Can You Smell a Big Mac in the Clubhouse?
Speaking at a function this past week in Florida, Hall of Fame shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. said he wanted to know why Alex Rodriguez decided to take steroids, and that he was going to make it his “business to find out.” Rodriguez, who’s struggled since returning to the Yankees in spite of a few key home runsand received a polite but underwhelming round of applause when he came to bat for the first time at the new Yankee Stadium this past Fridaydidn’t want to discuss Ripken’s comments, saying, “I’m not going there.” It’s the same response he gave when cornered a few weeks ago about allegations of steroid use beyond the time frame he’s already admitted to, and the refrain is beginning to sound like a conveniently different way of saying, “I’m not here to talk about the past,” Mark McGwire’s go-to line at the 2005 Congressional hearings on steroids in baseball.
Misremembering All Over Again
Roger Clemens, we all thought, got the message last year to shut up and stop proclaiming his innocence in regards to accusations of taking steroids. Perhaps he felt the strategy wasn’t working. In response to an unflattering new book released this week by New York Daily News reporters on his performance-enhancing past, Clemens went on ESPN Radio to make the same denials using the same words, like “misremember,” all without adding nothing new to his caseexcept that he would never have taken steroids because his family has a history of heart attacks, singling out his stepfather as an example. Stepfather?
The Skinny on Manny, One Week Later
Manny Ramirez finally caught up with his teammatesactually, it was the other way around, as the Dodgers traveled to face the Florida Marlins in Miami, Ramirez’s current residence. He addressed the team and apologized for the 50-game suspension he is currently serving, all while it came to light from the usual unauthorized-to-speak sources that Ramirez’s offending drug test actually contained no trace of HCG, the female fertility drug that helped make Ramirez the butt of many jokes in print and online.
What got Ramirez in trouble was that MLB had evidence of a prescription for HCG, which he decided not to contest. And that was only after the union and Ramirez’s agent, Scott Boras, tried to B.S. their way to clear Ramirez by saying that he was taking DHEA, a steroid that’s actually legal in this country because, as Yahoo’s Jeff Passan reported this week, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has blocked efforts to make it illegal. And why is that? Passan says that Hatch’s son is a lobbyist for the company that makes DHEA.
Go Blame It on Someone Else
The Dodgers may be a middling 5-5 since Ramirez’s absence began, but don’t blame Juan Pierre, his replacement. Pierre is 20-for-43 (.465) with six doubles, a triple and six steals since taking over Ramirez’s spot in the outfield.
Theriot, Or Theriod?
Last week, we joked that the baseball drug police should shove Ramirez aside and go after Chicago infielder Ryan Theriot, who went on a home run binge after going almost a full season without a single blast. After two more homers this past week, Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times appeared a bit more serious with his opinioneven though he was using his article to draw attention to the fact that because of the steroid culture of the past ten or so years, everyone is suspect. Theriot and some other Cubs saw the sarcasm but weren’t amused, worried that others might not get it. The fact that Theriot had to huddle with Cub officials before deciding to respond to the article underscores Telander’s very point.
Zero Tolerance: It May Happen
TGG’s Eric Gouldsberry writes in our Opinion section about how MLB can forge a zero tolerance policy on steroids in baseballand possibly weaken or even break the player’s union at the same time. Read it here and give us your thoughts.
Let's Pretend It's the First Inning
As ones who like to golfwhenever we canwe’ve always thought it would be a great idea to have a warm-up hole on the course before you hit the first tee, to feel more into the swing of things when the scoring counts. The New York Yankees did something similar with pitcher Joba Chamberlain, who’s struggled badly during the first inning in recent outings: Have him throw in the bullpen with batters to simulate a first inning and get him into the groove when he takes the mound on the field. Did it work? Chamberlain retired the side in order in the first inning against Minnesota on Saturday, and ultimately threw six innings, allowing just two runs.
Perhaps John Lackey should have mimicked Chamberlain’s pregame routine on Saturday at Texasor maybe he was just truly sending a message to the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler a day after the red-hot second baseman homered twice against the Angels. Lackey, making his first start of the year after spending six weeks on the disabled list, threw two pitchesthe first behind Kinsler’s head, the second at his ribsand was promptly ejected by home plate umpire Bob Davidson, who sensed payback. An incredulous Lackey couldn’t believe it and later claimed he was amped up from returning to action. The bad news for Lackey and the Angels was that Kinsler eventually scored and the Rangers eventually won, 5-3. The good news for Lackey is that he’ll be well rested for his next start.
