Remember this game? I’m sure you do. It was Dice-K’s Fenway Park debut, so ESPN was televising it nationally. And King Felix stole the show and used it as a platform to announce his own arrival on the AL pitching scene. Even I was disappointed when J.D. Drew broke up the no-hitter–although with the low score, I immediately started thinking about how the Sox could still win once it happened. Last night, it looked like King Felix was finally going to get that no-hitter. But…I’m seriously sensing a pattern here. Seriously, note to all AL teams: Stop allowing Nelson Cruz to lead off innings. It never ends well for you. Congrats to King Felix on another great pitching performance, but it looks like the Year of the Pitcher II has finally run out of magic. Did you realize that August was the first calendar month this year without a no-hitter? And September’s half-over with none so far as well.
Elsewhere, Manny Ramirez finally hit another home run, his first XBH and first RBI in a White Sox uniform. The only question is, is this really a White Sox uniform? Ladies and gentlemen, your Chicago Green Sox!
AS cheesy as MLB’s slogan may be, you have to admit that October is where legends are born. All together now…
Branca throws. There’s a long drive, it’s gonna be, I believe. … The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! Bobby Thomson hits it into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant! And they’re going crazy! Ohhhhh-oh!! (pause for crowd noise) I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! …The Giants win by a score of 5 to 4… and they’re pickin’ Bobby Thomson up… and they’re carryin’ him off the field!
Bobby Thomson, whose immortal “Shot Heard Round the World” clinched the 1951 National League pennant for the New York Giants in the deciding game of a best-of-three playoff with the Brooklyn Dodgers, passed away on Monday at the age of 86. Meanwhile, this year’s Giants can only hope they can find similar success. Last night’s loss to Philadelphia puts them 1 game behind the Phillies in the wild card race, while the Padres won again to take a 5-game lead in the NL West. It’s funny, isn’t it? The NL West was supposed to be one of the most tightly contested divisions, and the Padres–the one team no one thought stood a chance–have the second-largest division lead. It seems to be like that all around. The AL West was supposed to be anyone’s to win with the long-dominant Angels having fallen back to earth and the Mariners having improved so much in the offseason, but the M’s faltered and the Rangers have run away with it. The AL Central, which has gone to a 1-game playoff each of the past two years, was supposed to be a three-team race between Detroit, Chicago, and Minnesota, and for awhile it was. Then Detroit fell apart, and currently the Twins have a 4-game lead, the third-largest. Then again, four games isn’t really that much, and it wasn’t even a week ago that the Twins and White Sox were tied after splitting the first two games of a three-game series. The Twins took the rubber game on Thursday, swept a three-game series over the weekend while Chicago lost two of three, then took game one of another three-game series with the White Sox last night. This being the AL Central, nobody’s really out of it until they’re mathematically out of it. Speaking of which…I haven’t been charting the season since early May. I fell behind on it while preparing for finals and never caught up. I keep meaning to, but the longer I put it off, the more daunting a task it becomes…
Elsewhere in baseball, former starter Hisanori Takahashi has been named the Mets’ new closer. I’m sure there’s something stupid to say here; I’m just not sure what it is. Also, this. Depending on how you look at it, this makes my job either a lot easier or a lot harder.
Even retired, Kevin Millar makes the game of baseball more amusing. Last year he was with the Blue Jays, and they brought up a pitcher from the minors named Mark Rzepczynski, one of those great unpronounceable names you see occasionally in sports. (For the record, it’s pronounced zep-CHIN-skee.) Asked on the radio how that name was pronounced, he replied, “We just call him ‘Ski’.” However, with Rzepczynski making his first start of the year, Millar, now working for MLB Network, revealed that he and Bryan Butterfield gave the pitcher a different nickname: Splamitovich. Which Rzepczynski now has on his glove. Kevin, man, I love you. Don’t ever disappear from the spotlight.
