The Week That Was in Baseball: July 14-20, 2008
The All-Star Game: Emergency Pitchers, 71-Year Old Ironmen and the Uggla Truth
The Lasting Legacy of Hideo Nomo Look Out, Sheffield Avenue—Here Comes the Puck

Quick Programming Note
Because of the shortage of regular season games during this past All-Star week (most teams played only three games), we’re giving our “Best of the Week” picks a week off, but it will return for our next installment of the Comebacker.

The Longest Night
Only the 1967 All-Star Game played in Anaheim went as long as Tuesday’s night marathon at Yankee Stadium—by innings, that is. Both games went 15 frames, but the 2008 Mid-Summer Classic shattered the mark for length by time, lasting four hours and 50 minutes—more than an hour over the old record, which happened to be the 1967 epic.

The All-Star Game: Avoiding the Worst Case Scenario
If anything, Michael Young’s game-winning sacrifice fly that ended the All-Star Game in the 15th inning probably brought more sighs of relief than cheers out of the Commissioner’s box, the American League dugout—and very possibly the losing National League dugout as well. Pitching staffs for both teams were maxed out to that point that, had the game moved on to the 16th, AL manager Terry Francona was ready to use outfielder J.D. Drew on the mound—potentially turning the Mid-Summer Classic into a farce. 

So how do you keep this scene from rearing its ugly head in the future? Here’s a few suggestions. First, make the All-Star break four days instead of three, as it pretty much has become for the majority of teams anyway (only four games were played on Thursday when regular season action resumed). Leave the All-Star Game on Tuesday. But here’s the most important thought: For each team, designate two pitchers—a starter and a reliever—who are the most rested coming into the break to be used for “emergency” use only, such as an extended extra-inning game like this year. That way, the pitchers who are on one or two days’ rest can get in their one- or two-inning stints earlier and, if need be, the emergency pitchers can be used and can go as long as five or six innings (or in the reliever’s case, a couple innings), and those folks will be guaranteed at least two days’ rest before regular action resumes again on Friday. It may not be the perfect solution, but at least it’s something of an insurance policy that’s badly lacking at present—and if implemented, it might keep Bud Selig’s heart rate down should a future All-Star Game go past the ninth.

Pimp My Spotlight
Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins may have won the Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium, but rejuvenated Texas Ranger outfielder Josh Hamilton stole the show—and Hamilton, in turn, nearly had his Herculean efforts stolen from the man who threw his pitches, 71-year old Clay Counsil. A coach from Hamilton’s North Carolina childhood, Counsil saw great promise in a young Hamilton and told him then that if he ever made it to a Homer Run Derby, he’d like to be the pitcher; Hamilton obliged when named to participate. Counsil had to be careful what he asked for; he served up a Derby record 28 home runs to Hamilton in the first round, and threw so many pitches overall on the evening—something around 80, if you include the tosses Hamilton didn’t swing at—that you had to wonder if he was headed for Tommy John surgery. It was only the second time Counsil had visited Yankee Stadium; the first time was in 1956, when he drove up with his high school buddies to see the World Series—and watched Don Larsen throw his perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The Uggla Duckling
It got so bad for Dan Uggla at the All-Star Game, he was probably wondering when the ad wizards behind the Southwest Airlines “Want to Get Away” campaign were going to call him up. The Florida second baseman wasn’t directly responsible for the NL’s 4-3, 15-inning loss to the AL at Yankee Stadium, but he sure didn’t help the Nationals’ cause. In four at-bats, Uggla struck out three times and grounded into a double play—leaving a total of six runners stranded on base—and committed a Mid-Summer Classic record three errors, two of which set up a tenth-inning AL rally (bases loaded, no outs) that was snuffed out with the help of his teammates.

YouTube Clip of the Week
This Gatorade ad was shown during the first-inning commercial break of the All-Star Game, and it probably sent millions away from their TV to YouTube to watch it again—and find out if it really happened. The ad shows Pacific Coast League video from Fresno of Tacoma’s Brent Johnson hitting a fly ball deep towards the left field corner, where an eager young ballgirl races over and climbs some 15 feet up the outfield wall padding next to the foul pole to make an incredible catch. It’s a great clip, but for those who want to know, it didn’t happen—at least, not during a real game. Gatorade filmed parts of the ad, mixed it with real game video, and released it virally on the Internet after the ad campaign it was part of got junked. Apparently the ad is so convincing, many people who’ve seen it believe the play actually happened. Eat your heart out, Orson Welles.

