The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week(s) That Was in Baseball: May 2-8, 2011
Year Two of the Return of the Pitcher Early Comeback Player of the Year Candidates
The Sober Facts of MLB and Alcohol "—30—" and Out For Andre Ethier

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All Things Being Equal: Our Picks For 2011
TGG's Eric Gouldsberry and Ed Attanasio give their predictions for the 2011 MLB regular season. Check it out now!

After Further Review: Making the Right Call on Replay
As baseball struggles to grasp video replay, here's a suggestion on how to expand upon it and make it efficient—if not flawless. Check it out now!

No-Hit Fever: The Sequel
What was probably more amazing than the fact that two no-hitters were achieved this past week was that numerous other attempts went into the late innings.

Justin Verlander’s second career no-hitter, accomplished on Saturday at Toronto, came four days after Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano finished off the White Sox at Chicago in what was not only his first no-no, but his first career complete game in 95 starts.

Liriano took the mound at Chicago with a 1-4 record, a 9.31 ERA and the public threat of demotion from his manager, Ron Gardenhire. What a difference two hours and nine minutes make; that’s the length of Liriano’s gem—imperfect as it was, as he walked six batters and threw barely half of his pitches on the evening for strikes.

Verlander showed much more control in working through his no-hitter for the Detroit Tigers at Toronto. He was just five outs shy of a perfect game, but walked J.P. Arenbicia with one out in the eighth; he was the only baserunner to reach base against Verlander, who threw 108 pitches—74 of them for strikes. Verlander becomes the 27th major league pitcher to earn multiple no-hitters.

Almost simultaneous to Verlander was the effort by Milwaukee’s Yovani Gallardo, who took his own attempt at a no-hitter into the eighth inning at St. Louis—only to be foiled by a leadoff single from the bat of the Cardinals’ Daniel Descalso. It was the only hit allowed by Gallardo, who also walked four, in eight innings of work—and it came a day after the Cardinals’ Jaime Garcia took a perfect game into eighth inning, and a day after Atlanta’s Derek Lowe took a no-hitter into the sixth at Philadelphia, and three days after the Boston Red Sox were held without a hit from multiple Los Angeles of Angel pitchers into the seventh inning. Then there was Sunday; Florida’s Anibal Sanchez, who came within a few outs of his second career no-no a few weeks earlier, took the Washington Nationals hitless into the seventh at Miami.

For those who think otherwise, let it be known: The steroid era really is over.

Trivia Question
One pitcher had a higher ERA than Francisco Liriano’s 9.13 ERA prior to throwing a no-hitter. Name him. Answer at the bottom of this column.

It's Time to Lock Up the Liquor Cabinet
Alcohol has been something of an accepted vice in baseball circles since the day the game was invented. Our Yearly Reader section is chock full of age-old legends detailing ballplayers whose passion for the “sauce” affected their careers and the teams they played for. Pete Alexander, the all-time co-leader in NL wins, unexpectedly and famously was called to the mound late in the seventh game of the 1926 World Series while nursing a hangover—or perhaps still inebriated, as some teammates claimed—and effectively finished up a championship for the St. Louis Cardinals over the New York Yankees. In 1944, the St. Louis Browns won their one and only AL flag in history, but not before locking pitcher Sid Jakucki in his hotel room out of fear he would drink himself to oblivion the night before his pennant-clinching start. And there was tempestuous general manager Larry MacPhail, who is memorably recalled for the phrase: “With no drinks, he was brilliant. With one drink, he was a genius. With two drinks, he was insane.”

For all the funny stories that have been written about ballplayers and booze, there has been recent caution from some truly sad alcohol-related chapters of late. Josh Hamilton, the reigning AL MVP, nearly had his career ruined by alcohol even before it started; Miguel Cabrera, last year’s runner-up in the vote, went on a drunk driving adventure in Florida this spring—not his first alcohol-fueled controversy—and easily could have found himself dead from a head-on collision. Far less lucky was St. Louis pitcher Josh Hancock, who in 2007 was killed when he crashed his truck while drunk, and Los Angeles of Anaheim pitcher Nick Adenhart, who just hours after his first major league win in 2009 was broadsided and killed by a drunk driver with a previous DUI conviction.

On top of all of that, six major leaguers have been arrested for driving while drunk this year alone. Public pressure is beginning to mount upon baseball, and MLB is quite aware to the point that it intends to come up with solutions to curb the problem in its upcoming bargaining talks the players’ union. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wrote thoughtfully of some common sense ideas this past week. The powers that be need to read it.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Andre Ethier of the Los Angeles Dodgers went hitless on Saturday at New York to end his hitting streak at 30 games—one shy of the Dodger record set by Willie Davis in 1969. Interestingly, the previous three players to build up hitting streak of 30 games—Ryan Zimmerman in 2009, Moises Alou in 2007 and Willy Taveras in 2006—all failed in their attempts to extend the run to 31.

Taking over Ethier’s mantle as the player with the longest active hitting streak in the majors at upload time is Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury, who’s taken his own run to 17 games.

