This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: September 22-28, 2014
Derek Jeter’s Coda Baseball’s Longest Active Postseason Droughts
$500k For an Out? Phil Hughes Says No Thanks This Jersey Sponsored by...?


Best and Worst of the Week

BEST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Rusney Castillo, Boston Red Sox

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
20 6 8 1 0 2 6 3 0 1 2

It only took a week for the latest, highly touted prize from Cuba to get the hang of the majors. After a couple of hitless games to start the week, the 27-year-old outfielder kicked it into high gear, knocking out his first extra-base hits—a double and a homer—in Thursday’s 11-1 rout of Tampa Bay; he homered the next night when the Yankees came to town, and added four more hits to finish off the week and his short audition at Fenway Park. Red Sox Nation anxiously looks forward to watching this guy play out a full season.


BEST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
22 7 9 2 0 2 4 3 0 1 1

The Pirates’ star hitter turned it up in the final week in an effort to carry the Bucs toward the NL Central title and, although the Cardinals outlasted them in the standings, his play reminded many of Vladimir Guerrero’s last-week push in 2004 that got the Angels in the postseason and himself first place on the MVP ballot. As voters make their picks for this year’s award, McCutchen’s clutch performance won’t be lost on them—and a second NL MVP may very well be his.


WORST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Adam Rosales, Texas Rangers

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
20 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

With most everyone hurt and/or failing the grade in Arlington, Rosales’ second-half play has been a godsend given his versatility, prowess and (most of all) durability. But perhaps the season went a week too long for the 31-year-old career utilityman, as he could only manage a single over six starts and grounded into two double plays. Rosales is hoping he can stick with the Rangers in 2015, but he’ll have difficulty doing so if everyone gets healthy again. This past week didn’t help.


WORST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Hunter Pence, San Francisco Giants

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
24 1 1 0 0 0 1 2 0 0 0

After the Giants clinched a postseason spot on Thursday, the veteran outfielder and team leader gave an inspirational, profane-filled speech to the troops to get them in a victorious mood for the playoffs. But if anyone needs the emotional kick in the butt right now, it’s Pence himself; he swung at just about every bad pitch that came his way this past week and extended a dreadful end-of-season slump in which he collected just four hits over his last 54 at-bats. Pence sat on Saturday for the first time after 331 straight starts; maybe he could use the rest to refresh for October.


BEST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Michael Pineda, New York Yankees

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
IB
HB
WP
BK
SO
2-0 13.2 4 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 18

For a guy who was smudging up and getting hurt in some of the strangest of ways, this was a good finish—and one the Yankees, who badly need healthy depth in their 2015 rotation, really were happy to see. The big, young Dominican right-hander was at his sharpest on Monday, pitching one-hit ball into the eighth inning against Baltimore; he then struck out ten Red Sox, who otherwise rarely challenged him on Sunday. Pineda’s 5-5 record on the year isn’t much to raise an eyebrow over—but his 1.89 ERA is.


BEST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
IB
HB
WP
BK
SO
1-0 9 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 10

It’s only fitting that someone whose last name starts with “Z” would get the last word on pitching excellence for the 2014 regular season. Zimmermann, whose last shutout was a two-hitter in his second-to-last start of 2013 against the Marlins at Nationals Park, took on the same opponent and the same scene on the season’s final day and got an even better result, no-hitting the Fish with the help of some excellent defense. But the 28-year-old Wisconsin native was the story, throwing 104 pitches—79 for strikes. Zimmermann finishes 2014 with a 14-5 record and a career-best 2.66 ERA.


WORST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
IB
HB
WP
BK
SO
0-1 1.2 7 7 5 2 0 0 0 0 2

What a rough way to end a fine season. The Japanese import so revered until his arm started going dead on him in July bounced back for one nice start a week earlier, but his second go-around in Boston this past Saturday was hardly pretty as he was chased out of the box by the second inning in a 10-4 loss. It was by far Tanaka’s worst start since becoming a Yankee and there were whispers of whether he had fully recovered—but now he gets his next start on 180 days’ rest, so he’d better be ready.


