This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: April 7-13, 2014
Baseball Mulls a Seven-Inning Game What the Smudge is Going On?
The Bushers Authors in Action Who Threw Out the First Pitch at Home Openers


Best and Worst of the Week

BEST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Adam Eaton, Chicago White Sox

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
26 10 10 3 0 1 4 5 0 1 1

It may be too early for the Diamondbacks to kick themselves for trading the adroit young outfielder to the White Sox, but they may be positioning their feet into backswing mode soon. Eaton put together five straight multi-hit games this past week, notching ten runs to take the early lead among all major leaguers on the season with 14. Seems odd at this point that his former teammates in Arizona publicly belittled him for not being a team player.


BEST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Justin Upton, Atlanta Braves

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
22 8 13 3 0 4 8 2 0 1 0

While his older brother/teammate B.J. continued his struggles to reach .200, Justin took care of the family business at the plate with a sizzling week. Hey, as far as the Braves are concerned, one out of two ain’t bad. Justin turned it on at midweek with a two-homer performance against the Mets—then went 8-for-10 with four more extra-base hits in a weekend series against divisional rival Washington. Since a 1-for-15 start to the season, Upton is hitting .538.


WORST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Billy Butler, Kansas City Royals

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
23 1 2 0 0 0 2 1 0 0 0

The disappointing (4-7) Royals have much to brood over regarding their offense—like, one home run in 11 games—but the eyes of concern are starting to squint more tightly upon Butler, who unlike his teammates is in the lineup solely for his bat and not his glove. Grounding into two double plays didn’t help, but Butler does that often; what was unusual was five strikeouts over two weekend games, a heavy dose for a guy not known as a free swinger. After last year’s modest-at-best campaign, this is not an ideal start.


WORST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Ryan Kalish, Chicago Cubs

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
14 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0

The 26-year-old outfielder, back in the majors after a shoulder injury idled him for all of 2013, has seen part-time duty thus far for the Cubs and put together one solid game at the plate. That game was not this past week. Instead, Kalish did this: One hit, six strikeouts and two double play grounders. Fortunately for Kalish, the Cubs’ den of outfielders is not a gifted lot—but he’ll nevertheless find it difficult getting action if this keeps up.


BEST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
IB
HB
WP
BK
SO
0-0 8 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 9

Nothing is guaranteed in the game of baseball—except, perhaps, when the talented Japanese hurler takes the mound against Houston. Darvish always seems to have the Astros’ number, and this past Friday was no exception as he flirted with a no-hitter (or perfect game) for the third time in just over a year against his intra-state rivals, before Matt Dominguez broke it up in the sixth inning. Darvish hasn’t allowed a run in 15 innings this year—and as for the Astros, they’ve hit only .133 in seven total tries against him.


BEST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Andrew Cashner, San Diego Padres

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
IB
HB
WP
BK
SO
1-0 9 1 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 11

In our 2014 season preview, TGG’s Eric Gouldsberry came tantalizingly close to picking the rising Padres star as the NL Cy Young winner. Can we have a reset please? Cashner has gotten better with almost every start since becoming part of the San Diego rotation and like Darvish above, took his own no-no into the sixth inning on Friday before the Tigers broke it up. This is Cashner’s second one-hit shutout over his last five starts; if, at long last, the Padres ever get a no-hitter after 45 years, it very well may be Cashner who gets it for them.


WORST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Felipe Paulino, Chicago White Sox

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
IB
HB
WP
BK
SO
0-1 9.1 15 12 12 7 0 0 0 0 5

Like Kalish above, the 30-year-old Dominican is attempting to get his major league sea legs back after missing all of 2013 to injury. And like Kalish, it hasn’t been working out so well. Paulino got wild on the Coors Field mound—a very bad idea—and made U.S. Cellular Field back in Chicago feel a mile high when he served up three homers in five innings against the Indians on Saturday. Paulino had a good thing going two years ago at Kansas City before succumbing to Tommy John surgery; he surely has yet to grab that vibe back.


WORST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Trevor Cahill, Arizona Diamondbacks

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
IB
HB
WP
BK
SO
0-2 7.2 13 12 11 6 0 0 0 0 13

The baby-faced 26-year-old came into the week already staked to a 0-2 record (he lost one of the D-Backs’ games in Australia), and he doubled his displeasure with two more defeats—both of which looked even worse and jacked his season ERA up to 9.17. Cahill has been considered a model of rotation stability and even the occasional stopper, but this kind of start is killing that reputation.