This Week's Challenger to Matt Keough
Toronto pitcher Jo-Jo Reyes took a loss on Sunday as Detroit beat the Blue Jays 5-2, extending his streak of consecutive starts without a win to 25. The major league record is held by Matt Keough, who started 28 straight games without capturing a win from 1978-79 for the Oakland A’s. Reyes is 0-12 during his stretch.

No Rest For the Weary
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Boston Red Sox played a 13-inning game (won by the Angels, 5-3) that ended at 2:45 on Thursday morning in Boston, thanks in part to a 2.5-hour rain delay. The teams got just what they needed the next day: A day game.

The game was so long, the Los Angeles Times noted that Angel bullpen catcher Tom Gregorio was age 33 when it started and 34 when it ended. It went so late, Boston owner John Henry himself gave out coffee and hot chocolate to the few Red Sox fans left at Fenway Park in the wee hours of the morning.

Back From the (Storm) Front
Last week we reported that Philadelphia pitcher Roy Oswalt headed to his home state of Mississippi and checked on his parents in the aftermath of the massive tornado damage the region absorbed. Actually, it was his in-laws’ residence—which happened to be where his three daughters were living when a tornado tore through. The house didn’t suffer a direct hit but did sustain roof damage; Oswalt remarked that “the town next to us is completely gone.” Last year, the home of Oswalt’s parents was destroyed by another tornado.

Class-A Bryce
It’s safe to say that Bryce Harper’s stay at Hagerstown, Maryland will be a short one. The 18-year old phenom, selected first in the major league draft last year by the Washington Nationals, finishes the week batting .371 with seven home runs and 24 RBIs, 11 doubles, five steals and 16 walks in 28 games.

Wounded of the Week
Several repeat offenders made the list of the majors’ medically challenged this past week. Eric Chavez, who got a break by latching onto the Yankees after it appeared his career was all but done last year, received another kind of break: A broken bone in his foot while legging out a triple. It’s unknown when he’ll be back. In Detroit, hard-throwing reliever Joel Zumaya, who hasn’t thrown a pitch this season and hasn’t put together a full season since his rookie campaign of 2006, will have his elbow operated on and not return until 2012. And Texas slugger Nelson Cruz, who made three separate trips to the disabled list last year, is making his first visit this season thanks to a bad quad.

Elsewhere, announcements of major leaguers making the DL came fast and furious: Among those out for at least 15 days is Minnesota’s Jim Thome (oblique), Milwaukee outfielder Nyjer Morgan (fractured finger), Brandon Lyon (partial tear of rotator cuff), Tampa Bay starting pitcher Jeff Neimann (back), Philadelphia starting pitcher Roy Oswalt (back), Los Angeles closer Jonathan Broxton (elbow), Washington outfielder Rick Ankiel (wrist) and Boston reliever Bobby Jenks (biceps).

Finally, as former Cy Young Award winner and social anxiety disorder survivor Zack Greinke returned to action with the Milwaukee Brewers following a rib injury, teammate Zach Braddock went on the DL with a “sleep disorder.” No details as to what was causing the lack of sleep.

Trivia Answer
Bill Dietrich, who seldom won more games then he lost over a 16-year career, came into his June 1, 1937 start at Chicago against the St. Louis Browns with a 10.13 ERA—one full run worse than Francisco Liriano’s mark before his no-hitter this past week—and proceeded to toss his own no-no. Dietrich finished the season with an 8-10 record and 4.90 ERA.

Where Have You Been?
About a fifth of the way through the season, we’re seeing a healthy dose of Comeback Player of the Year candidates. Healthy is a good way to describe these following players; many of them are bouncing back after nagging injuries severely cut into their playing time and/or quality of play over their time down in the dumps. Let’s see how many of these guys hold up over the next five months:

Josh Beckett. After slipping to a career-worst 5.78 ERA last year thanks in large part to a bad back, the oft-injured Boston star pitcher is simply back, with a 2.35 ERA through his first six starts; opponents are betting just .162 against him.

Carlos Beltran. Persistent knee problems over the last few years had many wondering if the five-time All-Star would ever return to prime form. The questions seem to have been answered in the affirmative, for now: He’s on pace for a .300-25-100 campaign.

Lance Berkman. After a substandard first half and even more forgettable late-season exile to the New York Yankees, Berkman appeared to be experiencing the first stages of the big fade out of baseball. Instead, he’s sprung back to life in a big way for St. Louis, hitting near .400 while listed among the league leaders in home runs and RBIs.

A.J. Burnett. The often ridiculed Yankee starting pitcher who looked absolutely clueless on the mound late last year has collected himself back to respectability so far in 2011, with a 4-2 record and 3.71 ERA. If he keeps up the early pace, his 1.17 WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning) will match a career best.

Bartolo Colon. One of many reclamation projects brought in by the Yankees this spring, the 37-year old former Cy Young Award winner (from 2005, his last good year), is showing much spark of old with a 2-1 record and 3.86 ERA in seven appearances, four of them starting assignments.