WORST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Craig Stammen, Washington Nationals

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
IB
HB
WP
BK
SO
0-0 6 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

The anti-Zimm. Okay, so Stammen’s a reliever thrown into the ninth inning of the second game of a doubleheader with the Nationals having long since clinched everything for the postseason—but you’ve got to get at least somebody out. Stammen couldn’t do even that when he took on the Fish and got greeted with hits from all six batters he faced; five scored. Still, this was a bit of a shock given that he’d allowed only one run over his previous 17.1 innings. The Nationals are hoping that he got the one bad inning out of the way before the postseason starts.


BEST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Kansas City Royals (5-2)

Kansas City gallantly tried to win its first divisional title since 1985, falling short on the season’s final day—but they’ll take the wild card and the end of a long, long postseason drought. The scrappy Royals did well to make the first-place Tigers sweat to the end, taking five of seven road games against divisional rivals Cleveland and Chicago to finish the year. Now they get to find out what they’re really made of, starting this Wednesday against Oakland in the one-game wild card affair.


BEST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Los Angeles Dodgers (5-1)

It was a very enjoyable final week at Chavez Ravine for the Dodgers, who started shaky with a 13-inning loss to the Giants before taking the next two from their archrivals to conquer the NL West; it was all downhill (in a good way) from there as the pitiful Rockies came through and got swept. The Dodger offense is running on all cylinders heading into October—so beware, St. Louis.


WORST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Houston Astros (1-5)

Among the many things the Astros still need to learn is not to go out with a whimper. Last year, they finished the year with 15 straight losses; it wasn’t quite so bad this time around, but the mood in the clubhouse had to be a little sour after losing three straight at Texas to start the week, before being handed two losses in three shots by the Mets at Citi Field. More than anything else, the hitting (12 runs in six games) just ran out of gas. The silver lining is that the Astros did get their 70th win—an achievement few expected this year in Houston—and maybe that was good for something more than a 0.0 rating on local TV.


WORST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Colorado Rockies (1-5)

It seemed painfully apparent that the half-strength Rockies had one eye on the field and the other on next week’s tee times. But that will happen will you spend your final week of the year on the road, where the Rockies won just six of their last 45 games away from the friendly, stat-fat confines of Coors Field. At least their offense, so anemic at sea level, punched it up for the final weekend series at Los Angeles, but it still resulted in zero wins. Colorado’s 66-96 record was the franchise’s second worst.


Best and Worst of the Week

Monday, September 22
The St. Louis Cardinals breeze past the Cubs at Chicago, 8-0, as Adam Wainwright pitches seven scoreless innings to pick up his 20th win of the year. It’s Wainwright’s second collection of 20; two other times, he’s won 19. Also: He’s allowed zero runs in 12 starts, five more than any other pitcher this season.

The Pittsburgh Pirates stay 2.5 games behind the Cardinals and remain tied for the NL’s top wild card spot as Andrew McCutchen homers in the sixth inning for the game’s only run at Atlanta. It’s the third straight 1-0 game the Bucs have been involved in, something not seen since the 1971 Milwaukee Brewers.

San Francisco stays tied with Pittsburgh in the wild card race—and keeps alive their slim hopes of catching the Dodgers to win the NL West—with a hard-fought 5-2 win in 13 innings at Los Angeles. The Giants are 3.5 back of the Dodgers with six to play.

The Detroit Tigers are dropped at home, 2-0, by the Chicago White Sox and pitcher Chris Bassitt, who throws 7.2 scoreless innings for his first career win (in his fifth appearance). Tyler Flowers’ 15th homer—his sixth since the start of September—in the second inning generates the only runs on the night.

Kansas City splits two decisions on the evening at Cleveland to move a half-game closer to the Tigers. They first lose a 4-3, 10-inning affair to the Indians in a game that had been suspended back on August 31; in the scheduled game to follow, Danny Duffy tosses six scoreless and the Royals outlast the Tribe, 2-0.

Seattle falls two games back of the Royals for the second AL wild card spot (and three back of Oakland, 8-4 winners over Los Angeles of Anaheim) by getting trashed at Toronto, 14-4. Jose Bautista is 3-for-3 with his 35th home run of the year in the Blue Jays’ victory.


