A Glut of Perfection
For the first time in modern major league history, two perfect games have been thrown in the same year. Just 20 days after Dallas Braden achieved perfection against Tampa Bay, Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay retired all 27 Florida Marlins he faced in Saturday’s 1-0 win for the Phillies at Miami. For Halladay, it was his first no-hit performance on any kind; he had come within an out of a no-hitter in just his second major league start for Toronto in 1998, before Detroit’s Bobby Higginson spoiled it with a pinch-hit home run.
So why all the recent perfection? Starting with Len Barker’s perfect game in 1981, there have been 11 such performances in just 29 years, after seven had been thrown in the previous 80 seasons. In fact, baseball went 34 years, from Charlie Roberston in 1922 to Don Larsen in 1956, without a single perfect game.
Our theory is simple. For the bulk of the baseball’s relative perfect game drought, there were only 16 teams. Now there are 30, which means there’s a lot of major leaguers who would still be toiling in the minors had it never been for expansion. The talent level is therefore watered down, leaving the pitcher who has that exceptional day to increase his odds of mastering the perfecto. Look again at the Marlin lineup facing Halladay; if this were a 16-team set-up, would you be seeing the likes of Gaby Sanchez, Brett Hayes or even Cameron Maybin in the majors? No, you wouldn’t.
...And Those Not-so Modern Gems
We omit Richmond and Ward because they were not played under the “modern rules” that settled into place at the turn of the century. First, and most critically, the pitcher’s mound in 1880 was five feet closer to home plate than it is today (unless Ted Lilly is pitching; see below). Second, in Richmond’s perfect game, it was reported that there were three instances where a foul ball was deemed an outeven while uncaughtper the rules of the day. Finally, consider this: In 1880, it took eight balls, not four, to earn a walk. Seriously.
Two perfect games, the first two in major league annals, were also thrown in the same year, in 1880; Lee Richmond tossed one for the NL’s Worcester Ruby Legs on June 12, followed just five days later by Providence’s John Montgomery Ward. And while most folks in the press include these 19th-Century perfect games when referring to Halladay’s gem as the 20th in major league history, others, like us, are quick to point out that it was the 18th thrown in modern history, which began in 1900.
The Cart-Off Grand Slam
Maybe it’s time for major leaguers go back to a more simpler era when a game-winning home run was celebrated with nothing more than the hitter calmly rounding the bases, without stomping on home plate surrounded by a mob scene of teammates. Kendry Morales of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will certainly think about it the next time he wins one with a swing of his bat. Unfortunately, he won’t get that opportunity anytime soon after breaking his leg from an awkward jump onto home plate, following a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the tenth inning on Saturday against Seattle. Morales was taken off on a stretcher and was immediately placed on the 15-day disabled list, but there’s a good possibility he’ll miss the rest of the season.
Ironically, the Angels won again on Sunday, the next day, with another walk-off homer, this time by Howie Kendrickwho played it safe and avoided the jump at home plate while his wary teammates kept their distance.
Was He Followed by Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde?
Baltimore outfielder Adam Jones, arriving in Toronto for a weekend series against the Blue Jays, was detained for a few hours by Canadian immigration officials because they believed he had a criminal record. They soon realized that he was not Adam “Pacman” Jones, the football player with a lengthy rap sheet, and released him.
It’s 60 feet and six inches from the top of the pitching mound to home plate, but Los Angeles third baseman Casey Blake believed that Chicago pitcher Ted Lilly was illegally shaving off some of that distance during the Cubs’ 1-0 win over the Dodgers on Thursday at Wrigley Field. After Blake singled off Lilly in the sixth inning, he told first base umpire John Hirschbeck that Lilly was pitching in front of the rubberand became enraged when Hirschbeck refused to do anything about it. In response afterward, Lilly played the ‘two wrongs make a right’ card by suggesting that batters like Blake should keep their feet planted within the batter’s box, a written rule often ignored by both players and the umpires who are supposed to check.
Did You See That?
In that same game at Wrigley, the Dodgers’ Russell Martin lined a single past Chicago third baseman Jeff Baker, who didn’t even reactbecause he didn’t know that a sizzling line drive had just gone past him. It turns out that he temporarily lost vision in his right eye and was immediately taken out after Cub manager Lou Piniella went out to check on him. Baker was sent to the hospital, was given aspirinand the vision soon returned.
