Canadiens, 1971
The Canadiens' young goalie played in his first NHL game on March 17, and only tended the net in six regular season games. He did so well -- 6-0-0, allowing only nine goals -- that he got the nod in the playoffs. In the first round, he held on against the Bruins, an offensive powerhouse that scored 399 goals in the regular season, and Montreal took Boston in a seven-game upset. Against the Minnesota North Stars in the following round, he allowed 19 goals in six games, but made plenty of clutch stops, and the Canadiens rolled.

He carried on with his fine performance in the Stanley Cup final against Chicago, which the Canadiens won in seven games. In 20 playoff games, the 23-year-old goalie went 12-8 with a 3.00 goals-against average, a performance that won him the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. The next season -- officially his first full season -- he won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.

Francisco Rodriguez
Anaheim's Francisco Rodriguez has been impressive in the early part of the season.

8. Francisco Rodriguez, Anaheim Angels, 2002
Last Sept. 15, K-Rod, the 20-year-old flamethrowing reliever, got called up to the Angels for his first sip of Major League coffee. By the time the World Series was over, he could have opened a dozen Starbucks franchises. In his five regular-season appearances (totaling 5 2/3 innings), he didn't allow a run, and tied Nolan Ryan's team record by striking out eight straight batters. Then he got better as the Angels rolled to their first World Series championship -- he pitched in 11 postseason games, compiling a 5-1 record, a 1.93 ERA, and striking out 28 batters in 18 2/3 innings.

Just one example of his mastery: In Game 2 of the World Series, he pitched three perfect innings, tossing 22 strikes and four balls, holding the Giants scoreless while the Angels scored three runs for an 11-10 win. K-Rod was the youngest pitcher ever to win a World Series game, and also set postseason marks for most wins.

9. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Anaheim Mighty Ducks, 2003
Why are the seventh-seeded Mighty Ducks playing for the Stanley Cup? It's because of Jiggy, who's in the midst of one of the greatest playoff runs of all time. In the Western Conference finals, Giguere tended the net like a bulldozer, recording three straight shutouts before finally allowing a goal in Game 4 -- the only game the Wild scored as the Ducks swept. He held the Wild scoreless for 217 minutes, 54 seconds, the longest playoff goose-egg streak since 1951.

Before this season, his sixth in the NHL, Jiggy had played only 117 games. As a regular this year, he played 65 games, with a solid 2.30 GAA. But he was just getting warmed up. Coming into the Stanley Cup, Jiggy has a 12-2 record in this year's playoffs, with four shutouts and an amazing 1.22 GAA. The Ducks upset Dallas and Detroit in the first two rounds and reached the finals even though they have outshot their opponent in just one game.

After the Wild lost 1-0 in double OT, in the first game of the Western Conference finals, they remained confident. "Giguere, you know, he's on top of his game," said Wild coach Jacque Lemaire after the game. "But like any other goaltender, you look at them closely, and you find they have strengths and weaknesses, and you have to work on his weaknesses. We know where they are and we have to get the opportunity and we'll get there."

10. Timmy Smith, Washington Redskins, 1987
Smith started his first game ever in the 1987 Super Bowl -- Redskins vs. Broncos -- but not too many folks were paying attention to the rookie running back. Instead, all eyes were on Doug Williams, the first African-American QB to start in the Super Bowl. Williams, himself a candidate for this list, had a great Super Bowl, but Smith had reporters thumbing madly through their press kits looking for info on Smith.

His regular-season totals: 29 rushes, 126 yards, 0 TD. His postseason: vs. Chicago at Soldier Field, 16 carries for 66 yards; vs. Minnesota in the NFC Championship Game, 13 rushes for 72 yards. So, even before the Super Bowl, he'd exceeded his season titles with two solid performances in close games. Then came the Big Game: 204 yards (a Super Bowl record) and 2 TDs on just 22 carries.

Others receiving votes: Darrell Porter, St. Louis Cardinals, 1982
Porter, was an All-Star four times with the Royals, but after battling drugs and alcohol and on the downslope of a great career, Porter had a mediocre season in 1982, batting only .231 in 120 games. But he saved his best for the postseason -- against the Braves in the NLCS, he got five hits in nine AB and walked five times, netting a Bonds-like OBP of .714. Against Milwaukee in the World Series, he was simply excellent, batting .286 with a homer and 5 RBI while playing flawless defense. He was named both NLCS and WS MVP.

Dominik Hasek, Buffalo Sabres, 1999
Reggie Jackson, New York Yankees, 1978
Jerry West, Los Angeles Lakers, 1965