BEST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Oakland A's (5-1)

The low-budget boys are at again; two weeks into the season, they own the AL’s best record. It doesn’t matter if their closer (Jim Johnson) is lobbing softballs worthy of batting practice, or that they’re losing replay challenges, or that they continue to field a lineup that on paper impresses absolutely no one. The A’s were hot on the road, sweeping the Twins before taking two of three weekend games from the Mariners (it took a sharp Felix Hernandez on Friday to deny them an unbeaten week, and even then the A’s still nearly beat him.)


BEST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Milwaukee Brewers (6-0)

We had premonitions of the Brewers doing good things this season—Eric even picked them to make the playoffs as a wild card—and while we understood that it’s too early to break open the “we were right” champagne, we gotta like what we’re seeing thus far. The offense is delivering as we expected, but the pitching has been way over its head—with all but one guy on the staff registering a 3.05 ERA or less. The season’s young and the NL Central is full of talented teams, but the Brewers have made an early, impressive statement that they are not to be ignored.


WORST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Houston Astros (2-5)

Well, it didn’t take long for the Astros to re-stake their claim in a category they all but monopolized last season. After a somewhat promising first week, it was back to near-rock bottom for the Lastros, who weren’t awful—they did win twice and fought the Rangers hard all weekend—but a 2-5 week was not to be matched anywhere else in the AL. Neither was this figure: 0.0, the local TV rating for their Monday game against the Angels. Now that’s awful.


WORST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Miami Marlins (0-6)

After a sharp first week in which its offense uncharacteristically feasted on opponents at home, the Marlins hit the road and came crashing back to reality as they failed to find the win column and extended a losing skid to seven games. Not even young ace Jose Fernandez, virtually impenetrable of late, could stop the slide as he got atypically roughed up by the Phillies on Friday. The Marlins get a much-needed return to Miami this week, so we’ll see if the home cooking puts them back on their feet.


 

 

 

Best and Worst of the Week

Monday, April 7
First-year Colorado pitcher Jordan Lyles (acquired from the Astros for outfielder Dexter Fowler) certainly likes Coors Field, at least for a day. The 23-year-old right-hander allows a run over 6.2 innings and goes 3-for-3 at the plate to serve up an easy 8-1 win for the Rockies over the Chicago White Sox.

In his final Opening Day appearance at Yankee Stadium, Derek Jeter opens the scoring against Baltimore on a run-scoring double-play ball; he later doubles and scores in the Yankees’ 4-2 win over the Orioles. Hiroki Kuroda gets the win for New York, whose starting pitchers have not allowed a walk in four straight games.


Tuesday, April 8
It’s a good day for Biogenesis graduates.

In Philadelphia, the Brewers’ Ryan Braun ruins the Phillies’ home opener with three home runs and a personal-best seven RBIs as Milwaukee wins in a rout, 10-4. It’s the second three-homer game of Braun’s career.

In Toronto, Melky Cabrera goes deep for the fourth straight game and the Blue Jays get past the visiting Houston Astros, 5-2.

In Atlanta, 40-year-old Bartolo Colon wins his first game for the New York Mets as he silences the Braves for seven innings on six hits and no walks in a 4-0 win. The game takes place on the 40th anniversary of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run.

The Orioles rack up the hits—20 in all—at Yankee Stadium, as they pummel the Yankees by a 14-5 count. Eight different Orioles players have at least two knocks.

Texas pitcher Martin Perez is not sharp, but he gets the grounders when he needs them. In 6.1 innings, he allows four runs on eight hits but also gets the Red Sox to bounce into five double plays. The Rangers encounter no such hard luck on offense and triumph at Boston, 10-7.

The White Sox’ offense generates itself to life by slamming six homers—including the first two major league blasts for Cuban émigré Jose Abreu—in a 15-3 trouncing of the Rockies at Denver. Eleven of the Sox’ runs come over the final three innings.


Wednesday, April 9
In the eighth game and 248th at-bat, the Kansas City Royals finally hit their first home run of 2014 when Alex Gordon takes Tampa Bay’s Jake Odorizzi deep for a three-run blast at Kauffman Stadium. Previously, the longest home run drought to start a season by an AL team since the designated hitter was installed came in 1979 when the Cleveland Indians were powerless until their 253rd at-bat. Gordon’s homer helps distance the Royals from the Rays in a 7-3 victory.