Tuesday, September 23
Of all the starts in which Seattle ace Felix Hernandez had to give up a career-worst eight runs, it had to be this one. King Felix is especially slapped about in the fifth when seven Toronto baserunners score on him—and the rout is on for the second straight night as the Blue Jays reign once more over the Mariners, 10-2. Seattle is now three games behind Oakland for the second AL wild card spot—with five to play.

Pittsburgh clinches their second straight playoff appearance with a 3-2 win at Atlanta; not only are they in sole control of the top NL wild card spot, they trail NL Central-leading St. Louis by just 1.5 games after the Cardinals lose at Chicago in ten, 4-3.

The Dodgers are on the edge of clinching the NL West after outlasting the Giants, 4-2. Los Angeles nets three of the runs on two first-inning home runs; in between those blasts, Yasiel Puig is hit on the foot and takes issue with Giants starter Madison Bumgarner, as the benches clear. Bumgarner will later provide the scuffling Giants’ offense with their only two only runs with a fourth-inning homer.

Nelson Cruz becomes the first player to reach 40 home runs on the year with a fifth-inning solo blast, and the Baltimore Orioles go on to edge the Yankees at New York, 5-4. Derek Jeter, who has not hit a walk-off home run since 2005, represents the winning run at the plate but instead becomes the final out in the ninth when he strikes out. The Orioles sweat it out despite outhitting the Yankees, 17-6.


Wednesday, September 24
The Dodgers score late and often to dismantle the Giants, 9-1, and take the NL West crown. In what will likely be his last start of the regular season, Clayton Kershaw throws eight innings to improve to 21-4 with a 1.77 ERA; he is considered the easy favorite for the NL Cy Young Award, and has a strong shot at the NL MVP as well.

Mark Buehrle stymies Seattle for eight scoreless innings to help the Blue Jays to a 1-0 victory that lasts one hour and 59 minutes—the shortest game by time since June 2012. Buehrle finishes the year with 202 innings, his 14th straight season over 200; only seven other pitchers in history have achieved such a run. Speaking of 200, he is one career win shy of that numbers.

The Tigers score six runs—five after the departure of White Sox ace Chris Sale—to defeat Chicago 6-1 and move two games up on Kansas City, 6-4 losers at Cleveland. Sale—the likely AL ERA champ at 2.17, or at least until MLB decides that all those runs given up by Felix Hernandez were unearned after all—nearly starts a brawl when he plunks Victor Martinez with a pitch and then points toward the Detroit bullpen, accusing it of stealing signs. The Tigers, of course, will deny it.

Boston puts seven rookies in their starting lineup and thrashes Tampa Bay at Fenway Park, 11-3. The Rays certainly do their bit to help out; of the 11 Red Sox runs, three are scored on walks, one on a wild pitch and one on a passed ball. The loss guarantees Tampa Bay its first losing record since 2007.


Thursday, September 25
Derek Jeter is a walk-off hero in his final game at the Bronx, slapping a single to score the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth to defeat Baltimore, 6-5, after the Orioles had tied it with three in the top of the inning. It’s the first walk-off hit of any kind for Jeter since 2007. Overall, Jeter has three RBIs on the single, a first-inning double and a ground ball-turned-error by the Baltimore defense in the seventh. He commits his own error on defense, his 11th of the season.

The Giants complete the roster of five NL postseason teams when the Brewers lose early in the day at Cincinnati, 5-3; for good measure, San Francisco gets back on the winning track after losing six of eight by defeating San Diego, 9-8—a game in which they led 6-0 at one point before falling behind on a pair of homers by the Padres’ Yasmani Grandal, one a grand slam. Tim Lincecum faces one batter in relief and gets him out—and thus becomes the pitcher of record, chalking up his 100th career victory.

If the A’s fail to make the postseason, they’ll remember this one in particular. After exchanging a single run with the Rangers in Texas in the sixth, the game heads into the bottom of the ninth where the Rangers’ Adrian Beltre smacks his eight career walk-off home run to give Texas its 12th victory over its last 13 games while moving the A’s one game behind Kansas City for the top wild card spot.

