The Week That Was in Baseball: August 2-15, 2010
Francisco Rodriguez, a.k.a. K-O-Rod Yawning Through the Steroid Era's Milestones
"Trash Talk" With Brandon Phillips How Many 20-Game Winners Will There Be?

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The 2010 Mid-Season Report Card
Our annual look at the best, worst and most unexpected during the first half of the 2010 regular season. Check it out now!

After Further Review: Making the Right Call on Replay
As baseball struggles to grasp video replay, here's a suggestion on how to expand upon it and make it efficient—if not flawless. Check it out now!

Pulp Non-Fiction
What a lovely week it was for the New York Mets. Johan Santana is accused of rape. Luis Castillo, verbally tortured by Citi Field fans, says he doesn’t want to play for the team next year. Jeff Francoeur also wants out because of a lack of playing time. But the majority of headlines was saved for closer Francisco Rodriguez, who was jailed by police and then suspended by the Mets for two games after brutally assaulting his father-in-law in a Citi Field lounge reserved for players’ families.

The father-in-law, named Carlos Pena—not to be confused with the Tampa Bay slugger of the same name—challenged Rodriguez to “stop acting like a baby” as the closer barked in anger over the Mets’ 6-2 loss to Colorado (a game in which Rodriguez didn’t even appear); this, along with (more importantly) a putdown of Rodriguez’s mother sent the closer over the top emotionally, igniting him into beating up the 53-year old Pena in what was described as a one-sided bout in full view of horrified onlookers, many of them women and children.

On Saturday before the Mets-Phillies game, Santana read a curt statement to the press that lasted less than a minute, apologizing to everyone except the father-in-law he sent to the hospital; according to the New York Daily News, he then made a beeline to the clubhouse where he was seen joking around on the cell phone and laughing it up with teammates as if the severity of his actions had totally escaped him. What Rodriguez could not ignore was the hostile reaction of booing fans when he went to the mound later that night at Citi Field.

Phillips Screw Job
Motivation can go both ways. Ask Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips, who declared to the press after the first game of the Reds’ crucial home series against divisional rival St. Louis that he hated the Cardinals and that they were “little bitches” who moan and complain. As you might expect, Phillips’ dare rallied the Cardinals more than his own teammates, and Phillips didn’t help matters when, as he came to bat to start the bottom of the first inning on Tuesday, tapped his bat off the kneepads of St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina—who angrily kicked the bat away and then got in Phillips’ face, starting a benches-clearing mess that got ugly when Cincinnati pitcher Johnny Cueto, pinned against the backstop, began kicking and stomping away at anyone with a Cardinal jersey. (Backup Cardinal catcher and former Red Jason LaRue got the worst of Cueto’s feet, suffering a mild concussion that landed him on the disabled list.)

In the end, Phillips’ words backfired. The Reds were swept in three games by the Cardinals; Cueto was suspended for seven games for his violent, momentary lapse of reason; and Phillips himself was a dud at the plate during the series, managing just two hits in 14 at-bats. Though the Reds are still tight with the Cardinals for the NL Central lead, the series loss could prove crucial down the line; the two teams next meet up for the last time this season, in St. Louis on September 3-5.

Better Late Than Never
Eight years ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates singed pitcher Brian Bullington as the first draft pick in the 2002 MLB draft. Eight years later, he finally won a major league game—and he did it in style, allowing just two hits through eight shutout innings against the New York Yankees on Sunday in Kansas City. The Royals are Bullington’s fourth major league team, after Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Toronto gave up on him; his victory over the Yankees was his first in 20 major league appearances and seven starts.

The Wrecking Drew Crew
This past Wednesday, four members of the Arizona Diamondbacks—Adam LaRoche, Miguel Montero, Mark Reynolds and Stephen Drew—grouped up to hit four consecutive home runs off the Brewers’ Dave Bush in the Diamondbacks’ 8-2 win at Milwaukee. It was the seventh time in major league history that four straight homers have been hit—four of them occurring over the past four years. (The other three instances took place between 1961-64.) What was intriguing about Arizona’s feat was that the last of the four home runs was hit by Drew, whose brother J.D. Drew was involved in two other four-homer sequences (for Los Angeles in 2006 and Boston in 2007); in fact, just a day after the D-Backs’ power display, the Red Sox hit three in a row at Texas—with J.D. providing the third blast. Mike Lowell, the potential fourth home run hitter, walked.

Sold (This Time, Definitely)
It wasn’t so much a formal approval as it was a sigh of relief when MLB owners approved the sale of the Texas Rangers this past Wednesday to a group led by Pittsburgh lawyer Chuck Greenberg and Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan. This was the group MLB wanted all along, mostly because of Ryan’s ties to the former Ranger organization owned by Tom Hicks. Greenberg-Ryan outbid a handful of other groups in a court-sanctioned auction back on August 5 to finally settle a half-year of acrimony that began when an earlier sale was negated by angry creditors who feared they would not be paid; as the process wallowed on, the Rangers declared bankruptcy. All of that is history now, Ryan and Greenberg can now relax and enjoy the action on the field, and the Top Ramen packets can now be removed from the break room of the Rangers’ executive offices.