On another note, yesterday looked like an anomaly for the Year of The Pitcher II. 47 home runs were hit yesterday, including 3 by Adam Dunn, two each by Casey Kotchman, Martin Prado, and Buster Posey, and an inside-the-park homer by Jose Bautista, whose 22 homers lead the majors. The only game without a home run was the Angels-White Sox game. But back to Bautista: Where’s all of this power coming from? Bautista never had more than 16 home runs in a year prior to this year, and suddenly he’s the biggest bomber in the league. Do you remember what we used to assume when players set new career highs for home runs by the end of May? Yeah, exactly–“Must be juicing.” (Okay, so Bautista was only tied for his career high at the end of May–and, of course, my example had already set a new career high by the end of April. Still valid.) I want to believe that the game is really completely clean now, but…when there are still players putting up anomalous numbers like this, I can’t be sure.
Of course, it could just be that Bautista is having a breakout season. The aforementioned Brian Roberts had only played more than 100 games in a season twice prior to 2005, when he set a new career high for home runs by the end of April, but he tailed off and ended that season with fewer than 20 home runs, and while it’s still a career high, he has reached double digits three more times. The performances you really have to worry about are when players can’t replicate them afterwards–think Brady Anderson, whose only season with at least 25 home runs was 1996, when he hit 50. Only time will tell which is the case for Bautista.
Final note: The Cardinals blew a five-run lead to the Rockies, their first time blowing leads of at least 5 runs in back-to-back games since 1930. Chris Iannetta hit a walkoff home run to lead off the bottom of the ninth off of Evan MacLane, who was making his major league debut and now currently has a career opponent’s slugging percentage of 4.000 (not that they keep track of these things) and an infinite ERA (1 earned run in 0 IP) as well as an 0-1 record. Not the best start.
Absolutely loved the story that boy GM Jon Daniels had to put gold highlights in his hair as the result of a bet with shortstop Elvis Andrus–thanks to the Rangers’ winning streak reaching double digits. It’s hardly the first performance-related dye job–think Lou Piniella and the 70-91 fourth-place 2004 Devil Rays, the first time Tampa had ever finished out of last place. (Contrast the current Rays, who considered last year’s 84-78 performance a disappointment.) Still, funny stuff.
On the subject of old Devil Rays vs. new Rays, we’re now up to three no-hitters thrown against the mighty Rays in under 2
/* Style Definitions */
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
font-family:”Times New Roman”;
½ years of existence, whereas the cellar-dwelling D-Rays were no-hit just once in their 10 years of pitiful existence. At least this one wasn’t a perfect game–far from it, with 10 baserunners on 8 walks, one hit batsman, and one error. It took a ******** 149 pitches for former Devil Ray (and modern-era Ray) Edwin Jackson to finish the game, which is nothing to old-time pitchers but would normally get current managers shot. If it weren’t for the no-hitter, there’s no way he’d have been allowed to last that long. Remarkably, that isn’t even the record for walks in a no-hitter this century–A.J. Burnett had 9 walks in his 2003 no-hitter, and amazingly didn’t even show up on SportsCenter’s list of highest pitch totals in a no-hitter since 1988 (when pitch counts were first recorded.)
But regardless, here we are, not even halfway through the season, and we officially have four (and unofficially, five) no-hitters, two (three) of which were perfect games. Not even the original “Year of the Pitcher” could claim that many that quickly–in fact, 1968 only had five no-hitters total, two of them on back-to-back days (at the same park with the same pair of teams, but for opposite sides) in September. The last season to even have four (this year’s official total) was 1991, when a total of 7 no-hitters were thrown–but five of those were in July or later. (Also, two were combined no-hitters). The last time four or more no-hitters were thrown by the end of June? You’ll have to go all the way back to the dead-ball era and 1917, when Eddie Cicotte of the White Sox no-hit the Browns on April 14, George Mogridge of the Yankees no-hit the Red Sox April 24, Fred Toney of the Reds pitched a 10-inning no-hitter against the Cubs on May 2 (formerly known as the “double no-hitter” as the Reds were also held hitless through nine innings against the Cubs’ Hippo Vaughn before finally breaking through in the 10th), the White Sox were held hitless on back-to-back days by Ernie Koob and Bob Groom of the Browns May 5-6 (not back-to-back games, though; the May 6 no-hitter was game 2 of a doubleheader), and Ernie Shore of the Red Sox had nine innings of perfect relief against the Senators after Babe Ruth got ejected for arguing balls and strikes after issuing a walk to the first batter of the game–long credited as a perfect game for Shore (especially as the leadoff walk was caught stealing, making it a 27-batter game in which one pitcher recorded all 27 outs and did not allow a baserunner) but later changed to a regular no-hitter, the first combined no-hitter in MLB history–on June 23. 6 no-hitters (and, by the definition of the time, seven), all before the end of June. But how many total no-hitters were there in 1917? Just the six. No team was held hitless for the rest of the year after Shore’s perfect relief stint. The modern record? That would be the 7 in 1991 (though the all-time record is 8, way back in 1884). We could be approaching a historic season, folks. The Year of the Pitcher II is officially on.
