The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: May 14-20, 2012
Hey Umps—Neutral Corner! Kerry Wood's Final Strikeout
The Major Leaguer Who Returned After Eight Years The Blue Jay From Brazil

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Outguessing the Mayans: TGG's 2012 Baseball Picks
Our annual, fearless preview of the 2012 major league season, with TGG’s
Ed Attanasio and Eric Gouldsberry releasing their picks for who will arrive, thrive, dive and cry. Check it out and see if you agree!

Time Out!
Where did all the love go between players and umpires this week? It was an especially tense week between the men in blue and the players who turned red at various calls of all kinds, with some of the confrontations getting pretty nasty.

Toronto’s young third baseman Brett Lawrie was handed a four-game suspension for going especially nuts after taking a few dubious strike calls from home plate umpire Bill Miller; in complete anger, Lawrie uttered a few choice words that got him immediately ejected, then earned the suspension by spiking his batting helmet in front of Miller, the rebound glancing off of Miller’s side.

That same day, Philadelphia skipper Charlie Manuel got the thumb from an especially frisky Bob Davidson, who, it could be argued, initiated a nose-to-nose exchange of profanities (viewer discretion advised on the link) after barking his side of the story towards the Phillie dugout on a third-strike passed ball during the Phillies’ 4-3, ten-inning win over Houston. Manuel was given a one-day suspension—but so was Davidson, in an unusual move by MLB, for stoking the tension of the moment.

And there was, during the game in which Manuel was serving his suspension, the goofy sequence in which Boston manager Bobby Valentine vividly protested a blown call in the Phillies’ favor at first base by hopping up and down in front of umpire Gary Darling to prove his point; Darling ejected Valentine and then, after absorbing a second wave of abuse, got abusive himself and accidentally spit out his gum at Valentine—leading the Boston manager to quietly back off a few steps and point a finger at Darling as if to say, “Now you’ve done it…Now you’ve done it!” 

All of this tension became a hot topic in the media this week, with Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan leading the charge—suggesting that players and umpires hold a formal sit-down to air things out and become life-long friends. Well, we’d get that if the acrimony continues on at this rate for another month. In the meantime, though, everyone needs to do what they’re supposed to do: Umpires should take the child-like abuse like parents and play the cool authority; managers need to bark if they have to, but without getting personal; and MLB needs to install our idea of comprehensive instant replay to defuse most of the tantrums that take place on the field in the first place.

The End of a Long and Winding Road
At age 20, Kerry Wood appeared ticketed for greatness. He exploded onto the nationwide radar in just his fifth start as a rookie in 1998 when he tied Roger Clemnens’ all-time mark of strikeouts in a nine-inning game with 20, tossing a one-hit shutout for the Chicago Cubs. Years of struggle due almost entirely to a laundry list of injuries dogged Wood’s career from there; he missed the entire 1999 season, returned to produce modestly solid results as a starter through 2003, then slipped into a reliever role as the wear and tear on his pitching became too much to allow him to throw anywhere near 100 innings a season, let alone 200.

After a rough start to the 2012 season, Wood announced his retirement this past week—and in an unusual move, the Cubs allowed him a final curtain call on the mound afterward, entering Friday’s game at Wrigley Field and striking out the one batter he would face, the White Sox’ Dayan Viciedo, on three pitches. The home crowd roared and gave him a standing ovation as he left the field for the last time.

In baseball history, only Randy Johnson has averaged more strikeouts per nine innings than Wood, who rang up 10.32 per nine over his 14-year career. He finished with an 86-75 record, 63 saves and a 3.67 ERA.

Hatcheting Hatcher
The front office of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, fed up with the team’s dismal start—particularly on offense—felt it had to do something this past week, and so they fired the guy they weren’t paying $240 million to. Long-time hitting coach Mickey Hatcher became the fall guy for the team’s inept set of numbers at the plate, which included a substandard .250 batting average and a .301 on-base percentage that was 27th out of 30 major league teams.