Back in Business
Almost out of nowhere this past week, we quietly witnessed the return of Jay Gibbons to the majors. Gibbons appeared to be a star on the rise during the early 2000s in Baltimore, wielding a solid bat that three times produced 20+ home runs and, in 2003, 100 RBIs. But it all fell apart for Gibbons in 2007, when his potency at the plate faded out in advance of being called out in the Mitchell Report for using steroids (a charge that Gibbons later confirmed). A year later he was gone from the majors, struggling to return through lower-level minor league organizations while at one point stepping away, applying for an assistant coaching job at a high school.

Gibbons finally reached the end of the long road back when he was brought up by the Los Angeles Dodgers—and in his first start on Tuesday, he wrapped out three hits including a two-run homer. Gibbons said he was just happy to be earning a big-league paycheck, and said he would keep the money—a reference to his 2008 pledge to donate anything he earned to charity in exchange for a chance to continue playing in the majors. “I’ve got three kids now,” Gibbons told the Los Angeles Times, “I think three years of not playing is punishment enough.”

Giving it the Ol' College Try
The attorney for Thomas Gallo, the man accused of killing Los Angeles of Anaheim pitcher Nick Adenhart while driving drunk, asked the court this past week for a lesser charge because Gallo’s intended designated driver for the night got drunk himself, and therefore Gallo didn’t “intend” to drive. Yet, he still did. Request likely to be denied.

From Hibernation to Red Sox Nation
The question “Whatever happened to Carlos Delgado?” was answered this past week when the Boston Red Sox signed the 38-year old to a minor league contract. The veteran slugger with 473 career home runs had his 2009 season with the Mets severely cut short when he underwent hip surgery; he had a second operation this past winter and, now recovered, had attracted the interest of several teams. He spent this past week at the Red Sox’ triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket, and is expected to join the parent club soon.

Wounded of the Week
There were many repeat offenders entering the MLB Medical Ward this past week, including Boston outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, Colorado pitcher Jeff Francis and—for the ninth time in his six-year career—Texas starting pitcher Rich Harden.

The most painful addition this past week as far as playoff ramifications were involved was that of Chipper Jones, who suffered a season-ending knee injury. Despite the injury and his recent suggestions beforehand that he might retire, the 38-year old Jones insists for now that he’s coming back for 2011. (Honorable mention goes to Tampa Bay, who lost two starting pitchers—Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis—to the disabled list with shoulder problems.)

Finally, we have the curious case of Seattle shortstop Jack Wilson, who needed surgery on his right hand after breaking it in a bathroom accident. (Your joke added here.)

A Standing Yawn For A-Rod
Many of MLB’s major home run milestones accomplished over the past five years have been undercut by a certain pall evolved out of the steroid era. Barry Bondsrecord-breaking 756th homer, Sammy Sosa’s 600th, Gary Sheffield’s 500th and, on August 4, Alex Rodriguez’s 600th have been applauded with an indifferent, measured level of restraint given each of those player’s past involvement with steroids. In recent years, only Ken Griffey Jr. and Jim Thome—the former retired with over 600 homers, the latter active and closing in—have ascended to the Alps of career slugging without genuine suspicion.

Rodriguez’s path to 600 was somewhat arduous, as a power slump (46 homerless at-bats after hitting 599) only served to ratchet up skepticism over his past. When Rodriguez’s 600th blast finally came at home against Toronto, he became the youngest (at age 35) to reach the milestone—although Babe Ruth did it in fewer at-bats (2,044, as opposed to Rodriguez’s 2,227).

Who's Next?
We mentioned above how close 39-year old veteran slugger
Jim Thome, now in a part-time role for the Minnesota Twins, is closing in on 600 home runs; he is 20 shy of the mark and, given his healthy productivity at the plate when called upon to bat, will likely get a shot of contributing again in 2011 to reach that goal.

After Thome, there’s Manny Ramirez, who, if he can stay healthy and not play mind games with whoever he’s playing for next season, is currently 46 shy of 600. Albert Pujols, who at age 30 is already just six blasts short of 400, is considered a lock for 600 (and possibly well beyond) unless injuries and ineffectiveness begin to take over. Further down the active list, you can’t discount Adam Dunn, also just 30 years of age and with 347 career homers to his credit; all he needs to do is average 30 a year for the next eight years and he’ll be right at the doorstep of the 600 Club.