The timing does seem odd, suggesting that MLB saw the Guillen-Buehrle incident as a tipping point to fine West, who is head of the umpire’s union and, many opine, is a self-promoting egotist who has a side career as a country singer. “Sometimes (West) thinks people pay to watch him umpire,” said Guillen during a profanity-laced tirade following Wednesday’s game. And what did West have to say about his fine? “I will say it’s none of your business,” he told reporters before Friday’s game at Boston between the Red Sox and Kansas City.
In an unusual ruling handed down by MLB this past week, Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and pitcher Mark Buehrle were fined for separate confrontations with umpire Joe West during the Sox’ 5-4 win at Cleveland on Wednesday. But here’s where it gets unusual: West was also fined, though it officially had nothing to with his actions during the game, in which Guillen accused West of inciting Buehrle to rant after two balk calls. Instead, West was docked for having his publicist advertise West’s availability to discuss his comments about the slow play of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, which were made in early April.
As Bad as It Gets
The woebegone Pittsburgh Pirates have already been shut out seven times this year, and have been outscored in those seven games by a 59-0 count.
Even Superman Stinks Sometimes
Albert Pujols tied a personal mark set during his 2001 rookie campaign when he went 11 straight games without knocking in a run. That came to an end on Thursday when he belted a three-run homer at San Diego to give St. Louis an 8-3 win.
YouTube Clip of the Week
You often only see still images of Ty Cobb, but rarely do you see actual footage of him playing as well as hearing him talk. You get both here in this cool snippet.
Wounded of the Week
Among those admitted into the major league House of Pain this week are returning patients in Boston outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (ribs), San Francisco shortstop Edgar Renteria (hamstring) and Oakland outfielder Coco Crisp (strained chest muscle). Of this past week’s first-time entrants, the strangest case belongs to St. Louis starting pitcher Kyle Lohse, who is suffering from a rare condition called exertional compartment syndrome in the right forearm, a problem which results from unusual pain or swelling after extensive exercise. Lohse underwent surgery to correct the problem and is expected to be for at least two months.
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The 1921 and 1922 Yearly Reader pages, chronicling the emergence of the New York Yankees-New York Giants rivalry as Babe Ruth's rise to fame enraged longtime Giant manager John McGraw, have been updated with images. Check it out.
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.
Who Has Surprised, For Better or For Worse
The first substantive barometer of how the regular season usually will flesh out occurs at the 50-game mark, which the campaign reached this past weekend. With that in mind, here’s our pick for the top five teams that have overachievedfollowed by the five who thus far can be labeled the biggest flops.
1. Toronto Blue Jays. We fully expected the Blue Jays to be limping toward a possible 100-loss campaign with Roy Halladay leaving behind a fragile and inexperienced rotation and a hitting lineup that has been iffy over the past few years. Instead, the Jays are shaking up an AL East that usually belongs to the Yankees and Red Sox, thanks to a surprising power-laden offense that’s on pace to break the all-time team home run record.
2. Washington Nationals. The team that’s threatened to become a bigger joke than the two versions of the Senators and hanging in there at the .500 mark. The key has been the bullpen, so disastrous last season but a savior so far with numerous wins and saves already under its belt.
3. San Diego Padres. The young, inexpensive upstarts who gave hints of things to come late last year seem to be evolving much faster than anyone anticipated, leading the NL in steals while the staff has generated the majors’ second best ERA; and just in case you thought spacious Petco Park had a lot to do with the latter number, consider that the Padres have the third-best road ERA.
4. Cincinnati Reds. We always saw the Reds as a team with a huge upside, and they finally appear to be taking advantage. The Reds are hitting and hammering away as if Frank Robinson, Ted Kluszewski and company were still in uniform, and remember this; they still haven’t brought up Aroldis Chapman yet.
5. Tampa Bay Rays. Some might put the Rays, the team with the majors’ best record, at the top of this list, but their success hasn’t totally surprised us; we said in our pre-season preview that Tampa Bay had the potential (if not the certainty) to reign in the AL East. So far, so very, very good.
1. Chicago White Sox. Welcome to the umpteenth go-around of the Hitless Wonders, with the (very) Pale Hose’s team average limping along at .235. We picked the White Sox to win the AL Central based on the recent mass accrual of current/former star talent (Andruw Jones, Jake Peavy, Juan Pierre, et al), but with the exception of Alex Rios, most of those additions have not gotten the job done.
