The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: August 1-7, 2011
MLB Forces A-Rod to Fold 'Em Bright Lights, Big Conspiracy Theory in Milwaukee
Can Hank Greenberg Bring In One More Run? Say It Ain't So, Tony Bruno

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Fun facts About Your All-Time Hit Leaders
Take the TGG quiz to determine your good baseball knowledge when it comes to the game's all-time hit leaders and the 3,000-hit club. Check it out now!

The 2011 Mid-Season Report Card
Our picks for the best, worst and most unexpected during the first half of the 2011 regular season. Check it out now!

Calling A-Rod's Bluff?
Alex Rodriguez needs to get his full house in order, go straight and royally flush away the dark side of his life. That’s the message Major League Baseball might be sending him as they seek to interview the New York Yankee star slugger after reports surfaced that he took place in illegal high-stakes, high-rollin’ poker games over the past few years in Hollywood that were accompanied with cocaine, a few fights and, of course, lots and lots of money.

The inclination is that Rodriguez wasn’t directly involved in any testy skirmishing at the table or was snorting up the coke, but his mere presence at the scene, if true, is troubling for MLB—especially after it had previously warned Rodriguez away from such high-stakes activity.

As always, Rodriguez stiff-armed the media when asked about the allegations, which his spokesman did say were not true. But an A-Rod denial does not always equal the A-Rod truth, as sportswriter Selena Roberts proved early in 2009 when she uncovered evidence that Rodriguez took steroids.

Paging Jesse Ventura
Over the years, suspicious managers and players have come up with inventive conspiracy theories accusing other teams of gaining an unfair home field advantage. The most memorable of these came in 1987 when it was alleged that the Minnesota Twins turned on the air toward the outfield at the inflatable Metrodome when they came to bat—a story that was proven true when a stadium supervisor confessed to it 15 years later.

The latest charge came this past week in the midst of a feisty series at Milwaukee between the Brewers and the visiting St. Louis Cardinals. Manager Tony LaRussa claimed that the Brewers were gaining an unfair advantage by turning up the wrap-around ribbon boards at Miller Park to exceedingly bright levels while they batted, adding light to the environment and, theoretically, making the ball easier to see; the veteran Cardinal manager even filed an official complaint with MLB. No word yet from the commissioner’s office as to a response.

Revisionist Sanity?
Can Detroit Tiger legend Hank Greenberg still tie the all-time AL mark for RBIs? If Herm Krabbenholt makes good on some research, it’s quite possible. In 1937, Greenberg knocked in 183 runs, one shy of the all-time league standard set six years earlier by Lou Gehrig. But Krabbenholt—a diehard Tiger fan and sabermetrician who believes baseball’s official recordbook is “fraught with errors,” says that Greenberg may have been robbed of a RBI in the second game of a doubleheader on June 20, 1937 between the Tigers and Philadelphia Athletics.

Greenberg was given with no RBIs in the game, but viewing all newspaper accounts, Krabbenholt believes that Greenberg should have received credit when he hit a grounder that became a two-base error as shortstop Skeeter Newsom threw wild past first. The question: Was Flea Clifton, who scored on the play, stationed at second or third when the play began? If he was at second, then Greenberg doesn’t get the RBI because he only would have advanced to third had the throw not gone wild. But if he was as third, then he scores regardless. There’s no account of where Clifton started from, but Krabbenholt has this tease to go on: Although baseball’s official records show no RBI for Greenberg, two other unofficial scorers, reporting for the Associated Press and Philadelphia Inquirer, gave Greenberg a RBI.

Changing long-standing records is not a new thing. Years after he set the major league record with 190 RBIs in 1930, the Chicago Cubs’ Hack Wilson posthumously had his total upped by one when research uncovered a scoring error. But lacking a clear narrative of games of the past, who’s to say who’s right? Sometimes, you just have to trust the gospel as it was written.