So Close, And Yet...
For the Toronto Blue Jays, that last out always seems to be the hardest. Dave Stieb, one of the best pitchers to ever wear a Blue Jay uniform, is most famous for losing a no-hit bid with two out and two strikes in the ninth inning—in two straight starts—at the end of the 1988 season. Ten years later, there was Roy Halladay, who in his very first major league start was also within an out of a no-hitter, only to be foiled by a Bobby Higginson home run. (There was overdue satisfaction for both pitchers; Stieb did eventually complete a no-hitter in 1990, the only such no-no in Blue Jay history; and Halladay threw a perfect game earlier this year for Philadelphia.)

Brandon Morrow became the latest Blue Jay to be denied at the finish line when he lost a no-hit bid with two out in the ninth on August 8 at Toronto against Tampa Bay. Morrow lost it on a tantalizingly close play; Evan Longoria poked a sharp grounder through the right side of the infield, and Toronto second baseman Aaron Hill scrambled into short right field in a desperate attempt to field the ball, but it glanced off his glove. Morrow finished the game with a one-hit shutout of the Rays—the first complete game of his career—and struck out 17 batters, the first time he K’d as many as ten in one game, and one shy of the Toronto record set by Roger Clemens in 1998.

In a year that has already seen five no-hitters, two others have been denied with two out in the ninth; besides Morrow’s near-miss, there was the infamous game back on June 2 when Detroit’s Armando Galarraga had a perfect game taken away from him thanks to a blown call at first base by umpire Jim Joyce.

Meanwhile, the Day Before...
Perhaps one reason that the bats were running on empty during Morrow’s 1-0 win over the Rays was that both Tampa Bay and Toronto had exhausted all of their offensive might the day before in a wild 17-11 slugfest won by the Blue Jays. Easily leading the majors in home runs coming into the game, Toronto further loaded up by slamming eight balls over the fence—six off of Tampa Bay starter James Shields, who tied a major league record for most homers served up in one game. Also of note was the performance of Toronto catcher J.P. Arencibia, who, in his first major league game, had four hits including a double and two home runs—the first of which came on the very first pitch he saw, the first Blue Jay to enjoy that moment since Junior Felix in 1989. In the week-plus since, Arencibia has played in only two other games—where he was hitless in seven at-bats.

Go Slowey, Go Carefully
Getting back to the subject of near no-hitters, Minnesota’s Kevin Slowey finished his Sunday assignment against Oakland by throwing seven no-hit innings. Unfortunately, you need nine to join to club. Slowey, who missed his previous start with a sore elbow, was limited to 100 pitches and was showing more erratic placement toward the end of the day, walking three and hitting a batter before being removed. Jon Rauch, his eighth-inning replacement, quickly gave up a pair of hits to foil the opportunity for a multi-pitcher no-hitter. The Twins ultimately defeated the A’s, 4-2.

The Race For 20
No-hitters have been something of the rage in a season many are calling the “year of the pitcher” (those people have no idea; see 1968), but another milestone that could be in abundant supply by the end of the year is that of the 20-game winner. Last year, not one pitcher made it to 20 victories, but as many as six and possibly a few more could get there this season; the last time we saw this many pitchers at or above 20 came in 2001, when seven pitchers reached the mark.

Two guys who are all but locks to win 20 games this year are Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez and St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright; they each have 17 as of this past weekend. Four pitchers are behind them with 15: Tampa Bay’s David Price, the New York Yankees’ CC Sabathia, Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay and Minnesota’s Carl Pavano. (Yes, Carl Pavano.) Seven other pitchers have at least 13 wins, and if any of them get hot down the stretch, they too could be looking at finishing the year with 20 wins. Check back with us in about six weeks.

The Right Price
With a little less than two months still to be played in the regular season, Tampa Bay pitcher David Price established a franchise record for wins in one year when he nabbed his 15th on Monday at Detroit. The previous team record was held by Rolando Arrojo, who finished with 14 wins in the Devil Rays’ first-ever campaign in 1998. Price has a good shot at becoming a 20-game winner in his first full year at the major league level.

Home at Last
It took five tries, but the Philadelphia Phillies finally scored their first run of the year at New York’s Citi Field on Saturday. After getting shutout in their first four games of the season at the second-year facility, the Phillies returned the favor by blanking the Mets, 4-0.

A Win-Win at Last
The day before the Mets finally gave up some runs to the Phillies, they beat them 1-0 for their second straight win—the first time since late June that the Mets were able to win consecutive contests. During the time without back-to-back wins, New York was 15-27.

So I Had One Bad Night
On July 28, pitcher Johan Santana got lit up by the St. Louis Cardinals, who pummeled the New York ace with seven runs on 13 hits in 5.2 innings. The seven runs equal the total number of earned runs Santana has allowed in his eight other starts combined since June 26; in those games, Santana has a 5-1 record with a 1.03 ERA.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
The Los Angeles Dodgers may be doing a slow fade from the postseason picture, but don’t blame Scott Podsednik, who finishes this past week with the majors’ longest active hitting streak at 12 games. Recently traded from Kansas City, Podsednik had five straight games with at least two hits this past week—and is hitting .380 during his run.

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