Who Are These Guys?
It’s getting to be hard to recall a single year in baseball when so many fresh faces made such an impact. Highlighted above all the achievements was, of course, the debut of pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg, who pitched seven terrific innings in his first outing for the Washington Nationals on Tuesday against Pittsburgh, striking out 14 batters. Only two other pitchersKarl Spooner in 1954 and J.R. Richard in 1971struck out more batters in their first major league starts, each collecting 15 K’s. But both of those pitchers also walked three batters; Strasburg walked none.
Baseball needs a clean shot of youthful enthusiasm in the arm after recklessly shooting itself in the butt with shameful performance enhancement over the last 20 years, and here are the guys who look ready to turn the page for the better:
Jake Arrieta, 24, Baltimore. Okay, so it was just one start and he didn’t overpower like Strasburg, allowing three runs on four hits and four walks in six innings against the New York Yankees on Wednesday. But it was a rare win for the Orioles, and an especially rare one against the Yankees, who had beaten Baltimore ten times in a row.
Tyler Colvin, 24, Chicago Cubs. He's played almost every game for the Cubs, but usually as a pinch-hitter or late substitution; he's certainly made the most of his effort, smacking six homers with 16 RBIs in just 98 at-bats. Perhaps Steve Stone is right: Play him everyday!
Ike Davis, 23, New York Mets. The Mets and their fans certainly like Ike. Before his arrival, the Mets were 4-8 and still brooding about as the inept woe-are-us underachievers of the past three years. But they’re 31-20 since Davis came to town, and he’s injected desperately sought confidence with solid play both at the plate and at first base.
David Freese, 27, St. Louis. Freese has been a pleasant marvel of consistency for the Cardinals, hitting above .300 all season long to date; although he's not a power threat, he's on pace to knock in nearly 100 runs.
Jason Heyward, 20, Atlanta. In the season’s first few weeks, Heyward had a monopoly on the rookie buzz with astonishing power and veteran presence, and even though he’s cooled of late, he’s still on pace to hit 26 home runs and knock in 108 runs.
Mike Leake, 22, Cincinnati. The right-handed starting pitcher never played a day in the minorsand, so far, has never lost a game, having claimed victories in his first five decisions. His 2.68 ERA is the best on the Reds' staff.
Daniel Nava, 27, Boston. Became the second player in major league history to hit a grand slam on the very pitch thrown to him when he cleaned the bags on Saturday against Philadelphia. He later doubled. Not a bad start.
Buster Posey, 23, San Francisco. It took 21 games, but Posey’s batting average finally cooled offbelow .400. The young catcher, who thus far has spent most of his time at first base, has been full of contact and a revelation for Giant fans thirsting for good hitting.
Mike Stanton, 20, Florida. After booming 89 homers in two-plus years in the minors, the Marlins decided it was time to give the 6’5” 235-pounder a shot at the big leagueseven if it meant surpassing Triple-A in the process. Early results? Three hits in his first game, a double and triple in his third. Stanton has replaced Cameron Maybin, another assumed can’t-miss, in center field.
Carlos Santana, 24, Cleveland. He may not know how to belt out Black Magic Woman, but he can sure belt a baseball. Santana doubled and homered in his second major league game on Saturday against Washington, and his presence behind the plate will hopefully ease the pain of Tribe fans fuming over the loss of Victor Martinez.
Jose Tabata, 21, Pittsburgh. The speedy outfielder, a first-round draft pick by the Bucs in 2006, has five hits through his first four games with two doubles and a pair of steals.
Neil Walker, 24, Pittsburgh. After struggling with both his bat and glove in six minor league seasons, everything snapped into place for Walker at Triple-A Indianapolis to start this yearand it continues since his call-up to Pittsburgh, where he’s hit a sound .300 to give the Pirates yet one more piece (along with Tabata and perhaps pitcher Brad Lincoln) to a puzzle they hope will solve nearly two straight decades of losing.
Sixty Years of Separation
Ivan Rodriguez, who as a young catcher in Texas was behind the plate for Nolan Ryanwhose career began in 1966was behind the dish for Strasburg, who, if all goes well, should pitch through the year 2026.
The Wave Beyond Strasburg
Strasburg’s debut came a day after the Nationals landed another big-time prospect for the number one pick in the MLB draft, snaring 17-year old Bryce Harper out of Las Vegas. Harper made noise last year with his sensational abilities to hit with awesome power, run like a jack rabbit and even throw a fastball over 90 MPH. Harper’s downside: A cocky lack of maturity that has led to numerous ejections in his short time at Southern Nevada Community College.
As usual, the draft was dotted with major league legacies and a few other interesting picks. Jamie Moyer’s son, Dillon Moyer, was selected in the 22nd round by the Minnesota Twins; Cincinnati chose Jacob May, the grandson of former Red slugger Lee May, in the 39th round; Pittsburgh took Patrick Leyland, the son of former Pirate manager Jim Leyland, in the eighth round; Houston snared Delino DeShields Jr. in the first round; St. Louis drafted Drew Benes, the son of former Cardinal pitcher Andy Benes, in the 35th round; and the Los Angeles Dodgers selected Andre Ethier’s younger 20-year old brother Devon Either, as well as the son of former major leaguer Tim Wallach, Chad.
