The Future is Bryce
The future has finally taken full shape in Washington. Bryce Harper made his long-anticipated major league debut this past weekend, joining fellow Number One draft pick Stephen Strasburg on the Nationals’ roster in what may be a short stint while star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman sits it out on the disabled list. But given Harper’s first few games at Los Angeles, sending him back to Syracuse may be a tough thing to do.
Making the youngest debut by a major leaguer since Adrian Beltre in 1998, the 19-year-old Harper impressed at Dodger Stadium for the Nationals, collecting solid hits in both games, making spectacular plays on defense and, on Saturday, knocking in what appeared to be the game-winning run for the Nationals on a ninth-inning sacrifice fly before the Dodgers messed things up in both the bottom of the ninth and tenth innings, winning 4-3.
Harper’s entrance is a bit more eye-opening considering that he wasn’t necessarily tearing up the International League at Syracusebatting just .250 with a homer and three RBIs in 72 at-bats. But, as stars of the past have shown, the bigger the stage, the better you play.
It seemed like the perfect trade back on January, Friday the 13th: Michael Pineda sent to the New York Yankees, hungry for a pitcher, in exchange for catcher Jesus Montero, sent to the Mariners, hungry for a hitter.
So far it’s worked out well for the Mariners; Montero is hitting .274 and tops the team stat chart with three home runs and 12 runs batted in. Meanwhile, the Yankees are feeling gut-punched with Pineda, whose severe spring struggles led to season-ending surgery this past week. Naturally, the rumor mill wasted little time generating the theory that the Mariners knew they had damaged goods in Pineda and sought out a sucker, but the Yankee brass is scoffing at thatfor now.
Both Montero and Pineda are short on experience but high on promise. Montero shined in his major league debut late last year with the Yankees. Pineda had a blazing start for Seattle, but was considerably shaky after the all-star breaka warning sign the Yankees apparently didn’t heed.
While Montero is delivering the goods as hoped for the Mariners, the Yankees are crossing their fingers and hoping Pineda returns in a year better than ever, or out might come the Carl Pavano/Hideki Irabi jokes and the Brian Cashman piñadaswhich, for all it’s worth, sounds awfully close to Pineda.
The Bartsool Next to John Rocker is Open, Delmon...
Young has not enjoyed a squeaky-clean career in baseball. In the minors, he was suspended 50 games for flipping a bat at a home plate umpire after disputing a strike three call. And after making the majors with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, he was soon traded to Minnesota after the team felt he had become a disruptive clubhouse influence.
Detroit outfielder Delmon Young once again showed the ugly side of his personality when the Tigers arrived in New York this past week when he was arrested for an “aggravated harassment hate crime.” Here’s the story: Young, apparently drunk and out on the town, was returning to the Hilton hotel where the Tigers were staying and, noting a panhandler wearing a Jewish yarmulke hitting up some tourists for money, yelled a series of racial slurs at him. One of the tourists took issue with Young and the two began to scuffle. Young was arrested, appeared in court and posted a $5,000 bond; the charges could lead to a year in jail, though that’s unlikely for Young.
The Devil Made Them do it
After Young’s arrest became public, Fox Sports Detroit did a report on the incident and included a statement graphic from “Demon Young’s attorney.”
The Barstool Next to Carl Crawford is Open, Jose...
Jose Reyes’ visit back to New York was better than Young’s; he didn’t get arrested. But the former Mets’ star didn’t leave with happy memories after his first three games at Citi Field in the uniform of the enemy, the Miami Marlins. Reyes connected on a single hit in 12 at-bats and failed to jumpstart an anemic Marlin offense as Miami was swept by the Mets, scoring a total of four runs. Reyes himself was not received too warmly by New York fans, receiving a mix of boos and cheers among the “announced” crowds of 20,000 (probably closer than 10,000) in each of the three games. By the way, Reyes is barely hanging over the .200 mark to start his first year at Miami while Ruben Tejada, his replacement in New York, is batting a crisp .295.