Few fans, few runs: The Indians and San Diego Padres split a doubleheader in which no team scores more than two runs in either contest; according to Elias, that last occurred in 1983. Two games for the price of one evidently weren’t enough to lure the fans; the official crowd count at Progressive Field is 9,930.


Thursday, April 10
In the first game of the season between two storied archrivals, the Yankees defeat the visiting Red Sox, 4-1. New York starter Michael Pineda wins his first game since 2011, but not without controversy; TV cameras zoom in on Pineda’s throwing palm and shows, clearly, a smudge of pine tar upon it. Before the Red Sox catch onto it, he has it removed. Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, in his first game against his former Red Sox mates, goes 1-for-4 with one run scored and another knocked in.

The White Sox upend the Indians at Chicago, 7-3, ending a 14-game losing streak against Cleveland going back nearly a year. Jose Abreu goes deep twice for the second time in three days for the White Sox; Cleveland starter Danny Salazar is gone before the fourth inning, but not before striking out ten batters—the first pitcher ever to reach double-figures in less than four innings of work.

It’s a beautiful day for the Washington Nationals. Stephen Strasburg strikes out 12 Miami batters in less than seven innings of work, and Ian Desmond pulls the Nats away from the visiting Marlins with an eighth-inning grand slam—Washington’s second in as many days—to cap a 7-1 victory.


Friday, April 11
San Diego’s Andrew Cashner throws the majors’ first complete game—and shutout—of the season by one-hitting the visiting Detroit Tigers, 6-0. Rajai Davis nets the Tigers’ lone hit with a sixth-inning single. It’s Cashner’s second one-hitter in five starts dating back to last year.

The Giants eke past Colorado at home, 6-5, with large thanks to starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner—more for his bat than his arm. Bumgarner hits a fourth-inning grand slam (the second by a Giants pitcher since moving from New York 56 years ago) and adds a sacrifice fly later to knock in five runs over one official at-bat.

For one night, Globe Life Park in Arlington ceases to be a hitter’s paradise as the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros go scoreless into the 12th inning before the Rangers’ Robinson Chirinos finally breaks the ice with a game-winning RBI single. It’s the longest a game has gone scoreless at the ballpark since opening in 1994. Texas starter Yu Darvish, who twice held the Astros hitless into the eighth inning and beyond last season, has a perfect game spoiled in the sixth. His Houston counterpart (and ex-Ranger) Scott Feldman throws seven shutout innings a few days after the passing of his father.

Toronto’s Dustin McGowan, who has continuously struggled with injury, wins his first game in six years by throwing 6.1 shutout innings at Baltimore in a 2-0 win over the Orioles.

In Philadelphia, Miami ace Jose Fernandez has the rare look of a mere mortal. Away from home—where he’s been all but invincible—Fernandez allows six runs on eight hits and four walks in just four innings before being removed in the Phillies’ 6-3 win.


Saturday, April 12
Detroit ace Justin Verlander picks us his first win of the season—and the first two hits of his career, singling twice in a 6-2 win at San Diego. He had come into the game hitless in 29 lifetime at-bats.

The Yankees get five home runs (including the first two in pinstripes for catcher Brian McCann) to defeat the Red Sox, 7-4. Boston pitcher John Lackey serves up four of the homers and gets tagged with his first loss of the year.

Fragile Colorado pitcher Brett Anderson gets hurt (again) and departs after three shutout innings in San Francisco, but five Rockies relievers keep the Giants off the board to register a slim 1-0 win. Elias notes that six 1-0 games over the last five years have been won by teams using at least six pitchers; in the previous 110 seasons, that had only happened twice.


Sunday, April 13
After the White Sox take a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the eighth on a Marcus Semien solo homer, the Indians rally for two in the ninth off closer Matt Lindstrom to make it 3-2—but the White Sox turn it around again in the bottom of the frame when red-hot Alexei Ramirez goes deep off Cleveland closer John Axford for a two-run, walk-off shot to give Chicago a 4-3 win.

In Anaheim, the Angels’ Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Raul Ibanez smack consecutive homers in the first inning off the New York Mets’ Bartolo Colon and sail from there to a 14-2 rout.

