The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: July 23-August 5, 2012
Who Gave—and Received—at the Trading Deadline Josh Hamilton's Chewing Glum
Former All-Stars Given Their Walking Papers Vivian Ripken's Forced Day Off

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The TGG Midseason Report Card
Our annual look
at the best, worst and most unexpected through the first 81 games of the 2012 major league season.

Where Are They Now?
An eye-opening rush of trades and acquisitions before the July 31 trading deadline has reshaped the numerous pennant races as a myriad of major league teams scramble to earn playoff spots down the stretch. Here’s a look at some of the more intriguing aspects of the dealing season just ended.

Cub Scouting. The Texas Rangers made two separate deals with the Chicago Cubs to bring over star pitcher Ryan Dempster and, with far less pomp and circumstance, former NL Rookie of the Year and current struggler Geovany Soto to shore up their catching flanks. The Dempster deal came spiced with controversy; after vetoing a trade to the Braves, he also said no to the Dodgers and ruffled feathers on the Los Angeles end of the talks after it was confirmed by the Cubs that Dempster was listening on the phone, unbeknownst to the Dodgers.

The Bucs Shop Here. The Pittsburgh Pirates went for broke last year when they smelled a rare shot at the playoffs, adding sluggers Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick; they then tanked in the final two months, all the way back to south of the .500 border. Playing even better this season at the trading deadline, they’ve once again added bulk, acquiring Houston ace pitcher Wandy Rodriguez and two struggling hitters (Miami’s Gaby Sanchez and Toronto’s Travis Snider) with strong upsides. We’ll see if the second time is the charm.

Our Wallet’s Bigger Than Yours. If you’ve already spent a whopping $2.1 billion to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers, what’s another ten or 20 million to add on more talent and make a run at the postseason? The new Dodger owners have done precisely that, bringing in former all-star infielder Hanley Ramirez from Miami, reliever Brandon League from Seattle and outfielder Shane Victorino and pitcher Joe Blanton from Philadelphia. Are the front-running San Francisco Giants quaking in their boots?

Not Exactly. The Giants also took from the Phillies, nabbing outfielder Hunter Pence while picking up infielder Marco Scutaro.

Philly Empties Out. Once considered the class of the National League, the Phillies have officially thrown up the white flag and look ready to start anew, chucking away high-priced weight in Victorino, Pence and Blanton. Star pitcher Cliff Lee was even placed on waivers and it appeared that—guess who—the Dodgers might be interested, before the waiver period expired this past weekend.

Miami Folds Shop. So much for the Great South Beach Splurge. The Marlins built a new ballpark (actually, the locals built it, as they’re the ones stuck with the bill), bought a lot of talent and instantly boasted their intention to contend. They’ve instead disappointed and, as it is often Job One for owner Jeffrey Loria, it’s all about maximizing profits. So the Fish have dished off Ramirez, Sanchez, reliever Edward Mujica (to St. Louis) and starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante to Detroit.

The Great Astros Purge. As we mentioned already here over the last few weeks, if you started the year as a high-priced Houston Astro, you’re no longer one. With the Astros descending faster than Enron stock once upon a crime (they’re 14-50 after a 22-23 start), they’ve unloaded to the bone. Gone are Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez, Chris Johnson, Brandon Lyon, Brett Myers and J.A. Happ. What remains is a team worthy of the Pacific Coast League.

Ichiro Goes Gotham. One of the earliest and most startling of the pre-deadline trades took place when the Seattle Mariners sent all-star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, seemingly inseparable from the Emerald City, to the New York Yankees. A free agent after this season who will be 39 next Opening Day, the one-time automatic singles man wasn’t likely to rebound according to the Mariners, and so they dealt him to the Yankees for a pair of minor leaguers. In each of his first 12 games wearing pinstripes, Suzuki has knocked out one hit.

Lost in the Shuffle
Big-time trades and acquisitions weren’t the only roster movements taking place over the last two weeks. A number of former all-stars were shown the exit door after far less than impressive efforts with their latest teams.

Hideki Matsui was let go by the Tampa Bay Rays, ending a stint that had started so promisingly, homering in two of his first three games. But in the 32 games to follow, Matsui was shut out from the longball and hit only .147. In Los Angeles, Bobby Abreu, already exiled from the South Side of La-La-Land by the Angels after being muscled out of an overcrowded outfield, suffered the same fate with the Dodgers once Shane Victorino was acquired. (Apparently, a .359 on-base percentage in 70 games wasn’t enough to impress the Dodgers.) And finally in Cleveland, Johnny Damon’s comeback attempt came to an unsuccessful conclusion after hitting a weak .222 with the Indians. (The Indians also let go of 39-year-old Derek Lowe; see worst AL pitcher of the week above.)

