Are the Mayans a Year Off?
Meteorologically speaking, this has not been a kind summer to baseball fans east of the Rockies. First there was the plethora of rainouts in the spring, following by unrelenting heat and (in Texas) scorching drought.
Then came this week. On Tuesday a moderate earthquake struck the East Coast and rippled throughout much of the region; although the 5.8 shaker was centered in the middle of Virginia, it was felt hundreds of miles away in Cleveland, just as Shin Soo-Choo was rocking the joint with a deep double to right-centerwhile in New York, a taping of a fantasy player show on mlb.com left a trip of panelists practically speechless with the exception of a few utterances of “holy s**t.” Closer to the epicenter, the Washington Nationals delayed the start of their game with Arizona 20 minutes to finish an inspection on Nationals Park to make sure it was safe.
After the quake came the storm. Hurricane Irene moved up the Atlantic from the Caribbean, skimming past the east coast of Florida before punching into the Carolinas and, by the weekend, punishing New York and Boston as it devolved into a still-potent tropical storm.
The hurricane wrecked havoc with baseball’s schedule, with lasting affects. The Florida Marlins, who had to move up Thursday’s game with Cincinnati a day to avoid a scheduling conflict with Irene, somehow made it to Philadelphia along the path of the storm, only to get one of three scheduled games in against the Phillies; two weekend games between the Braves and Mets at New York were postponed well in advance, as were Friday-Saturday contests in Baltimore between the Orioles and Yankees; in Boston, the Red Sox rushed their weekend series with Oakland to a quick end when they moved Sunday’s scheduled game to Saturday as part of a day-night doubleheader, barely getting both games in as the outer bands of Irene’s heavy rains moved in and caused numerous delays.
The real headache comes when these games have to be made up, partly in the form of doubleheaders in September on originally scheduled off-days, bumming out exhausted players who otherwise were really looking forward to some time off.
Mike Flanagan, 1951-2011
The baseball world was stunned by news of the death of former pitcher Mike Flanagan, the 1978 AL Cy Young Award winner, who was found dead at his Maryland home of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was 59.
Flanagan developed into a solid thrower in the late 1970s for the Baltimore Orioles, and enjoyed his career year in 1978 when he furnished a 23-9 record and 3.08 ERA to win the Cy. Injuries kept him from maintaining peak form in the years to follow, as he bounced off and on the disabled list throughout the remainder of his 18-year career. After spending three-plus years in Toronto to end the 1980s, Flanagan returned to Baltimore in 1991 and pitched his final two years as a reliever, throwing the last pitch at old Memorial Stadium before the Orioles’ move to Camden Yards in 1992.
After retirement, Flanagan remained active with the Oriolesas coach, broadcaster and, most prominently, as vice president of operations (and de facto general manager) in the late 2000s. Though a note Flanagan left behind cited financial issues for his suicide, ex-teammate and good friend Ken Singleton said that he also bore a burden of failure from his days in the Oriole front office, telling the New York Times, “He would read what people wrote on the Internet and take it to heart.”
Flanagan is the second former pitcher, after Hideki Irabu, to die at his own hands this summer.
Thome's Homey Again
The man once named the most popular athlete in Cleveland sports history is back in town. Jim Thome accepted a trade from the Minnesota Twins back to the Indians, where he first rose to prominence as a major leaguer and starred on a star-studded perennial contender from 1991-2002.
Less than two weeks after hitting his 600th career home run, Thome dressed up once more in Indian blue and bright red, with the blue socks up high to his kneecapa tradition lost on many current major leaguers except for Thome’s new teammates, who gave tribute by doing the same. In his first game back, a rare sellout at Progressive Field (in sharp contrast to Thome’s first tenure, when the joint was constantly packed), Thome was given thunderous cheers every time he stepped to the platewiping out the anger and frustration that Thome left behind when he signed away from Cleveland to Philadelphia in 2003. After a disappointing first game on the field on Friday, Thome homered in Saturday’s 8-7 win over Kansas City, adding to his franchise record total.
When Moths Attack
Long-time team trainer Barry Weinberg though he’d seen it all on a major league ballfield when he went out this past Monday in St. Louis to attend to outfielder Matt Holliday, whose head appeared to be in pain. When he reached Holliday, Weinberg was told that a moth had flown into Holliday’s ear. No problem, thought Weinberg, I’ll just reach in and grab it. Problem was, it had flown in deepvery deep. So deep, Holliday had to be taken out of a close game (the Cardinals lost to Los Angeles, 2-1) and placed in the clubhouse, where Weinberg had to use utensils to extract the moth. Both Holliday and the insect lived.