If the Nationals are to reign in the NL East this season, they’ll need Gio Gonzalez to be a much better pitcher against divisional rival Atlanta. The veteran right-hander is throttled by the Braves at Turner Field, 10-2, and is now 0-6 in his last seven starts against Atlanta.


Keep Your Filthy Hands Off My Eighth and Ninth Innings
A baseball executive who wished to remain anonymous—probably for good reason—suggested to ESPN’s Buster Olney this past week that because games have become too long and too many players are getting hurt, baseball needs to be shortened to seven innings.

This leads us to ponder: Why are people in charge of this great game uttering such stupid things? This guy talking to Olney is kidding, right?

Baseball hasn’t changed for over 100 years because it doesn’t need to. As we mention in our 1900 page, it took the game some 30 years to evolve and get the rules right—but once it did, it hasn’t been meddled with much at all. There’s been cosmetic adjustments such as the designated hitter rule and players no longer leaving their gloves on the field while at bat, but the basics have stayed the same: Three strikes, four balls, three outs, nine players, nine innings.

The mystery exec with no regard for the sanctity of baseball doesn’t get it. The game is not the problem. The reason the average contest has grown to three hours has nothing to do with the game’s basics. It has to do with extended breaks between innings to suck up as much TV ad revenue as possible; players who, for some reason, feel the need to step out of the batter’s box and readjust their batting gloves between every pitch; increased visits to the mound by managers and pitching coaches who now rely on multiple relief specialists; and the time-consuming abomination that is MLB’s idea of extensive video replay.

Then there’s the statistical angle. We connect with Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs, Ted Williams.406 average and Denny McLain’s 31 wins because we understand the context of how they did it. But a reduction to seven innings would bring us into a different realm and unfairly deprive modern day players the opportunity to rack up the numbers in comparable fashion.

And as for the glut of injuries, here’s a question for the mystery exec: How will limiting the number of innings keep pitchers injury-free when so many relievers who pitch only one or two innings every two or three games undergo Tommy John surgery? Do you think their regimen will change within a seven-inning scenario?

This is like the obese guy who gets gastric surgery to lose weight. You get rid of the fat. But you don’t get rid of the problem.

Smudgegate II
New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda, in the process of winning his first game since 2011, was caught red-handed—or more accurately, brown-palmed—when TV cameras zoomed in on his throwing hand and spotted what clearly appeared to be pine tar on his palm. By the time word got down to the dugout of the opposing Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, Pineda had removed the substance—probably because someone upstairs watching the monitors had also notified the Yankees.

The scenario brought back memories of the 2006 World Series, when Detroit pitcher Kenny Rogers had a similar dose of pine tar splashed on his pitching palm against the St. Louis Cardinals. In that case, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa quietly and calmly told the umpires to ask Rogers to remove it (and not have him ejected), in part because he wanted to avoid a potentially awkward confrontation with Detroit skipper—and good friend—Jim Leyland.

The interesting part of the Pineda case was the yawning that took place afterward within baseball. Shrugs dominated the airwaves and blogosphere as everyone pretty much agreed that Pineda is hardly the only one using “foreign substances” on their palms and arms. Even though what Pineda did was, technically, illegal, it’s not exactly enforced per some sort of gentleman’s agreement. The theory is that substances as pine tar and suntan lotion (which many other pitchers use) allow for a better grip on the ball—but doesn’t necessarily affect the projectory of a pitch the way a spitball or scuffled ball would. Well if that’s the case, make it legal.

The Bushers Book Tour Begins
Ed Attanasio and Eric GouldsberryIt was a good evening to talk baseball this past Tuesday at San Francisco’s Book Passage as This Great Game’s Ed Attanasio and Eric Gouldsberry discussed and signed copies of Bushers, Ed’s magnum opus of his unique and highly praised illustrations showcasing fictional screwballs from the Deadball Era. There was a nice turnout occasionally enlarged by fans passing through on their way to the ferries following the Giants’ home opening win down the street at AT&T Park, and although the main focus was on the book, we also discussed TGG and the state of baseball in general. It was fun to be on the answering end of the Q&A session and the attendees had a wonderful time.

We signed some 20 additional copies currently on sale at Book Passage, so come to the historic Ferry Building and grab one before they all run out! (And if you want to see us live and in color down the road, Ed says we soon may have a second tour stop in Los Angeles, so we’ll keep you posted.)