The "K" Epidemic Grows On
In last month’s TGG opinion, we discussed whether the strikeout was an overrated statistic. As of this past weekend, four major leaguersTexas’ Chris Davis, Tampa Bay’s Carlos Pena, Atlanta rookie Jordan Schafer and Arizona’s Mark Reynoldsare on pace to strike out over 200 times this season, with Davis on track for over 240, which would obliterate Reynolds’ all-time mark of 204 from last season. Sure, you combine these four players’ totals together and you have 33 homers in 500 at-bats, but before you think that’s worthy enough to excuse the strikeout totals, consider this: Their combined batting average is .234.
To sense how clockwork some players are, Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard is on pace to strike out 199 times this yearhis exact total for each of the last two seasons.
A Top-Height Duel
The Giants’ Randy Johnson (6’10”) and Washington’s Daniel Cabrera (6’9”) squared off on Monday night in San Francisco in what was said to be the “tallest pitching matchup” in major league history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It beats, by one inch, a 2004 duel between Cabrera and Mark Hendrickson. The Giants won the game, 11-7, with Johnson picking up his 298th career win and Cabrera exiting in the fifth after walking four straight battersthe last two with the bases loadedin a typically wild outing.
The "Other" 400 Club
In his victory over the Nationals, Johnson allowed three home runs, making him the 11th player in major league history to allow 400 in a career. The only active pitcher to allow more is Philadelphia’s Jamie Moyer (475), who is fourth on the list; Robin Roberts is the all-time home run server with 505 allowed.
A Max Sigh of Relief
The 14th time ended up being the charm for Arizona pitcher Max Scherzer. That’s how many starts it took for the 24-year old fireballer to get his first major league win when he tossed six shutout innings in the Diamondbacks’ 12-0 rout at Atlanta on Saturday. Scherzer had previously been a victim of bad luck and little support from his teammates’ bats, evident in the fact that his career ERA as a starter is 3.38something you wouldn’t expect from a pitcher who’s 1-6.
On a day when the humidor at Coors Field was apparently unplugged, the Houston Astros became the first NL team in 24 years to have everybody in their starting lineup collect at least two hits. Even pitcher Mike Hampton knocked out a pair of hits, reviving his fond memories of Colorado only from a hitter’s point of viewhe batted .315 with ten homers in 143 at-bats for the Rockies from 2001-02, though his ERA during the same time was 5.75. The Astros outlasted the Rockies in Wednesday’s slugfest, 15-11, collecting a total of 24 hits18 singles and six doubles.
We Saw It Coming
We talked last week of the pitching struggles of the Chicago White Sox’ Jose Contreras and Atlanta’s Jo-Jo Reyes, both of whom have pieced one bad start after another going back to late last year. For both teams, patience finally ran out this week; the 37-year old Contreras was demoted to the minors while Reyes was moved to the Braves’ bullpen.
Sorry, Chevy Chase, We Weren't Talking About You
First it was Joe Robbie Stadium, then Pro Player Park, then Dolphin Stadium. And now, the venue that’s home for the Florida Marlins for just a few more years has been renamed yet again…to LandShark Stadium. No, it is not named after the famed Saturday Night Live skit from back in the 1970s, but LandShark Lager, owned by singer Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Enterprises. (And is it safe to say that no one singer has ever profited more from a single song than Buffett has with “Margaritaville”?)
For Architects Scoring at Home
HOK Sport, the architectural firm responsible for a majority of the new ballparks built in the majors since Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards was erected in 1992, has broken off from its parent company of HOK and renamed itself Populous. The split was not said to be acrimonious; Populous will remain headquartered in Kansas City.
Let’s raise our glasses and give a big shout out to This Great Game’s Ed Attanasio, whose life as a free man comes to an end this coming Saturday when he marries long-time girlfriend Angelina. Intensive security detail will certainly deter any wedding crashers from becoming part of the private, family-only ceremony, and to show you how straight Ed has gone, there will be no bachelor party beforehand. Congrats, Ed.