Other note: Edwin Jackson is the first NL pitcher to have a complete-game no-hitter against an AL team. It’s the fifth no-hitter between teams from opposite leagues, following Don Larsen’s perfect World Series game in 1956, David Cone’s perfect game in 1999, the Houston Astros’ combined no-hitter in 2003, and Justin Verlander’s no-hitter in 2007.
The ever-wonderful Jayson Stark is at it again. Note that the link goes to ESPN Insider article, so you may not be able to read it.For this reason, and also because I want to comment, I’ll sum up some of the weirdness here.
In this past Thursday’s Phillies-Nationals game, Chase Utley and Shane Victorino of the Phillies and Ryan Zimmerman of the Nats all homered, marking the first time that players whose names begin with the letters U, V, and Z all homered in the same game. That this has never happened before is not exactly surprising. What I want to know is, were all three necessary, or would some combination of two be sufficient? Obviously U and V have homered together before–Utley and Victorino–but none of those three letters is terribly common, and V is probably the most common of the 3. So have there been other times that U and Z have homered in the same game? And if so, was Zimmerman the “Z” involved? With both the Phillies and the Marlins in the same division as the Nats, this seems plausible enough…although I completely forgot about the Upton brothers when listing the active U’s, which changes things completely. Okay, so now the most likely combo for U/Z is B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays–although it’s quite possible this hasn’t happened yet, as both are fairly young and Zobrist didn’t really get regular playing time until just last year. Come to think of it, now that we have a plausible U-Z pair, what’s our V-Z?
Also, and I actually heard about this game while it was happening, there was Thursday’s White Sox-Blue Jays game. Freddy Garcia got knocked around early and only lasted 3+ innings, striking out 3 and being charged with all 7 runs. The first reliever, Randy Williams, struck out 3 over two shaky innings. Sergio Santos came in for the 6th inning and struck out the side, 1-2-3, and J.J. Putz pitched the 7th, allowing a hit but getting all three of his outs by way of the K. Scott Linebrink came in for the 8th, and sure enough, all three outs he recorded were strikeouts (he, too, allowed a hit.) Never before in a 9-inning game have five different pitchers gotten 3 strikeouts for a team. Also, never before has a team gotten their last 9 outs by way of strikeout with 3 pitchers getting 3 each. What makes this even more impressive, as far as I’m concerned, is the fact that the White Sox managed to strike out 15 Blue Jays despite being a losing road team; therefore, it was 15 out of 24 outs, not 15 of 27. Not a bad performance at all, except for the part where they ended up trailing 7-0 after four innings.
Also, Monday’s Royals-Tigers game marked the first time that two Guillens (Carlos of the Tigers and Jose of the Royals) homered in the same game.
More LOL Mets, too. Josh Willingham of the Nationals hit a grand slam off of Johan Santana last Sunday, but it didn’t get ruled home run right away, so people started running like crazy. Adam Dunn, who had been on first when the ball was hit, had to bowl over Mets catcher Rod Barajas in order to score, and when the ball got away, Willingham tried to score as well, creating another home plate collision and initially being ruled out, until replay decided that it was a home run. Why is this in the category of “LOL Mets“? Because they were the home team, which means the home run that almost wasn’t is courtesy of their ballpark. Still, even securely in last place, this year’s Mets have a long way to go to become as LOL-worthy as last year’s were–and most of last night’s biggest weirdness (position players on the mound and pitchers in left field, for example) was courtesy of the Cardinals. Although having a starter with more saves than your closer is, well, kind of silly.
