The Week That Was in Baseball: May 17-23, 2010
Looking Back at Jose Lima Fixing Interleague Play Bedtime for Ken Griffey Jr.?
More Popular Than the Beatles, Too? The Yankees Out-Brand Manchester United

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Jose Lima, 1972-2010
Few players experienced the ups and downs of a career more radically than Jose Lima, who shockingly died of a massive heart attack Sunday in Los Angeles at the age of just 37. After sputtering as a reliever in his early years with Detroit, he was sent to Houston where he became an immediate success as a starter for the Astros, producing a 16-8 record in 1998—followed by a 21-10 mark the following year. The Astros’ move in 2000 from the pitcher-friendly Astrodome to Enron Field (Minute Maid Park), initially a home run paradise, all but permanently screwed up Lima, who gave up a NL-record 48 home runs to go with a 7-16 record and horrific 6.65 ERA. For the next three years, Lima bounced from club to club, trying to get his groove back; in 2004 he finally showed a modest return to form when he went 13-5 with a 4.07 ERA for the Los Angeles Dodgers—saving his best outing for last when he tossed a five-hit shutout against St. Louis in the NLDS. But he relapsed the next year with Kansas City, losing 16 of 21 decisions with a 6.99 ERA that was the worst ever by a pitcher with 30 or more starts. After losing all four of his starts (with a 9.87 ERA) early in 2006 for the New York Mets, Lima was done in the majors. Attempts to revive his career in South Korea and the minors failed.

Wake Up and Smell Your Age
Willie Mays learned a long time ago that it’s best to quit while you’re ahead—or at least before you realize that what scant little you have left is turning you into a major embarrassment on the field. Maybe it’s time for Ken Griffey Jr. to learn that lesson as well. Never mind the recent controversy of whether the 40-year old Kid slept during a game; so far on the field, his power game has yet to reawaken. Griffey has not homered so far in 2010 in 102 at-bats, his longest drought to start a season—and the longest at any point during his storied career. When Griffey hit a game-winning, walk-off single—yes, the days of walk-off Griffey homers may be in the past—against Toronto on Thursday, many writers shouted out to him: Retire on the high note!

Bumble Fish
A bad Monday turned into a potentially ugly week for Florida star shortstop Hanley Ramirez. During Monday’s 5-1 loss at Miami. Ramirez hurt his shin after fouling off a first-inning pitch from the Arizona’s Edwin Jackson, before bouncing into a double play; an inning later, Ramirez failed to hustle quickly after a ball he accidentally booted 100 feet in short left field, allowing two Arizona runs to score. Marlin manager Fredi Gonzalez pulled him out at that moment, saying afterward that lack of hustle, not injury, was the reason. Rather than owe up to the mistake, a defiant Ramirez ripped into Gonzalez—reminding that the manager never played in the majors—and also his teammates, for whom he claimed had at times been lazy in the field without apologizing.

Ramirez’s behavior made him the odd man out in the Florida clubhouse; Gonzalez benched him indefinitely until he apologized, and numerous teammates and Florida owner Jeffrey Loria backed Gonzalez in the feud. Ramirez could have turned the situation into something truly nasty, but common sense finally reared its head on Wednesday when Ramirez apologized to his team. He then went out and collected three hits, two of them infield singles, against St. Louis.

Wright and Wrong
The New York Mets’ David Wright has the pop back in his bat this year, with eight homers so far as compared to just ten for all of last year—but he seems to be losing major discipline at the plate along with it.  Over each of his first four full years, Wright consistently struck out around 115 times, a substantive total, but hardly anything to be concerned about. Yet last year, that total increased to 140 even while suffering from his power outage—and so far in 2010, he’s struck out 60 times, placing him neck-and-neck for the major league lead with two-time major league record-holder Mark Reynolds, both on pace to whiff over 200 times. There’s additional cost for Wright in that his average (.261) is 50 points below his career mark.

Elias Sports Bureau Fact of the Week
The New York Mets’ Angel Pagan hit an inside-the-park home run and started a triple play in Wednesday’s 5-3 loss at Washington, the first time a player had managed to do both in the same game since Philadelphia’s Ted Kazanski in 1955.

Three days later, the second inside-the-park homer in Nationals Park history never should have been. Washington center fielder Nyjer Morgan went back against the fence on a deep drive by Baltimore’s Adam Jones and, believing the ball had deflected off his glove and over the fence, turned away and slammed his mitt on the ground. One problem: The ball never cleared the fence and was lying on the warning track behind him. An alert Josh Willingham came to the rescue to retrieve the ball, but not quick enough to keep Jones from circling the bases. The Nationals survived Morgan’s bonehead outburst to beat the Orioles, 7-6.