Seattle regains some wild card life by salvaging a win in its four-game series at Toronto. The Mariners go exclusively bullpen and use nine pitchers going two innings or less a piece—a major league first—while benefitting from two Logan Morrison homers to overcome the Blue Jays, 7-5. The Mariners are two back of the A’s with three to play.


Friday, September 26
The Royals notch three first-inning runs and make it stand up behind Jeremy Guthrie’s seven scoreless innings to defeat the White Sox at Chicago, 3-1, and clinch their first postseason berth in 29 years—ending the longest active drought in North American pro sports. They also move to within a game of AL Central-leading Detroit, which is crushed at home by the Twins, 11-4.

For Corey Kluber, it’s almost too bad the season has to end now. The Cleveland pitcher makes his last scheduled start of 2014 and is again brilliant, striking out 11 Tampa Bay hitters over eight scoreless innings to help give the Indians a 1-0 victory at Progressive Field. Kluber finishes the year at 18-9—winning his last five starts with a 1.12 ERA—and his 269 strikeouts, for the moment, leads the majors. The Indians as a team set the all-time record for most K’s in one year, as their 1,431 on the season to date eclipses Detroit’s 1,429 from just last year.

After the Pirates win (again) at Cincinnati, the Cardinals have to sweat out a 10-inning, 7-6 victory at Arizona to stay a game ahead in the NL Central. The Diamondbacks don’t make it easy, firing back from a 6-2 deficit starting in the seventh, but Jhonny Peralta’s run-scoring single in overtime proves to be the game-winner.

Doug Fister throws a three-hit, 4-0 shutout victory against Miami in the first game of a doubleheader at Washington, with the Marlins’ Donovan Solano accounting for all three of his team’s hits. The Marlins join him with a vengeance in the nightcap, racking up 22 hits to demolish the Nationals, 15-7. It’s the first time since 1987 that a team has been shut out in one game of a doubleheader while picking up at least 15 in the other.


Saturday, September 27
The Mariners stay alive for one more day as Austin Jackson—who can’t bring home the game-winning run in the ninth when he lines out with the bases loaded—beats out a potential double play ball two innings later that brings home the deciding run in a thrilling 2-1 win over the Angels at Seattle. Coupled with Oakland’s 5-4 loss at Texas, the Mariners are a game back of the A’s for the second AL wild card spot with one to play.

The Pirates lose a chance to tie the Cardinals for the NL Central lead when the Reds’ Ramon Santiago breaks a 6-6 tie in the tenth with a walk-off grand slam to give Cincinnati a 10-6 victory. The Cardinals’ 5-2 loss later at Arizona leaves the Bucs a game behind with one to play.

The Tigers blow an opportunity to clinch the AL Central when they get routed for the second straight day by the visiting Twins, 12-3. Eduardo Escobar has four hits and six RBIs for the Twins, while Ricky Nolasco pitches six solid frames to win his first game in his last ten starts.

The Royals miss out on their chance to catch the Tigers by bowing at Chicago, 5-4, as a ninth-inning rally falls short. Likely AL Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu belts his 36th home run for the White Sox.

Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel converts his 25th straight save opportunity while Justin and B.J. Upton become the first pair of brothers in modern (post-1900) history to both homer and record an outfield assist in the same game as the Braves win at Philadelphia, 4-2.


Sunday, September 28
All three unresolved postseason seeds are settled without the need for a Monday tiebreaker.

The Pirates’ bid to catch up with the Cardinals in the NL Central comes to an unsuccessful end as the Reds’ Johnny Cueto becomes the first Cincinnati right-hander in 49 years to win 20 games—and does so thanks to his own bat, as his single up the middle brings home the go-ahead run in the eighth to earn an eventual 4-1 victory over the Bucs. St. Louis later wins anyway at Arizona, 1-0.

In Detroit, the Tigers clinch the AL Central with a 3-0 victory over the Twins. David Price goes 7.1 innings strong for his 15th win of the year.