The Downside of a Guilty Past
It probably wasn’t wise for recovered drug/alcohol addict Josh Hamilton to claim his recent woes at the plate were attributed to “issues” he refused to divulge. This led many to suspect that the former AL MVP had suffered a relapse or was on the verge of divorce; Hamilton, fearing that the rumor mill would began to spin out of control, fessed up this past Friday and admitted that the issues were a chewing tobacco habit he’s been trying to kick and, more innocently, a lack of patience at the plate that has caused him to hit just .202 since the start of June, after a blistering .368 clip with power over the season’s first two months.

Hamilton’s slide, along with this weird sequence and a few recent falls from the wagon, could jeopardize a potentially big payday as the Texas star slugger readies to become a free agent at the end of the year.

Going, Going...
Former MVP, baseball pariah and Comeback Player of the Year hopeful Jose Canseco recently filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Las Vega, claiming he had $21,000 in assets—but over $1.7 million in debts, including a $500k bill due to the IRS. Maybe Canseco can take over the seat vacated by Pete Rose at the Caesar Shops’ memorabilia store now that the all-time hit king is off filming a reality TV show; otherwise, he may have to make a reservation at The Whole Year Inn, once frequented by a lost Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas, and go from there.

Abductee For a Day
Police are still looking for the man who, for 24 hours a few weeks back, abducted Cal Ripken Jr.’s mother in her Maryland home. Vivian Ripken, 74, was in her garage one morning when a man came up, kidnapped her and took her car around the area; beyond a surveillance photo showing the suspect at a convenience store, little is known publicly about what took place during the time of the abduction, though Ms. Ripken was said to be unharmed—but emotionally frazzled, as you might expect.

Cal Ripken Jr. held a press conference afterward with police showing the store image along with an additional composite sketch of the suspect; the police chief in charge called the abduction “bizarre” and said he couldn’t think of a motive for the kidnapping.

Wounded of the Week
It was not a good night for Yankee star Alex Rodriguez on July 24 in Seattle. In the sixth inning, he struck out for the 2,000th time in his career. Two innings later, he got hit by a Felix Hernandez pitch, breaking his hand; he won’t be back until the end of August.

Others admitted to baseball’s House of Pain this past week-plus include Toronto catcher J.P. Arencibia—like Rodriguez, out a month with a broken hand—two Atlanta pitchers (Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens), Philadelphia catcher Carlos Ruiz (foot injury, out one month), Texas pitcher Neftali Feliz (out the rest of this year and possibly all of 2013 following Tommy John surgery), Chicago White Sox pitcher John Danks (out for the year after shoulder surgery), Baltimore DH Jim Thome (back), St. Louis slugger Lance Berkman (knee, again), and Houston closer Francisco Cordero, currently the team’s highest-paid player at $4.5 million, out with a inflamed big toe.

Finally, Boston’s Ryan Sweeney has become the latest major leaguer to take his aggression out on an inanimate object (in this case, a door) and lose; he’s broken his pinky and will miss the rest of the year.

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, July 30
Kendrys Morales becomes only the third player in history to belt homers from both sides of the plate in the same inning, knocking in six runs—four on a grand slam—to cap a nine-run sixth inning during the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s wild 15-8 win over the Rangers at Arlington.

The red-hot Cincinnati Reds have their ten-game winning streak snapped at home by the San Diego Padres, 11-5. The winning Padre pitcher is former Red Edinson Volquez, but the star of the night is the San Diego offense, which pummels Cincinnati starter Mike Leake and reliever Alfredo Simon for nine runs over the first three innings.

Chris Johnson, the latest refugee from the Houston Astros, hits a fifth-inning grand slam in his first game for his new team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, on their way to a 7-2 win over the Dodgers at Los Angeles.

Tuesday, July 31
Detroit ace Justin Verlander has his streak of 63 straight starts with at least six innings end—all despite the fact that he technically goes the distance at Boston, throwing five innings before rain halts the proceedings with the Red Sox ahead, 4-1. “Kind of a weird way for (the streak) to come to an end,” Verlander states after the game. Bob Gibson remains the holder of the all-time record with 78 consecutive starts of six or more innings from 1967-70.

A.J. Burnett, having an astonishing comeback campaign for the Pittsburgh Pirates, takes a no-hitter into the eighth inning and settles for a one-hit shutout—his first complete-game blanking in six years—to defeat the Cubs at Chicago, 5-0. Burnett is 12-1 with a 2.58 ERA over his previous 16 starts since allowing 12 runs at St. Louis on May 2.

Wednesday, August 1
In one of the season’s most exciting games, the Rangers bounce back from an early 7-1 deficit against the Angels and, after taking the game into extra innings, overcome another hole by notching four runs in the bottom of the tenth inning to counter the Angels’ three-run rally in the top of the extra frame to win, 11-10. Angel closer Ernesto Frieri suffers his first blown save after successfully converting 13 opportunities; the win moves the Rangers three games ahead of the Angels in the AL West.