Elsewhere, the Colorado Rockies used their first pick to take Kyle Parker, who hit 20 homers as an outfielder for Clemsonand threw 20 touchdown passes as its football quarterback; The Boston Red Sox selected Kendrick Perkins, no relation to the Boston Celtic center of the same name (though they both grew up near Houston); and the Chicago Cubs selected, in the 26th round, pitcher Bryan HarperBryce’s older brother.
Remembering the Onslaught
Sixty years to the week that the Boston Red Sox laid a record dose of offensive hurt on the St. Louis Browns, a bronze statue was unveiled outside of Fenway Park featuring not one but four players from the time: Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr, all standing beside one another. The two surviving members of that sculpture, Pesky and Doerr, were on hand for the ceremony. All four players were instrumental on a 1950 Red Sox team that was the last in the majors to date to bat .300; on June 7 of that year, they pummeled the Browns by a score of 20-4and followed it up the next day with a 29-4 thrashing, the highest run total in a major league game until the Texas Rangers dropped 30 on Baltimore in 2007.
Can We Start Over Again?
Cleveland infielder Andy Marte came off the disabled list on Wednesday and was given a rare start at third base against Boston; he responded by committing three errorstwo on one playin just the first inning. The Indians survived the gaffes to beat the Red Sox, 8-7.
YouTube Clip of the Week
It may have lacked the sensationalism and importance of Willie Mays’ historic catch in the 1954 World Series, but Joe Mauer’s behind-the-net stab at a foul ball on Wednesday at Target Field for Minnesota against Kansas City is still worth a look.
Wounded of the Week
Also entering the MLB House of Pain this week are Texas pitcher Rich Harden, Atlanta outfielder Nate McLouth, Chicago Cub third baseman Aramis Ramirez (with a thumb injury that finally might explain his .168 average) and repeat offenders in Boston pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka and Minnesota infielder J.J. Hardy. Finally, Milwaukee catcher Gregg Zaun had season-ending shoulder surgery and, at age 39, he admits that he may never play again.
San Diego pinch-hitter Matt Stairs was placed on the 15-day disabled list this past week due to what was described as a “mystery knee ailment.” There’s no mystery about it at all; Stairs is 42 years old. At that age, injuries happen for no reason.
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.
Sigh Times in Chi-Town
The Cubs have showed mostly disappointment since igniting a spending spree over the last few years, languishing well below .500 and threatening to share the bottom of the table with ever-suffering Pittsburgh and disastrous Houston. On the south side, there were early visions of a divisional title for the White Soxthey sure had us fooledbut with a sub-.500 performance since Opening Day, there are now only visions of a fire sale, which could only serve to further tear apart an already fractious clubhouse; pitcher Jake Peavy didn’t waste any time to go on the record and state that if management throws in the towel, he wants to be the first to go.
It only seems poetic that the Chicago Cubs and White Sox, two of the majors’ most disappointing teams thus far in 2010, would be playing one another in a weekend interleague series for a trophy sponsored by BP. (Yes, BPthe company that’s overtaken AIG as the most villainous in the world.) No one seems happy in the Windy City. In advance of the battle for the BP Crosstown Cup, there was a highly publicized shouting match between White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and his boss, general manager Ken Williams, over the selecting of Gullien’s son Ozney in the late rounds of last week’s draft; there was Cub manager Lou Piniella, lashing out at White Sox (and former Cub) broadcaster Steve Stone over Stone’s continuous public insistence that the Cubs should be playing rookie Tyler Colvin everyday; and there were the fans at Wrigley Field, who not surprisingly booed at the first mention of BP before Friday’s series opener. (And, oh, yes, the Cubs finally put up the huge billboard at Wrigley for another corporation with recent PR headaches: Toyota.) Even the beloved Cub, Ron Santo, took time away from the broadcasting booth due to illnessprobably after growing sick watching the Cubs continually lose.
Do You Feel the Energy?
For shear baseball-related entertainment, nothing beats this past week’s story in the Los Angeles Times which reveals that, from 2004-08, the Dodgers contracted a Russian émigré scientist who claimed to heal people by transmitting positive energy some “10-to-15 times” more than the average person through his hands. There’s more: The scientist, 71-year old Vladimir Shpunt, also said he was able to send positive energy 3,000 miles away from his Boston-area home to the Dodgers while he watched the team on TV. The Dodgers’ owners, Frank and Jamie McCourt, brought him onto the teamin the midst of their nasty ongoing divorce, each one claims the other brought in Shpuntpaid him six-figure salaries and truly believe that he’s been an integral catalyst to the team’s successes of recent years. Read Bill Shailkin’s story here.
