The Week That Was in Baseball: June 8-14, 2009
John Henry Texts a New Curse The Number One Picks: Where Are They Now?
A Seagull Takes One for the Indians
It's the Culture You Created, Raul Ibanez

Damn Red Sox
The New York Yankees, through Sunday: 0-8 against Boston, 36-19 against the rest of the majors.

Damn Bruney
Most ballplayers usually keep their thoughts of players they can't stand quiet from the media. But Yankee reliever Brian Bruney just couldn't help himself when, after the New York Mets' Francisco Rodriguez took a tough blown save in the Yankees' 9-8 win on Friday (see above), he rubbed in it on K-Rod. "It couldn't happen to a better guy on the mound...He's a tired act," said Bruney, a six-year reliever in the majors. At first, Bruney's comments puzzled Rodriguez—the two have never tangled—and then they angered him, leading to a pregame confrontation on Sunday in which he had to be separated by Bruney. You can't love everyone in baseball; as Rodriguez himself said, sometimes it's a good idea to just keep your mouth shut.

Tweet Him Like a Man
Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira seems to be angrily a-Twitter in the aftermath of the latest Red Sox sweep of his Yankees, thanks to a series of Tweets aimed at him from Boston owner John Henry—who believes the Red Sox’ fortunes against the Bronx Bombers so far in 2009 can be attributed to what he’s calling the “MT Curse,” named after Teixeira. It appeared that Henry’s messages got under the skin of Teixeira, who spurned the Red Sox’ $180 million free agent offer this past winter to sign with the Yankees for $20 million more. “There’s no reason for me to get into any war of words with some 70-something year-old man,” declared Teixeira on the 59-year old Henry this past Friday in a lively press chat during which he grew more and more agitated as it went along. Henry continued the mind games afterward, sending another Tweet saying, “Hope I didn’t hurt Mark’s feelings!” and later sarcastically complimenting Teixeira’s game-winning score in the Yankees’ 9-8 win over the Mets, writing, “Great play by MT to score from first on the pop! What a night of baseball.”

Trivia Question of the Week
Gee, it seems like Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon always does the Yankees in with the final three outs. He saved two of the Red Sox’s three victories at home this past week against New York, and hasn’t allowed a run in five appearances against the Yankees in 2009. Over his outstanding five-year career, which AL team has Papelbon enjoyed his greatest success against? See the answer at the bottom of this column.

A Fowl Taste of Victory
The Cleveland Indians have to wonder if the birds have revenge on their minds after Shin-Soo Choo’s game-winning base hit deflected off a seagull in the tenth inning of Thursday’s game at Progressive Field against Kansas City, redirecting the ball past Royal center fielder Coco Crisp when he might have otherwise had a chance to throw out Mark DeRosa at home plate. One night later, in an effort to avoid more clashes with the birds, the Indians shot off fireworks every half-inning to scare them away, so that should do the trick—until Tippi Hedren comes clicking through the turnstile.

Tiger Stadium: The Last Stand
It appears that the deconstructionists have won out over the preservationists, as we predicted last week—only that we didn’t expect the end to come this quickly. What remained of Tiger Stadium—the double-decked structure between first and third base—was razed this past week, completing the destruction of the former home of the Tigers that many had hoped to be saved and turned into a redeveloped park. A county judge temporary halted the demolition to give a non-profit group a chance to collect $33 million in needed funds to ensure a redevelopment of the area containing the 97-year old structure, but he reversed field on Monday and allowed the razing to continue, unconvinced that the funds would ever come. So another graying, decayed structure is brought down in Detroit. And in that town, we know there’s plenty more left where that came from.

Steroids Suspect of the Week
Raul Ibanez is having a remarkable year by his standards, especially given that he’s 37; with a little more than one-third of the season done, his 22 homers are equitable to what he’s belted each of the last two full years, and he’s on pace to obliterate his career high of 33. So he got publicly incensed over what a blogger wrote on the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s web site this past week stating that his abnormal power production at a late age had to be the result of performance enhancement. Ibanez called the blogger’s entry “pathetic and disgusting” and threatened to “come after people who defame and slander” him.

Ibanez’s fantastic numbers are likely to be more related to the fact that he’s moved from a pitcher’s park (Seattle’s Safeco Field) to a home run haven in Philadelphia, and is practically hidden in a Phillie lineup by numerous star bangers whereas he had little if any protection with the Mariners. That we understand. What needs to be understood by Ibanez is that the fault for the blogger’s suspicions lies not with a snooping public but with the cheaters who created the culture in the first place, and the clean players and union that turned their backs to it all, as we recently discussed.

Yam-I-Am
Now that Jason Giambi is off the steroids, his performance enhancement of choice has become the yam. The once-and-current Oakland first baseman religiously eats the sweet potatoes before every game, something he picked up on last year when he saw then-teammate Alex Rodriguez, another former steroid confessor, going through the routine. And now, current Giambi teammates Matt Holliday, Nomar Garciaparra and Mark Ellis are said to have taken up Giambi’s pregame yam regimen. Not that any of this seems to be remaking Giambi into the star he was once was; the 38-year old is batting just .207 for the A’s.