I’ve been keeping busy with other sports–and some non-sports entertainment–over the offseason, so I’m not 100% dialed in to the goings-on of baseball, but nonetheless, it’s time to at least make an attempt at predicting things.
AL East: As per usual, the AL East is quite possibly the toughest in all of baseball, and will likely be the source of the Wild Card. Now, I know that I am not unbiased, but I believe the Red Sox will take the division due to the depth of their rotation. When it was announced that Daisuke Matsuzaka would miss the start of spring training due to injury, I wasn’t really worried, because for all that he cost to get, he’s basically the Sox’ number 4 now, behind Beckett/Lester/Lackey (arrange these three however you like, although that’s probably the order I’d put them), and they’ve got Buchholz and Wakefield behind that, so even without Dice-K, they’ve still got a solid 5-man rotation. The Yankees and Rays should both still be in the division race up until the final week, though, and either one could end up as the wild card–it comes down to the Yanks’ aging veterans vs. the Rays’ unproven youngsters, particularly where the rotations are concerned (although the Yanks also have some unproven youngsters at the tail end of the rotation). Baltimore, for some reason, is optimistic about this year, while Toronto is known to be in a rebuilding year, so I’ll say that the Jays finish in last place and the Orioles in fourth.
AL Central: Another three-team race. I’ll give the edge to the Tigers, but I wouldn’t give anyone in this division more than a 35% chance of reaching the playoffs–the Tigers, Twins, and White Sox are that close.
AL West: A definite mystery. The Angels have definitely taken a step back and fallen back to the pack, to the point that I’m pretty sure I heard one person on the radio call the West a three-team race between the A’s, Rangers, and Mariners at one point during the offseason. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, though–it’s still the Angels we’re talking about here. The Mariners definitely made great strides during the offseason, trading for Cliff Lee and signing Chone Figgins as a free agent, but I’m worried they still don’t have enough star power to make it last–I’m not even really sure who their 3-5 starters are, and the lineup is decidedly small-ball. Then again, who in this division really does have serious star power?
NL East: The Phillies are still the class of the NL and should be able to make it four straight division titles and three straight NL pennants, at which point the talking heads will start to wonder how long it will be until we can start calling them a dynasty (yes, even if they lose the World Series again–after all, the ’90s/early ’00s Braves were a dynasty despite only winning one World Series, weren’t they? Okay, maybe not.) The Braves are my favorites to finish second, and possibly earn the Wild Card. The Mets have improved over the offseason and could end up in third if they stay healthy, or they could land in fourth. The Nationals will likely finish last in the division again, but will probably pick no higher than fourth and possibly as low as eighth in the 2011 draft rather than the #1 spot they’ll have for the second year in a row in 2010.
NL Central: To be honest, I really haven’t followed the NL that closely. I know that the Pirates will be in last place again, and that the Astros still aren’t terribly good and seem most likely to land in fifth, and that Milwaukee is a far cry from their 2008 wild card berth, but that’s about it. The Cubs and the Cardinals should slug it out again, and, like almost every other year, I’m going to say that the Reds could make some noise. (Note that I make this prediction almost every year, although I think I skipped it last year, and it hasn’t actually come true since 2006, when they still finished in third but weren’t eliminated from the division race until the penultimate day of the season.)
NL West: If the Braves don’t win the Wild Card, expect it to come from this division. This may be a four-team race, as the Dodgers and Rockies, both postseason teams last year, should not have fallen off much, the Giants are still a team on the rise (again, see last year), and the Diamondbacks…well, I still have no clue why they faltered so much. They won the division in 2007 and were in the hunt late in 2008, and they made humongous upgrades in the ’08-’09 offseason…and inexplicably were a complete non-factor in 2009. I can only dismiss this as a fluke, and I think they’ll compete this year. Who will win this division? Your guess is as good as mine; all I’m willing to predict is that the Padres will finish in last place.