And in Texas, the A’s nail the final AL wild card spot as Sonny Gray throws his second career shutout, a six-hitter against the Rangers, in a 4-0 win. His other shutout, on April 28, was also against the Rangers in Arlington.

Derek Jeter plays his final game, exiting in the third inning at Boston after reaching on an infield single in his second at-bat. His career ends with 3,465 hits and a .310 batting average; the Yankees prevail by a 9-5 count against the Red Sox at Fenway.

The Nationals’ Jordan Zimmermann throws the season’s fifth no-hitter with a 1-0 victory over the Marlins at Washington. The scariest moment for the right-hander comes on the final play when Christian Yelich’s drive to left center is caught on a diving leap toward the warning track by Nationals left fielder Steven Souza Jr. Ironically, the losing pitcher for the Marlins is Henderson Alvarez, who last year threw a season finale no-no of his own.

When Will We Ever Get Back to the Playoffs?
Smart Markets of the World rejoice. The Kansas City Royals are in the playoffs.

It took 29 long, lean, hopeless years, with only two above-.500 finishes over the last two decades, but the Royals finally clinched an October extension with a 3-1 win at Chicago against the White Sox on Friday.

How long has it been? Twenty-six members of the Royals’ 40-man roster weren’t even born yet in 1985. Ronald Reagan was our President. Back to the Future was the top grossing movie. MTV was four years old—and playing actual music videos. And Apple had just come out with this strange little thing called the Macintosh.

The Royals’ playoff drought was by far the longest in all of North American pro sports (even if we included Major League Soccer, none of their teams would touch the Royals because the league was still 11 years away from becoming a reality). So who now, among the 30 MLB teams, have gone the longest without a postseason appearance? Here are the sad six.

New York Mets (last postseason: 2006). The Mets were a good team back in the late 2000s, good enough to fool us into believing they could actually win it all as we somehow predicted in 2009. They came close in 2007-08 but made a bad habit of imploding in the final week to miss out on October; we can still see the New York tabloids’ front-page photo of the little Mets fan crying his eyes out. The iffy reign of Fred Wilpon has since tanked this franchise far from postseason contention; if the team’s young, promising staff can stay healthy all at once and some real hitters can be snared, the Mets might be able to snap out of this funk.

San Diego Padres (last postseason: 2006). The Friars shined in their first three years at Petco Park, twice making the postseason behind stellar pitching led by ace Jake Peavy. They barely missed out on October in 2007 when they lost a thrilling tiebreaker battle at Colorado and were in contention to the very last day in 2010 when they fell at San Francisco. The Padres have pretty much run on guts, grime and not much payroll, so this drought may last a while.

Houston Astros (last postseason: 2005). It’s been a long, dark descent for the Astros since they sprang to their lone NL pennant as a wild card nine years ago. The team began to age, the farm system was all but dead and owner Drayton McLane clearly wasn’t interested, looking to get out. New owner Jim Crane pretty much burned everything to the ground to start from scratch, and three straight 100-loss seasons have been the result of that. The nadir may be behind the Astros and they have some good young talent, but they have a long way to go in a very tough division before they can get serious about the postseason again.

Miami Marlins (last postseason: 2003). The Marlins have made it to the postseason only twice and won it all as a wild card both times, so perhaps that feeds owner Jeffrey Loria’s delusions of grandeur that he could get away with a low payroll, somehow sneak into the postseason and get lucky once again. But that formula hasn’t worked in 11 years, even if Loria feels more emboldened to keep trying after he crashed and burned trying to spend big with a new ballpark in 2012. If the Marlins can find a way to keep slugger Giancarlo Stanton for the long term and wisely build around him, Loria may witness a third wildcardpalooza sooner than later.

Seattle Mariners (last postseason: 2001). After their phenomenal 116-46 season 13 years ago, the Mariners have yet to return to the playoffs as they made the occasional surprise run before falling short of the goal. Things looked especially promising this year, but the A’s and Angels were just too good for them to crash the postseason. The Mariners have the chance to build around Robinson Cano and nurture some of their young pitching prospects; if they play their cards right, October baseball could be in their near future.