Dine In or Starve
The Houston Chronicle reported this past week that the Astros are the only team in the majors that do not allow fans to bring their own food and (non-alcoholic) drinks into the ballpark. All other 29 teams have gone the other direction, in some cases even encouraging fans to bring their own foodstuff in as desperate, recessionary times call for desperate measures. The Astros defended their standing as the lone culinary Scrooge by stating they offered some of the majors’ cheapest tickets, and that there are plenty of dining options outside of Minute Maid Park.

Howie Didn't Do It
A number of folks were foreseeing a breakout year for Los Angeles of Anaheim second baseman Howie Kendrick this year. Right now, that road to stardom will have to go through Salt Lake City, home of the Angels Triple-A affiliate where Kendrick was sent after a struggling start to 2009 that has only gotten worse. A consistent .300 hitter since beginning his big league career in 2006, the 25-year old Kendrick is hitting just .231 so far this year.

Overdue Support
By winning for the ninth time on Sunday, San Francisco’s Matt Cain exceeded his entire win total for 2008. Yes, the 24-year old right-hander is pitching better with an ERA down to 2.39, but he’s also receiving much better run support than over his past two years, back-to-back seasons in which his team scored fewer runs per start than anyone else in the majors. The Giants have scored five or more runs in seven of Cain’s 13 starts in 2009; from 2007-08, they gave Cain that much support in only 11 of 66 starts.

Now You're Hitting?
We’re sure it thrilled the Los Angeles Dodgers that Andruw Jones, their megabust of last season, homered on consecutive days against them as a member of the Texas Rangers this past weekend. The two blasts nearly equaled Jones’ entire total of three from 2008, a year in which he hit an awful .158 in 209 at-bats. After a strong start to 2009, Jones has quieted back down toward the .250 mark, but his power (seven homers in 109 ABs) has returned—and for the Rangers, whatever contribution he makes will come practically free of charge, given that the Dodgers are paying the bulk of the multi-millions he’s owed this season.

Typo of the Week
In last week’s Comebacker we referred to Chicago Cub reliever Carlos Marmol as Chris Marmol. We know the former is the real name and knew it then, it was just a case of typing on autopilot. Mr. Marmol’s attorney has been notified and there will be no charges.

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 baseball—and possibly weaken or even break the player’s union at the same time. Read it here and give us your thoughts.

Trivia Answer
Jonathan Papelbon has yet to allow an earned run to two AL teams: Seattle and Texas (although, curiously, he’s blown one save against the Rangers as a result of allowing an unearned run). He’s also yet to blow a save against five AL opponents, including two from the AL East: Toronto and Baltimore, for which he has a combined 0.79 ERA and 34 saves against. The New York Yankees, in fact, is the one team that Papelbon’s had the greatest difficulty with; he’s blown two career saves, lost three games and produced a 3.54 ERA against the Yanks, the highest among any AL opponent.

Sizing Up the Would-Be Best of the Best
With supersonic fastball pitcher Stephen Strasberg selected as the first pick in this past week’s MLB draft, it made us curious to see how the previous ten number one picks have fared since being selected. Let’s take a look:

1999: Josh Hamilton. The current-day Texas Ranger has made good on his potential, although the path he took to get there—one riddled with substance abuse—wasn’t exactly ideal.

2000: Adrian Gonzalez. Drafted by the Rangers, now flourishing with the San Diego Padres; he leads the majors in home runs as of this writing.

2001: Joe Mauer. Unlike the previous two picks, the Minnesota catcher has stayed with the same team that picked him. Given his output to date—two AL batting titles and, currently in 2009, an average over the .400 mark—the Twins will not be letting go of him anytime soon if they can help it.

2002: Bryan Bullington. A disappointment of a pick that could only have been perpetrated by the woebegone Pittsburgh Pirates. Bullington is currently with the Blue Jays as a reliever, but his past and brief experience at the big league level has been far shy of what was expected.

2003: Delmon Young. He’s still only 23, but the Minnesota outfielder has been slipping with his numbers after a promising (if not controversial—remember the bat flipping incident in Durham) audition via the minors.

2004: Matt Bush. A massive flop. Tagged by the Padres, the shortstop couldn’t hit in the minors, and when the attempt was made to convert him into a pitcher, he blew out his elbow. Worse, Bush has involved himself in numerous off-field incidents that have led to multiple jail stays. Toronto gave him a shot this spring, was unimpressed and released him. Hopefully the $3.1 million signing bonus Bush received five years ago hasn’t all been spent on legal fees.

2005: Justin Upton. Still just 21, the Arizona outfield shows signs of a breakout campaign in 2009, hitting over .320 so far while on pace for 30 homers and 100 RBIs. He strikes out a ton, but as long as he’s got healthy power numbers, no one will care.