The Hatcher firing likely did not sit well with manager Mike Scioscia, who brought Hatcher aboard back in 2000—and that may be spurning rumors that Scioscia may be next on the chopping block if the Angels don’t revert to form and fulfill the enormous expectations placed on the club to win and win big this season. And that, in turn, has generated rumors that if Scioscia was to go, the Los Angeles Dodgers—who Scioscia once played and managed for—would be interested in bringing him on as their pilot. Stay tuned.

Das Boot
If you can’t beat the arbitrator, fire him. That’s what Major League Baseball did this past week when it axed Shyam Das, the arbitrator appointed to hear and decide arguments on issues between baseball players and management. On the surface, MLB publicly gave a glowing review of Das’ lengthy 13-year tenure, saying he served “with professionalism and distinction.” But away from the media, MLB was surely seething over Das’ recent decision to overturn the 50-game suspension of Milwaukee star slugger Ryan Braun on a technicality of procedure. At the time, MLB vehemently voiced their displeasure at Das’ decision, which came without written explanation. (Now that he’s gone, MLB has asked Das to refrain from ever giving that explanation.)

But shed no tears for Das; he’s still at work and ready to resolve the ongoing dispute in the National Football League over the “bounty” suspensions given to New Orleans Saint players and coaches.

Better Late Than Never
On April 20, 2004, Rich Thompson made his major league debut at the plate for the Kansas City Royals, hit into a double play…then vanished from the big league scene. That is, until this past week. Now 33, Thompson returned to The Show for Tampa Bay and, in his second at-bat on Wednesday, stroked a run-scoring single in the Rays’ 5-3 loss to Boston. If Thompson can carry on at the major league level, that would be just fine for him; he’s probably had enough of the minors, though in recent interviews he has mostly positive memories of playing below the big-league level—which may explain his tolerance of performing 13 years in the minors, collecting 1,390 hits and 442 steals for 11 different teams.

The Brazilian
The major league universe expanded a bit further this past Thursday when Yan Gomes made his major league debut for the Toronto Blue Jays—hence becoming the first Brazilian-born player in the majors. The 24-year-old native of Sao Paolo collected two hits in three at-bats while catching for the Jays in a 4-1 win over the Yankees; a day later, he connected on his first career home run in Toronto’s 14-5 rout of the New York Mets.

Ex-Twit of the Week
Breaking up is the hardest thing to do for Miami manager Ozzie Guillen, who severed his relationship this past week with his often-controversial Twitter account. Good thing, too: After watching the Miami Heat’s Dwayne Wade go nuts on his head coach in a NBA playoff game this past week, he told the media that if any of his players did the same to him, he would “guarantee a fight.” (In doing so, he also exposed the lack of humility exhibited by NBA players as compared to those in pro baseball—many of whom earn their way to the top by playing in anonymity in obscure minor league bergs, while star basketball players are given a much bigger and uninterrupted spotlight from the preps and the way to the NBA.).

New Twit of the Week
Josh Hamilton may not be a social media hog, but he’s decided he has no choice but to jump into the blogosphere if, for any other reason, to knock off the fake Hamilton accounts that currently exist. “When someone’s got 12,000 followers and are acting like they’re me…it’s terrible,” Hamilton told the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram this past week. Just so people know they haven’t reached an imposter, Hamilton’s Twitter handle isn’t merely @joshhamilton, but @thejoshhamilton.

It Must have Been Those Helmet Concussions We Suffered
Is it us, or is that every time we look at the scoreboard and see Miami playing against Pittsburgh or New York or (this past weekend) Cleveland, we can’t help but think it’s the Dolphins?

Wounded of the Week
The beginning of this past week saw the absence of Los Angeles star slugger Matt Kemp to the 15-day disabled list with a bad hamstring; the injury ended his streak of 399 consecutive games played, the longest active run in the majors.

