The Week That Was in Baseball: June 30-July 6, 2008
Another TKO for the American League The View From Maui
Madonna's Lucky All-Star How to Win Without a Hit


The Americans Still Have It
And boy, do they ever. The interleague season came to a virtual end in the waning days of June with the American League easily outpacing its National League would-be counterparts, 149-102. The AL may notch one more win for 150 if the New York Yankees can defeat the Pirates at Pittsburgh on July 10, a make-up contest for a June 27 rainout the Yankees were winning, 3-1, in the third inning. 

The AL came awfully close to matching its dominance of 2006, when it dismantled NL competition by a 154-98 count. Then as now, the breakdown of the results were startling. Only three of the NL’s 16 teams—New York, Atlanta and Cincinnati—had winning records against the AL, with the Mets and Reds sharing the best records at 9-6. Conversely, just two AL teams, Toronto (8-10) and Cleveland (6-12), fielded losing marks against NL opponents. The AL’s three worst teams, by the record—Cleveland, Kansas City and Seattle—earned a better interleague record (27-26) then the combined mark of the NL’s top three (Chicago, St. Louis and Milwaukee, at 20-25). And thanks to a thoroughly rotten performance, the NL West (27-54 vs. the AL) finished interleague play on June 29 with Arizona leading the division—with an overall record of 41-41.

Your Turn, Barry
The Baseball Hall of Fame finally got possession of the ball hit by Barry Bonds for his record-breaking, 756th home run last year—but not before a strange public relations spat between the Hall and the ball’s owner, fashion designer Marc Ecko. Just hours before receiving the ball, the Hall released a statement saying it had reached an “impasse” in negotiations with Ecko over whether the ball would become part of the Hall’s permanent collection—as Ecko originally pledged when he put the fate of the ball up for an internet vote—or be provided only as a loan, as the Hall alleged Ecko had changed his mind into doing. Hours later, Ecko released his own press lip, adopting a puzzled tone to the Hall’s assertions and claiming that the only issue still left to be decided was whether the Hall would address the controversial asterisk that Ecko branded upon the Bonds ball while displayed. With the ball now at Cooperstown, the onus falls on Bonds, who’s on record as saying he’d “boycott” the Hall if the ball showed up asterisked.

Chacon be Gone
Latrell Sprewell got away with it because he was an All-Star caliber athlete. The same can’t be said for Shawn Chacon, a common player on the field and somewhat uncommon in the clubhouse after his June 25 choking routine on Houston general manager Ed Wade led to his outright dismissal from the Astros. Chacon, whose temperamental reputation reached a national level as a result of the confrontation, admitted he put his hands around Wade’s neck only to calm Wade down from a spewing of profanity directed toward him. (If true, Shawn, try this next time: Just walk away.) We’re inclined to lean toward Wade’s interpretation of events, in which he approached Chacon after the pitcher refused to visit with Wade and Astro manager Cecil Cooper about a demotion to the bullpen, and asked him once more; Chacon, frustrated from a record-setting string of no-decisions to start the year and sub-standard performances in general, declined again and got testy with Wade, who retorted that Chacon should look in the mirror—and that’s when things got physical. 

The players’ union on Tuesday filed a grievance against the Astros in regards to Chacon’s termination, which will cost the 30-year old Alaskan native a cool million in guaranteed wages (and another million in incentives, which may have been unlikely given his results to date). The union’s backbone: Chacon was disciplined without “just cause.” This could be inferred to mean that choking your general manager in anger falls within the players’ standard clause of displaying good citizenship and sportsmanship. Good luck on this one, Fehr-Orza.

Jumping for Joy One Inning, Jumping in Agony the Next
The night of June 23 has to go down as the most bittersweet sequence of events in young Felix Hernandez’s career. The 22-year old Seattle pitcher, dueling against the New York Mets and Johan Santana, staked himself to a 4-0 lead in the second inning when he became the first AL pitcher since Cleveland’s Steve Dunning on May 11, 1971 to hit a grand slam. (It was also the first home run by a pitcher in Seattle Mariner history.) But the euphoria of the moment was considerably tempered when, in the bottom of the fifth—and Hernandez just one out away from becoming officially eligible for the victory—he covered home plate on a wild pitch and was slid into hard by the Mets’ Carlos Beltran, leading to a left ankle sprain that forced Hernandez out of the game and onto the 15-day disabled list.