My, How the Weak Have Fallen
Contrary to early opinion, it appears that baseball’s meek shall not inherit the major league Earth. Prognosticators like us were earlier scratching our heads at the upside-down start to the season, when stone-cold cellar locks such as Pittsburgh, San Diego and Seattle took off to impressive starts. How quickly things have reverted to normal. The Pirates are 5-14 since an 11-7 start. The Padres are 7-19 since beginning the year at 9-3. The Mariners are 6-14 after their 12-6 start. You can also throw in the Baltimore Orioles, 10-20 since a 6-2 start, and the Florida Marlinsnot a team expected to stink, but never one expected to win so long as Jeffrey Loria continues to run the show. After a blazing 11-1 start, the Marlins have lost 19 of 26.
It’s almost a national story: What’s happened to David Ortiz? The big guy who just three years ago smashed 54 balls over the outfield wall for the Boston Red Sox is still homerless as the season’s first quarter comes to an end, and he’s gone a career-worst 144 straight at-bats, stretching back to last season, without going deep. The nadir for Ortiz’s 2009 campaign came on Thursday, when he went 0-for-7 with three strikeouts and left 12 men on base in the Red Sox’ 5-4, 12-inning loss at Anaheim. Ortiz is in such a mental funk, he was given the weekend off by Boston manager Terry Francona.
Home Runs Aren't Everything
Like Ortiz, Bobby Abreuwith 241 career homershas none so far in 2009; but unlike Ortiz, it doesn’t mean he’s having a lousy year. In fact, Abreu, who came extremely cheap to the Angels during the buyer’s market of the free agent winter, has pleased the Angels with his performance thus far, lack of homers notwithstanding. The 35-year old veteran is hitting over .300, has drawn the usual abundance of walks (he’s on pace for nearly 100) and is fourth in the AL with 13 stealswithout getting caught once.
This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Alas, it’s not Ryan Zimmerman. The Washington third baseman took his hitting streak to 30 games this past week before it came to an end on Wednesday at San Francisco. Zimmerman fell one game short of the franchise record set by Vladimir Guerrero in 1999 for the Montreal Expos; his streak was the 26th of 30 or more games since Joe DiMaggio’s historic 56-game run in 1941.
With Zimmerman done, we can’t find another streak currently as long until we go all the way down to 13 games and Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury, who’s batting .341 since his last hitless performance on May 1.
Since the introduction of replay to review home run calls last August, there had been 12 challenges, with ten of them sustained and two of them overturned, resulting in homers for players who initially were not granted them. There had not been any home run calls rejected upon further reviewuntil this past Wednesday, when not one but two homers were overturned in separate games. In Pittsburgh, the Pirates’ Adam LaRoche blasted one that struck a short screen atop the 21-foot right field fence, which by the ground rules is still in playalthough the umpires initially ruled it a home run before making a reversal. Moments later, in Milwaukee, Florida’s Ross Gload hit a shot that cleared the fence at the right-field foul pole and was rewarded a home run, but the Brewers asked for a replay and, after further review, the ball was declared to be foul. LaRoche’s homer-turned-double didn’t hurt the Pirates, who beat St. Louis, 5-1; the takeaway of Gload’s blast, which would have scored two, did hurt the Marlinswho lost 8-6 to the Brewers.
The Accidental Hitter
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon was looking for a proofreader first thing on Monday morning after overlooking a typo in Sunday’s Tampa-Cleveland scorecard that led to an embarrassing situation. Opposing manager Eric Wedge noticed that the Rays officially listed two third baseman, Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist, in the lineup, while listing no designated hitter. By the rules, the Rays lost their right to a DH and, as a result, had to bat the pitcher, Andy Sonnanstine, third in the lineup in place of Longoria, who was supposed to be the DH. The screw-up didn’t hurt the Rays, who beat the Indians, 7-5; in fact, Sonnanstine doubled in his second at-bat, bringing home a run.
We Looked It Up
Carl Crawford ties an all-time record with six steals in a game. Dexter Fowler ties a rookie mark with five steals in just three innings. Jayson Werth steals second, third and home in the same inning. David Wright nabs four bases among seven taken by the Mets to tie a team record. Tampa Bay steals at least one base in 19 straight games, tying an AL mark. All of this so far in 2009. So what in the name of Lou Brock is going on? We broke out the calculator to find out; as of the end of this weekend, the majors are on pace for a 14% increase over the number of steals in 2008, and the most in a season since 1999. The Tampa Bay Rays, emboldened by Crawford’s fast (24 for 24) start, have 67 steals as a teamputting them on pace for nearly 280, easily the most in the majors since the St. Louis Cardinals ran wild in the mid-1980s.
