The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: August 13-19, 2012
The Sudden, Sad Fall of Melky Cabrera Blow Up the Red Sox!
Seattle's Perfect King Johnny Pesky, in Memoriam

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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.

Got Melk? Not Anymore
The San Francisco Giants’ path to the 2012 postseason was dealt a major blow this past week when it was announced that Melky Cabrera, having a brilliant year further graced by his MVP effort in the All-Star Game, was given a 50-game ban for testing positive for illegal performance enhancement. Cabrera initially owned up to the offense and apologized, shunning some of the wacky excuses given by other players trying to feign oblivious reactions—but then it was revealed at week’s end that he and his team of agents and trainers devised a phony web site promoting a phony supplement that he would claim he used, unbeknownst to him that it would cause a positive test and, thus, trigger a clause in baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that might exonerate him. MLB figured everything out fairly fast, and now Cabrera may be in deeper trouble as a result, especially now that the Feds are getting involved.

After an impressive 2011 campaign in Kansas City that suggested he had wised up after several years of overweight underachievement with the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves, Cabrera was sent to the Giants one-up in a steal of a deal that sent struggling pitcher Jonathan Sanchez to the Royals. In San Francisco, he only got better—leading the majors in hits while constantly keeping his batting average around the .350 mark. Fans at AT&T Park, starved for good Giant hitting, wildly embraced Cabrera—most ingeniously in the group of dudes called the Melkmen who strutted about the ballpark in milkmen garb and exhorting Cabrera on whenever he came to bat. Needless to say, that clan—and alas, the lovely spinoff group known as the Melk Ladies—are now in forced retirement.

Although the Giants claimed not to have known about the suspension in advance—Cabrera was administered with the fateful test during the All-Star break—you have to wonder if they knew something we didn’t last week when we reported than the team was willing to offer Cabrera a three-year deal worth $27 million. At the time, that seemed almost insulting given what Cabrera has done this season, but with his suspension lasting the rest of the regular season—and with free agency looming—he is likely to receive a far less lucrative offer than originally thought.

Finally, Cabrera’s positive has led to calls for tougher steroid penalties; Arizona manager Kirk Gibson, for one, believes the first offense should be an entire season, with a lifetime banishment for a second positive. Some current players, growing increasingly weary of the reputation that paints all of baseball with each suspension, may be starting to feel the same way. Union execs, having been obstructionist to some degree in every attempt by baseball to curb PED testing, will chafe at the notion—but when the chorus of disgust within their ranks grows to majority levels, they may have little choice but to bow to tighter sanctions.

The Race to Top .346
The consolation prize for Cabrera’s year could be a batting title. Cabrera was suspended after 501 plate appearances—just one shy to automatically qualify for the batting crown. The key word here is “automatic”; should anyone else in the National League finish with an average a few points or more lower than Cabrera’s .346, he would still officially win the title because even if he had made an out with his 502nd appearance and finished at .3456, it would re-qualify him—and provide for one more tainted honor under commissioner Bud Selig’s watch.

The Boston Adveristy Party
It’s a shame about the Boston Red Sox. Great talent, rich history, a wonderfully iconic ballpark—and currently, a clubhouse culture akin to an impending train wreck.

Last year, the team imploded under a late-season slide that deprived itself of a postseason spot, leading to the forced departure of popular manager Terry Francona. Then came the juicy bits. Reports surfaced of a clubhouse gone wild, with off-day pitchers feasting on beer, chicken and Xbox while the games went on outside, of coddling ownership placating players whining of excessive travel by giving them a night on a luxury yacht, of Francona’s off-field distractions perhaps reducing focus on the other issues.

Veteran manager Bobby Valentine was brought in to try and right the Red Sox ship, but the Boston star players allegedly saw his hiring more as a threat to their comfy existence than a chance to straighten up and fly right. They responded to his self-promoting personality and occasional condescending by needling him back, and when that didn’t work, they cornered ownership and demanded, through screams and shouts, that something be done about him. So claims Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan, who publicized all of the above with a story that jolted Red Sox Nation and exposed the controversy to the general public this past week. 

In the story’s aftermath, the main players in this latest drama—first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and second baseman Dustin Pedroia—gave watered-down versions of what happened but didn’t necessarily deny it, only to say that the end game was not to get Valentine fired. Ownership then claimed that it, not the players, initiated the meeting to discuss Valentine. (The New York Daily News later reported that it was disgruntled catcher Kelly Shoppach, recently shipped to the New York Mets, who asked for the meeting; Shoppach denied the claim.)