While the Band Was Playing On...
On June 23, just hours after Major League Baseball and the players’ union addressed the increasingly controversial issue of maple bats—and the risk they bring to players, umpires, coaches and fans as evidenced by a series of incidents brought on by splintered maples—home plate umpire Brian O’Nora took a piece of Miguel Olivo’s shattered maple bat off his forehead, causing serious bleeding but ultimately no serious harm during the Colorado-Kansas City game. O’Nora, who had to leave that game, experienced more pain exactly a week later when he took a foul tip off his rib cage in St. Louis, leaving him briefly scrambling for breath.

Elias Sports Bureau Fact of the Week
Bronson Arroyo’s horrific pitching line on June 24 at Toronto—one official inning, eleven runs allowed (ten earned), ten hits, one walk, one wild pitch—is said to be only the sixth time since 1900 that a major league pitcher allowed ten or more runs while recording three or fewer outs. Arroyo and the Reds lost to the Blue Jays, 14-1.

Manny the Maniac Strikes Again
It was another new day for Manny Ramirez this past Tuesday after apologizing to Boston Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick for getting physical with the 64-year old last weekend in Houston, after the veteran slugger was told he couldn’t get 16 tickets he requested for a game against the Astros. Both Ramirez and manager Terry Francona, in the formal attempt to put the incident publicly to rest, told the media they consider McCormick a “friend” to Ramirez—which makes you wonder if Ramirez needs enemies. This is the second internal altercation involving Ramirez in the past month; he also tussled briefly with teammate Kevin Youkilis in a June 5 game at Fenway Park against Tampa Bay.

How The West Was Lost
In 2005, the San Diego Padres had to win five of their last six games to finish barely above the .500 mark and spare the NL West the embarassment of fielding a champion with a losing record. Three years later, the division is in danger of being similarly shamed again unless someone steps it up. Arizona, which bolted out to a terrific start, has since nosedived—losing 29 of its last 44; perhaps more disappointing are the performances of defending NL champion Colorado (37-52), racked by injuries and a return to subpar pitching, and Los Angeles, which again spent big bucks to contend only to end up pretending instead. As of Sunday, Arizona leads the West—at 44-45.

Where's the Beef?
Perhaps the New York Mets think so highly of ace Johan Santana that they believe he can get the job done all by himself. Over his last six starts, the 29-year old ace has gone 0-4 in spite of a heady 2.45 ERA. The Mets have averaged two runs a game during this span.

Check for the Eraser Marks
The Oakland A’s signed Michael Inoa, a 16-year old Dominican pitcher who stands 6’7”, weighs 205 pounds and is considered the top baseball prospect with a fastball well over 90 MPH. Given Inoa's matured frame and news of recent tampering by young Latin players on the application form, here’s the $4.25 million question: Is he really 16?

The Chipper Watch
It appears that Atlanta star third baseman Chipper Jones is going through the inevitable tailing away from the .400 mark that most such challengers start to experience this time of year. But the 36-year old is just happy to be playing, after it appeared earlier this week that he might be headed for the disabled list. That was before his bothersome right leg suddenly healed, allowing him to play everyday baseball again after missing out on nearly a week of action. Jones, who was last perched above .400 on June 18, has since seen his average slide down to .388.

Late Bloomers
The Detroit Tigers, predicted by more than a few people to win the World Series this year, finally reached the .500 mark for the first time all season—in their 80th game of the year.

Nine Innings Just Isn't in Their Blood
After their wild 18-17 loss to Colorado on Friday night, the Florida Marlins established a major league record by going 262 straight games without a complete game performance from a starting pitcher. The mark was previously held by the Washington Nationals.

Coors Light
Amid the turn-back-the-clock (or turn-off-the-humidor) madness at Coors Field this past week came this about face: The shortest game by time ever played there, at one hour and 58 minutes for the Rockies' 4-0 shutout over the San Diego Padres on Tuesday. Colorado starter Aaron Cook, who needed just 79 pitches for the shutout, is largely to thank for the quick job.