O Albert, Where Art Thou?
Pujols did have a solid spring in Arizona, so Angel fansand the Angel front office, in particularare hoping that he’ll break out of this deep, early funk soon enough. “If he hasn’t hit a home run after 300 at-bats, we’ll have another conversation,” Scioscia told the Los Angeles Times. He’s more than a third of the way there; Pujols hasn’t homered in a regular season game since last September 22, a span of 117 at-batsnot surprisingly, a career-worst drought.
This is no way to start a ten-year, $240 million deal. Albert Pujols, the former St. Louis Cardinal star who’s trying to become one in Anaheim, has had a truly awful April to forget, batting .216 with not one home run and just four RBIs through Sunday. All three figures would represent, easily, his worst output in any one full month of his 12-year career. So what’s the problem? Angel manager Mike Scioscia, for one, thinks Pujols has been too passivetaking too many good pitches to start an at-bat for strikes, then swinging at bad ones while trying to catch up.
Wall Street, Collusion and the Klan
Baseball’s first real union leader, Marvin Miller, spoke this past week at the New York University School of Law and proved that, at the age of 95, he still has a lot of fight in him. He also proves that with age comes an increased belief in conspiracy theories. On the sane side, Miller railed against Wall Street, rightfully suggesting that stockbrokersnot the board of directorsshould determine corporate CEO salaries. On the more outrageous end of things, he said “it was felt” that Kenseaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s first commissioner, “was clearly a member of the Ku Klux Klan.” Of course, Miller had no evidence to offer, a dangerous lack of proof to fall on when reaching for the racist card. In between, Miller reiterated something he’s been saying for years: That the 1919 Black Sox Scandal pales in comparison to that of the collusion scandal in the late 1980s, which could be argued albeit from a minority point of view; after all, no one was throwing games during collusion.
Bobby Valentine continues to be everybody’s favorite punching bag in Boston. This past week, much was made of a pregame goof committed by the first-year Red Sox manager when he posted a lineup against Minnesota pitcher Liam Hendricksthen had to change it when he realized that Hendricks was a righty, not a lefty. It’s not like Valentine took the lineup card to the umpires before realizing his error; he corrected everything mere moments later and a good three hours before the first pitch. Still, the media couldn’t resist, and certainly the über-intense Red Sox fan base will absorb this as more fodder to call for his head when the time feels right.
How Difficult Can it Be?
Will Venable already has five errors to his name this season with the San Diego Padresplaying exclusively in the outfield. In 367 career games coming into the season, Venable had committed a total of eight miscues.
Welcome to Pittsburgh
It appears that Erik Bedard is back after four seasons of injury-related struggle, posting a 2.48 ERA through his first five starts with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Too bad Bedard’s support has been sickly; he’s 1-4 as the Pirates have accommodated him with a total of seven runs in those five games. (That first win only came this past Saturday at Atlanta.)
WTF Moment of the Week
Bryce Harper smacks a double for his big league hit this past Saturday at Los Angeles, but watch the fan sitting some three rows behind home plate during the pitch. (That wasn’t you, was it, Ed Attanasio?)
Wounded of the Week
Also entering MLB’s Hospital of Hurt this past week were St. Louis slugger Lance Berkman (calf), Arizona pitcher Daniel Hudson (shoulder) and outfielder Chris Young (shoulder), Chicago Cub pitchers Kerry Wood and Ryan Dempster (both with quad injuries), Milwaukee pitcher Chris Narveson (torn rotator cuff), Pittsburgh pitcher Jeff Karstens (shoulder) and Yankee outfielder Brett Gardner, out after hurting his elbow on a sliding catch.
The Curse of the Closer continues this week with yet another ninth-inning specialist hitting the disabled list, as Toronto’s Sergio Santos is out for at least 15 days with shoulder problems. And although Washington closer Brad Lidge isn’t on the shelf, coaches are keeping an eye on him after it was revealed that the veteran reliever is suffering from vertigo. A tip for Brad: If you see Kim Novak in the area, runbut not up the stairs!