Don't Mess With My Bonus
Unlike Greenberg, Boston bopper David Ortiz was alive and well after hearing he wouldn’t get credit for a RBI in the Red Sox’ 4-3 win over Cleveland this past Wednesday. Ortiz initially got two RBIs on a first-inning single, but the scorer later changed it to one RBI when it was ruled that Kevin Youkilis, the man on second, would not have scored had Cleveland outfielder Austin Kearns bobbled the ball. A seemingly irate Ortiz, upon hearing the news, briefly burst into manager Terry Francona’s postgame press conference to complain, peering his head into the room and screaming, “I’m f**king pissed!” (Hopefully those cameras weren't filming live!) Even if the scorer’s decision was wrong, why would Ortiz get so burned up over it? After all, the Red Sox won, right? Maybe we should go check Ortiz’s contract and find those performance bonuses, maybe the one that nets him more money for knocking in 100 runs on the year…oooohhh.

Guys We Like
Nielsen apparently tallies more than just the size of TV viewing audiences (like everything else, you need to diversify these days). It released a poll of the ten most popular baseball players this past week, with Philadelphia ace Roy Halladay topping the list. Three other Phillies made the cut: Chase Utley, Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard. After Halladay, the list goes from second to tenth: Texas’ Josh Hamilton, Minnesota’s Joe Mauer, Utley, Lee, Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki, New York Yankee closer Mariano Rivera, Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria, Atlanta’s Chipper Jones, and Howard.

Tony! Tony! Tony!
This past week was not a good one for syndicated sports talk show host Tony Bruno, a genuinely good guy who’s been one of our favorites on the dial for years. First, he gets unceremoniously dumped by San Francisco’s KNBR, where he had been part of a popular 30-minute segment every weekend morning with host Gary Radnich (TGG’s Ed Attanasio appeared on the program last November). Then came really painful news that, in the heat of a tweet after watching Friday’s night smackdown in San Francisco between the Phillies and Giants, he called Giant pitcher Ramon Ramirez—who threw at the Phillies’ Shane Victorino—an illegal alien.

Bruno, who bleeds his hometown of Philadelphia, later apologized but that didn’t quell the anger of the social media universe, which in general holds nothing back and ripped him a new one. Perhaps Bruno was taking too much advantage of his “Red Wine Friday” installment of his nationally syndicated radio show, or maybe this was his fist-shaking moment aimed at KNBR, the flagship station of the Giants—who beat his Phillies last October in the NLCS. Fairly or unfairly, Bruno has some serious image rehabilitation to deal with in the wake of this. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

A Tragic Irony
Matthew Lee, who was with San Francisco Giant fan Bryan Stow when their group was attacked on Opening Day at Los Angeles—and thus, a potential witness in the case against defendants Luis Sanchez and Marvin Norwood—died recently from an allergic reaction after eating a peanut.

Have New Ballpark, Will Travel
Nobody gets hired more to help christen a new ballpark than the New York Yankees. They famously helped open the Astrodome in 1965, and also played the road warriors at exhibition openers to open San Francisco’s Pac Bell (now AT&T) Park and Houston’s Enron Field (now Minute Maid Park). In 2012, they’ll help break in the new ballpark in Miami for the Marlins with a pair of exhibition games on April 1-2. The question will not be whether the ballpark sells out, but what percentage of the crowd will be rooting for the Yankees.

A Dozen's Enough
Matt Stairs has finally run out of gas. The 43-year old slugger, who had become a pinch-hit specialist over the last three years and hit more home runs (23) in a pinch-hit role than anyone else in major league history, announced his retirement after the Washington Nationals released. Stairs contributed nothing this year to the Nats, hitting .154 with only one extra-base hit (a double) and two RBIs in 65 at-bats this year. Stairs played for a record-tying 12 teams over his 19-year career, which began in 1992 with the Montreal Expos.

Wounded of the Week
The frightening moment of the week in the majors took place Friday at Denver’s Coors Field, where rookie Colorado pitcher Juan Nicasio took a line drive by Washington’s Ian Desmond off the side of his neck, just below his head; carried off on a stretcher, Nicasio had neck surgery performed a day later to repair vertebrae fractured in the incident.

Joining Nicasio on the disabled list is Atlanta starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens (knee), San Diego third baseman Chase Headley and Florida infielder Omar Infante (both with broken fingers), Los Angeles starting pitcher Rubby de la Rosa (Tommy John surgery to repair a bad elbow) Tampa Bay starting pitcher Alex Cobb (hand) and San Francisco’s Barry Zito, once again admitted to the shelf with a sprained foot—or, perhaps, just broken pitching.