Who Wasn't There?
Until the extra-inning madness, the most memorable moment of the All-Star Game was the pre-game introduction of 49 Hall-of-Famers who made it to Yankee Stadium. Only 13 other living members did not participate: Sparky Anderson, Johnny Bench, Jim Bunning, Bobby Doerr, Monte Irvin, Sandy Koufax, George Kell, Tommy Lasorda, Joe Morgan (who was at Yankee Stadium a day earlier, working for ESPN during the Home Run Derby), Stan Musial, Nolan Ryan, Red Schoendienst and Duke Snider. We were going to type in Pete Rose’s name as well but, oh, yeah, we forgot.

Lucky Tim
Four All-Star pitchers—Brandon Webb, Scott Kazmir, Ryan Dempster and Justin Duchscherer—each pitched an inning at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday just two days after throwing 100 or more pitches in a regular season game. A fifth—the Giants’ Tim Lincecum—probably would have entered the 15-inning game at some point had he not fallen badly sick in New York during the day, leading to his absence from the event.

Wounded of the Week
The Archies’ Sugar Sugar is not a song too many people in general can tolerate, but even the title is something you don’t want to hum to Washington’s Dmitri Young, who hit the 15-day disabled list this past week to deal with a growing diabetes problem. The problem worsened when Young showed up to Turner Field in Atlanta feeling lightheaded, assumedly the result of a haywire blood sugar level. Then there was Oakland’s Daric Barton, who decided to take a dive into a pool and discovered, too late, that it was shallower than he anticipated. The neck stiffness that resulted from the incident put him on the DL. 

Also making this week’s list in more traditional fashion was Houston ace Roy Oswalt, Chicago White Sox pitcher Jose Contreras, Los Angeles Dodger closer Takashi Saito (who will miss up to eight weeks with an elbow strain), young Arizona outfielder Justin Upton, and Cincinnati shortstop Jerry Hairston Jr., whose hamstring injury put the brakes on a hot hitting streak which has seen him bat .431 since June 29.

Is Justin Just in Time for the Tigers?
After a 2-9 start (and a 5.05 ERA to go with it), Detroit pitching ace Justin Verlander has since gone 6-0 in eight starts with a 2.47 ERA. The third-year right-hander’s turnaround has also resulted in one for the Tigers—who were 24-36 at the time Verlander reached his season nadir, and 25-13 since.

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

In honor of Mr. Cub himself, Ernie Banks, let's go play two this week. As the Chicago Cubs' 100th anniversary of their last World Series title looms, This Great Game continues to count down the 40 years between 1909 and 2007 in which the Cubs came nearest to winning another—and this week, we give you two seasons to remember for the price of one:

16. 1936 87 Wins, 67 Losses
Tied for Second Place, 5 Games Back
The Cubs started meekly at 20-21 before ripping into a 15-game win streak that created echoes of their 21-game run the year before that catapulted them upward to a NL pennant. Continued success kept them in first place through mid-August, but from there they played only .500—allowing the New York Giants, winners of 39 of their last 47 games, to easily overtake them. The main problem for Chicago was that few players stepped it up outside of Frank Demaree, who hit .350 and increased his home run output from two to 16. The starting rotation of Larry French, Bill Lee, Lon Warneke and Tex Carleton was remarkably consistent and reliable (winning between 14 and 18 games and posting ERAs between 3.30 and 3.65), but no one stood out as a dominant ace to help catch up to the Giants at the end.

15. 1998 90 Wins, 73 Losses
Second Place, 12.5 Games Back
Lost to Atlanta in NLDS, 3-0
The summer of 1998 was certainly memorable if not downright magical for Cub fans, even if the euphoria of the moment would produce a legacy tarnished by suspicion and injury. Sammy Sosa’s 66 home runs and the race with Mark McGwire to topple Roger Maris’ record electrified Cub fans, while 20-year old rookie Kerry Wood struck out a record-tying 20 Houston Astros on May 6—on his way to 233 Ks in just 166.2 innings of work. Rod Beck saved 51 games and Kevin Tapani, despite an ERA close to 5.00, turned in a 19-9 record. Knotted with San Francisco for the NL Wild Card spot, the Cubs took a tense 5-3 tiebreaker victory at Wrigley over the Giants to enter the postseason—where they got laid out in three straight by the Braves, whose sterling pitching allowed just four runs.