Pain was especially rough this past week on the Kansas City Royals, who lost not one but two more pitchers (Blake Wood and Danny Duffy) to season-ending Tommy John surgery. Meanwhile, the San Diego Padres’ disabled list grew to 13 players with the additions of starting pitcher Tim Stauffer (elbow) and reserve Mark Kotsay (back). And in Washington, catcher Sandy Leon—called up to replace Wilson Ramos (out for the year), sprained his right ankle in a home-plate collision in his very first major league game and himself was placed on the DL.

Other injuries sidelined Tampa Bay’s Jeff Niemann (broken leg) and Desmond Jennings (sprained knee), New York Yankee reliever David Robertson (rib), Philadelphia starting pitcher Vance Worley (elbow) St. Louis slugger Lance Berkman (knee) and Oakland’s Brandon Inge (groin), who was turning it on for the A’s in his short time there since being released by Detroit.

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, May 14
Washington outfielder Bryce Harper hits his first major league home run with a shot to dead center, helping the Nationals to an 8-5 home win over San Diego. At 19 years of age, Harper is the youngest player since Adrian Beltre in 1998 to go deep.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who were not shut out once over their final 65 games of the 2011 season, are blanked for the eighth time this year in 36 contests as the Oakland A’s deny them, 5-0 at Angel Stadium. Josh Reddick, given to the A’s in the trade that sent Andrew Bailey to Boston, hits his ninth homer of the year—and is on pace to hit over 40 for the season.

Derek Jeter, enjoying a renaissance season with a .367 average, takes sole possession of 16th place on the all-time hit list with a single in the New York Yankees’ 8-5 win at Baltimore. Jeter entered the game tied with Robin Yount at 3,142 hits.

Adam Dunn surpasses his entire 2011 home run total with his 12th blast of the year in the Chicago White Sox’ 7-5 win against Detroit; the shot off Tiger southpaw Drew Smyly is also the first he’s hit off a left-hander since 2010.

Tuesday, May 15
With Toronto trailing Tampa Bay 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth with one out and no one on, Blue Jay third baseman Brett Lawrie takes is rung up by home plate umpire Bill Miller on several questionable balls-and-strikes calls—and goes berserk, getting immediately ejected before spiking his batting helmet at Miller in anger, hitting him in the side. Manager John Farrell also gets tossed and the Jays lose the game; the next day, Lawrie will be given a four-game suspension.

In his second—and far better—start since playing a round of golf while sitting out a turn in the rotation with a bad shoulder, Josh Beckett fires seven shutout innings on his 32nd birthday to lift the Red Sox past Seattle at Boston, 5-0.

Cleveland pitcher Derek Lowe, off to a tremendous start after finishing 9-17 with a 5.05 ERA at Atlanta last year, throws a six-hit shutout at Minnesota in the Indians’ 5-0 win; it’s his first blanking since 2005, and the first in ten years by any major leaguer without the benefit of a strikeout.

Wednesday, May 16
Colorado pitcher Jamie Moyer continues to add his name to the Geritol section of the recordbook. With a two-run single in the fourth inning against Arizona, Moyer becomes the oldest player (at 49) to knock in a run in a major league game. On the mound, Moyer pitches 6.1 innings and allows just a run as the Rockies defeat the struggling Diamondbacks at Coors Field, 6-1.

Thursday, May 17
The Diamondbacks regroup and topple the Rockies 9-7 in an exciting finish, but the real buzz during the game takes place during the fifth inning when a swarm of bees settles in at the far end of the Colorado dugout, scattering players, photographers and fans from the immediate area. A beekeeper is quickly summoned to vacuum the bees and send them to a different area, causing a delay in the game. Arizona scores six times over the final two innings and withstands lesser rallies by the Rockies to win.

The Philadelphia Phillies beat the Chicago Cubs, 8-7, to snap a five-game losing streak with ace Roy Halladay on the mound. Halladay had been 0-3 over his previous five starts with a 4.59 ERA; the Phillies had lost all five games. They nearly blow this one as well; the Cubs score four times in the bottom of the ninth off Philly relievers and leave the tying run on base. The loss goes to Cub starter Chris Volstad (0-6), who’s winless in eight starts this season and given a demotion to the bullpen.

