On October 12, Oscar Taveras was being hailed as a hero in St. Louis, along with teammates Matt Adams and Kolten Wong, after a dramatic 5-4 win for the Cardinals to tie the NLCS at a game a piece.
Two weeks later, Taveras is gone.
The 22-year old outfielder with as bright a future as anyone in the game died Sunday in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic, just 10 days after the Cardinals season ended with an NLCS loss to the Giants. His 18-year old girlfriend was also killed in the accident.
Taveras had been signed by the Cardinals in 2008 as a 16-year old out of the Dominican; a left-handed hitter full of promise and potential. Once he came to the US to begin his ascension through the minor leagues, those who watched him took notice, and some even said he was the best Cardinals prospect since Albert Pujols. Before the 2013 and 2014 seasons, he was rated the 3rd-best prospect in all of baseball.
He made his major league debut on May 31 of this year, and promptly homered in his second at-bat against the Giants. While Taveras only hit .239 this year with 4 HR and 22 RBI in 80 regular season games, there were still glimpses of the greatness expected of him. He even played well enough that the Cardinals traded away veteran OF Allen Craig, clearing the way for Taveras’ future spot in the everyday lineup.
When the Cardinals reached the postseason, Taveras played well, mostly appearing as a pinch hitter, going 3-for-7, including a 2-for-3 NLCS. His biggest at-bat came in Game 2 of the NLCS, when he hit a game-tying pinch-hit homer off the Giants’ Jean Machi in the bottom of the 7th. The game was eventually won by a Kolten Wong walk-off homer, and would be the only Cardinals win of a very competitive series (close games, even if the series was 4-1).
The home run would be his final at-bat at Busch Stadium, as he would go 1-for-2 the rest of the series in San Francisco.
The news of his death broke during the early innings of Game 5 of the World Series, and was shared with viewers on the FOX broadcast by reporter Ken Rosenthal as the game headed into the fourth inning, who profiled his night in a Monday column, reporting the horrific news while still performing his professional obligation to cover the World Series (worth the five-minute read).
Word also spread to some of the players in the dugouts during the game. According to Erin Andrews of FOX, Giants utility man Juan Perez was in tears. As it turns out, Perez had been teammates with Taveras in the Dominican winter leagues the last two years, and had become close friends.
What happened next was amazing. Perez was called upon in the sixth by manager Bruce Bochy to pinch run for Travis Ishikawa, and he would stay in the game and played left field. In the eighth, his spot in the order came back up with men at first and second with one out, with the Giants leading 2-0. Wade Davis, one of the best relief pitchers in the game, was pitching for the Royals, and with Perez coming in as a .170 hitter in 2014, and a .212 lifetime average, it looked like a certain mismatch.
But on a 3-2 pitch, Perez doubled off the wall, nearly hitting the ball out of AT&T Park, allowing two runs to score, stretching the 2-0 lead to a much more comfortable 4-0 margin. Brandon Crawford singled following Perez, and Perez scored. The inning gave Perez his third career postseason run and his second and third career postseason RBIs; all of the RBIs have come in this series. All with a heavy heart after the loss of a friend, as he helped lead his team to a 3-2 series lead, and within a win of a world championship.
Cardinals officials traveled Monday to the Dominican to visit with Taveras’s family, and attend a memorial service on Tuesday.
From a baseball perspective, the organization has lost the future face of its franchise. From a human perspective, they’ve lost a teammate who, from several accounts, had a contiguously positive attitude, and an infectious smile.
On that note, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny released the a powerful statement on Monday, his first public comments since Taveras’s death:
I was asked last night to give some words regarding the tragic death of Oscar Taveras, but I just simply couldn’t.
First of all, it felt like a bad dream that could not be real, and when reality kicked in, my words didn’t even seem to make sense. To say this is a horrible loss of a life ended too soon would be an understatement. To talk about the potential of his abilities seemed to be untimely. All I wanted to do was get the guys together and be with our baseball family. I know the hurt that comes along with buying into the brotherhood of a baseball team. That hurt is just as powerful as the joys that come with this life. Not to say it is even close to the depth of pain his true family is going through, but the pain itself is just as real. The ache is deep because the relationships were deep, and forged through time and trials.
To the many fans who have already reached out with condolences, and to the many more who are in mourning, thank you for taking these players in, like they are one of your own. This level of care is what sets our fans apart.
In my opinion, the word “love” is the most misused, and misunderstood word in the English language. It is not popular for men to use this word, and even less popular for athletes. But, there is not a more accurate word for how a group of men share a deep and genuine concern for each other. We loved Oscar, and he loved us. That is what a team does, that is what a family does. You will be missed, Oscar.”