Toronto Blue Jays (last postseason: 1993). Now more than two decades since winning back-to-back world titles, the Jays haven’t been terrible like the Royals were over 29 years, so you think they would sneak in at least once, right? Being a .500 team as Toronto essentially has been through this period just isn’t good enough in a division that also includes the Yankees, Red Sox and the occasional flashes of brilliance from Tampa Bay and Baltimore. (During their long dry spell, the Jays are a combined 294-388 against the Yankees and Red Sox.) With the AL East in flux as the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays reload, now might be the time for the Jays to make a wintertime stab at the free agent market—and this time, maybe they’ll make it work, unlike a few years ago when they went for it and bombed.

Sorry, Fox
This is the first time since 1993 that both the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox missed the playoffs.

The Complete Derek Jeter
The final season of Derek Jeter’s long, illustrious career hasn’t been one for the books; he got off to a decent start but struggled more and more with each passing week and, as the farewell gifts piled up, so did the murmurs that Jeter’s insistence in batting second in the lineup—and not further down, where some felt he belonged—hurt the Yankees’ chances of making the postseason.

But everyone got on the Jeter Happy Train this past week as The Captain called it a career with a series of lasting moments that brought precious smiles to his face.

It was vintage Jeter in his final game at Yankee Stadium, against Baltimore; he doubled in a run in his first at-bat, brought in two more on a grounder-turned-error that gave the Yankees the lead in the seventh, and when David Robertson blew a three-run lead in the top of the ninth, back came Jeter in the bottom of the inning—delivering his first walk-off hit in seven years when he singled home Antoan Richardson to defeat the Orioles, 6-5.

Moving onto Boston for the final series of the season, Jeter left his glove back home—skipping Friday night’s game (as did just about every name player on both sides) and serving as the designated hitter on both Saturday and Sunday. After singling once in two at-bats on Saturday, he laced a liner that found the glove of the Red Sox’ Jamile Weeks in the first inning on Sunday—and in his second at-bat, hit a towering bouncer that Garin Cecchini attempted to bare-hand but bobbled; even had he fielded it cleanly, Jeter would have beat out the throw. From the Yankees’ dugout, manager Joe Girardi asked Jeter via long-distance sign language if he wanted to come out; Jeter subtly nodded and walked off to the dugout to hugs from teammates and a Fenway Park standing ovation from Red Sox and Yankee fans alike.

Jeter ends his career sixth on the all-time list with 3,465 hits, tenth with 1,923 runs and fifth with 2,594 singles. He played 20 years, all with the Yankees, and always with the team finishing above .500; no other player has been able to enjoy as many such years with the same team. There’s also this: Jeter played more games than the combined total of the five players drafted ahead of him in 1992: Phil Nevin, Paul Shuey, B.J. Wallace, Jeffrey Hammonds and Chad Mottola.

The Orioles Gave Away a Game, And You Gave Away a Fortune
First-year Baltimore catcher Caleb Joseph, who caught the ball that showed up too late to home plate on Jeter’s game-winning single on Thursday at Yankee Stadium, gave it to a bat boy who said Jeter wanted it—all without giving much thought about its potential value. “Rookie mistake,” he later lamented.

Olber the Top
We thought we were being rough on Jeter a few weeks back when we crowned him as the AL’s Worst Hitter of the Week, but then we heard Keith Olbermann say this.

Now That’s Cool
Nine years ago, a Chicago White Sox fan named Chris Claeys got a hold of the ball Paul Konerko hit for a grand slam in Game Two of the 2005 World Series at U.S. Cellular Field. He held onto it and believed he could sell it anywhere between $50-100k. So what did he do instead? This past Saturday, he gave the ball to Konerko, who was being honored as the veteran White Sox slugger prepared for retirement. For his generous donation, Claeys got an on-field hug from Konerko during a pregame ceremony, a signed picture and a free suite for the game that followed.

Oh, and Claeys got one more unexpected gift in the third inning: He caught a foul ball. Who hit it? You guessed it. Paul Konerko.