Playoffs: Like I said, I’m not really sure who most of the NL teams will be, and frankly I don’t really care because the Phillies are far better than anyone else in the league in my mind and will win the NL pennant. As for the AL, I’m going to predict Red Sox over Tigers and Rays over Mariners in round 1, followed by…Red Sox over Rays in the ALCS, and then…ooh, this is a tough one. They say pitching wins championships, and nobody has better pitching (if they’re healthy) than the Red Sox, which is why I picked them this far (yes, the Rays could also outhit the Red Sox, but their pitching, while good, is not good enough). But the Phillies rotation, while not as deep, is probably even stronger at the top, and their lineup is quite possibly the best in either league. Then again, you have to look beyond the simple skills and consider the matchups. For some reason, the Red Sox never really had much trouble with Halladay, which is odd because the Red Sox usually struggle with the Blue Jays, period. Lackey, while never terribly good against his new team regardless, was especially bad at Fenway, so if he ends up as the #3 and the AL wins the All-Star Game again, that’s all the better–and if the NL somehow pulls it out and the Sox pitch Lackey in Games 2 and 6, even better. So…it’ll be a close one, but I think the Red Sox can make it 3 titles in 7 years.
Even when the races are dull, they’re interesting. This year marks the third straight year that a one-game playoff will be required after 7 straight years without one. While the first half of the decade had a few tight races as well–the 2003 NL wild card was a multi-team scrum, IIRC, that the eventual World Champion Marlins were considered a long shot to come out of on top, and if I remember correctly, the Cubs, who ended up winning their division, were leading that race for much of the final weeks; no division in the NL was won by more than 2 games in 2001, with the wild card having the same record as their division’s champion–but the second half of the decade has produced some real memorable ones. There’s 2005, where with three days remaining, the White Sox clinched their division in the strangest way possible, holding a 3-game lead over Cleveland, who they were to play in the final three, while Cleveland was merely tied for the wild card lead; the White Sox were assured a playoff spot because the team Cleveland was tied with, Boston, was also playing their division leader, the Yankees, and were only one game back, so were they to sweep, they’d be outright division champions and Chicago and Cleveland would still both be in the playoffs were Cleveland to sweep. The NL wild card also came down to the final day that year. Then there was 2006, and the Twins’ unlikely division championship. Prior to the final weekend of the season, the Twins had led the division for all of about maybe six hours, when Detroit lost a day game to drop into a virtual tie, percentage points behind; Minnesota lost that night. By the time the Twins tied it up with three days remaining, both teams had already clinched playoff spots, so the Twins, lacking the tiebreaker, still weren’t really in first place. Minnesota lost the first two and won the third; Detroit got swept in rather painstaking fashion, by the last-place Royals, who incidentally lost the #1 pick in the draft as a result, finishing 1 game better than the Devil Rays. Over on the National League side, 2006 was the year of Houston’s mad dash that came up short. With 12 days remaining, the Cardinals seemed to have the NL Central locked up, holding a 7 game lead over second place Cincinnati. They then went on a 7-game losing streak that included a sweep at the hands of the Astros, and so 9 days later, the Reds were still in it, 2.5 back, but now in third place, with the Astros a mere half game behind the Cardinals. Had that run been completed, all of this other “history-making”, with the Mets-Phillies in ’07 and Twins-Tigers this year, would have been moot–8.5 games in 12 days. Alas, it was not meant to be. (Another division was decided by a tiebreaker that year, the Padres over the wild-card Dodgers). 2007, of course, saw the Mets cough up the NL East and the Rockies win 13 of 14 to force a one-game tiebreaker for the wild-card, but what was forgotten in all of that was that had the Rockies won the one game they lost in that span, there would still have been a tiebreaker–between the Diamondbacks, the team that beat them and that won the division, and the Padres. The race was that close. Compared to all of that, the past two years have been relatively mundane. Hell, this year, almost every race was decided with nearly a week to spare–and yet, we still have a one-game playoff.
The title, by the way, was Detroit manager Jim Leyland’s response when asked if he was concerned about Rick Porcello starting such an important game at such a young age.