Nevertheless, it would be stunning to see this same collection of folks embrace each other, learn to just get along and return to championship form. Valentine may be the first casualty, fair or not. Owner John Henry, whose seemingly rudderless leadership through the last few years makes Arliss Howard’s wimpy portrayal of him in Moneyball all the more apt, isn’t selling, so that solution is not an option.

Which leaves us with the players. For the sake of the Red Sox’ future, the roster needs to be flushed out, refreshed with focused ballplayers who haven’t spoiled themselves on ego, beer and golf while on the disabled list. Easier said than done: Only slugger David Ortiz and washout pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka are free agents after this season, with Gonzalez, Pedroia, and fast-dissolving pitchers Josh Beckett and John Lackey signed through 2014 or later. It should be imperative for Boston general manager Ben Charrington to keep his cell phone fully juiced during the winter to initiate a host of trade discussions. He’ll need it.

So Long, Johnny
The woes of Red Sox Nation this past week didn’t start and end with the controversy involving the current Red Sox players. Out of Boston also came sad news of the death of former Red Sox star Johnny Pesky at the age of 92.

The light-hitting infielder was highly adored by generations of Red Sox fans, and Pesky was all too happy to respond in kind. He bled Red Sox red and navy blue, despite having to finish out his playing days with brief stops in Detroit and Washington. As a 22-year-old rookie, Pesky hit .331 with an AL-high 205 hits in 1942; World War II kept him away from the majors for the next three years, returning in 1946 without having skipped a beat, again leading the league in hits in each of his first two years back and becoming the first player—and the only one, before Ichiro Suzuki—to begin a major league career with 200-plus hits in each of his first three seasons.

Dubiously, Pesky is best remembered for “hesitating” a relay throw to the plate while aggressive St. Louis hitter Enos Slaughter was sprinting through his famous “Mad Dash” late in the seventh game of the 1946 World Series; Pesky’s throw was late, and Slaughter’s run turned into the Series’ winning tally for the Cardinals. Pesky initially claimed he was stunned to see Slaughter rounding third and admitted making the hesitation, but later backed away from that assessment after watching film of the play.

More charmingly, the man who collected a mere 17 homers over 1,270 lifetime games has the right-field foul pole at Fenway Park named after him, an ironic complement given to him by teammate Mel Parnell after watching Pesky hit most of those long flies over towards the short porch by the pole.

The Truth Behind the Turnstiles
Have you always wondered why you see a ballgame on TV that’s supposedly sold out and yet there are numerous empty seats throughout the ballpark? (They can’t all be in the bathroom.) The Associated Press’ Jim Campbell sheds some light on the mysteries behind baseball’s attendance figures, some of which we’ve solved ourselves over the years but much more revealed for the first time.

Extra Inning, Extra Strikeout
Toronto reliever Steve Delabar made obscure major league history this past Monday when he became the first pitcher ever to strike out four batters in an extra inning. (He’s also the first Blue Jay to do it in any inning.) To those who don’t understand how you can strike out four when there’s only three outs in an inning, the extra K came courtesy of a passed-ball third strike—allowing the batter to safely advance if he beats the throw from the catcher scrambling to retrieve the ball. It doesn’t count as an out, but the pitcher gets credit for the strikeout, and so it was with Delabar, who accomplished the rare feat in the tenth inning of the Blue Jays’ 3-2, 11-inning win over the Chicago White Sox. Delabar struck out six over two innings and got credit for the win, his first since joining the Jays in a trade from Seattle.

Coors and Giancarlo: A Lethal Mix
Should Giancarlo Stanton ever be traded to the Colorado Rockies, it will be interesting to see the odds on his chances of setting a season home run record. The powerful 22-year-old Miami slugger has hit a home run in each of the first six games he’s played in at Denver’s Coors Field, a major league first at any ballpark by any player. In those six games, he’s hit .391 on the six homers, two singles and a double, and knocked in ten runs.

Wounded of the Week
A remarkably quiet week on the injury front saw only a handful of players reach the disabled list. Among them are Oakland third baseman Brandon Inge, hitting the shelf for the third time this season, this time with a dislocated shoulder; Colorado outfielder Michael Cuddyer, out with an oblique injury; and recently-acquired Philadelphia outfielder Nate Schierholz, out for the season with a broken toe.