The Bittersweet Smell of Achievement
Playing in a more spacious ballpark far, far away from the vicious New York media circle he once had to endure, Minnesota pitcher Phil Hughes finished up a fantastic 2014 campaign in which he set the all-time mark for strikeouts/walks ratio, breaking Bret Saberhagen’s 1994 mark with 186 K’s and 16 walks (11.63-1) for the Twins. Hughes obviously caught onto something, because his previous best ratio was a relatively mere 3.59-1 in 2012.

But when Hughes was taken out of his last scheduled start after eight stellar innings this past Wednesday against Arizona, he was denied the opportunity to record just one more out and collect on a $500,000 bonus for pitching 210 innings on the year; a rainout a few weeks earlier complicated things and likely robbed him of his chance for another scheduled start.

Legend has it that penurious Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey once held back pitcher Eddie Cicotte from the chance to win 30 games because he didn’t want to pay him a bonus for reaching the milestone; Cicotte complained, Comiskey said “tough” and one of the seeds to the Black Sox Scandal was allegedly planted. But the Twins were not so scheming with Hughes; on the contrary, they offered Hughes the chance to pitch in Sunday’s finale—but he declined, stating that he didn’t want to risk injury pitching on three days’ rest. Besides, he’s made $8.5 million this year—including two $250,000 bonuses for reaching 180 and 195 innings—so what’s another half-million, right? Right? Hello?

Was “Channel 17” Decades Ahead of its Time?
San Francisco owner Larry Baer was mentioned at one early stage as a possible candidate to succeed commissioner Bud Selig; maybe it was a good idea he didn’t end up getting the job. Phoning in on Bay Area sports talk radio recently, Baer liked the idea of putting advertising on major league uniforms. “This is new revenue,” Baer said, “and I think there’s always ownership for new revenue, right?...the Giants would support (uniform ads as) a better alternative than continuous ticket price increases across the board…I don’t know who would be on the sleeve or whatever. Something tells me it will be a sleeve. It would start with a sleeve.”

Baseball is swimming in riches and yet Baer is seriously thinking this idea out as a possibility? But it gets scarier when he says, “It would start with a sleeve.” How far are you planning on taking this idea, Larry?

The Ballad of Guilder Rodriguez
It seems a year doesn’t go by where the September crop of roster-fattening call-ups includes one guy who’s finally getting his first shot at the big leagues after an eternity in the minors. And so it was this past week with Guilder Rodriguez, a 31-year-old Venezuelan native who’s labored for 13 years in the minors without playing a single major league game—until September, when the Texas Rangers brought him up and put him on the field because the Rangers have used just about everybody from the minors in their injury-riddled campaign, so why not.

After six hitless at-bats to start his major league career, Rodriguez and his bat came to life at the plate with two hits, including a run-scoring single that would prove to be the winning run in the Rangers 4-3 victory over Houston on Monday. Rodriguez received a victorious baptism by being dumped with Gatorade after the game.

Will this promotion be permanent? Probably not. There’s a reason Rodriguez has been trapped in the minors for so long; he has a career .256 average at the lower levels, has played very little at Triple-A (let alone the majors) and has just two minor league homers over 4,095 at-bats. He’s an adequate infielder, but so are most major leaguers. But hey, enjoy the time, Guilder, and good luck next season.

It Isn’t Easy Defending Your Crown
For the second straight year, a defending World Series champion finished below .500. The Boston Red Sox (71-91) followed the lead of the San Francisco Giants, who languished with a 76-86 mark in 2013 a year after they won it all. The last two consecutive championship teams to finish with a losing record the following season were the 1964 Los Angeles Dodgers and the 1965 St. Louis Cardinals.

It Isn’t Easy Defending Your Midseason Accolades
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 52 teams in the history of baseball had won 50 games before the end of June coming into this season, but none of them had failed to win 90 by season’s end. This year, two teams—Oakland and Milwaukee—had 50 wins by June 30; neither got to 90.

