The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: August 15-21, 2011
Who Else Can Hit 600 Home Runs? The Real Dodger Stadium Attendance
Carlos Zambrano's Thin Line Between Love and Hate Mike Jacobs, HGH User

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Fun facts About Your All-Time Hit Leaders
Updated!
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!

After Jimbo, Who's Next for 600 Home Runs?
History was made this past Monday when Jim Thome, the 40-year old slugger for the Minnesota Twins, launched his 600th career home run at Detroit. He is the fifth player to reach the milestone in the last decade; there were only three players (Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays) who got there through the end of the 20th Century. In terms of at-bats, Thome got to 600 faster (8,167) than anyone except Ruth (who needed just 6,919 ABs).

After looking back, we look forward: With steroids enforcement gradually locked in and pitching on the rise in the majors, do any other current major leaguers have a chance of joining the 600 Club? Atlanta’s Chipper Jones is next after Thome among active players with 448 homers—but at age 39, he likely doesn’t have another 152 jacks in him. Same for Vladimir Guerrero, right behind at 446 and fading at age 36. Next on the list is Albert Pujols, who does have a good shot—a very good shot. The Cardinal boomer is still going strong at the age of 31; even if he averages just 20 home runs over the next eight years, he’ll reach 600.

Looking further down the active list, Adam Dunn (365 homers at age 31) is a possible candidate for 600 but desperately needs to reawake from the horrid slump he’s suffered with the Chicago White Sox this season; Mark Teixeira, who’s the same age with 308 career blasts, has an outside shot; Miguel Cabrera, still only 28 with a career total of 270, can get there if he becomes all about the home run in his 30s; and Prince Fielder, who is all about the home run, has nailed 217 over his career at age 27.

Caught Steeling
This past week, Mike Jacobs became the first major leaguer—and the first professional sports athlete in North America, for that matter—to test positive for Human Growth Hormone (HGH), leading to a 50-game ban. Infuriated, the Colorado Rockies—Jacobs’ current team—released him immediately.

Some may wonder how he got nabbed when Major League Baseball doesn’t have a HGH test for its players. But Jacobs hasn’t played for the Rockies this season; he’d been toiling with their Triple-A affiliate down in Colorado Springs, where minor league players are subject to mandatory HGH testing because they’re not covered by the players’ union. In a statement, a highly contrite Jacobs claimed he took HGH to help overcome “knee and back problems” and said, in retrospect, that taking the drug was “one of the worst decisions” he could have made. We’ll say.

A veteran of six major league campaigns totaling 100 home runs, Jacobs has been on a downward spiral since clubbing 32 homers for Florida in 2008. He fizzled as a free agent for Kansas City in 2009, barely saw any action last year in the uniform of the New York Mets, and has labored exclusively in the Rockies’ farm system this season.

Jacobs’ bust may put extra pressure on major league players as a new collective bargaining agreement looms around the corner. Commissioner Bud Selig is determined to press the union to expand HGH testing to major leaguers, something the union has previously gone on record stating they are against.

Is it Time to Zamboni Over Zambrano?
It happens ever year. Chicago Cub pitcher Carlos Zambrano has a tantrum, tells the team he’s retiring, then comes back later and insists, “Just kidding!”

Zambrano’s latest episode occurred on August 12 when he gave up eight runs on eight hits—five of them home runs—in less than five innings at Atlanta. When he gave up back-to-back homers to Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla and then threw two perilously close pitches to the next batter, Chipper Jones, he was immediately ejected by home plate umpire Tim Timmons, who quickly turned to the Atlanta bench—empting out with angry Brave players on a warpath towards Zambrano—and told them to stay put.

Banished to the clubhouse, Zambrano instantly cleared out his locker, left notice that he was retiring and scrammed, leaving behind disappointed teammates and manager Mike Quade, who later told the press, “I can’t have a guy walking out on 24 guys.”

Almost on cue, Zambrano reappeared after cooling off for the weekend, saying he wanted to return and had nothing but love for the Cubs. The Cubs did not return the love; they placed the controversial pitcher on a 30-day disqualified list, leading to the typical kneejerk response of the players’ union to file a grievance. (Curiously, Zambrano was zinged by general manager Jim Hendry, lame-ducking it after being told of his own dismissal four weeks earlier.)

As mentioned, this is hardly the first time Zambrano has worked himself into a rollercoaster of emotions. He took out a Gatorade dispenser in the Wrigley Field dugout after an ejection from a 2009 game, and later said he would retire when his contract expired, before backtracking on the statement. Last year, he was indefinitely suspended by the Cubs for engaging then-teammate Derrek Lee in another loud argument in the dugout; he was told to undergo anger management therapy. And as for that contract? It expires after next season.