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, August 13
In the first game of a series between two top NL teams, the Washington Nationals jump on San Francisco starter Ryan Vogelsong—the league’s ERA leader who hasn’t allowed more than two runs over his last 12 home starts—for eight runs in less than three innings en route to a 14-2 wipeout at AT&T Park.

In the start of another highly anticipated series at New York, the Yankees glide past Texas, 8-2, thanks in large part to the unlikely one-two punch of rookie starting pitcher David Phelps and 39-year-old veteran Derek Lowe, pitching four shutout innings in his Yankee debut after being released by Cleveland to get credit for a save. Nick Swisher’s third-inning grand slam erases an early 2-0 Ranger lead and puts the Yankees ahead to stay.

Cole Hamels fires his second straight shutout—his first two since 2009—to lead the Philadelphia Phillies to a 4-0 win over the Marlins at Miami. The left-hander is now 13-6 with a 2.91 ERA on the year.

Tuesday, August 14
Embroiled in sudden controversy following a Yahoo! Sports report detailing an attempt by players to oust manager Bobby Valentine, the Boston Red Sox and beleaguered starting pitcher Josh Beckett can make a statement in the opener of a three-game series at Baltimore—but instead they get spanked by the charging Orioles, 7-1, as Beckett drops to 5-10 and his ERA rises to 5.19 after allowing six runs in five-plus innings. Despite being on the losing end of the one-sided score, the Red Sox outhit the Orioles, 11-7—leaving 12 men on base.

Hiroki Kuroda takes a no-hitter into the seventh inning and Nick Swisher belts a two-run shot in the same frame to give the Yankees their second straight win over the Rangers, 3-0. Swisher’s homer comes just moments after Ranger reliever Alexi Ogando replaced starting pitcher Mitch Harrison in a scoreless game. Kuroda’s two-hitter is his second shutout of the year.

Miguel Cabrera’s two late-inning insurance RBI hits help Detroit pull away from the Twins at Minnesota, 8-4, and put him over the top as the first major leaguer to reach 100 RBIs on the season. Cabrera has knocked in at least 100 runs in every full season he’s played in dating back to 2004; he’s on pace for a career-high 140.

Jeremy Guthrie, a certifiable bust in Colorado, has for now rediscovered himself in Kansas City. The veteran right-hander runs a streak of consecutive scoreless innings to 15, and the Royals score all of their runs in the fifth inning to defeat the Oakland A’s at Kauffman Stadium, 5-0.

Wednesday, August 15
Felix Hernandez throws the year’s third perfect game—a major league first—striking out 12 of the 27 Tampa Bay batters he faces as the Seattle Mariners tip the Rays at Safeco Field, 1-0. The Mariners’ only run of the game comes off a weak third-inning single that scores Brendan Ryan. The Rays have now been on the losing end of three perfect games—and four no-hitters—since 2009.

Another Hernandez—Roberto Hernandez, the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona—bombs in his season debut for Cleveland, allowing eight runs (five earned) on ten hits through six innings as the Indians lose at Anaheim to the Angels, 8-4.

The Los Angeles Dodgers win their fourth straight game with a 9-3 triumph at Pittsburgh to obtain sole possession of first place in the NL West on the day it’s announced that the Giants’ Melky Cabrera has been suspended for the remainder of the regular season for illegal performance enhancement use. Clayton Kershaw picks up his 11th win on the year while two recent star pick-ups, Shane Victorino and Hanley Ramirez, contribute with a combined five hits including two doubles.

Thursday, August 16
In the seventh inning of the Chicago White Sox’ 7-2 victory over the Blue Jays at Toronto, play is stopped for nearly five minutes as trainers and doctors from both teams attend to a 60-year-old man suffering a heart attack along the third-base side of the lower-level stands; he is quickly carted off, still receiving CPR, and later dies at a hospital.

The Rays bounce back from their perfect game loss the day before, scoring early and often against Angel starter Dan Haren and registering a 7-0 win at Anaheim. David Price becomes the majors’ first 16-game winner of the year and lowers his ERA to 2.39 with seven shutout innings.

On Chipper Jones Bobblehead Night, the 40-year-old Atlanta star belts two homers for his first multi-homer performance in three years, while spot starter Kris Medlen fires his first major league shutout by blanking the visiting San Diego Padres, 6-0, on five hits and no walks.

