The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: September 5-11, 2011
How Michael Cuddyer Saved a Life on 9/11 Why Does Baseball Hate Doubleheaders?
The Bucs Come Back Down to Earth (And Below .500) Nyjer Morgan's Latest Gripe

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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!

A Season- and Life-Saving Home Run
Baseball held numerous tributes to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 on Sunday, remaining grateful that no professional players died on that day. That almost was not the case.

Just a few days before the tragic events in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, the New Britain Rock Cats defeated Norwich, 3-2, on a late-inning home run from current Minnesota outfielder Michael Cuddyer. The blast gave them entrance into the Eastern League finals, which would have begun on September 11. It also saved the life of pitcher Brad Thomas.

Had Cuddyer not delivered and the Rock Cats lost, Thomas would have begun the journey back home to his native Australia. He had booked tickets on September 11 for American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles. But because his team’s season had been extended, he changed his reservations for a later date. Flight 11 went on to become the first airliner to strike the World Trade Center.

Thomas, now pitching for the Detroit Tigers, has not forgotten about Cuddyer. “Every time I see Michael, there’s a handshake and a hug,” he told FOXSports, “And we always wave each day on my way to the bullpen…This day, September 11, reminds me of just how special (Michael and the rest of the Rock Cats) are in my life.”

Let's Not Play Two
This past Tuesday, the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles saw nothing but torrential rain as game time approached at Yankee Stadium. A sure rainout beckoned, but the order came down from MLB: Don’t go home. Wait it out and play tonight. The two teams waited, and waited, and waited…until after 11:00 at night, when the first pitch was finally thrown. You think the teams weren’t thrilled, but then Yankee manager Joe Girardi commented that he was happy to get the game in, because he didn’t want a doubleheader the next day.

So let us get this straight: Girardi would rather work the graveyard shift and play the next day on short sleep rather than go home, get a good night’s rest and come back for two games the next day? Where the heck is Ernie Banks when we need him to straighten all this out?

Today’s ballplayers are, for the most part, better conditioned and far better accommodated with air-conditioned hotel suites, on-site training facilities, fancy clubhouse food buffets and charter airliners that ease on daily grind. If the players of yesteryear who toiled on long train rides and played up to 25, maybe 30 doubleheaders a year saw these modern-day perks (not to mention the modern-day salaries) and heard Girardi’s gripe, they’d roll their eyes back and bend over backward to enlist, because they’d play a tripleheader anytime, anyplace in today’s filthy-rich baseball world.

The scheduled doubleheader basically became extinct once the players’ union complained about the double-time involved; once the ballparks started filling up for single games throughout the majors, the owners concurred and only set up twinbills (even if created from previous postponements) as day-night doubleheaders—playing one game at noon, clearing out the ballpark, and bringing in a new crowd for the nightcap in the name of additional revenue. The reliance on single games has put stress on the schedule, which is why we have little off-days and a postseason that’s edging closer to Thanksgiving.

A new Basic Agreement will soon be hashed out between owners and players, but don’t expect the topic of doubleheaders to get a whiff of attention. The status quo remains, the midnight specials will continue and purists like us who grew up attending two games for the price of one will snicker as we slowly sip from the brim of our ten-dollar beers.

Bite That Bullet
A USA Today story from this past week says that the St. Louis Cardinals and Albert Pujols weren’t far apart on a consensus to a new contract last winter. The Cardinals offered a nine-year, $195 million package to Pujols—who countered with a ten-year, $230 million proposal. If true, we have to ask: Given Pujols’ omnipresent superstar power, his potentially historic relevance toward the end of his career (as a possible home run king) and the upper-class wages being made by others close to his ilk, the Cardinals didn’t take the counteroffer and happily respond with, “Okay!”? There may be some soul-searching coming down the road from the Cardinal front office over this one.

My, My, Nyjer
The Milwaukee Brewers are having a feel-good year to be sure, but they must be privately admitting that they can do without Nyjer Morgan. The emotional, sometimes turbulent outfielder reared his ugly side this past week when, after striking out in the ninth inning against Cardinal pitcher Chris Carpenter (a few outs away from wrapping up a four-hit shutout), he angrily and profanely shouted at Carpenter out of frustration. Carpenter admitted he had a few choice words of his own but figure it would all die down quickly—but nothing ever dies down when Morgan is involved. Morgan threw both his wad of chew and  another F-Bomb or two towards Carpenter, then started towards the mound—where an onrushing Albert Pujols sprinted over to await him. Morgan had to be restrained by burly Brewer slugger Prince Fielder and was led off the field.

Still fit to be tied afterward, Morgan immediately dove into his Twitter account and impugned Pujols’ manly qualities—calling him “Alberta”—while belittling the Cardinals in general as being “crying birds” who’ll watch the Brewers from afar in the postseason. As with most topics these days, Pujols declined to comment; St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa responded by saying that the more Morgan was ignored, the better. The Brewers probably would agree.