Friday, May 18
Detroit ace Justin Verlander comes within two outs of his third career no-hitter, but Pittsburgh’s Josh Harrison—playing the designated hitter on the majors’ first day of interleague action this season—reaches out and floats a soft single into center field on a 0-2 pitch to ruin it. Verlander settles for a one-hit shutout, striking out 12, as the Tigers defeat the Pirates, 6-0.

In his second start since coming back from retirement, Andy Pettitte tosses eight shutout innings as the New York Yankees coast past the Cincinnati Reds at Yankee Stadium, 4-0. The 39-year-old southpaw throws 115 pitches, 78 for strikes.

Facing his old teammates for the first time, Philadelphia closer Jonathan Papelbon gives up a leadoff single to Kelly Shoppach—then retires the next three Boston hitters in the ninth to earn a save and secure the Phillies’ 6-4 win over the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park. Papelbon declares after the game that this save means nothing more to him than any other.

Saturday, May 19
The Indians beat the Miami Marlins at first-place Cleveland, 2-0, before a crowd of 29,799—their second largest crowd of the year. But they remain the majors’ lowest draw—and apparently an unfriendly one at that, something that’s hot on the mind of Indian closer Chris Perez, who earns a dominating save and then tees off on the fans after the game. “I don’t think they have a reason to boo me,” he tells reporters, “It’s even worse when there’s only 5,000 in the stands, because you can hear it. It pisses me off…Guys don’t want to come over here and people wonder why. Why doesn’t Carlos Beltran (who declined a two-year offer from Cleveland) want to come over here? Well, because of that.”

Sunday, May 20
Stephen Strasburg pitches five innings—and connects on his first career home run—to help give the Nationals a 9-3 win against Baltimore and salvage a victory in a three-game interleague series against the Orioles.

Max Scherzer, struggling along for the Tigers with a 6.26 ERA, strikes out a career-high 15 batters and allows two runs (both on solo home runs) in seven innings as Detroit tips Pittsburgh, 4-3, at Comerica Park.

Trailing 5-3 in the seventh inning, the Los Angeles Dodgers get a three-run, two-out pinch-hit home run from Scott Van Slyke—the son of former all-star Andy Van Slyke—that is the first of his career; the Dodgers hold on from there and defeat the Cardinals, 6-5.

The Oakland A's take advantage of another disappointing start for beleaguered former Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum (whose ERA rises to 6.04) and defeat the Giants, 6-2, for their first win at AT&T Park in their last 11 tries.

League vs. League
There’s something about the American League when it comes to interleague play. The start of head-to-head competition between the two leagues began this past weekend resulted in yet another winning weekend for the Junior Circuit over the National League, taking 24 of 42 contests. The AL has had the better of the NL each year since 2004.

This Week's Challanger to Joe DiMaggio
Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles ends this past week with the majors’ longest active hitting streak at 12 games—topping the ten-game streak he put together to start the year. Jones’ current run includes six home runs (giving him 14 on the year) and put his season average above .300.

Would No-Doz Help?
Not even juicy testimony from Brian McNamee that Roger Clemens had multiple “squeezes” (the female kind) during his alleged steroid days has been enough to keep the jury in Clemens’ trial awake. A second juror was let go this past week for the same reason as the first: She was falling asleep during testimony.

Thumbs Down to the Record
Miami speedster Emilio Bonifacio had a painful end to his streak of successive stolen base attempts on Friday when he sprained his left thumb attempting to nab a bag in the Marlins’ 3-2 win at Cleveland. He was tagged out on the play, his first time caught stealing after stealing a club-record 20 bases to start a season.

No O-Dogs Allowed at Petco
Orlando Hudson ends this past week leading the majors with five triples—and in search of a new job. The 34-year-old second baseman was released by the San Diego Padres after an otherwise slow start, hitting .211 with little power and on-base productivity; the move is said to be the beginning of a midseason youth makeover for the Padres, who own the NL’s worst record.

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!