Thursday, August 2
In his Texas debut, former Cub Ryan Dempster gets pounded for eight runs by the Angels, but is able to count on something he seldom could while in Chicago: A potent offense. The Rangers bail Dempster out and equally pound away at former Ranger C.J. Wilson for eight runs of their own, and continue to hammer away at the Angel bullpen, finishing the assault with a 15-8 drubbing at Arlington.

A day after nearly being traded to the Florida Marlins, Jason Bay plays the way the New York Mets had expected him to all along, and finally, in a 9-1 win over the Giants in San Francisco. Bay, in a 1-for-29 slump, has his first multi-RBI game since April 14.

Colorado’s Josh Rutledge ends one streak and continues another; in an 8-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, he homers in his fourth straight game—setting a record for a Rockie rookie—and helps end Colorado’s five-game losing slide.

Friday, August 3
For the second time this week, the Oakland A’s win in 15 innings on a sacrifice fly; tonight’s final blow comes off the bat of Coco Crisp, who brings home Jemile Weeks—whose 15th-inning sacrifice fly beat Tampa Bay on Monday—to give the A’s a 5-4 win over Toronto, who had sent the game into extra innings with a three-run rally in the ninth. The win is the 13th walk-off win for the A’s, by far the most in the majors.

Saturday, August 4
The Dodgers defeat the Cubs at Los Angeles, 3-1, keeping Chicago starting pitcher Chris Volstad (0-8) winless on the year in ten starts—even as he has his best performance of the year, pitching seven strong innings. Nevertheless, Volstad is now winless over his last 21 starts dating back nearly 13 months.

Pitching in high gear, Seattle’s Felix Hernandez humbles the Yankees at New York with a 1-0, two-hit shutout; the last time the Yankees lost a 1-0 game on two hits or less was in 1978 when Baltimore’s Jim Palmer silenced the eventual world champions. Since an early-season funk that prompted major trade rumors—the loudest of which involved a deal to the Yankees—Hernandez is 6-0 in ten starts with a 1.41 ERA. Ichiro Suzuki, the Mariner star who ended up in New York instead of Hernandez, gets one of the two Yankee hits.

Sunday, August 5
Trailing 8-5 in the bottom of the tenth with two outs and nobody on, the Tigers erupt for five runs on two walks, a double, a single and a two-run homer by Miguel Cabrera to defeat the Cleveland Indians at Detroit, 10-8. It’s the ninth straight loss for the Tribe.

Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski ties a team record by homering in his fifth straight game, belting a two-run pinch-hit blast in the seventh inning to give the White Sox a lead they won’t relinquish in a 4-2 win over the Angels at U.S. Cellular Field. Pierzynski’s 21 homers on the year are a career high.

To Slur and Protect
Carl Crawford is at long last playing again with the Boston Red Sox after extended injury issues derailed his season debut by over three months—but he didn’t arrive in Boston without controversy, albeit not of his own making. While warming up for the Red Sox in a minor league game in Manchester, New Hampshire on July 5, an off-duty policeman called Crawford a “Monday,” considered derogatory to blacks through a racist perception that African-Americans don’t like Mondays. (But gee, how many of us, regardless of race, creed or color, do?)

Crawford immediately understood the insensitive nature of the subtle verbal jab, and so did the mayor of Leominster, Massachussetts—who fired the cop in question. A lawyer for the cop claimed that he didn’t mean the gesture as racist and that the mayor bowed to an overt form of politically correct pressure.

A Starling is Born
On July 26, Pittsburgh’s Starling Marte homered on the first official major league pitch to come his way, helping the Pirates defeat the Astros, 5-3. He’s the first player since Washington’s Tommy Milone last September 3 to hit his first pitch over the fence; he’s the first Pirate to do it since 1961.

Scissoring Sisson
When you have the worst record in the American League, who you gonna fire? Well, the first base coach, naturally. The Kansas City Royals, once again owners of the league’s worst record, let go of Doug Sisson, who’s been with the organization for over 11 years and helped nurture some of the team’s best offensive talent, including outfielder Alex Gordon. But the Royals made Sisson the fall guy (perhaps the first of a few more) for the team’s disappointing results on the field, officially stating that it was time for a change. Replacing him at first will be Rusty Kuntz.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Jose Reyes, the man who took over for the now-departed Hanley Ramirez at the shortstop spot in Miami, ends this past week with a 24-game hitting streak that’s the longest of his career and the longest in the majors this season. Over his impressive run, Reyes is hitting .371 with four home runs.

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!

Opinion: The TGG Midseason Report Card
Our annual look at the best, worst and most surprising players from each team at the midseason point is now lie in our Opinions section, check it out!.

Now Playing at TGG
In Ed Attanasio's newest addition to TGG's They Were There section, Chuck Stevens talks about being the first major leaguer to get a hit off of Satchel Paige, his life and times living in Hollywood as a Pacific Coast League player, and his role in establishing the Professional Baseball Players' Association, which helps former ballplayers in need.