Out of the Shadows
For years, Matt Cain has been baseball’s Rodney Dangerfield, earning no respect except from those in the know. But Cain’s poker-faced, almost robotic manner has well hid his utter frustration of a career record long below .500 despite pitching stellar baseball from the get-go when he first took a major league mound in 2005. Lousy records in 2007 (7-16) and 2008 (8-14) masked respectable earned run averages and horrible run support, the latter being the majors’ worst both years running. He began a string of winning seasons in 2009, but the records hardly stopped casual baseball fans in their tracks. While Tim Lincecum grabbed the spotlight and the Cy Young Awards, Cain quietly went about his business without the fame, eluding him even as he threw one scoreless inning after another during the San Francisco Giants’ improbable World Series run of 2010.
But the 2012 season has become Cain’s breakout season on almost every level. He’s pitching better than ever. He’s getting support from his offense. He finally has more career wins than losses. He’s publicly become certified as the Giants' ace now that Lincecum is flopping. And he’s doing all of this on a yearly tab of $22.5 million, which he’ll make annually through 2016.
Cain threw baseball’s 20th modern-day perfect game, and the first ever by a Giant, this past Wednesday at San Francisco against Houston. With his typically unflappable, almost soulless demeanor in prime form, Cain never flinched as he mowed down one Astro after another, striking out a career-high 14 batters and relying not just on ten runs of support (only the seventh time in eight years that the Giants have given him double-digit offense) but two outstanding perfecto-saving catches in the outfield, including an impressive seventh-inning diving catch on the center-field warning track by the team’s right fielder, Gregor Blanco.
What’s amazing is that this could have been Cain’s second perfect game of the year. On April 13 at AT&T Park, he one-hit Pittsburghwith the Pirates’ only baserunner being opposing pitcher James McDonald, who hit a seeing-eye single up the middle.
A Capitol Crime for Nationals Fans?
The Washington Nationals are rolling right nowthey’re four games ahead in the NL Eastbut general manager Mike Rizzo stated this past week that the team is sticking with its plan to shut down star pitcher Stephen Strasburg (8-1, 2.45 ERA) after he reaches 160 innings. At the rate he’s going, that moment will come sometime in early September.
Shelving Strasburgeven if he’s healthywould be a move that prioritizes the long term over the short. The 23-year-old phenom underwent Tommy John surgery late in 2010, and the Nationals are being very careful not to burn his arm out once more and risk continued, career-threatening pain. That the Nationals are playing well enough that they have a real shot at making the postseason for only the second time in their 44 years of existence is not a consideration to the contrary.
The average fan in Washington may not share the same concerns as Rizzo, and he knows it. “(Shutting down) Strasburg is going to be painful, and we are going to take grief,” he told the New York Post. “But I will not shy away from it. I am the caretaker of this organization for the long haul.”
Two former great sluggers, both in their late 30s and trying to make their way back to the majors, found the path to revival blocked not by their performance in the minors but, instead, by teams who they felt were taking too much time bringing them up.
Vladimir Guerrero, looking for renaissance with Toronto after being unsigned during the winter, asked forand receivedhis release from the Blue Jays this past week. Why? Even though the 37-year-old former MVP was hitting over .300 for the Blue Jays’ Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas and felt ready to be called up, the Jays weren’t as anxious.
The same story took place with Manny Ramirez, hoping for a last shot at glory with the Oakland A’s. Although he was hitting .302 in 17 games for the A’s top farm club in Sacramento, Ramirez hadn’t homered and doubled only three times in 63 at-bats, suggesting that the power has eluded the 40-year-old.
Both players are free agents; rumors of their next stops are numerous, but not exactly burning up the blogosphere.
Only in Philly
A woman has sued the Philadelphia Phillies’ mascot, the Phanatic, after she claimed to sustain injuries to almost every part of her body after being thrown into the pool during a wedding. Which leads us to ask: Who invites a sports team mascot to a wedding? (And never mind Jesus: What would the San Diego Chicken have done?) Really, she says everything hurts, according to her lawsuitstating she is suffering “severe and permanent injuries to her head, neck, back, body, arms and legs, bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and tissues,” and the list goes on.
Assuming that it’s not April Fool’s Day and that this really took place, the mystery now becomes: Who was inside the Phanatic? The claimant doesn’t know, so she’s suing each of the various people who portray the mascot. (Three people are listed on the Phillies’ web site.)
