Quick, who is the only player on the Los Angeles Dodgers remaining on the major league roster from the team that went to the playoffs just two years ago in 2004?

If you said Olmedo “The Killer Tomato” Saenz, you get a big gold star, because you’re probably the only person in the universe who knew that of the top of your head.

Now this is rather surprising really. Olmedo Saenz is certainly an interesting name, but it is by no means a household name. But more importantly, the man looks nothing like a ballplayer. The epitome of why the word “rotund” was invented, Saenz is a extremely round, not particularly tall, gray-haired hispanic man with short stubby arms and short stubby legs.  He has no speed to speak of and has no place in a major league defense, bringing an iron glove and extremely limited range with him to the field on the rare occasions he is asked to “patrol” first or third base.

But there is a reason why, when Paul DePodesta and Ned Colletti consecutively set about blowing up the entire roster and remaking it in their own images, Saenz saenz.jpgalways survived the cut.  And last night he showed us why once again, coming up with his fifth walk-off hit in four seasons with the Blue Crew–a game winning, pinch hit single up the middle with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to lift the Dodgers to a 2-1 victory over the Diamondbacks.

You see, the man can flat out hit.

It’s well known that hitting as a pinch hitter or a rarely used bench player has a negative effect on one’s batting numbers, but coming off the bench primarily as a pinch hitter and in an occasional spot start to give a regular a rest, Saenz has OPS’d .805, .927, and .871 in 2005, 2006, and so far in 2007.  In 2005, he hit 15 home runs off the bench, and last season he hit 11 dingers, including 3 pinch-hit home runs.

Those are some pretty amazing numbers, given his role on the team.  Finding a player who can consistently produce quality at-bats off the bench is one of the most difficult holes to fill on a roster, and Saenz is arguable the best in the game at that role right now.  No wonder neither DePodesta or Colletti could find a way to justify letting Saenz go, despite the fact that he is essentially a one-tool player.

But what a tool it is.  With his short, stubby arms there is literally no fastball he can’t get around on.  He has a bit more trouble hitting breaking stuff, but his batting eye is strong enough that he usually can lay off them. 

It’s really fun listening to Vin Scully’s calls when Saenz comes up. Among my favorites:  “If there’s one thing you can say about Olmedo Saenz, it’s that he never met a fastball he didn’t like.”  “Trying to sneak a fastball past Saenz is like trying to sneak a lamb chop past a wolf.” “Oh man, another hit for Saenz!  With all the scounting reports these days, and the computers, and the statistics, you have to wonder why anyone would ever throw Olmedo Saenz a fastball!”

Throw in one of the more amusing baseball nicknames around these days (usually “The Killer Tomato,” although sometimes just “Tomato” or “Killer”), his penchant for dramatic, walk-off pinch hits, and his status as the longest tenured Dodger, and it’s no wonder that he is a huge fan favorite at Chavez Ravine.

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