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.
A Day-by-Day Review of the Week
Monday, April 23
After an unconvincing performance in which he allows five runs on nine hits in three innings at Los Angeles, Jair Jurrjens is demoted by the Atlanta Braves to the minors. Just a year ago, he was off to a blazing start and, arguably, the National League’s best pitcher of the season’s first half; but he has struggled in each of his first four starts of 2012, going 0-2 with a 9.37 earned run average while opponents have hit .457 against him. In his 7-2 loss to the Dodgers, Jurrjens strikes no one out, as only two of his pitches are swung at and missed.
The Kansas City Royals put the finishing touches on a 0-10 homestand by losing for the 11th straight time overall, 4-1 to Toronto. The last team to lose as many as ten straight home games was Arizona in 2004.
Tuesday, April 24
Chipper Jones homers on his 40th birthday to put Atlanta on the scoreboard in the fifth inning, igniting a comeback in which the Braves defeat the Dodgers at Los Angeles, 4-3. It’s Jones’ third homer of the year, and the fifth time he’s gone yard on his birthday.
With the New York Yankees in town before a sellout crowd, the Texas Rangers’ Yu Darvish rises to the occasionthrowing 8.1 shutout innings and striking out ten to earn a 2-0 win at Arlington. Darvish outduels fellow import Hiroki Kuroda in what is the seventh matchup between Japanese-born pitchers in major league history.
Wednesday, April 25
The Royals end their losing streak at 12 behind the strength of four home runsincluding two from Billy Butlerto beat the Indians at Cleveland, 8-2. The 12-game slide had been the third worst in franchise history.
The Houston Astros end a streak of 11 straight losses against Milwaukee by outpacing the Brewers at Miller Park, 7-5. Jose Altuve has a career-high four hits and raises his season batting average to .377.
David Wright’s two-run homer in the sixth inning puts New York ahead to stay in the Mets’ 5-1 win over the Miami Marlins at Citi Field and gives him sole possession of first place on the Mets’ all-time RBI list at 735. Wright had entered the game tied with Darryl Strawberry.
The AL leader in wins to start the season is Texas rookie reliever Robbie Ross, who nabs his fourth victory of the year with a 7-3 decision over the Yankees at Arlington. Ross is the first major leaguer to earn four wins through his first six relief appearances.
The Chicago White Sox’ Paul Konerko becomes the majors’ 48th player to reach 400 career home runs when he goes deep in a 5-4, 14-inning loss to the A’s at Oakland.
Thursday, April 26
Five days after throwing a perfect game, a different Phil Humber shows up on the mound for the White Sox. Humber is shelled by the Boston Red Sox, allowing nine runs on eight hits (including three home runs) in five innings of a 10-3 loss. It’s the most runs ever allowed by a pitcher whose previous start was a perfecto.
San Francisco’s Pablo Sandoval runs his hitting streak to 19 games with a single at Cincinnati, establishing a franchise record for the most consecutive games with a hit to start the season. The old record had been held by Johnny Rucker, who in 1945 hit safely in his first 18 games. The Giants avoid a sweep against the Reds with a come-from-behind, 6-5 win.
Friday, April 27
An expected pitching deal between reigning AL MVP Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers and the Yankees’ Ivan Novawinner of 15 straight decisionsdevolves into a back-and-forth night of offense that ends in the bottom of the ninth when Derek Jeter scores the winning run on a passed ball by Tiger catcher Alex Avila. The Yankees prevail, 7-6, in a game in which neither Verlander nor Nova are sharp.
It’s one of those pre-humidor nights at Denver’s Coors Field. The Mets’ Scott Hairston hits for the cycle, but the Rockies overwhelm the Mets, 18-9thanks in large part of an 11-run inning abetted by four New York errors. Overall, the Mets commit six errors on the evening, one shy of a team record. Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez knocks in five runs in that 11-run fifth inning, and has six for the night.