Grand Spree, Cont'd.
While on the subject of statistics on the rise, we first reported a few weeks ago on the record pace for grand slams hit in the majors this year. The skyward trend continued this past week with the help of two bases-clearing blasts hit by Detroit’s Ryan Raburn and Brandon Inge during the Tigers’ 14-1 rout of Oakland on Friday; it was the first time since 1968 that two grand slams have been hit in the same game by a pair of Tigers. The majors are currently on pace to witness over 200 grand salamis in 2009, which would easily establish an all-time record.
Chevron, Old Navy, and...the White Knights?
In foul territory near the right field corner at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, there’s a manually operated strikeout counter in which fans sitting above the wall can place a “K” placard every time a Giant pitcher racks up another strikeout. But we’ve always noticed that the second and/or third K gets placed upside-downand we wonder if the Giants are alerting fans to do so on purpose because, when the counter is at three, it might otherwise appear as if the Giants have a sponsor in the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).
Home is Where the Homers Aren't
Adrian Gonzalez ended the week leading the majors in home runs, thanks in part to a recent streak of five games in which he went deepand no thanks to voluminous Petco Park, where only four of his 15 jacks for 2009 have occurred. Since coming to San Diego in 2006, the power-slugging Gonzalez has hit only 38 of 105 homers at home. Gonzalez better get used to it; he’s contractually locked upand inexpensively to bootby the Padres through 2011.
Know Your Sign Language
Blake is considered a “good guy” among baseball quarters, so he must have misinformed himself regarding Wilson’s gesture, which is usually given toward the outfield and away from opponents so as not to offend them. But if Blake was wise, he’d give a call to Wilson, explain his actions and apologize. (Blake later said he meant no disrespect and would not apologize.) It would also serve Blake well to know that Wilson, in his own words, has a “long memory,” not to mention a fastball that has been occasionally reaches 100 MPH.
At first glance, the sign of two crossed arms with both index fingers pointed to the sky from San Francisco closer Brian Wilson comes off as some sort of gang symbol or something equally ominous; that Wilson sports a quasi-Mohawk and a myriad of tattoos only serves to fortify the thought. Perhaps this is what the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Casey Blake thought when he mocked Wilson by using the sign in the dugout after launching a 12th inning, game-tying homer off Wilson during a May 10 game at Los Angeles, ultimately won by the Giants, 7-5. Apparently Blake didn’t know that Wilson’s gesture is actually a double tribute to God and his late father. Wilson only found out about Blake’s “impression” after the game when he received a Dodger TV broadcast screen capture of Blake from a friend on his cell phone, and became visibly angered to the point that numerous Giants had to calm him down; Tim Lincecum even had to be pulled from a postgame interview to provide extra comfort for Wilson.
A Fine Pair, Finally
A month and a half into the season, the Cleveland Indians won successive games for the first time with their 11-7 win at Tampa Bay on Thursday, following their 4-0 triumph over the Chicago White Sox one day before.
Just One of Many Problems in D.C.
The Washington Nationals have been given 17 save opportunities so far in 2009. They’ve blown 11 of them.
He's FreeAnd That's About as Much as He's Worth
Brad Nelson, who had toiled in the minors for eight years before finally getting an Opening Day roster spot for Milwaukee this season, filed for free agency rather than accept a demotion back to the minors as the Brewers asked this past week. Good luck to Nelson in finding a taker after starting the 2009 season batting 0-for-21 (with nine strikeouts) at the plate.
Wounded of the Week
Also making the ouch couch this week is Texas closer Frank Francisco, St. Louis slugger Ryan Ludwick, Arizona’s Conor Jackson (out with a “general illness”) and Detroit pitcher Nate Robertson.
It was a relatively pain-free week among baseball players, but don’t tell that to those that failed to escape the jaws of discomfort. Take Florida pitcher Scott Proctor, whose season ended before he ever got it started; troubled by a bad elbow, it was decided that Tommy John surgery was necessary. We’ll next see Proctor sometime in mid-2010. Next year may also be the next time we see New York Met slugger Carlos Delgado; he’s been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a bad hip which may require surgeryand if that takes place, his season is likely done.
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.