Stay in the Executive Suite, Please
Morgan wasn't the only guy to have a bad experience in the Nationals Park outfield this past week. Washington owner Mark Lerner decided to put on a uniform and shag batting practice balls before Thursday’s game against the New York Mets—and got nailed in the nose by a ball. He was taken in and received 30 stitches.

¡Jugar Bola!
The total grouping of major league talent has become quite international over the years, but U.S. citizens have continued to enjoy a virtual monopoly on the umpire roster, with only a few exceptions. At the start of this season, we could only find two in the majors born outside of America: Cuba’s Angel Hernandez and Mexico’s Alfonso Marquez. A third was temporarily added this past week when Manuel Gonzalez became the first Venezuelan umpire in big league history, promoted from Triple-A to fill in for John Hirschbeck (absent with a “personal matter”).

Poorer and Loving It
This past winter, Adam LaRoche turned down a two-year, $17 million offer to play for the San Francisco Giants and later signed with Arizona for one year and $6 million. Some say he happily sacrificed $11 million in guaranteed wages so he could play in a ballpark where offensive stats rack up more easily. Adding salt to the wound, LaRoche greeted his would-be mates for the first time in 2010 when he helped the D-Backs sweep the Giants in two games this past week with two homers (both in Wednesday’s 13-1 rout) and two doubles. No Giant player has yet to hit two homers in a game all year long.

Wounded of the Week
After a few quiet weeks at the MLB MASH unit, the ceasefire apparently broke as a flood of new patients arrived. Among the wounded: Yankee catcher Jorge Posada (broken foot), Boston pitcher Josh Beckett (back), Cleveland infielder Asdrubal Cabrera (broken arm), his teammate outfielder Grady Sizemore (knee), Tampa Bay reliever J.P. Howell (shoulder, out for the season), two New York starting pitchers (Jonathan Niese and John Maine) and, once more, Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins, back on the shelf with calf problems not even a week after his return.

More curiously, there was the plight of Milwaukee pitcher Doug Davis, who made news a few years back when he (successfully) battled thyroid cancer; this past week he encountered an equally frightening moment when he thought he was suffering a heart attack. Doctors revealed that he actually has pericarditis, an inflammation of the membrane near the heart. Davis has been asked to take 15 days off while medicine does it work, which it is fully expected to.

Then there was St. Louis pitcher Brad Penny, who hit a grand slam during Friday’s interleague contest against Los Angeles of Anaheim—and suffered an upper back strain in the process, ending his night and placing him on the 15-day disabled list.

Finally, we have, once, once, once again, Oakland’s Eric Chavez, who nearly made it two months into the new season before once, once, once again falling to the DL, this time for two bulging disks in his neck. The oft-injured former All Star confessed to the media that this latest injury may represent the end of the road for his baseball career.

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

League vs. League
The season’s first (and short) round of interleague play took center stage this past weekend in advance of more extended activity between June 11-27. Thirteen years after it was inaugurated, regular season games between the two leagues seemed to have been generally accepted (though our own small poll via our Facebook like page found a mixed reaction); MLB certainly has no problem with interleague play, given how it has a tendency to increase attendance.

If there was one thing we would suggest to the powers that be, it would be to scrap the annual interleague matchups based on proximity. Though we understand MLB’s salivation of scheduling, every year, intra-market rivalries such as Yankees-Mets, Dodgers-Angels, etc., is it fair to NL Central teams that the St. Louis Cardinals get to play Kansas City every year? Or is it fair to the Mets to have six annual games scheduled with the almighty Yankees while their NL East rivals don’t? This needs to be addressed for the sake of competitive balance—and please, as hard as it is, MLB, forget about the money when you do have that discussion.

Get Me Out of Here!
No one has felt the sting of the Houston Astros’ lousy start more than ace pitcher Roy Oswalt, who’s off to a 2-6 start this year despite an impressive 2.66 ERA—a number which would represent a career best if he can hold it for the rest of the season. His wish now is to finish that season in the uniform of a different team after approaching Astro management this past week and requesting a trade. You might, too, if you’ve received an average of two runs’ worth of support per start, as Oswalt has; in fact, the Astros have not scored more than four runs in any one of Oswalt’s nine outings. The 32-year old Oswalt has spent his entire ten-year major league career with Houston, twice winning 20 games (2004-05) and compiling a 139-76 record to date; he has never had a losing season.