Finally, we highlight the plight of Oakland shortstop Cliff Pennington, who’s not going on the disabled list but is playing with a condition called Bell’s Palsy, which causes partial paralysis of facial muscles. Because it flared up early in the week, Pennington was forced to miss a few games.

Now Playing at TGG
In our latest installment of the They Were There section, TGG's Ed Attanasio chats with the oldest living ex-major leaguer, 100-year old Connie Marrero—currently living in his native Cuba.

Now Replaying at TGG
In light of Jeter’s historic moment, TGG has revised and updated its Fun Facts About Your All-Time Hit Leaders, featuring a 22-question quiz to test your baseball knowledge on members of the 3,000-hit club as well as posers on all-time team leaders. Good luck!

A Day-by-Day Review of the Week:
Monday, August 1
Derrek Lee hits two home runs in his debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the Bucs lose to the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park, 5-3.

In the Cleveland Indians’ 9-6 win at Boston, Asdrubal Cabrera hits a two-run homer to break up a 5-5 tie in the eighth inning off Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard—the first runs he has allowed over his last 25 appearances spanning 26.1 innings. Who was it that knocked in the run previously allowed by Bard? Cabrera, back on May 23.

Tuesday, August 2
In a testy affair at Milwaukee, St. Louis star hitter Albert Pujols gets hit on the same wrist he earlier broke this year, the Cardinals retaliate by plunking star Brewer slugger Ryan Braun, St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina goes nuts on home plate umpire Rob Drake for protesting an inside strike call (prompting an immediate ejection) and Cardinal manager Tony LaRussa exchanges words with a Brewer fan sitting near the dugout who yelled, “I hope you get shingles again.” The Cardinals beat Milwaukee, 8-7, in 11 innings to end the Brewers’ seven-game win streak—all at home.

Mark Teixeira of the New York Yankees sets a major league record by hitting home runs from each side of the plate for the 12th time in his career during the Yankees’ rain-shortened (seven innings) 6-0 win at Chicago over the White Sox. Eddie Murray and Chili Davis previously had a share of the mark.

The Cubs outlast the Pirates 11-6 in a game that features nine home runs—six by the Cubs, tying a record at the 11-year old ballpark. Adrian Soriano hits two of the Chicago homers.

Wednesday, August 3
In their 53rd home game of the year, the San Francisco Giants score a season-high eight runs to defeat the Arizona Diamondbacks, 8-1, and retake sole possession of first place in the NL West. The Giants had previously not scored more than six runs in any game at AT&T Park, a major league record for the most such home games to start of a season.

For the fifth time in his career—and the second time in less than a month—Derek Jeter pounds out five hits as the Yankees destroy the White Sox at Chicago, 18-7. His four singles and one double raise his season average to a respectable .280; he’s hitting .342 since reaching 3,000 career hits.

Struggling with a sub-.250 average and little power throughout the year, Milwaukee’s Casey McGehee finally breaks out with three home runs to help the Brewers defeat the Cardinals, 10-5. The win also guarantees a winning record at home this year for the Brewers, who are 41-15 at Miller Park.

The Pirates fall below .500 for the first time since June 20, losing to the Cubs 1-0 on a solo home run by Starlin Castro.

Houston pitcher Jordan Lyles, age 20, earns his first major league victory after falling short in his previous 11 starts with a 5-4 win over Cincinnati. Lyles had entered the game with a 0-6 record and 4.41 ERA.

Thursday, August 4
That was then, this is now: Cody Ross, who tormented Philadelphia in last year’s NLCS, strikes out four times in four at-bats—the last for the game’s final out—against Cliff Lee, himself tormented by the Giants playing the World Series for Texas; Lee tosses his major league-leading fifth shutout of the year in a 3-0 win at San Francisco.

Tampa Bay rookie Robinson Chirinos keeps the Rays alive in the 11th with a game-tying single against Toronto, then wins it an inning later with a bloop single to give the Rays a 7-6, 12-inning win over the Blue Jays. Toronto squanders three leads in the game—two of those in extra innings.