2006: Luke Hochevar. He’s conquered the minors, but the majors have become a wholly different battle for the 26-year old right-hander (though he clearly prevailed this past Friday, throwing just 80 pitches in a complete-game win over Cincinnati). Kansas City has been patient, but for how much longer?

2007: David Price. The tall, lanky southpaw still looks like he could become the real deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, based on his limited (yet impressive) experience at the big league level.

2008: Timothy Beckham. Drafted by the Rays last year out of high school, the 19-year old shortstop has thus far performed admirably at Class A Bowling Green, hitting close to .300. It’s a bit early for the jury to return a verdict on this kid.

A Family Affair
This year’s MLB draft produced numerous legacies among its selections: Harold Baines Jr. was taken by the Chicago White Sox, Ruben Sierra Jr. by Texas, Mike Yazstremski (grandson of Carl Yazstremski) by Boston, Steve Bumbry (son of Al Bumbry) by Baltimore, Jonathan Fernandez (son of Tony Fernandez) by Toronto, and Jake Williams (son of Matt Williams) by Arizona.

Among the other curious selections was the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s pick of Asaad Ali, the adopted son of boxing legend Muhammad Ali; Pat White, the West Virginia quarterback/outfielder who was the 44th pick in the NFL draft—and the 1,455th player taken in the MLB draft, by the New York Yankees; and two guys named Kyle Smith, unrelated to one another and both taken by the Cleveland Indians.

League Vs. League
The National League isn’t making it easy for its junior brother as in years past, but the American League is still ahead in the win count as interleague play resumed this past weekend. As of Sunday, the AL—in its quest to outperform the NL for the seventh straight year—held a 46-38 edge over the NL for 2009.

It's Raining More Than Just Losses in D.C.
The Washington Nationals are drowning badly in the standings, and if they were in a finger-pointing mood, they might blame the constant rains that have plagued their home schedule and has led to cancellations, postponements and delays—not to mention a ballpark all but empty of fans once the rain delays have ended. Eleven of the Nationals’ first 32 games have been affected by rain; three have been postponed, one finished short of nine innings (a 4-1 loss to San Francisco on June 4), one left in limbo (a 10-10 tie with Houston on May 5) and six others held up by rain but ultimately finished after a combined total of 11 hours waiting the delays out. With all due respect to Ryan Zimmerman, the current odds-on favorite to collect the Nationals’ MVP award might be the team’s tarp crew.

Night and Day
Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander’s last nine starts, through Sunday: A 7-0 record, a 1.10 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 65.1 innings. His nine starts before that: A 1-5 record and an 8.00 ERA.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
There’s a tie at the top of the leaderboard for the longest active hitting streak in the majors to end the week, but the ghost of Joe DiMaggio is hardly losing sleep over the situation. Philadelphia’s Raul Ibanez and the Cubs’ Derrek Lee both have current runs of 13 straight games with a hit—43 games short of Joltin’ Joe’s legendary mark.

This Week's Challenger to Ted Williams
Just as Ryan Zimmerman did after his long hitting streak earlier this year, Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki continued a less glamorous run when his 27-game hitting streak came to an end—one which continues as of the end of this weekend. Suzuki has reached base safely (via hit, walk or hit batsman) in 43 consecutive games—the longest such streak in the majors since Barry Bonds reached base in 58 straight games in 2003, and 41 short of the all-time record set by Ted Williams in 1949.

This Year's Challenger to Coors Field
The new Yankee Stadium continues to propagate home runs like rabbits, increasing the total number of baseballs sent over the wall to 115 in 32 games; that number, projected over an 81-game home schedule, is now at 291, just 12 shy of the major league record for the most homers hit in one ballpark for a season, set in 1999 at Denver’s mile-high Coors Field. Yankee Stadium also extended its existing record for the most consecutive games with at least one blast a game to start its lifespan.

Wounded of the Week
It may be wise to no longer pile on the pitcher that throws the strike that wins the World Series. When Brad Lidge wrapped up the Phillies’ championship last October, he quickly found himself at the bottom of a mass of teammates that jumped on top of him in celebration. Lidge, who converted all 48 save opportunities given to him last year, admits his knee took the brunt of the weight and he hobbled about for a little bit; that same knee has now put him on the DL after a rotten start to 2009 in which he has already blown six saves and produced a 7.27 ERA. Lidge isn’t confirming that the bad knee is a result of what at the Series’ end, but he brought up the piling-on moment to the media this past week in a way that assumes he’s not ruling it out, either.

Also entering baseball’s world of hurt this past week was San Diego ace Jake Peavy, who’ll miss up to two months with a torn ankle muscle—and leaving a vacuum in any further trade talks involving the former Cy Young winner; New York Met starting pitcher John Maine, out 15 days with a bum shoulder; Kansas City outfielder Coco Crisp, whose shoulder is also sore; and Detroit pitcher Jeremy Bonderman, whose return from a long shoulder rehab lasted all of one lousy start this past week, convincing the Tigers that his move off the shelf was premature; his timetable for a second return is unknown.

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