Dave Boswell, 1945-2012
The career of Dave Boswell, who died this past week, took a turn for the worse when it appeared he was on the precipice of finishing one of the game’s great postseason pitching performances. Capping his rise to the top of the Minnesota Twins’ rotation in 1969 with 20 wins, he hurled nine shutout innings against the mighty Orioles in the second game of the ALCS at Baltimorebut had to return to the mound for the tenth when Oriole starter Dave McNally matched him zero for zero. Boswell proceeded to retire the side in order in the tenth, wrapping up the frame by getting star hitter Frank Robinson on strikes. But with his last pitch to Robinson, he felt intense pain in his shoulder; hanging tough, he walked the leadoff batter and was removed two batters after thatand reliever Ron Perranoski quickly gave up a single that scored the run and ended the game.
Boswell never recovered from the pain. He won just three games the next year with a horrid 6.42 ERA, and attempts to jumpstart his career with several different teams over the next few years failed.
Most people will remember Boswell for something else that took place in his stellar 1969 campaign: Being yet the latest barroom opponent of Billy Martin, his manager of the time. Both guys took a pounding, but Martin reportedly received the worst of it.
Wounded of the Week
Has anyone learned from Kendrys Morales? Two years after the Angel slugger broke a leg stomping on home plate following a walk-off home run, major leaguers continue to put their health at risk while performing on-field celebrating. A few weeks back it was Ramon Ramirez who suffered a hamstring injury while joining the crush around the Mets’ Johan Santana after the latter threw a no-hitter; this past week, it was Aubrey Huff’s turn, spraining his right knee after attempting to jump the dugout rail seconds after Matt Cain finished off his perfect game for the Giants. Huff will miss 15 gamesand with his days already rumored to be numbered with the Giants, this doesn’t help his prospects for sticking around.
Meanwhile in Toronto, the Blue Jays lost three of their starting pitchers over a four-day space. Emerging ace Brandon Morrow was the first to go down with a strained oblique; Kyle Drabek followed a day later, spraining his right elbow; and two days after that, Drew Hutchinson went down with the same issue. All three players are expected back with the minimum 15 days.
Other pitchers went down for the count this past week, including Texas’ Alexi Ogando (groin, out roughly a month), major league ERA leader Brandon Beachy of the Braves (elbow, 15 days), and Detroit’s Drew Smyly (severe blister, 15 days).
Coming Soon to TGG
Ed Attanasio inteviews former Boston Red Sox star Bobby Doerr in our latest installment of They Were There; and, in our Opinions section, our annual look at the best, worst and most surprising players from each team at the midseason point.
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, June 11
In a matchup between Boston and Miamino, not the Celtics and Heatformer Marlin pitcher Josh Beckett gets the start for the Red Sox and gives up four quick runs in the first two innings; although he settles down and fires five shutout frames afterward, the Red Sox’ offense cannot overcome the deficit and lose, 4-1.
Tuesday, June 12
Alex Rodriguez ties Lou Gehrig’s all-time record by connecting for his 23rd career grand slam at Atlanta, igniting a six-run rally that will give the New York Yankees a 6-4 win over the Braves. Atlanta reliever Jonny Venters serves up the historic blast and is handed with the loss after failing to retire any of the four batters he faces (they all score).
In his first start at Kansas City since being traded to Milwaukee, the Brewers’ Zack Greinke limits the Royals to a run on six hits through seven innings but leaves with a 1-1 tie; the Royals then rally off reliever Francisco Rodriguez in the eighth to secure a 2-1 win. Kansas City starter Luis Mednoza does not get the win despite taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning (he, too, leaves with the game tied).
The San Francisco Giants end a 16-game home streak without a home run with a couple of unlikely guys pounding the ball over the wall: Starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner connects for his first career round-tripper in the third inning, and first baseman Brandon Belt hits his first of the year for insurance in the eighth to give the Giants a 6-3 win over Houston.
After a 14-game rehab stint in the minors, veteran Baltimore second baseman Brian Roberts makes his first official appearance on a major league field in 13 months after dealing with concussion issues and collects three hits in four at-bats to help lift the Orioles to an 8-6 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Wednesday, June 13
R.A. Dickey stays hot. The New York Mets’ knuckleballer allows only a first-inning infield hit and runs his consecutive scoreless inning streak to a franchise-record 32.2 before an unearned run crosses the plate in the ninth as the Mets squash the Rays at Tampa Bay, 9-1. Dickey strikes out a career-high 12 batters and doesn’t walk anyone.
