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.
Well, the race for the final All-Star spots is on, and Joey Votto is most deservedly leading the charge in the NL, while in the AL…Nick Swisher got off to the early lead but has since ceded it to Kevin Youkilis. Now, as a Red Sox fan, you’d think I’d be pulling for Youkilis, right? Nope. Here’s why. Overall, Michael Young has 5 career All-Star game appearances, with a respectable .333 batting average and .891 OPS, and 3 RBI. As those box scores indicated, however, those were not just any RBI–the first two came with two outs in the top of the ninth and the AL trailing by 1 run, resulting in the AL winning again, and the third came in the bottom of the 15th, again providing the winning run.
Anyway, the Rockies had a wild finish last night. 9 runs in the bottom of the ninth, the final three on a home run by Seth Smith, in a 12-9 victory over St. Louis. Smith was 3-for-4 with two walks. The lone out? A liner to first for the first out of the ninth inning. How amazing is that? Making an out and having a hit in the same inning isn’t that rare, but having the game-winning hit in the same inning as your only out…Also interesting to look at from this game: St. Louis closer Ryan Franklin was brought in after the Rockies scored their first run of the inning, cutting the Cards’ lead to 9-4, with runners on first and second. See anything odd about that? Yep, that’s right; it’s a non-save situation. With a 5-run lead, it’s only a save situation if the bases are loaded–La Russa brought in his closer one batter earlier than the custom, evidently trying to nip the rally in the bud. If the Rockies’ rally had come up just a little bit short and Franklin had been denied the save… (Also, the first batter Franklin faced was Chris Iannetta, who was batting just .208 and slugging .403 entering the at-bat. Iannetta had 1 career at-bat against Franklin, a double. Iannetta promptly homered to cut the deficit to 9-7, which is about the point where you’d normally be going to your closer…who was already in the game.)
Meanwhile, props to Johan Santana. After going 1-3 with three no-decisions, all Mets losses, in his previous 7 starts, Santana put together the type of dominant start baseball fans are used to seeing from him, a 3-hit shutout. His last complete game, also a 3-hit shutout, came in his final start of the 2008 season. As for the winning run? That would be a solo homer from none other than Johan Santana, his first career dinger, in the third inning. The Mets would tack on two more for a 3-0 win, but Santana is clearly the story here.