Everything's Good Until It's New York
Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon certainly understands that taking on the Yankees is a bit different than taking on most every other major league opponent. Papelbon was beat up by the New Yorkers this past Monday, blowing a two-run, ninth-inning lead by allowing four runs on three hits (two of them home runs) in the Red Sox’ 11-9 loss. For his career against the Yankees, Papelbon has converted 12 of 15 save opportunities, but is otherwise 0-5 with a 4.59 ERA. Against the rest of baseball, he’s 15-9 with 149 saves (with just 16 blown) and a 1.61 ERA.

By the way, when was the last time Papelbon gave up two home runs in a single outing? It happened in his major league debut on July 31, 2005, when he was a starting pitcher against Minnesota.

Stairs' Eleven
With his first home run in a San Diego uniform on Saturday at Seattle, Matt Stairs has now hit long balls for 11 different major league teams, tying a record also held by Todd Zeile. The 42-year old has played for 12 teams; the one he never homered for was the Montreal Expos, his first team, during abbreviated stints from 1992-93.

Broken, Then Snapped
This past Tuesday, Cleveland back-up catcher Mike Redmond broke Mike Matheny’s record for most consecutive errorless games behind the plate at 253. In his next appearance, Saturday against the Reds, the 39-year old threw wildly past second base on a stolen base attempt by Cincinnati’s Joey Votto to snap the streak. Redmond last committed an error in 2004 while playing for the Florida Marlins.

Forbes Poll of the Week
This week it was reported by Forbes that the New York Yankees have the top brand in the world among sports teams, beating out numerous European soccer clubs—including the former Number One, England’s Manchester United. Two other major league teams made it into the top ten: The Boston Red Sox in the eight spot, followed at nine by the New York Mets. Only two other American pro sports teams—the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots—made the list.

This Week's Challenger to Anthony Young
Last week we noted that Baltimore pitcher David Hernandez had lost 11 straight decisions, the longest such active streak going in the majors. On Friday, the 25-year old from Sacramento finally got in the win column when the Orioles defeated Washington, 5-3.

Rotting Wood
Few teams have shown more patience for developing a player than the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have with Brandon Wood, a highly-touted prospect who, after three seasons of minimal play in the majors, was handed the keys to the starting job at third base this year to replace the departed Chone Figgins. As of Sunday, Wood has not shown to be anywhere near a worthy replacement, batting .156 with a pair of home runs; worse, he’s struck out 36 times in 122 at-bats while walking only twice. Going off on that tangent, here’s another frightening stat to consider: For his career, Wood has 110 strikeouts in 346 at-bats—and just nine walks.

A Long Time Coming
The Pittsburgh Pirates had their first winning road trip (at 3-2) in almost three years when they took two out of three at Chicago and split a pair of games at Philadelphia.

Rivalry Without End
In eight games played so far this season between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, the average time of game has been three hours and 36 minutes. That includes the Red Sox’ 7-6 win at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday that lasted four hours and nine minutes, the majors’ longest nine-inning game so far this year.

The Silva Lining
Carlos Silva became the first pitcher for the Chicago Cubs to go undefeated in his first six decisions of the year since Ken Holtzman went 9-0 in a 1967 campaign cut short by military service. That's not all: Silva has now on more games for the Cubs in the season's first two months than he did with Seattle over the last two years (totaling 34 starts).

A Magnet For Pain
Some people just can’t avoid getting hurt. One of those poor lads is definitely Mark Prior, whose once-promising career bowed to a myriad of shoulder injuries, and hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2006. Still just 29, Prior was reportedly injured this past week when he took a line drive off his shoulder during batting practice with a “local” team in the San Diego area. He has been told not to throw again for three weeks to recover.

Problem Solved
On Wednesday morning, veteran second baseman Kaz Matsui was released by the Houston Astros after hitting .141 with a single RBI in 27 games. Later that night, Jeff Keppinger, Matsui’s replacement, doubled twice and knocked in four runs to guide the Astros past Colorado, 7-3.

Pack Your Chopsticks
Randy Ruiz, a career minor leaguer who made our preseason list of late call-ups from 2009 to watch in 2010 based on ten homers and a .313 batting average in 33 games for Toronto, was released this past week after an awful start (one homer and a .150 average in 40 at-bats) and immediately signed on with the Rakuten Eagles of Japan’s Pacific League. We’ll see if Ruiz becomes the next Tuffy Rhodes, another major league castoff who developed into a major slugging force in Japan by hitting nearly 500 home runs there.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Joltin’ Joe never had it easier than this season as no one has come close to challenging one of baseball’s greatest records. At the end of this past week, Cleveland’s Travis Hafner possesses the longest active hitting streak, but only at 11 games. That number has been about as far as anyone with a long hitting run has been able to reach to date in 2010.

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