She's So...Heavy!
One of four bronzed “knothole kids” peaking through an old-fashioned fence at Fifth Third Field in Toledo (home of the Detroit Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate, the Mud Hens) was reported stolen by team officials. Turns out that the statue was safely secured at police headquarters after a few officers patrolling late at night found the statue some 60 feet away from its usual spot. Apparently, someone had tried to run off with the sculpture—but because it’s so heavy, they didn’t get very far. We’re guessing the police had no such problems.

Maybe They're Coming Dressed as Empty Seats
How bad has attendance at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium really been this year? Officially, the turnstile count has shown an average of nearly 37,000 fans a game, which on paper looks solid. But that figure includes all tickets sold—whether they’re used or not. Apparently, a lot of them haven’t been used, thanks to the team’s flat performance on the field, the bankrupt performance in the front office and the violent performances by unruly fans in the stands and parking lots at the ballpark.

In bankruptcy court this past week, the president of the company that handles merchandising sales for the Dodgers testified that based on sales of Dodger paraphernalia at Chavez Ravine, the actual number of fans in the house is closer to 27,000, translating to a season total of roughly 2.25 million fans. That’s a far cry from better times at Dodger Stadium, like in 1982 when 3.6 million entered the ballpark in an era when official attendance was actually based on those using their tickets.

So where are the 10,000 ticket holders who aren’t going to the game? We’re guessing that showing up in the third inning, leaving in the seventh and taking fan abuse while watching a bad team in between isn’t their idea of a relaxing evening on the town.

Wounded of the Week
We leave town and all hell breaks loose at the MLB Medical Ward, with no fewer than 37 players hitting the disabled list over the last few weeks.

No team was hit harder than the defending champion San Francisco Giants, who virtually escaped injury last year—but no, not this season, and especially not the last few weeks, with injuries to closer Brian Wilson (elbow inflammation), recent star addition Carlos Beltran (strained wrist), outfielder Andres Torres (leg), set-up reliever Sergio Romo (elbow) and catcher Eli Whiteside (concussion), himself filling in for out-for-the-season Buster Posey.

The week was so harsh, it didn’t spare two players who’ve cheated injury for much of their major league careers: Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski (wrist) and Pittsburgh pitcher Paul Maholm (shoulder strain), both on the DL for the very first time.

Other unfortunates for the week include Minnesota outfielder Denard Span, out of action due to vertigo (if you see Kim Novak, run); Chicago starting pitcher Phil Humber, recovering after taking a comebacker to the face; Arizona starting pitcher Jason Marquis, out for the year with a broken fibula; and Boston star hitter Kevin Youkilis, with a bad back.

In the minors, young phenom Bryce Harper has been forced to call it a season after suffering a severe hamstring injury, quashing what little suspense remained that he might be call-up material for the Washington Nationals in September.

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!

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 15
Jim Thome hits his 599th career home run in the sixth inning at Detroit—and an inning later, becomes the eighth player in history to reach 600 with another blast to help the Minnesota Twins defeat the Tigers at Comerica Park, 9-6. His five RBIs on the night are the most he’s knocked in since collecting seven in July 2009. 

Jason Isringhausen, back with the New York Mets and back in the closer’s role at age 38, records his 300th career save by pitching a scoreless tenth inning to secure the Mets’ 5-4 win at San Diego. Isringhausen is tied with Bruce Sutter for 22nd place in career saves, and is third on the active list behind Mariano Rivera and Francisco Cordero.

The Milwaukee Brewers defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-0 at Miller Park thanks to defense that records four double plays and the sixth triple play in franchise history. The latter moment occurs in the second inning when James Loney hits a double-play grounder that turns into a triple nailing as Matt Kemp attempts to score from second on the play—and is tagged out at home.

Tuesday, August 16
In the second game of a doubleheader at Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox pull off their own triple play—their first since 1994, when John Valentin made all three outs unassisted—but it’s not enough to overcome the visiting Tampa Bay Rays, who win the nightcap by a 6-2 count.

Albert Pujols smashes his 30th home run of the year, extending his major league record by reaching 30 for the 11th time to start a career; despite a bad start to the year and two weeks lost to a wrist injury in early summer, Pujols leads the NL in homers. The St. Louis Cardinals lose despite Pujols’ achievement, one of five walk-off victims across the majors on the night when the Pittsburgh Pirates win in the 11th on a Garrett Jones home run.

Detroit ace Justin Verlander becomes the majors’ first 18-game winner on the year and the first to surpass both 200 innings and 200 strikeouts after allowing a run on seven hits in 7.2 innings during the Tigers’ 7-1 win against Minnesota. Verlander also leads the majors in both batting average against (.187) and walks/hits allowed per inning (0.88).

Wednesday, August 17
For the first time in their 111-year history, the Red Sox go three straight games with three hits or less as they fall at Fenway Park to Tampa Bay, 4-0; conversely, the Rays set their own first by allowing three or less hits through three straight games. The Red Sox are second in the majors with a .277 batting average—but are hitting just .168 against Tampa Bay.