One day after setting a major league record for taking part in the 18th straight game in which neither team scored more than five runs, the Pittsburgh Pirates lose at Atlanta, 6-1 to end the run. The previous mark had been held by the 1943 Tigers.
Saturday, April 28
Filling in for the “restricted” Delmon Young, Andy Dirks belts a three-run homer and makes several outstanding grabs in the outfield to propel the Tigers to a 7-5 win over the Yankees at New York. Drew Smyly gets his first major league win after starting for Detroit.
Bryce Harper’s highly anticipated debut with the Washington Nationals is a memorable oneand not for all the reasons you might expect. The 19-year-old phenom has a good day; he doubles in his third at-bat, brings home the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth on a sacrifice fly and makes a superb throw from left field to home plate. But after the Nationals take a 3-1 lead, the Dodgers tie it in the ninththanks in large part to Washington pitcher Henry Rodriguez, who reaches 104 MPH on the Dodger Stadium radar but also throws three wild pitchesand win it an inning later on the 11th homer of the year for Matt Kemp, who sets a franchise record for the most homers in April.
Sunday, April 29
Atlanta pitching ace Tim Hudson makes his 2012 debut after herniated back surgery last November and pitches five innings against the Pirates, allowing two runs and earning the win in the Braves’ 4-3 victory. It is Hudson’s 182nd career winagainst just 97 losses.
Milwaukee closer John Axford runs his streak of saves without blowing one to 48, the fourth longest in major league history. It isn’t easy; the home-standing St. Louis Cardinals, trailing 3-2 in the ninth, have runners at first and third and no one outbut a double steal attempt becomes a double play when Yadier Molina strikes out and Tyler Greene, the runner on third, is duped on a pump fake to second by Brewer catcher Jonathan Lacroy and tagged out.
Bill Skowron, 1930-2012
A four-time all-star, Skowron stepped it up in the postseason. He hit a grand slam in the Yankees’ decisive seventh-game victory over Brooklyn in 1956, belted another critical blast in Game Seven of the 1958 Series against the Milwaukee Braves and, after a dismal first regular season with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1963, came back to life and haunted his former mates when he batted .385 with a homer in the Dodgers’ Series sweep against the Yankees. In 39 overall World Series games, Skowron hit .293 with eight homers and 29 RBIs.
Yet another member of the great Yankee teams of the 1950s and early 1960s left us this past week. Bill “Moose” Skowron, a solid supporting player in the everyday Yankee lineup who four times hit over 20 homers and frequently neared 100 RBIs from 1956-62, died from congestive heart failure at the age of 81. Some believe Skowron received his nickname because of his intimidating facial scowl and muscular frame, but it actually started back in school when his head was shaved and his classmates began comparing him to then-Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
This Week's Challanger to Joe DiMaggio
Baltimore’s Nolan Reimold and San Francisco’s Angel Pagan ends this past week with the majors’ longest active hitting streak at 14 games each. Reimold has been by far the more productive of the two during the streak, hitting .362 to Pagan’s .308.
Still Going Strong in Cuba
Happy Birthday to Connie Marrero, who turned 101 this past week in Cuba. Marrero, recently interviewed by TGG’s Ed Attanasio, is the oldest living ex-major leaguer.
TGG Goes to CafePress
We’ve always gotten raves for how we look at This Great Game, and now you can own a piece of the brand. We’ve opened a page at the popular CafePress site, with apparel, mugs, clocks and other items dressed in the TGG brand now available. We don’t just throw the logo and be done with it, adding in some fun baseball trivia. We even have a boy brief for the ladies that says on the backside: “If baseball is on your mind at this point, we’re just what you need.” Now you can show the world that you’re a baseball expert...and you’ll look good, too. Check it out now!
Now Playing at TGG
Here it is! Our annual, fearless preview of the upcoming major league season is live, with TGG’s Ed Attanasio and Eric Gouldsberry releasing their picks for who will arrive, thrive, dive and cry in 2012. Check it out and see if you agree!