A Trailblazer Winds Down
Hideo Nomo may have been the second player of Asian descent to play in the majors, but unlike the first—Masanori Murakami, 30 years earlier—his arrival and instant success with the Los Angeles Dodgers encouraged other players from the Far East to come to America. Nomo retired this past week a month shy of his 40th birthday, following an early-season stint with the Kansas City Royals that resulted in an 18.69 ERA in three appearances. Nomo, like Fernando Valenzuela in 1981, was a foreign-born sensation on the mound for the Dodgers during his first year in the majors in 1995, briefly captivating the nation and giving baseball a desperately needed upside of PR to offset the game’s sour atmosphere in the wake of the devastating 1994-95 players’ strike. Though Nomo would never match the quality of his collective first-year numbers (a 13-6 record, 2.54 ERA and NL-high 236 strikeouts), he still had later moments of greatness—including an improbable no-hitter at Denver’s Coors Field in 1996, and another in his first appearance in a Boston Red Sox uniform in 2001, making him only one of four players to throw no-hitters in each league. 

Nomo’s long American career packed an undulation worthy of a rollercoaster. After a horrendous start to 1998 in Los Angeles, Nomo was traded to New York where he fared little better with the Mets; he wasn’t even employed for 1999 when Milwaukee came calling in May, and Nomo responded with a decent 12-8 record. After one-year stays with Detroit and Boston, Nomo returned to the Dodgers in 2002 and had a career renaissance, winning 16 games each in 2002 and 2003 with ERAs barely above 3.00. But his game quickly and permanently devalued yet again in 2004, and appeared to be out of baseball for good when he finished the 2005 season in Tampa Bay with a 7.24 ERA. His unsuccessful return to the mound this year with the Royals after a two-year absence only confirmed that he had no gas left in his unique, tornado-like wind-up. 

Beyond his 123 career wins and two no-hitters, Nomo’s secured a highly regarded legacy by enticing more Far East players to go West, an exodus that achieved a sense of pride once Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui became perennial All-Stars in the early 2000s. Nomo’s retirement leaves 19 players of Asian descent on active major league rosters.

Hey, Look What I Found!
It was reported this week that convicted steroids dealer Kirk Radomski produced receipts of package deliveries he sent to Roger Clemens’ Houston home, care of trainer Brian McNamee—who Clemens is suing for defamation. Why is this new evidence coming to light now, instead of at the height of the Mitchell Report investigation and evidence discoveries regarding Clemens? Because Radomski, currently serving a five-year probation, recently found it under his television after it broke down. We wonder if he needs to be cleaning out his closet soon.

The Icy Confines of Wrigley Field Presents...
For the first time, a major league ballpark will play host…to a National Hockey League game. The Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings will pair up against one another on New Year’s Day, 2009, in what will be the third NHL game played outdoors; the previous two were held at football stadiums in Edmonton (2003) and Buffalo (last season).

Never on Sunday (Episode XV)
The Baltimore Orioles lost for the 15th straight Sunday this past weekend when they was quieted at home by the Detroit Tigers, 5-1. Perhaps Oriole manager Dave Trembley will suggest to his players that they wake up on the other side of the bed next Sunday morning before taking on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Oriole Park. (Baltimore is six losses short of the modern major league record for the most consecutive defeats on a particular day, held by the 1939 St. Louis Browns on Tuesdays.)

The Unlucky Thirteen
Greg Maddux’ elusive, maddening search for his 351st career win deepened after his latest start on Friday, which resulted in an 11-7 loss at St. Louis. The 42-year old future Hall of Fame pitcher has now gone 13 straight starts, dating back to May 10, without a win. Perhaps the stress is starting to get to him; after pitching well enough to win many of the games he couldn’t during the early portion of his skid, Maddux has put up a 7.90 ERA over his last five starts. The 13 straight winless starts match a career-worst stretch that ironically took place during the same time of the season in 1990, from May 5 through July 18.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Ryan Theriot of the Chicago Cubs ends this past week with a 13-game hitting streak, the longest active run currently going in the majors. Theriot is hitting .439 during his streak.

This Season's Challenger to Bobby Thigpen
After striking out the side in the ninth inning on Sunday, Francisco Rodriguez earned his 40th save of the year to help the Angels defeat the Boston Red Sox at Anaheim, 5-3. This is the earliest any major leaguer has reached 40 saves in a season; by contrast, Bobby Thigpen, who holds the all-time season record with 57 for the 1990 Chicago White Sox, didn’t record his 40th save until August 19.