2. Seattle Mariners. We weren’t as gaga over the Mariners as some prognosticators were after they brought in Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins and Milton Bradley, but even by the tempered standards we imagined, things are rotten so far in the Emerald City. The offseason moves haven’t helped an offense that’s dead last in the AL in slugging percentage, and the clubhouse environment has been challenging with Ken Griffey Jr.’s sleeping adventures and Bradley’s continued distractions.
3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. You can usually count on the Angels to be making trouble at or near the top of the AL standings, but the only reason they’re so close to the top right now is that no one else in the West is making a statement. The hitting has been off-and-on and the pitching has been, well, off. Kendry Morales’ walk-off broken leg will make any turnaround all the more difficult.
4. Milwaukee Brewers. Anytime you find yourself knotted in the standings with the Pittsburgh Pirates, it’s time to take a good look in the mirror. The main problem for the Brewers thus far has been their pitching, and more pointedly their bullpen, with an ERA that’s second worst in the majors. Poor play at home hasn’t helped, either.
5. Baltimore Orioles. We didn’t expect the evolving Orioles to make much of a run this year, but we didn’t think they’d lie down and play dead, either. Owners of the majors’ worst record, the Orioles’ woes can be mainly attributed to an offense that, in past years, has been their saving grace. They’ve been particularly awful in the clutch, barely hitting .200 with runners in scoring position.
Honestly, We're Broke
The Texas Rangers declared bankruptcy this past week, but for those whose eyebrows were raised at the announcement, it didn’t mean that the AC has been shut off in the clubhouse, or that front office employees are wearing nothing more than barrels and suspenders, or that the player’s food table consists solely of Top Ramen. The move to Chapter 11 was made to accelerate the franchise’s sale, which has been stalled by financial lenders that have been slapping liens on the team; bankruptcy will leave those banks powerless, for now. The filing also temporarily blocks payments to former Rangers who are owed deferred payments, including Alex Rodriguez ($25 million) and Mickey Tettelton ($1.4 million), who last played in the majors in 1997.
Quick, the Eraser!
One inning into Friday’s game between the Padres and Washington Nationals at San Diego, Padre manager Bud Black looked at the lineup card and realized that his starting pitcher, Clayton Richard, was never written in; it instead listed Adam Russell, who was on a plane to Triple-A Portland. When the Nationals realized the same thing, they notified the umpires and told them they were playing the game under protest. The whole scene became much ado about nothing when Washington won, 5-3.
A Happy Father
In his first game since the birth of his child, Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera hit three home runs against Oakland on Friday. The blasts were not enough; the Tigers lost, 5-4.
That Impenetrable Yankee Ceiling
Postseason results included, Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire has a lifetime 18-54 record against the New York Yankees; against the rest of the majors, he’s 727-572.
The Beef is Back
Scott Rolen appears to have his power game back after a prolonged period of mild slugging output at best. In 160 at-bats this year, Rolen (now playing for Cincinnati) has smacked 11 homers, matching his entire total for 2009 (in 475 at-bats) and 2008 (in 408 at-bats); he had just eight during 2007 in 392 at-bats. Rolen is on pace to break his career high of 34 long balls slammed in 2004.
Is History Repeating Itself?
The Houston Astros dropped to 15-30 after losing at Milwaukee, 6-1, this past Monday. They also started the 2005 season at 15-30and went on to win the NL pennant. As a number of TGG Facebook friends agreed, we doubt the Astros have it in them to make a run this time around.
A Blank Slate
The Philadelphia Phillies didn’t score a single run in their three-game series at New York against the Mets this past week; not since 2004 had a team gone scoreless in a series of three games or longer, when Kansas City was blanked by Minnesota. But those were the low-rent Royals; these are the two-time defending NL champion Phillies, who arguably possess more firepower than any other team. It got to the point where the struggling Phillies figured that the only way they’d win is if one of their pitchers could fire a perfect game…which is what Roy Halladay did on Saturday.
This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees reigns as the major leaguer with the longest active hitting streak at the end of this past week, having hit safely in 13 straight games. Cano, who has quietly emerged into a MVP-caliber player, is hitting .444 during his run.
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TGG's Eric Gouldsberry lets us in on the best way for MLB to use comprehensive video replay in the latest Opinion installment.