Goin' Nikon at Safeco
After This Great Game’s well-received update of its Teams section with lists of each team’s best hitters, best pitchers and most memorable games, we’re initiating our next major expansion with a section dedicated to ballparks, past and present. So we began this past Friday when Eric flew up to Seattle and took photographs outside, inside and all around Safeco Field, home of the Mariners.

With the gracious assistance of Mariners director of public information Rebecca Hale, Eric was given special access to areas within Safeco as 40,000 yellow-clad fans piled in to watch ace Felix Hernandez do his thing against the Oakland A’s (and he did, striking out 11 in seven stellar innings). Some 400 pictures later—some of which are shown below—we think we have enough photo fodder to give our upcoming Safeco Field page a good bit of visual bling.

As with everything else on This Great Game, this new section—to be simply entitled “The Ballparks”—will be an entertaining, informational and visually arresting mix of content that will reveal far more than, say, who got the first hit. We’ll talk with and discuss the architects behind the ballparks and what they were thinking while drawing up the sketches; the political struggles to get the venues build; the surrounding environment before and after the ballpark’s first game; and an interactive evolution of the ballpark on the field. We’re looking forward to it, and we hope you too.

Safeco Field entry Sushi bar at Safceo Field Safeco Field behind the third deck Safceo Field view of downtown Seattle

From top to bottom: Fans streaming in from the front rotunda walk over the nautical compass with autographs from the 1999 Mariners; a sushi bar in the Hit it Here Cafe; the action from behind the third deck; a view of downtown Seattle from the third deck picnic area above the main entrance.

Quotas and Challenges and Errors, Oh My…
This Week in MLB Video Replay Gone Wrong
wounded of the weekIf MLB was ever to review our idea of extensive video replay, one of their biggest arguments would be that its video “war room” in New York draped wall-to-wall with monitors would potentially have access to every imaginable replay angle as opposed to the single monitor in our proposed review booth above the field at the ballpark. Well, that defense looked to go down the drain this past Saturday when the New York Yankees’
Dean Anna appeared to be tagged after lifting his foot off second base by Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Anna wasn’t called out and Boston challenged; although every replay angle clearly showed Anna’s foot off the bag, MLB never queued up the smoking-gun version in which you can also see Bogaerts tagging him at the same moment, and the original call was upheld. So much for the million-dollar mass of monitors in a single room. MLB later apologized for screwing up the review.

While in Seattle shooting photos of Safeco Field this past Friday, a review took place when the Mariners’ Kyle Seager lifted one down the right-field line that was initially ruled a home run; the opposing A’s vehemently protested and appealed—and with conclusive evidence not lost back in New York, the home run was changed to a foul ball. Still, from the moment time was called for Oakland Bob Melvin to step out and challenge to the time Seager was allowed back in the batter’s box after the homer-turned-foul, some three minutes had elapsed.

I turned to the guy sitting next to me—a pretty well informed fan—and gave him the TGG video review method in a sentence. “All they need to do,” I told him, “is have a review crew in the press box call down to the umps to call time, review the play and if they can’t see grounds for a reversal in a minute, the call stands.” The guy clearly agreed. But then again, no one has yet to disagree with us.

Who Threw Out the First Pitch
For those of you keeping score, here’s the rundown on the folks who threw the ceremonial first pitch at major league home openers this year, listed in alphabetical order.