Friday, August 17
Jered Weaver’s Cy Young Award hopes take a big hit when he gives up a career-worst nine runs to Tampa Bay before being removed in the fourth inning as the Rays go on to hammer the Angels, 12-3. Weaver has now lost two straight starts after a 15-1 start, and his ERA has jumped from 2.13 to 2.74.

Saturday, August 18
In the first game of a doubleheader at Cincinnati, Johnny Cueto throws eight solid innings and improves to 11-0 with a 1.62 ERA in 12 daytime starts as the Reds defeat the Chicago Cubs, 5-3; the win also gives Cueto the NL lead in victories at 16. Cueto’s previous high-water mark in wins is 12 in 2010.

C.J. Wilson becomes the third big-name Angel pitcher in three nights to bomb on the mound, allowing seven runs in four-plus innings—but this one really hurts, because it turns an early 8-0 Angel lead into an ultimate 10-8 loss to the Rays. Wilson is now winless in his last ten starts, with a 0-5 record and 5.70 ERA during that stretch.

White Sox slugger Adam Dunn—who began the week by knocking in his 1,000th career run—blasts his 400th lifetime home run in a 9-4 loss at Kansas City and retakes the season lead in homers at 35, a year after collecting only 11 while hitting .159. Next on tap for Dunn: the 2,000-strikeout barrier, for which he’s only 19 shy of.

After suffering a 13-4 pounding at home against Arizona that mathematically ensures a losing season with 41 games still to play, the 39-82 Houston Astros fire manager Brad Mills and two of his coaches.

Sunday, August 19
In the majors’ longest game of the year by innings, the Pittsburgh Pirates prevail over the Cardinals at St. Louis in 19 innings, 6-3. After the Pirates tie the game in the top of the sixth, there’s no more scoring until the 17th when the Bucs notch a run with the bases loaded—but the Cardinals respond with a run in the bottom of the frame to keep the game alive. Pittsburgh finally takes control with three runs in the 19th. Rotation member Wandy Rodriguez, sent in with the bullpen depleted, pitches the final two innings and gets his first win as a Pirate. The game lasts six hours and seven minutes, tied for the longest this year.

A Perfect Game in King Felix's Court
Is this the year of the perfect game? The numbers certainly say yes. The latest gem, thrown this past Wednesday by Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, was the third of the year—a major league record for one season. Given that there’s been only 18 others thrown in the previous 111 years that constitute baseball’s modern era, that’s a heady accomplishment. (If you want to play with numbers even more, consider that there was not a single regular-season perfecto thrown between 1922 and 1964.)

Hernandez’s perfecto was also the second thrown at Seattle’s Safeco Field this season, another first; Phil Humber also retired all 27 Mariners he faced earlier in the year for the Chicago White Sox. Hernandez’s victims, the Tampa Bay Rays, have now been on the dark side of three perfect games over just the last four seasons; only the Brooklyn-Los Angeles Dodgers have lost as many, one of their three sufferings in the 1956 World Series by the Yankees’ Don Larsen.

Finally, the Venezuelan-born Hernandez becomes only the second foreigner to throw a perfect game, after Nicaragua’s Dennis Martinez in 1988; and it’s also the sixth no-hitter of the year, one shy of the major league record of seven set both in 1990 and 1991.

Prior Notice
The latest comeback attempt by one-time pitcher supreme Mark Prior ended in failure this past week, again. The big right-hander, once part of a feared rotation for the Chicago Cubs during the early 2000s, hasn’t pitched in the bigs since 2006 due to numerous shoulder issues; he’s since tried to return to form through no less than four organizations, his latest being a shot with the Boston Red Sox through their Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket. In 19 games, all in relief, Prior struck out 38 in 25 innings—but also walked 23, raising his ERA to a so-so 3.96 that wasn’t good enough for the Red Sox, who released him. Still somewhat young at 31, Prior may make another go at it—or give it up, uttering words that rhyme with…Pawtucket.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Boston slugger David Ortiz, who hasn’t played for a month, nevertheless backs into the honor as the major leaguer with the longest “active” hitting streak at 11 games to end this past week. Boston teammate Dustin Pedroia had a 13-game streak going into Sunday’s game at New York but went hitless against the Yankees to end his run. Ortiz, by the way, is recovering from an injury to his right heel and should resume playing…soon.

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.