Now Playing on TGG: The Mid-Season Report
Check out This Great Game's look at the best, worst and most surprising of the first three months of the 2008 season in our latest opinion piece.


Aloha, Rival
The Comebacker is back after a week off resting on the beautiful west shores of Maui. While in paradise, it didn’t take long to stumble upon a local angle to a major league first in Oakland: A three-game series between the A’s and Philadelphia Phillies that featured the first-ever big league game to field two Maui natives playing on opposite teams—Shane Victorino of the Phillies and Kurt Suzuki of the A’s. The speedy Victorino, whose father, Michael Victorino, is running for re-election on the Maui County Council, got the most of the head-to-head battle, collecting five hits in ten at-bats while notching a steal in each of the three games—the first two coming off of catcher Suzuki, who allowed four steals in general without catching a baserunner in the two games he played. This proud moment in Maui sports history didn’t stop the locals in their tracks, unless they were the ones blasting through the yield signs on the one-way bridges through the famed, windy road to Hana, trying to hurry home to catch the games on TV.—Eric

Oh No-No!
For the fifth time in major league history, a team won a game without a hit when the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on June 28, 1-0. Angel starter Jared Weaver threw six of the hitless innings but wasn’t exactly sharp; he walked three, hit a batter and committed a fifth-inning error that allowed Matt Kemp to reach base and ultimately score when he stole second, moved to third on catcher Jeff Mathis’ wild throw, and came home on Blake DeWitt’s sacrifice fly. Jose Arredondo relieved Weaver and threw two more hitless innings before the Dodgers iced the victory in the top of the ninth. 

The four previous no-hit losses were, in chronological order:

Ken Johnson, Houston Colt .45s, 1964. Johnson kept Cincinnati scoreless when, with one out in the ninth, he committed an error to send Pete Rose to second. Rose then scored when Vada Pinson reached on another error, this one by veteran second baseman Nellie Fox. Joe Nuxhall shut down the Colts in the bottom of the ninth to make Johnson a no-hit loser, 1-0. 

Steve Barber/Stu Miller, Baltimore Orioles, 1967. Two weeks after he came within an out of a no-hitter in his first start of the season, Miller was again an out away against the Tigers despite a game-long wildness that led to ten walks, two hit batsmen and two wild pitches; his second wild pitch sent home one run, and after walking his tenth Tiger, was replaced by Miller—who watched as Mark Belanger made an error to allow a second run home. The Orioles, who had broken a scoreless tie in the eighth, lost 2-1. 

Andy Hawkins, New York Yankees, 1990. Working a no-hit shutout into the eighth, Hawkins got the first two White Sox batters to pop out—and then it all fell apart, thanks to Yankee defensive incompetence abated by a crazed Comiskey Park wind. The next three batters reached—one by error, two by walk—and then Jim Leyritz misplayed Robin Ventura’s fly ball in left, allowing all three runners to score. Adding insult to injury, right fielder Jesse Barfield muffed a fly ball from the next batter, Ivan Calderon, giving the White Sox an improbable four runs on no hits. 

Matt Young, Boston Red Sox, 1992. In his first start of the year at Cleveland on April 12, Young allowed single runs in the first and third innings thanks to a combination of walks, stolen bases by the Indians (Kenny Lofton nabbed four on the day) and some bad Boston defense. From there, Young ‘settled’ in, walking seven batters and going the distance before losing, 2-1. Young made seven more starts on the year, none lasting more than 5.1 innings; in 28 overall appearances, he didn’t win one game.

We'll Miss You, Jules
The fraternity of baseball historians is in mourning this week after news of the passing of Jules Tygiel, a San Francisco State University professor and author of three baseball books, including what is considered to be the best book written on Jackie Robinson, 1983’s Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy. TGG’s Ed Attanasio got to know Jules over the past few years through their mutual association with SABR (Society for American Baseball Research), and recalled his enthusiasm and warmth. Tygiel died Tuesday of cancer at the age of 59.

They're All Feeling Like a Thousand
Aaron Boone, now toiling for the Washington Nationals, recently reached the 1,000-hit milestone, which by itself was not news—except that he became the fourth member of the Boone family to reach the mark, following in the footsteps of grandfather Ray Boone (1,260 hits), father Bob Boone (1,838) and brother Bret Boone (1,775). Only one other family can claim as many members of the 1,000-hit club: The Alous, with Felipe (2,101), his two brothers Jesus (1,216) and Matty (1,777) and son Moises (2,117).