Atlanta: Chipper Jones.
Arizona:
Joe Garagiola, Sr.
Baltimore: Navy Admiral
James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Boston: Boston sports stars
Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, Mike Lowell, Tedy Bruschi, Ty Law, Troy Brown, Mark Recchi and Leon Powe.
Chicago Cubs:
Ferguson Jenkins and Ryne Sandberg (on hand as manager of the visiting Phillies).
Chicago White Sox:
Aja Evans, American Winter Olympics woman’s bobsled medalist.
Cincinnati: Former Reds shortstops
Barry Larkin and Dave Concepcion.
Cleveland: Former Indians player and manager
Mike Hargrove.
Colorado: Season ticket holder
Andrew Wildenberg, realtor Randy Wright and Jon Lujan, flag bearer for the U.S. at the Paralympic Winter Olympics.
Detroit: Former Tiger
Chet Lemon.
Houston:
Nolan Ryan.
Kansas City: NASCAR driver
Carl Edwards.
Los Angeles: Dodgers broadcaster
Vin Scully.
Los Angeles of Anaheim:
Vladimir Guerrero. (Catching was Angels hitting coach Don Baylor, who broke his leg when Guerrero’s pitch struck it.)
Miami: Hall-of-Fame quarterback
Dan Marino.
Milwaukee: Wisconsin-born Winter Olympics medalists
Matt Antoine, Brianna Decker and Jessica Vetter.
Minnesota:
Barkhad Abdi, the Somali-born, Minnesota-raised actor nominated for an Oscar for his role in Captain Philips.
New York Mets: New York mayor
Bill de Blasio.
New York Yankees:
Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte.
Oakland:
Rickey Henderson.
Philadelphia:
Jamie Moyer.
Pittsburgh:
Scott Kiner, son of Hall-of-Fame Pirates legend Ralph Kiner who passed away last year.
St. Louis: Recently retired Cardinals pitching star
Chris Carpenter.
San Diego:
Chelsea Coleman, the daughter of former Padres announcer Jerry Coleman, who recently passed away.
San Francisco: Leukemia patient
Miles Scott, a.k.a. Batkid.
Seattle: Seattle Seahawks quarterback
Russell Wilson.
Tampa Bay: Colonel
Scott V. DeThomas of MacDill Air Force Base.
Texas:
Greg Maddux.
Toronto:
Roy Halladay.
Washington: Navy Captain
Chip Zawislak, part of a larger dedication to the victims of the Washington Navy Yard shooting last September, just a few blocks from Nationals Park.

Still the King
This past week, MLB and the Atlanta Braves celebrated the 40th anniversary of Hank Aaron’s 715th career home run, which unseated Babe Ruth from the top of the charts. Aaron himself is no longer on top thanks to Barry Bonds’ steroid-fueled surge last decade, and the fair-foul comparisons were not to be ignored during the ceremony held before the Braves’ home opener.

Team chairman Terry McGuirk said Aaron set the mark the “old-fashioned way,” while retired Braves broadcaster Pete Van Wieren stated that Aaron should still be recognized as “baseball’s true home run king.”

While those comments are understandable considering they come with local pro-Aaron bias, there came a curious quote from commissioner Bud Selig, who attended the ceremony seven years after conveniently missing out on Bonds’ 756th clout that dethroned Aaron. Asked if he thought Aaron was the “true” home run king, Selig said: “I’m always in a sensitive spot there, but I’ve said that myself and I’ll just leave it at that.” But even Selig has ties of sorts to Aaron; he grew up in Wisconsin when Aaron emerged as a big-time star for the Milwaukee Braves.

The 80-year-old Aaron has had half his life to reflect on the moment, 40 years earlier. It’s not one full of happiness; the chase to topple Ruth was mined with racist hatred and death threats, much of it emanating from a Deep South recovering from the turbulent civil rights era. But as always, Aaron displayed ultimate class as he thanked the fans, young and old, for the accolades given to him over the years.

By the way, Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci beautifully dissects the Aaron-Bonds controversy.

There is an “A” in Portland, You Know
The Portland Tribune reported that the same folks who lobbied the Montreal Expos (and/or MLB) to move west to the Rose City in 2004 now have their sights set on the Oakland A’s, whose current lease with the O.co Coliseum expires next season. The idea is to build a ballpark along the Willamette River across from downtown Portland, though it’s a shame that they couldn’t get rustic, charming, smack-in-the-middle-of-the-city Civic Stadium (or whatever corporate name it now goes under) converted into a big league park before they turned it into a soccer stadium.

There is a small but loyal sports fan base in Portland, but that bloc can also turn it off if things aren’t going well with the team, as we’ve seen in a similar (albeit larger) situation up north in Seattle. Give them a good product, and they’ll show up.

But could this all happen? Probably not, unless regime change takes place soon within the A’s. Lew Wolff is closing in on age 80, but everyone should keep in mind that while he’s the executive face of the franchise, the true owner—the one who holds most of the cash—is John Fisher, who’s a relatively young 52. This group is still and only interested in moving the team to San Jose. Until then, they appear resigned to sticking it out in Oakland. Portland is simply not on their agenda.