Seeing the Light at the End of the Syringe
Barry Bonds is this close to beating the Federal rap. The U.S. Court of Appeals this past week ruled 2-1 in favor of Bonds in declaring damaging evidence in the perjury case against him as inadmissible. The Feds’ only hope is that someone who could substantiate the evidence in question would testify against Bonds. That someone happens to be Greg Anderson, his personal trainer and PED dealer who has already fallen on the sword twice for Bonds, serving jail time rather than talk. Even with a weakened case, prosecutors are insisting that they’ll move forward with the case, which could finally take place this fall.
Something Fishy Behind Home Plate
The Florida Marlins announced this past week that their new ballpark, slated to open in 2012, will include two long fish tanks as part of the backstop behind home plate, extending between home and the dugouts. Combined, they’ll hold over 1,000 gallons of saltwater but will not include any marlins, because they’d be too big to fit in. The tanks will be encased in special fiberglass that’s 1.5 inches thick and is bulletproofand, we hope, foul ball-proof as well.
The Corked Bats in the Belfry
Pete Rose gambled on baseball during his time in the game, and now it looks like he cheated as well. Sports collectors who have a hold of one or more of Rose’s bats that he sold at the end of his career to keep him financially in the black are having them x-rayed after a deadspin.com article cited a collector who did the same and found cork planted inside. Some of the ensuing x-rays have also shown the bats as testing positive for cork. The all-time hit king has previously denied having corked bats, but he also denied gambling on baseball until coming clean in 2004. Some believe this will only harden MLB’s resolve to not reinstate Rose back into the game, others simply throw their hands in the air and believe that everyone cheats, so what’s the big dealand a few others evoke the Discovery Channel show “Mythbusters,” which looked into corked bats and concluded that they do nothing to improve your hitting game.
Through his first 12 starts of the year, Colorado pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez registered a 0.93 ERAonly the second player to get that far into a season with a sub-1.00 mark. (The other pitcher was Dutch Leonard, who in 1914 kept his ERA below 1.00 through the entire season for the Boston Red Sox, finishing at an all-time low 0.96.) Jimenez went over 1.00 when he gave up a season-high three runs in six innings in the Rockies’ rain-shortened 5-3 win over Toronto at Denver on Friday. Oh, by the way: Jimenez is on pace for 31 wins this year.
The New York media made noise about pop star Lady Gaga flipping the bird at fans from a Citi Field luxury box during Thursday’s game between the Mets and San Diego. (If that wasn’t enough, TMZ posted a picture of Gaga kissing another woman during that same game.) Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (no wonder she changed it), defended the moment by saying, “I bleed for my hometown and I’d die for my fans…A middle finger is more New York than a corporate ambush.” I think we speak for everyone when we say: “Has her 15 minutes expired yet?”
Let the Human Element Reign
In the wake of the Armando Galarraga perfect game that wasn’t, commissioner Bud Selig went on the record this past week stating that he would not expand video replay this yearand perhaps beyond, as well. Selig did make one move, “reassigning” Jimmie Lee Solomon, the man responsible for overseeing umpires and security for MLB, in favor of Hall of Famer Frank Robinson. Oh, that should solve everything.
So it Ain't Pollyanna
Never mind that the Minnesota Twins are owners of one of the majors’ best home records thanks to a .285 average at their new downtown palace, Target Field; the players still have their criticisms of the conditions. Much of it has to do with the glare that bounces off the hitter’s wall behind the center field fence, as well as the large retro Minnie+Paul sign atop the right-center bleachers. Some of the team’s boomers are also grumbling over the fact Target Field is spacious and is near the bottom of the ballpark list for home run production. The Twins say they will try and do something about the glare, but no word yet on whether the fences will be moved in for 2011.
Alcoholic Toys For Tots
Even the children haven’t been spared at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park so far this year. There was the highly publicized story, back in April, of a drunken fan who intentionally threw up on an 11-year old girl. Then there was the teenager who was tased after running on the field. Now we get this: Video footage from a June 7 game between the Phillies and San Diego Padres of a toddler in the stands apparently drinking from a beer bottle. A spokesperson for the Phillies said the team took a good look at the video and assured everyone that the bottle he was sipping from was “probably empty.”
League vs. League
Interleague play resumed this past weekend and the American leaguewhich has dominated head-to-head competition with the National League over the last six yearshas a slight 43-41 edge as of Sunday.
This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Brandon Phillips of the Cincinnati Reds end this past week with the majors’ longest active hitting streak at 15 games. It hasn’t been merely a hit a game for Phillips during his run; he’s batting .463 since the streak began back on May 28.
Coming Soon to TGG
The latest installment of They Were There, with Ed Attanasio’s interview with former speed burner Maury Wills; a lighthearted piece from the Opinion section discussing major league “impostors”; and improvements to the Comebacker Index pages, which will now include captioned details of what has appeared in our weekly news and notes dating back to 2007.
Now Playing at TGG
TGG's Eric Gouldsberry lets us in on the best way for MLB to use comprehensive video replay in the latest Opinion installment.