The Flooded Pains
Among the casualties from the recent floods in Cedar Rapids, Iowa were irreplaceable memorabilia items owned by 85-year old former Negro Leaguer Art Pennington. Only three bats, two given to him by Hank Aaron, were recovered; everything else was washed away, presumably for good. Pennington will most certainly receive financial assistance from within baseball to get him back on his feet—Detroit’s Curtis Granderson is said to be involved in such an effort—but the scrapbooks, programs and autographed items are all gone, with only a small percentage of it having been digitally recorded by his agent before the floods.

There's Still Hope
To the ten NL teams that fielded losing records at the virtual halfway point of the year, here’s your silver lining: Three times in the past five seasons, the NL champion finished the first half of the season below the .500 mark.

Seems Like Old Times
Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who on June 24 defeated the Yankees for the first time since Bill Mazeroski’s famous walk-off home run in Game Seven of the 1960 World Series. (In a marketing gesture of the obvious, the 71-year old Mazeroski threw out the ceremonial first pitch.) The Bucs’ 12-5 pounding over New York at PNC Park came after having gone 0-6 against the Yanks since interleague play began in 1997; in fact, the Pirates had been the only major league team which had yet to beat the Yankees in a regular season contest.

Wounded of the Week
The last two weeks have seen a fairly active share of aches and pains among major league ballplayers in ways you can’t quite describe as traditional. Take Detroit’s Brandon Inge, who pulled an oblique muscle and hit the 15-day disabled list attempting to adjust his baby’s pillow at home. Or Arizona catcher Chris Snyder, who took the phrase “go out and bust your balls” a little too literally and did just that—his left one, anyway—after taking a foul tip off Milwaukee’s J.J. Hardy; Snyder is sidelined with what is officially described as a “left testicular fracture.” Or finally, how about Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki, who added fuel to the debate over the dangers of maple bats when, in anger after being replaced during Friday's 18-17 slugfest win over Florida, slammed his maple down—only to have it shatter on him, sending fragments into his right palm and Tulowitzki himself onto the disabled list for the second time this season.

The frequently wounded returned to the shelf, including Oakland’s Eric Chavez and Bobby Crosby, Washington’s Nick Johnson (out for the year—again) and Arizona’s Eric Byrnes, who went back on the DL just a week after he had come off it. Other big names making the list since our last installment include New York Yankees Hideki Matsui and (for the first time in his 14-year career) Johnny Damon, Detroit’s Magglio Ordonez, Colorado’s Todd Helton and Jeff Francis, Minnesota’s Michael Cuddyer, Washington closer Chad Cordero (for the season) and the Dodgers’ Juan Pierre.

Always Closing for a Friend
It’s not exactly Joe Montana to Jerry Rice, but it’s cool to note: By preserving Andy Pettitte’s 3-2 win over the Mets at Shea Stadium on June 28, New York Yankee closer Mariano Rivera has now saved 54 of Pettitte’s 210 career victories. That’s just one behind Dennis Eckersley, who saved 55 games won by Bob Welch—the most in major league history by a closer for one starter.

Bedtime for Borowski
The Cleveland Indians couldn’t take Joe Borowski any longer. Two years after being plucked away from the Florida Marlins—where he had a decent 2006 campaign—the 37-year old closer was designated for assignment on Friday after blowing a save for the fourth time in ten chances, leaving his ERA at 7.56. Borowski did lead the AL in saves for Cleveland in 2007, but he was also the first player ever to earn at least 40 saves with an ERA higher than 5.00, blowing eight saves and losing four other games outright.

Clamping Down
Baltimore pitcher Daniel Cabrera, who’s lead the AL in walks each of the last two years, has made five starts of at least six innings so far in 2008 without issuing a single walk, including Wednesday’s complete-game victory over Kansas City.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers starts the new week with the majors’ longest active hitting streak, at 18 games. The 26-year old second baseman has been especially hot over the last 11 contests, hitting .533 (24-for-45).

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