Think back to the 2002 World Series team. Not to live in the past or anything, but just as a brief reminder, think of something: Who was one of the most unique, talked about players on that team?
Garret Anderson? He certainly was something that season, a doubles machine that finished 4th in American League Most Valuable Player voting. Arguably one of the more consistent hitters in our lineup not just in 2002, but seasons preceding and succeeding. But he's not the guy I'm referring to.
Troy Glaus? Our main slugger and World Series MVP definitely was a huge reason the Angels made it as far as they did, and his lead-shifting double in Game 6 of the World Series topped the rally that shook San Francisco more than the Loma Prieta quake. But no, it's not him either.
Must be Francisco Rodriguez, then? The fireball rookie reliever who struck out anything that had legs that postseason, and a secret weapon in the bullpen beyond all secret weapons. He who won 5 postseason games in 2002 after pitching only 5.2 major league innings before. It's not him, either.
Okay, how about John Lackey? I mean, he was another rookie hurler that seemed to baffle many an opposing lineup. His 3.66 ERA in 2002--still a part of the steroid era--was something to write home about at the time, especially for a rookie in the American League. But still, it isn't him.
I'm talking about David Eckstein.
Eck didn't do any one thing leagues better than anyone else, nor did he have one tool that brightly outshone the other four. But he had just enough of everything necessary to put a team over the top. His speed was certainly above average, as was his aggression in base-stealing, but he wasn't Rickey Henderson, or even Pittsburgh Barry Bonds, on the basepaths. He wasn't a slouch for batting average, but he wasn't about to win batting titles. He certainly didn't hit for power at any point, and his career fielding percentage at shortstop was .978. But he had one thing going for him, one thing that nobody else on that 2002 team, or any other team he played on the rest of his career, could say with complete truth.
He was pesky.
David Eckstein got his reputation by not ever doing anything over the top, but by attempting to do what was needed in a scenario. Runners on second and third, two outs? Here, have a single to tie the game. He's the go-ahead run in the eighth and I'm on first? He's off to second on the first pitch. He'd squeeze a clutch opportunity until even a solitary drop of juice came out. It wasn't unusual for Eckstein to have at least 70% of his hits be singles (in fact, 79.7% of his hits were singles in his career). If he got hit by at least 15 pitches and got caught stealing at least 8 times, it was old hat. Ten sacrifice hits? Business as usual.
Ladies and gentlemen, we've got our sparkplug for the new red generation.
Efren Navarro has plugged away in the minor leagues since 2007, with brief, almost minimal cups of coffee in 2011 and 2013 with the Angels. This season, however, one extenuating circumstance has led to another, and Navarro--El Catalizador, "The Catalyst" in Spanish--is suddenly making himself a household name in many an Angel-loving neighborhood.
In the past week, Navarro has two lead-shifting singles to his credit, the first of which ended a 16-inning marathon against Seattle (on my birthday, which gives him even more points in my own book). In just 23 games, Navarro has logged 0.8 WAR, and it's not all offensive. His defense, also subject to cries of small sample size, has been perfect--zero errors in 70 chances at three different positions, with five assists to his credit thus far. His slash is enviable, even with a mere 71 plate appearances this season: .313/.380/.438, good for an OPS+ of 134, which, when paced out to a full season's worth of playing time, would fall short only to Mike Trout (180) and Kole Calhoun (139) on the team. His reputation is spreading quickly; in his brief amount of playing time, Navarro has been intentionally walked twice (though, at the same time, his reputation can't be spreading that quickly, as more often he's had the directly preceding hitter intentionally walked to get to him).
With runners in scoring position, Navarro is batting .357 with a 1.026 OPS, and has struck out just once. His BABIP with RISP is .385; the fact that this number isn't lightyears ahead of his batting average is telling of the fact that he's not simply getting lucky--even with only 19 plate appearances with RISP to his name this season. In fact, having anyone on base in any position seems to be the china shop in which Efren Navarro's bull runs lose. A .379 batting average with six walks, a .486 OBP and just five strikeouts. If you can quantify clutch, I think this guy's got it.
At the least, Navarro has, even with the "small sample size" disclaimer, finally earned his keep, if nothing else as a super-utility that can carousel between the outfield, first base and DH with the likes of Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Cron. He's played enough to give us a fair glimpse of what to expect. At worst, he and Grant Green alone can cover seven different positions (1B, 2B, SS, 3B, LF, RF, DH) from the bench. But perhaps Efren Navarro, the pride of Lynwood, is more than simply one half of a super-utility duo. Perhaps the time has finally come, where Efren Navarro is our sparkplug. The piece we've needed to complete the return to the Fall Classic.
He's more than a sparkplug, actually. He's a catalyst. El Catalizador. Let's utilize his catalyzing skills and get all we can out of it--it might just be what flies the second championship flag beyond center field.