Matt Cain throws the first perfect game in the 128-year history of the Giants, retiring all 27 Astros he faces in a 10-0 rout at San Francisco. Cain strikes out a career-high 14 batters and gets great defensive supportespecially from right fielder Gregor Blanco, who makes a diving catch on the warning track in right-center field during the seventh to preserve the perfecto.
Thursday, June 14
Detroit ace Justin Verlander wins his first game in five starts with eight solid innings at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, as the Tigers top the Cubs, 5-3. Verlander becomes the majors’ first pitcher to surpass 100 innings on the year, and the second to top 100 strikeouts (Washington’s Stephen Strasburg reached triple-digits the night before); he also extends a run of consecutive starts with at least six innings pitched to 56, 22 shy of the post-deadball era (1920 and later) record held by Bob Gibson.
Friday, June 15
The Colorado Rockies win their first interleague game in ten tries this season at Detroit by unloading eight runs on the Tigers in the tenth inning for a 12-4 victory. It’s the most runs ever scored by the Rockies in an extra frame; Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer end the onslaught with back-to-back homers. Detroit closer Jose Valverde takes the loss and allows six of the eight runs in the tenthbut only one of them is earned thanks to his own throwing error.
Adam Dunn of the Chicago White Sox hits a first-inning home run to take the major league lead with 23, but also becomes the first player this year to reach 100 strikeouts on the season; no other player has even 80 as of yet. The Sox lose at Los Angeles to the Dodgers, 7-6.
Saturday, June 16
Baltimore’s Jason Hammel and Los Angeles of Anaheim’s Ervin Santana both throw one-hit shutouts, increasing the number of teams held to a hit or less this week to five. Hammel loses his no-hit bid with two outs in the seventh but settles for a 5-0 win at Atlanta; it is his first career shutout. Santana, meanwhile, retires the first 20 Arizona batters he faces before allowing his own seventh-inning, two-out hit in the Angels’ 2-0 win.
The New York Yankees outlast the Nationals at Washington in 14 innings despite not homering for the first time this season while winningand despite going 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position before Mark Teixeira doubles in the deciding runs. Yankee starting pitcher Andy Pettitte, just a day after turning 40, pitches the first seven innings and gets a no-decision; Washington rookie outfielder Bryce Harper, not even half of Pettitte’s age at 19, is 0-for-7 with five strikeouts. But nobody feels the sting of the loss worse than reliever Brad Lidge, who takes the loss, sees his ERA shoot up to 9.64and is placed on waivers the next day by the Nationals.
Sunday, June 17
For the second straight day in a row, Pittsburgh third baseman Pedro Alvarezmired in a 4-for-42 slump entering the weekendhits two homers as the Pirates throttle the Indians at Cleveland, 9-5, to remain three games above the .500 mark at 34-31. Alvarez adds a double and knocks in six runs, raising his season average above the .200 barrier.
In Philadelphia’s 6-2 loss at Toronto, Jim Thome hits his 100th homer for the Phillies, becoming just one of four players in major league history to have 100 for three different teams; Alex Rodriguez, Reggie Jackson and Darrell Evans are the other three. Thome has 337 career shots for Cleveland and 134 for the White Sox.
League vs. League
The National League was holding its own for much of the week in its attempt to catch up and win the overall interleague war against the American Leaguethat was, before receiving a weekend whacking by the Junior Circuit with 21 losses in 28 games, virtually ensuring that the AL will retain its interleague crown over the NL for a ninth straight year. At week’s end, the AL had run its season advantage over the NL in head-to-head play to 96-72. Interleague play concludes at the end of this coming weekend.
What Major Leaguer Was Born Near You?
A guy from Londonthat’s in Ontariothat’s in Canadahas taken the pains to show off the world of major league player representation with this map (borrowed from Google, undoubtedly) showing the birthplaces of every major leaguer who’s played since the start of 2011. (It can’t be too updated; Brazil’s Yan Gomes, trying to stick with the Toronto Blue Jays, is not included.) Check it out, zoom in and look for players born in or near a point of interest of yours.
He's Called a Closer For a Reason
The Phillies have lost eight games this year on walk-off hits by their opponent. Team closer Jonathan Papelbon has not appeared in any of those games.
This Week's Challanger to Joe DiMaggio
Just another hot ride for Milwaukee slugger Ryan Braun, whose connected for at least one hit in each of his last 12 games to end the week with the majors’ longest active hitting streak. Braun is hitting .346 with five homers during his run.
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!