The real Lil’ Papi and the World Series

Two nights in a row, two games in the World Series, Lil’ Papi has earned an at-bat. And I chose that verb for a reason. He has earned it.

It’s strange with Lil’ Papi. He has the best nickname in the world – one that I obviously stole to make myself sound cooler – and no one really knows that he has it. I’m not entirely sure that anyone would know it if they hadn’t asked me for the origin of my Facebook name, or if they were hardcore fans of Joe Posnanski.

Lil’ Papi, the first Lil’ Papi, is Esteban German. He was obtained by the Royals before the 2006 season, an unremarkable, overlooked and, yes, little player who had never gotten much of an opportunity in the Majors. For the last 26 years, there’s not a whole lot you can say about the Royals. One thing you can safely say, however, is that they have given PLENTY of players opportunities who wouldn’t get them anywhere else. That’s what happens when you throw relays from the outfield into the back of your first baseman, and when that same first baseman gets injured by diving into a rolled-up tarp.

So in 2006, Esteban German got his opportunity. He hit .326 and had a .422 on-base percentage. He did get hit in the face once with a fly ball while trying to catch – c’mon he was a Royal – but he was a great pickup for a team that lost 100 games for approximately the 612th time.

And he became Lil’ Papi. You see, in “late and close” games, German hit .378. No one in the American League hit better, not even the reigning Mr. Clutch, David Ortiz aka Big Papi. Joe Posnanski took notice of this:

The Royals were clinging to a two-run lead, bottom of the eighth inning, when Little Papi stepped to the plate. This, in Kansas City, is known as a pressure situation. With this team’s bullpen any lead of less than two touchdowns is in grave danger.

Little Papi is what they call Esteban German these days, and it’s a good name. All year long, Little Papi has hit in the big moments. There’s a statistic called “Close and late,” where they measure how a player does in close games, late innings. Little Papi is hitting .378 in such spots. Meanwhile Big Papi, David Ortiz, is hitting just .313.

Ortiz does have 11 homers in these situations. German has zero.

That’s why one is Big Papi and the other is Little Papi.

I changed the Little to Lil’ because it’s more cool, but you get the point. Lil’ Papi had a great nickname, and he was a pretty good player.

For the last three seasons, he’s played for the Rangers. Sort of. He had 46 at bats in 2009, 13 last year and 11 this year, until the World Series.

More or less, this is how Rangers fans responded to seeing Lil’ Papi step into the batter’s box on Wednesday night. He, of course, struck out on Wednesday and grounded out on Thursday.

Cynics* would say German has hit only because the Rangers have to dip deeper into their bench because NL rules forcing more pinch hitting. I think it’s because Ron Washington must have read that Posnanski column long ago, because he remembers Lil’ Papi and why that nickname totally rocks.

*OK, realists.

Strikeouts or not, I know I’m going to flaunt my Facebook name with extra pride.

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