The New York Yankees, trying to keep distance over the Red Sox in the AL East, lose at Kansas City 5-4 thanks in part to a Billy Butler deep fly that bounces off the top of the wall and back on the field—and yet is ruled a home run, even after umpires take a look at video replay. Major League Baseball will later issue a statement admitting the umpires made the wrong call.

For the first time since April 22, the Chicago White Sox’ Mark Buehrle allows more than three runs when he gives up all four Cleveland tallies in a 4-1 loss to the Indians at U.S. Cellular Park. Buehrle had gone 18 straight games—tying a franchise record set in 1909 by Frank Smith—allowing three runs or fewer; during the streak, he was 9-3 with a 2.46 ERA.

The Brewers become the first team since the California Angels in 1972 to win six straight games scoring three or fewer runs in each. Milwaukee defeats Los Angeles at Miller Park, 3-1.

Thursday, August 18
Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel sets the NL rookie record for saves with his 37th of the year, closing out the San Francisco Giants 1-0 at Turner Field. Kimbrel is three shy of the major league record set just last year by Texas’ Neftali Feliz.

Friday, August 19
Wallowing in mediocrity despite a recent spending spree, the Chicago Cubs publicly announce that they have fired general manager Jim Hendry after a nine-year tenure at the position. He had actually been notified of his dismissal a month earlier.

By losing to the Brewers, 6-1, the New York Mets lose the opening game of a homestand for the tenth straight time to start the season, setting a major league record.

Dodger starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda earns his first career win against Colorado with an 8-2 victory at Coors Field. Kuroda had previously gone 0-5 in nine starts against the Rockies.

Toronto slugger Jose Bautista walks three times in the Blue Jays’ 2-0 loss at Oakland to become the first major leaguer this year to receive 100 passes. Bautista had exactly 100 walks last year in 161 games; he only needed 113 games this year to get there.

Saturday, August 20
Boston pitcher Tim Wakefield, 45, fails in his fifth straight attempt to pick up his 200th career victory when he allows the first three of eight runs scored by the Royals in the sixth inning and exits the ballgame. The Red Sox lose, 9-4.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, after allowing two 12th-inning runs to the Baltimore Orioles, score three in the bottom half of the frame via two hits, two walks, a hit batsman, an error and a sacrifice fly to win, 9-8. It’s the first time in franchise history that the Angels have won a game trailing by more than one run after the 12th inning.

Sunday, August 21
Alex Rodriguez returns to live action for the first time in over six weeks and is the only Yankee in the starting lineup not to reach base in New York’s 3-0 win at Minnesota, going 0-for-5 while leaving a total of six men on base.

The Colorado Rockies need just three hits to defeat the Dodgers at Coors Field, 5-3, and end a record streak of 17 straight losses on a Sunday. The previous record had been held by the Philadelphia Phillies, who lost 16 straight Sunday games not once, not twice, but three times—in 1927, 1928 and 1960.

The Tigers score seven third-inning runs off Cleveland starter Ubaldo Jimenez and hang on to defeat the Indians 8-7, finishing a crucial three-game sweep of the second-place Tribe and opening up a 4.5-game lead in the AL Central.

The Angels defeat the Orioles 7-1 behind seven strong innings from starter Jerome Williams, making his second appearance and first start in the majors since 2007; it’s his first win since 2005, when he pitched for the Chicago Cubs.

Where the Bucs Spend Their Bucks
The Pittsburgh Pirates may be thrifty in major league payroll, but they have no problem doling out the big bucks to draft picks. In the signing period that just wrapped up, the Bucs spent $17 million on their 24 draftees, smashing the previous record set in 2009 when the Washington Nationals exhausted $12 million (most of it on Stephen Strasburg) on their draft picks. This is the second straight year that the Pirates have led all major league teams on draft pick expenditures.

Solo Record
The San Francisco Giants recently ended a major league-record streak of hitting 21 straight home runs with no one on base. Cody Ross’ two-run shot at Florida on August 14 was the first non-solo homer hit by the Giants since July 6, a stretch of 39 days.

A Bad Summer Rerun
Just asking: Why were the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs featured on ESPN’s Sunday Night Game of the Week for the second time in four weeks? We’d get it if it was Yankees-Red Sox, but the Cardinals and Cubs aren’t exactly burning up the standings, regardless of their status as a rivalry…

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Mike Carp, the young Seattle slugger with stats to make you think the Mariners were still playing in the bandboxed Kingdome, ends this past week with the majors’ longest active hitting streak at 20 games. Carp has yet to go hitless in any game for the month of August.

We can’t finish our entry without mentioning Atlanta slugger Dan Uggla, whose 33-game streak—the majors’ longest this season—came to an end on August 14 against the Cubs. Uggla’s run was the longest since the Braves moved to Atlanta, and just four shy of the franchise mark set by Tommy Holmes in 1945.

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!