They Put a Game on TV and Nobody Watched
It happened again this past Monday: The Houston Astros registered a 0.0 local TV rating for a home game. This happened late last year as well, but that was easier to explain; it was late in September, in the waning days of a miserable (51-111) season on a Sunday loaded with football—and you know how Texans love their football. But this was the first week of the season, with the Astros promoting a new team and a renewed outlook. There was a crowd at Minute Maid Park for the Astros’ 9-1 loss, announced at 17,936—but actually well under 10,000.

Raburning the White Sox
Cleveland’s Ryan Raburn has a thing for the Chicago White Sox. In 97 career games against Chicago, the Indians outfielder has hit 17 home runs and knocked in 72 runs; Kansas City is next on Raburn’s hit list with 11 homers and 23 RBIs—and he’s hit no more than five blasts against any other team. Playing his entire nine-year career within the AL Central has much to do with it, but still, the White Sox would like to know why they keep getting bullied by this guy.

Him Again
When Tim Lincecum re-upped with the San Francisco Giants this past winter, he did acknowledge one downside to the deal: By staying with the Giants, he would continue to face Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt on more than the occasional basis. The Diamondbacks slugger continues to own Lincecum, hitting a three-run homer off him this past Wednesday to raise his lifetime numbers against the two-time Cy Young Award winner to 13-for-24 (.542) with seven home runs.

It’s Deadball Month in Cincy
Since opening 11 years ago, Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark has acquired a reputation as a hitter’s ballpark; coming into this season, the venue had registered 11 1-0 games, an average on one per season. But in the first five games at the ballpark this year, there have already been three 1-0 contests. Good news for the pitchers, bad for the Reds; they lost all three of those games.

Elias Fact of the Week
In the Braves’ 6-4 loss to the New York Mets on Thursday, the defeat was charged to reliever Luis Avilan—his first official loss in 111 major league appearances. Only three other major league pitchers have ever accumulated as many appearances without a loss to start a career: Manny Delcarmen (115 games), Mike Gallo (135) and Clay Rapada, who has thrown in 152 major league games and never lost (he’s currently trying to work his way back to the bigs in the Seattle organization).

It Said What?
“Alcohol service will be discounted at the end of the 7th inning.”—Sign at concession stand in Denver’s Coors Field. (I think they were supposed to say, “discontinued.”)

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
It’s not unusual for fans to leave their empty or near-empty bottles/cans of alcohol just before entering the gates of a major league ballpark—they can’t bring any in, after all—but they need to be more careful about where they place them. Or, perhaps, the Texas Rangers need to find a better place to display the statue dedicated to fan
Shannon Stone, who died in 2011 after diving over the outfield bleacher railing trying to catch a ball lobbed into the stands by the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton.

League vs. League
The National League hasn’t had a winning interleague record against the American League for ten years running, and things didn’t get off to a promising start in 2014 when the Phillies dropped two of three at Arlington against the Rangers. But then came a surprise; the champion Boston Red Sox were swept over the weekend at home by the Milwaukee Brewers. So while it’s early, the vibe feels good for the NL, winners of four of six games this past week
.

Wounded of the Week
wounded of the weekThe pace of injuries across the majors hardly slowed up this past week with numerous names added to the disabled list. Among them was Chicago White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia, who was off to a pretty decent start until tearing a shoulder muscle attempting a diving catch; he’s out for the season.

Bad news also followed Mariano Rivera’s heir apparent in New York in David Robertson, on the shelf with a strained groin; Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, out up to six weeks with a broken thumb; the Angels’ Josh Hamilton, out up to eight weeks with a torn ligament in his thumb; Los Angeles catcher A.J. Ellis, out a month with torn knee cartilage; Minnesota outfielders Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia, both out with wrist issues; Seattle pitcher James Paxton (lat strain), Texas pitcher Joe Saunders (bruised ankle) and third baseman Adrian Beltre (quad), Tampa Bay pitcher Alex Cobb (oblique) and Kansas City reliever Tim Collins (elbow). And in St. Petersburg, the Tampa Bay Rays are crossing their fingers that starting pitcher Matt Moore won’t require Tommy John surgery after tearing his elbow. Nevertheless, he’s due to see Dr. Jimmy (that’s James Andrews to you) to find out.

The most painful baseball moment viewed this week came in Salt Lake City where Giants minor leaguer Darren Ford, playing for the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies, dove head-first into a slightly padded wall along the left-field line while chasing a foul ball. Ford was carried away in an ambulance but escaped major injury with a concussion and a few abrasions.


The Comebacker's Greatest Hits: Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2008 season.


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