The Legend Continues
Vin Scully made it official this past week: He’s returning behind the mike for yet one more year with the Dodgers in Los Angeles. The 83-year old Scully, who works solo in the booth for all nine innings of every Dodger game west of Colorado (he refuses to travel any further east) began his career with Brooklyn in 1950when Connie Mack was still managing, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller and Johnny Mize were still playing and the St. Louis Browns and Boston Braves still existed.
The Debasement Continues
Former outfielder Lenny Dykstra is back in the newsand as you might guess, not in a good way. He’s being accused by numerous women of indecently exposing himself to them after they responded to Craigslist ads seeking personal assistants or housekeepers. The 48-year old Dykstra has recently been charged with car theft, drug possession and bankruptcy fraud.
More Than Just the Saves
Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel hasn’t just tied the rookie record for season saves (with 40), but he’s done it in style. Kimbrel has not allowed a run in his last 31.2 innings of work dating back to June 11, allowing just 12 hits and striking out 55 during that span. His earned run average currently stands at 1.70, a year after compiling a 0.44 mark in call-up work.
Please Market Responsibly
Jim Leyritz, acquitted in a 2007 manslaughter case in which he slammed his car into another, killing a woman (both he and the victim were both drunk), has been slated to be honored by the independent Newark Bears with a $2,000 donation to Mothers Against Drunk Drivingon the same night that the Bears are holding a “Thirsty Thursday Bear Bong Tournament.” The ceremony was canceled when MADD informed the Bears that they would not accept the money.
...And Take Your Street Sign With You!
The Chicago suburb of Park Ridge wants to take down street signs named in honor of ousted Cub general manager Jim Hendry. The town’s mayor, David Schmidt, says that Park Ridge never wanted the signs with Hendry’s name, insisting they were placed without the town’s input and with the blessing of disgraced former Illinois Governor Ron Blagojevich. The signs were put up after the 2008 season in which the Cubs made the playoffsand were swept in the first round.
Wounded of the Week
It’s become a rare sight in Cleveland: The appearance of both Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore on the field at the same time. Both players were once All-Star caliber and vital to the Indians’ resurgence of the late 2000s. But over the last four years, the two have missed a combined 500 games due to a myriad of injuries, and as they have fallen, so have the Indians. Hafner once again was placed on the shelf thanks to a strained right foot that has bothered him off and on throughout the season. It’s because of his latest stint on the DL that the Indians have brought Jim Thome back to Cleveland.
Also gaining entry into MLB’s Medical Ward this past week are two more Indians, pitcher Josh Tomlin (elbow) and outfielder Michael Brantley (season-ending wrist injury); Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins (groin); Chicago White Sox slugger Carlos Quentin (shoulder); Minnesota starting pitcher Francisco Liriano (shoulder); and Pittsburgh starting pitcher Kevin Correia (oblique), continuing an awful second half after an All-Star first half.
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 Marrerocurrently 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 22
The Pittsburgh Pirates win the nightcap of a doubleheader and defeat Milwaukee for the first time in over a year, ending a 13-game skid against the Brewers with a 9-2 victory. The Bucs had lost 46 of their previous 59 games to Milwaukee going back to 2007.
Atlanta’s Dan Uggla extends his own record among second baseman by reaching 30 homers for the fifth timeall in consecutivelyduring the Braves’ 3-0 win at Chicago over the Cubs; no other second baseman has hit 30-plus in more than three seasons. Uggla hit 15 home runs through his first 94 gamesand has 15 in 34 games since, largely thanks to a 33-game hit streak that has also raised his average from the .170s to .232.
A week before September, and the Houston Astros are mathematically eliminated from the postseason with a 9-5 loss at Colorado. AT 42-86, the Astros we’ll need to win 21 of their remaining 34 games to avoid the first 100-loss season in team history.
Tuesday, August 23
Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel ties a major league record among rookies set just last year by Texas’ Neftali Feliz when he earns his 40th save against the Cubs, preserving the Braves’ 5-4 win. The 23-year right-hander hasn’t allowed a run since June 11a span covering 31.2 innings, the longest by a reliever since Brad Ziegler compiled 39 consecutive scoreless innings to start his career in 2005.
Prince Fielder becomes the first major leaguer this year to reach 100 RBIs with a sixth-inning double during Milwaukee’s 11-4 thrashing over the Pirates at Pittsburgh. It’s the fourth time in Fielder’s career that he’s reached 100, tying a franchise record held by Cecil Cooper.
Wednesday, August 24
A day after giving the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim a “hometown discount” by signing a five-year, $85 million contract, ace Jered Weaver throws seven shutout innings against the Chicago White Sox in the Angels’ 8-0 win at Anaheim, improving his record to 15-6 and his league-leading ERA to 2.03. Weaver would have been a free agent after the season and it’s theorized that he would have received up to $40 million more in total wages had he made himself available to the highest bidder.
