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Coco Crisp’s return after 11-year absence was well worth the wait

From afterthought to playoff hero, all in the span of two months

ALCS - Cleveland Indians v Toronto Blue Jays - Game Five Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Although this unread article is part of a series titled “2016 in Review,” I do need to expand the scope of this particular recap just a bit. Well, a little more than than just a bit...

Remember when the Indians had Chuck Finley? A lot of you probably didn’t because he last pitched for the Indians in 2002. He was signed by the Indians in 1999, the offseason after the Indians had blown a 2-0 lead to the Red Sox in the ALDS. But by 2002, the Indians had burned through both their farm system and their budget and needed to rebuild, so keeping an old but still good Finley around was a luxury they couldn’t afford. And so they dealt him to the St. Louis Cardinals for Luis Garcia and a PTBNL who just happens to be the subject of this recap.

Crisp was one of the first of the prospects received from the 2002 teardown to get to the majors, but wasn’t always thought of as being a core piece of the puzzle. He had range, but his poor arm always seemed to push him to left field. He had very good speed, but not an exceptional on-base percentage to make use of it. At least that’s what I thought in 2003, when I first started to make stupid baseball predictions on the Internet. I thought with Grady Sizemore, Alex Escobar(!), and Ryan Church(!!) in the pipeline, Crisp would be out of a starting job soon. As it turned out, not only did Crisp nail down a starting job, but would be one of the key reasons the Indians won 93 games in 2005. It would be his best season as a pro, and his final one with the Indians until this year.

Crisp won a ring with Boston in 2007 (who of course defeated the Indians on their way to a championship), but didn’t hit with the Red Sox like he did in 2004-2005. But he put together a fine second act with the A’s, manning center field for both really good and really bad Oakland teams, and while he was never an elite player, was a good one throughout his early/mid 30s.

But 2016 seemed the end of the line, for both Crisp’s range and his bat had slowed down. He wouldn’t reach the plate appearance thresholds that would cause his 2017 option to vest, and it looked like he’d end his career on the bench while playing for a last-place club. Then the Indians called, needing another bat off the bench for their playoff push. The A’s basically gave him away, a favor after seven years with the organization. Crisp was added to the roster on August 31, the final day clubs could add a player and still have him be eligible for the postseason.

I’m a sucker for symmetry in baseball. When Kenny Lofton returned in 2007, he was going to be that bridge between the teams that should have won it all, and the team that did win it. Alas, it wasn’t to be. Now Crisp, who when he last played with the Indians had Victor Martinez and Grady Sizemore for teammates, was coming back to play with a new generation of stars. As a bit player, but still, he might help...

Little did anyone expect what Coco Crisp did in the playoffs. His Game 3 home run in Boston (again, that symmetry) proved to be the series-clinching hit in the ALDS. He hit .250/.400/.625 in the ALCS, and made a couple of important defensive plays to help hold late leads. And he had a fine World Series, driving in the only run either team had in Game 3, and became the potential go-ahead run in the eighth inning in Game 7. Had he not been removed in the top of the ninth inning for defensive purposes, he (and not Michael Martinez) would have faced Mike Montgomery with the tying run on base in the tenth.

But even with that unfulfilled ending, Coco Crisp left a lasting impression in his first and (very likely) final playoff appearance with the Indians.