Jeff Francoeur. Once ticketed for stardom in Atlanta, Francoeur instead saw his career diminish to that of benchwarmer status late last year with Texas. Kansas City gave him a new opportunity as its has tried with so many other castoffs over the years, but unlike those other players, Francoeur has successfully seized on that opportunity—hitting .302 with eight homers, ten doubles and 24 RBIs in 33 games.

Todd Helton. He may not be vintage Mr. Rockie from his jaw-dropping days circa 2000, but with a .313 average and three homers—playing everyday, no less—he’s easily on his way to having his best campaign in years.

Adam Lind. After a breakout 2009 season (.305 average, 35 homers, 114 RBIs), Lind’s performance suffered a precipitous drop last year. He’s bouncing back so far this season, on pace to match those impressive numbers of two years ago.

Kyle Lohse. Arm woes limited the 32-year old Cardinal pitcher to 18 starts and a dreadful 6.55 ERA last year; he’s obviously feeling better now, if his 4-2 record 2.24 ERA and 0.86 WHIP are any indications.

J.J. Putz. Once the most dominant closer in the AL, Putz had been bouncing around from team to team doing set-up relief after major elbow pains removed him from the marquee. Now he’s back in the closer’s role with Arizona, and thus far has been perfect in seven save opportunities.

Pablo Sandoval. Many hardcore Giants fans spent the winter willing the Panda to lose 40 pounds after a highly disappointing sophomore year in 2010. Shed the weight he did, and his rookie flair has returned—that was, until a broken wrist intervened (he’s out until June).

Between Chavez Ravine and a Hard Place
Embattled Los Angeles Dodger owner Frank McCourt is starting to feel the squeeze almost everywhere he turns. A few weeks after having his franchise seized by Major League Baseball and commissioner Bud Selig, it was reported this week that unless there is an emergency transfusion of money, the Dodgers will be unable to make payroll at the end of May. Fox could help by loaning him money, but MLB has already said no to that. In fact, it’s looking more and more apparent that any loan to the Dodgers will not be approved by Selig until McCourt sells the team.

Of course, McCourt (and his wife Jamie, who continues to remind us that she owns half the team) would like to keep the franchise, but even he admits that’s looking less likely as each day passes. He won’t even bring up the subject when baseball’s owners meet this week for their quarterly get-together because, as one insider told the Los Angeles Times, “he believes he’s got an audience of one…The owners aren’t going to turn on the commissioner.”

Finishing a distant second to Osama bin Laden this past week as the person most despised by Americans was the 17-year old kid in Pittsburgh who came upon a 58-year old usher at PNC Park who was in the process of suffering a heart attack while driving. Did the kid come to his aid? Nope. Instead, he took the guy’s wallet, shoved him onto the street and took off in his car. The man died, the kid was arrested, and human civility took a hit.

We Hardly Miss You
The Philadelphia boo-birds didn’t rain down their displeasure upon former Phillie Jayson Werth, in town for the first time since his megadeal with Washington this past week. That’s probably because the Phillies are sailing along at the top of the NL East without him while he’s batting .227 with just nine RBIs in his first 32 games as a National.

Lost and Not Found
Many believed that Javier Vazquez’s return to the National League after his second subpar stint with the New York Yankees last year would help recapture the form that made him a legitimate Cy Young Award candidate in 2009 with Atlanta. Yet the Vazquez of old has failed to materialize with the Florida Marlins; his ERA is at 6.39 and he’s walked more opponents (21) than struck out (16), a far cry from two years ago when he collected 238 Ks and walked just 44 for the Braves.

Duh, Charity...
There is some sanity still left within the brain of Charlie Sheen after all. The controversial actor donated $20,000 to the family of Bryan Stow, the San Francisco Giant fan who was severely beaten outside of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Opening Day. The money came from profits and donations tied to his one-man stage show in San Francisco. Stow remains in a medically-induced coma; there have still been no arrests in his beating.

Check the Glove For Holes
Houston pitcher Nelson Figueroa has fielded seven balls this season; he’s made errors on three of them.

Useless STATS Inc. Fact of the Week
On Sunday, all seven AL games had one team scoring five runs—the first time in 18 years all games from one league on the same day produced the same total of runs from one team.

Say Hey, You're 80!
A belated happy birthday to Willie Mays, the legendary Hall of Famer who was feted in a big ceremony before Friday’s game at San Francisco between the Giants and the Colorado Rockies. Among the notes of well wishes came a congratulatory note from President Barack Obama.

Now Playing at TGG
Ed Attanasio’s interview with Freddy Schmidt, the oldest living ex-St. Louis Cardinal, can now be seen in the They Were There section. Freddy talks about his experiences with Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson and his infamous racist foil Ben Chapman, and his two World Series rings—and why he's lost one of them.

All Things Being Equal: Our Picks For 2011
TGG's Eric Gouldsberry and Ed Attanasio give their picks for the best and worst of the upcoming regular season in our annual preview of MLB. Check it out now in our Opinions section.

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!

The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.