Keep if Fair, Judge
Chris Sale looked to be the American League’s ERA champ at 2.17 when the Chicago White Sox ace pitched solidly at Detroit on Wednesday—a day after Seattle’s Felix Hernandez got jumped on for eight runs in Toronto and saw his second-place ERA rise to 2.34. But the Mariners protested, saying that Hernandez should have been given an error when he mishandled a bunt against the Blue Jays. When the league office agreed, it meant that four of the eight runs that Hernandez allowed were now unearned—and his ERA dropped to 2.18, just a hair behind Sale. When Hernandez took the mound on Sunday against Los Angeles of Anaheim, he pitched 5.1 scoreless innings and reduced the mark to 2.14—finishing ahead of Sale.

This Week’s Reminder That Everybody’s Striking Out
As we easily predicted last week, the bar on total strikeouts in baseball was raised yet again when MLB totaled 37,341, a 1.7% rise over last year’s record of 36,710. Two teams surpassed the record for most K’s thrown by a staff when Cleveland’s 1,450 and Tampa Bay’s 1,437 broke last year’s mark of 1,429 by Detroit.

Individually, Ryan Howard led all major leaguers with 190, and 117 players struck out at least 100 times. Young Chicago Cubs infielder Javier Baez took the strikeout mania to extremes when he struck out 96 times—in just 213 at-bats.

Eat Your Heart Out, Premier League
There were 68 games that finished with a 1-0 score, the most since 1976 when there were 72 such games.

There is Nothing Wrong With Your TV Set
The San Francisco Giants had already known for eight hours before the end of their Thursday game against San Diego that they’d be the fifth and final entrant in the NL postseason, but they decided to go wild anyway with a tarp-and-goggles champagne celebration. Outfielder
Hunter Pence channeled Will Clark from a similarly profane 1987 division-winning celebration—and Tim Matheson from Animal House, which the Giants once parodied in a TV commercial—with a rallying speech that featured more bleeps that dinner-table-with-the-kids words. We’ve come a long way in troop rousing since Laurence Olivier in Henry V.

It's Finally Dunn
After 2,001 regular season games,
Adam Dunn is in the postseason for the first time in his career as a member of the Oakland A's. No other active major leaguer had played as many games without ever participating in the playoffs.

Good Enough to be the Best
The .319 average turned in by Colorado’s
Justin Morneau was the lowest by a batting champion since Tony Gwynn hit .313 in 1988.

You’re Fired…After Your Three-Day Promotion
What a strange feeling it must have been for Arizona bench coach
Alan Trammell, who was fired along with manager Kirk Gibson on Friday—but then asked by Diamondbacks management, “Can you manage the last three games for us?” Trammell played the good outgoing soldier and said he would, perhaps as a way of earning points toward another position within the Diamondbacks’ organization or somewhere else.

By the way, Trammell wasn’t the Snakes’ first choice; team head consultant and former long-time manager Tony La Russa was the first to be approached. La Russa was said to respond, “You’ve seen my entire deck. You’ve seen the last of it.”

This is For Dennis Eckersley
Some couldn't help but see the irony in La Russa firing Gibson, the man who foiled his shot to win the 1988 World Series.

This is For Dennis Eckersley
Cincinnati closer
Aroldis Chapman struck out 106 of the 202 batters he faced this year; that's a 52.5% rate that's the highest in major league history.

Number One in Milwaukee, So That’s Something
The Milwaukee Brewers announced that they will retire its uniform number 1 in honor of outgoing commissioner
Bud Selig, the team’s former owner and a long-time baseball fan from the Cream City who worked tirelessly to return baseball to town after the Braves’ departure to Atlanta in 1965. This means that outfielder Logan Schafer—assuming he returns to the Brewers next season—will have to find himself a new jersey number.

It’s Like, Wolever
The Phillies finished the 2014 season with their first last-place finish since 2000. So how does management respond? They fire assistant general manager
Marti Wolever. Bold move, guys, bold move.

He Said What?
“This is not an Alex story.” —
Derek Jeter, when asked about his relationship with suspended teammate Alex Rodriguez in an article for New York Magazine.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Congratulations to Pittsburgh’s
Starling Marte; when the 2015 season gets started, he’ll have the jump on all other major leaguers with a 13-game hitting streak, the longest active hitting run at the end of 2014.


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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