Friday, August 5
It’s Round 2 at San Francisco between the Giants and Phillies, and we mean that literally; in the sixth inning, Giant reliever Ramon Ramirez drills Shane Victorino in the back moments after Jimmy Rollins had stolen second base with a six-run lead. The benches clear, there’s some moderate scuffling, but no one is seriously hurt and three players—Ramirez, Victorino and Giant catcher Eli Whiteside—are ejected. The Phillies win their eighth straight game, 9-2, as Hunter Pence and John Mayberry Jr.—both of whom homered the night before against the Giants—do so again.

Milwaukee’s Craig Counsell delivers a pinch-hit single during the Brewers’ 8-1 win at Pittsburgh, snapping a hitless skid of 45-straight at-bats—one shy of the major league record for position players still held by Bill Bergen in 1909.

Ubaldo Jimenez’s debut for the Cleveland Indians is not a memorable one. The former Colorado ace, traded last week, allows five runs on seven hits and three walks in five innings at Texas, but leaves with a lead—one the Indians can’t hold, as the Rangers tie the game on a two-run, ninth-inning home run by Michael Young and win it two innings later, 8-7, on an infield hit by Josh Hamilton.

Cub rookie Tony Campana hits his first home run in 369 games as a pro (57 of those at the major league level for Chicago); it’s an inside-the-park shot that scores two runs in the first inning, helping to lift the Cubs to a 4-3 win over Cincinnati at Wrigley Field.

Saturday, August 6
The Red Sox own Yankee ace CC Sabathia—who owns the rest of baseball. Boston smacks Sabathia for seven runs in six innings during a 10-4 rout of the Yankees, bringing Sabathia’s mark for the year against the Red Sox to 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA, all while he is 16-2 with a 2.11 ERA against the rest of the majors; not since Pat Dobson in 1975 has a Yankee pitcher lost four games against Boston in one year. The consolation prize for New York is that the Yankees’ Curtis Granderson becomes the majors’ first player this season to score 100 runs.

Sunday, August 7
Washington pitcher Stephen Strasburg, seeing his first action since succumbing to Tommy John surgery 11 months ago, throws 1.2 innings and strikes out four for the Nationals' Class-A affiliate in Hagerstown, Maryland. Strasburg throws 31 pitches—25 for strikes—and his fastball is clocked in the upper 90s.

The Cubs have a seven-game winning streak snapped when the Reds pick up two runs in the eighth inning to win, 8-7. The rally begins when Joey Votto's pop fly drops when Chicago's Marlon Byrd slips on the outfield grass, beat up by several days of rain and two Paul McCartney concerts a week earlier.

The Colorado Rockies lose for the 16th straight Sunday as the Washington Nationals take a 3-2 win at Denver. The Rockies last won a Sunday game on April 17 with a 9-5 win over the Cubs.

In the Indians' 5-3 loss at Texas, starter Josh Tomlin chalks up at least five innings of work for the 35th straight game to start his major league career, the third longest such streak since George Winter (with 37 from 1901-02) and Oscar Jones (with 51 from 1903-04).

Detroit wrapped up its season series against Texas with six wins in nine games. The three losses were all to Ranger starter Alexi Ogando, who won each of his starts with a 1.29 ERA and 0.90 WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning) against the Tigers.

Bad Investment
Doug DeCinces, who played 15 years for three different teams back in the 1970s and 1980s, avoided trial and reached a settlement with the Federal Government by paying $2.5 million for his role in an insider trading scheme in 2008. The trades in question were valued at $1.7 million, so DeCinces comes out in the red—but the deal with the Feds officially exonerates him of any guilt.

Mark of Disappointments
If it’s not his strikeouts, or his low career average, or his wretched glovework at third base, here’s another reason not to embrace Baltimore slugger Mark Reynolds: He’s hitting .140 for his career in 57 at-bats with the bases loaded, striking out nearly half of those times.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Atlanta’s Dan Uggla continues one of the unlikeliest batting streaks ever seen as he extended his run to 28 games this past Sunday, the second longest seen in the majors this season. The 31-year old second baseman began the streak back on July 5, when he was batting .173; his average has raised nearly 50 points since.

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!

TGG Programming Note
The Comebacker will be taking its summer break on the week of August 15, returning with a new edition on August 22. We will of course provide updates during this time on the TGG Facebook page.

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