Florida’s scheduled game against Cincinnati turns into a doubleheader when Thursday’s contest is moved up a day as Hurricane Irene nears uncomfortably close to Miami. A fan attending the first game texts to Yahoo! Sports with a head count of 347 in the Sun Life Stadium crowd for the first game. The Marlins list the official attendance for the doubleheader at 22,000a figure based on tickets sold, not used.
Thursday, August 25
The New York Yankees become the first team in major league history to belt three grand slams in a game, with Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin and Robinson Cano each clearing the bases in a 22-9 rout of Oakland. The A’s lead the game in the fourth inning 7-1 before the Yankees began piling it on, with four runs each in the fifth and sixth innings and six runs each in the seventh and eighth innings. The A’s contribute by walking 13 Yankees11 of them over the final three inningsand throw 237 pitches in eight innings.
Friday, August 26
Boston pitcher Tim Wakefield, at age 45 the oldest major leaguer, fails for the sixth straight time to pick up his 200th career win as the A’s rock him at Fenway, 15-5. Wakefield allows eight runs (four earned) in four innings to fall to 6-6 on the year.
Tampa Bay pitcher James Shields goes the distance in a 6-1 win at Toronto to become only the second major leaguer (after CC Sabathia in 2008) since 2000 to record ten complete games in a season. In 66 starts from 2008-09, Shields had no complete games.
For the third time this season and the fourth time in his career, Texas’ Nelson Cruz knocks in six runs as the Rangers win a crucial AL West battle in Arlington against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 11-7. With his performance, Cruz establishes a career high in RBIs with 84.
Saturday, August 27
Justin Verlander becomes the first 20-game winner on the season with one of his lesser efforts of the year, allowing four runs in six innings but still triumphing 6-4 thanks to a two-run, seventh-inning rally that breaks a 4-4 tie. The Detroit ace is the Tigers’ first 20-game winner since Bill Gullickson reached the milestone in 1991 and the first major leaguer since Curt Schilling in 2002 to record a 20th win in August.
San Diego starting pitcher Aaron Harang loses for the first time on the road this season, despite a decent performance in Phoenix in which he allows three runs (two earned) in six innings as the Padres lose to Arizona, 3-1. Harang entered the game with a 6-0 record yet hardly impressive 4.64 ERA in nine road starts.
Colorado slugger Carlos Gonzalez sets a franchise record by knocking in a run for the 11th straight game in the Rockies' 7-6, 11-inning loss at Los Angeles to the Dodgers. His streak will end the next day.
Sunday, August 28
The Cincinnati Reds defeat the Washington Nationals, 5-4, in a 14-inning affair that includes 34 strikeoutsincluding a franchise-tying 19 delivered by Red pitchingand 30 total men left on base. Joey Votto's solo home run, his second of the game, wins it in extra innings.
Time to Install the Nets Everywhere?
It’s happened yet again in Arlington. During Saturday’s game between the Rangers and Angels, a fan taking a stairwell near the ballpark’s front entrance fell 21 feet and was knocked unconscious; he was taken to a hospital. No other details have emerged on the incident, the third in barely a year at Rangers Ballpark; in early July, a fan tumbled 20 feet into a clearing between the bleachers and the outfield wall after reaching for a foul ball lobbed to him by center fielder Josh Hamilton, and later died.
In a move you don’t see very often (but you think you would), the Houston Astros kept from exhausting its bullpen this past Tuesday at Colorado by moving left-handed reliever Wesley Wright to right fieldand back to the mound again after right-hander David Carpenter retired right-handed hitting Troy Tulowitzki; Wright then struck out left-handed hitting Todd Helton. This tactic has been tried before, most notably in 1951 when Chicago White Sox manager Paul Richards employed it to neutralize Ted Williams at the height of his powers. Sure, you risk defensive disaster by temporarily placing one of your pitchers in the field, but it can also put a little less stress on your bullpen and give managers more flexibility.
Soon Appearing on The Bachelor?
Derek Jeter’s world tour of hot young Hollywood starlets continues. The Yankee star shortstop broke off this week with actress Minka Kelly, a relationship thought to be headed for marriage. In the past, Jeter has also dated Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Tyra Banks and Mariah Carey, among many others. Rumor has Jeter now tied to Scarlett Johansson, but she denies it.
Concentration is Not an Option
The Chicago Cubs’ young, talentedbut apparently sometimes unfocusedshortstop Starlin Castro was given a “mental day off” this past Monday after he was shown wandering around and looking away from the action while a pitch was being delivered in a game the night before. The lapse was caught on ESPN’s Sunday night telecast and by commentator Bobby Valentine in particular, who practically lost his lunch at the sight of Castro’s lack of attention.
This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies ends this past week with the majors' longest active hitting streak, at 15 games. Last year's MVP candidate, after a slow start, has powerfully picked up the slack during this runhitting .417 with five doubles, eight home runs and 26 RBIs.
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!
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.