What happened in 2016: Made the most of limited Major League playing time by providing the single most dramatic moment of the regular season.
In November of 2015, the Dodgers signed Charlie Culberson to a minor league contract, extending a non-roster invitation to Spring Training of the following season. After a strong showing in Arizona, Culberson made L.A.’s Opening Day roster.
Culberson stayed with the Dodgers for about a month and a half, slashing .259/.286/.333 across 15 games and 28 plate appearances. In mid-May, he was optioned to Oklahoma City, where he remained for another month and a half before being recalled on July 20. Culberson started at shortstop in that night’s game in Washington, going 1-for-3 and driving in the sole run in an 8-1 Dodgers loss.
The very next day, Culberson was designated for assignment, but went unclaimed and was optioned to OKC. He’d get called back up to Los Angeles about a month later, and this time, he stuck around for the remainder of the season.
Charlie Culberson was the starting second baseman on September 25, the Dodgers’ final home game of the regular season. The Dodgers only had to win one more game to clinch the NL West pennant and, with six games left to play, it was pretty clear they’d win the division. But there was a certain urgency to clinch that day, and not just because it’s more fun to do it at home. That game was Vin Scully’s last-ever Dodger Stadium broadcast, and he wasn’t going to San Diego for the next-to-last series of the season. If they didn’t get the job done that day, odds were that Vin wouldn’t be on the call for the clinch.
The Rockies got on the board first, scoring two runs in the top of the third. The Dodgers responded with a run in the bottom half of the inning. In the bottom of the seventh, Corey Seager tripled in Justin Turner to tie it at two. The Rockies regained the lead in the top of the ninth when David Dahl homered off of Kenley Jansen, just the fourth home run Jansen had allowed all year. Colorado was one out away from spoiling the Dodgers’ party when Seager homered to re-tie the game. The game went to extras.
Joe Blanton held the Rockies scoreless in the top of the 10th. Boone Logan retired the first two Dodger batters in the bottom of the 10th. Then Culberson, already 2-for-4 on the day, stepped to the plate, and did this:
As Vin notes in the above video, not only was that Culberson’s first (and, as it would turn out, only) Major League home run of the season, it was his first Major League home run since August of 2014.
Charlie Culberson, who’d been designated for assignment mid-season and hadn’t hit a home run in two years, was the least likely of heroes, which made the moment all the more special. With one swing of the bat, Culberson permanently sealed his place in Dodger lore. The particular emotional weight of that home run and that victory caused the team historian to posit that it may be the most significant home run in Dodgers regular season history.
Culberson then ended up making the NLDS roster, and he appeared in four of the five games of that series, going 0-for-7 with two strikeouts. He did not make the NLCS roster.
2017 status: Despite his division-clinching heroics, Culberson will still be fighting for a spot on the 40-man roster this Spring Training.