Ballpark Food Poisoning at Its Finest
Chicago health inspectors checked out the 35 concession stands at Wrigley Field and determined that 20 of them had enough violations to rate a failing grade. Three of the booths were so bad, the inspectors ordered them shut down. Gee, and the fans thought the Cubs were sickening enough.

Why Blame the Culprit When You Can Blame the Witness
When your team stinks and you need a change, who do you fire? Your Triple-A manager, of course. The Minnesota Twins, who’ve made the playoffs six of the last nine years and have suffered only one losing record over the last decade, are likely going to finish with over 90 losses in 2011 after a rotten start with a roster depleted by injury. But you can’t sack manager Ron Gardenhire because of the overachieving success he’s presided over in Minnesota. So the Twins have taken it out on Tom Nieto, the pilot for their top farm club in Rochester. True, Nieto has gone 102-186 over the last two years, but he’s also been handicapped by having many of his top players called up prematurely to the Twins to help replace the injured veterans. Also released from the Twins this past week was hitting coach Floyd Rayford as Minnesota sits second-to-last in most AL hitting categories.

HoJo Goes Minoso
This past week, former All-Star third baseman Howard Johnson—who last played in 1995—put the uniform back on, grabbed a bat and was given a chance to play in the season’s final two games for the independent Rockland Boulders alongside his son Glen. The 50-year old Johnson was hitless in four at-bats in the first game but declared the night a moral victory because he put the ball in play every time; he walked in his only plate appearance the next night, before assuming his normal role as base coach. The promotional stunt played well, with a record crowd of 6,300 on Sunday to the Boulders’ home park in Ramapo, New York, some 40 miles northwest of New York City.

Wounded of the Week
Above we lament the lack of doubleheaders that have, among many other things, created fewer off-days for major leaguers to enjoy. Maybe the day off is a bad idea. Ask Jeremy Affeldt, the San Francisco reliever who spent his time away from the ballpark barbecuing hamburgers for his family—and slicing his thumb while trying to separate frozen patties to place on the grill. He’s out for the season.

Meanwhile, we’ve reached the point of the season where the term “disabled list” has given way to the term “shut down.” Thus, not expected to appear again on the field until 2012 is Los Angeles outfielder Andre Ethier (knee), Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Jake Peavy (tired arm), Seattle outfielder Franklin Gutierrez (oblique) and perhaps Minnesota slugger Justin Morneau, who suffered yet another concussion after a knock to the head last year put him out for the second half of the season.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Arizona catcher Miguel Montero ends this past week with the majors’ longest active hitting streak, at 18 games. It’s a career-high mark for Montero and the longest by any catcher since San Francisco’s Buster Posey run up a streak of 21 games last year. Montero is hitting .352 with three home runs and 16 RBIs during his streak.

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, September 5
In his fourth game at the major league level, New York Yankee catcher Jesus Montero clobbers his first two career home runs to help the Yankees defeat the Baltimore Orioles in a wild contest at Yankee Stadium, 11-10.

Cliff Lee fires his major league-leading sixth shutout—the most thrown in one year since Randy Johnson tossed six in 1998—to give the Phillies a 9-0 win over divisional rival Atlanta at Philadelphia. With the shutout, Lee now has thrown 30.2 consecutive scoreless innings; earlier in the year, he had a similar run of 34.1 innings. He’s 6-0 with a 0.37 ERA since the start of August.

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Zach Stewart’s bid to become the second rookie in modern history to throw a perfect game ends in the eighth inning when Minnesota’s Danny Valencia hits a leadoff double. It’s the only hit allowed by Stewart, making his eighth career start and winning his second game with a 4-0 shutout of the Twins at Target Field.

Tuesday, September 6
Stephen Strasburg makes his first major league appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery a year ago and throws five shutout innings for the Washington Nationals against Los Angeles, striking out four and walking none while allowing two hits. He leaves with a 3-0 lead but the bullpen immediately loses it when the Dodgers rebound for seven runs over the last four frames to defeat the Nats, 7-3.

Despite heavy rains, MLB insists that the Yankee-Oriole game in New York be played. After a lengthy delay, the first pitch is finally thrown—at 11:08 at night. Three hours and seven minutes later, the game ends with the Yankees securing a 5-3 win. The paid attendance is listed at 44,000, but reporters estimate no more than 2,000 actually present for the start of the game.

C.J. Wilson throws his first career shutout, setting a Texas team record with its 18th blanking of the year in the Rangers’ 8-0 win at Tampa Bay.

Wednesday, September 7
Tim Wakefield keeps trying. The 46-year old Boston knuckleballer takes the mound for the eighth straight time in search of his 200th career win, and leaves after five innings with an 8-5 lead at Toronto. But the Red Sox bullpen—and more pointedly, Daniel Bard, who allows five eighth-inning Blue Jay runs on a hit, three walks (two with the bases loaded) and a hit batsman—blow the lead and lose the game, 11-10.

Oakland pitcher Guillermo Moscoso takes a no-hitter into the eighth inning when Kansas City catcher (and fellow Venezuelan) Salvador Perez singles with two outs. Moscoso also has a chance for his first complete game and shutout spoiled when he’s removed just an out shy in the ninth after throwing 129 pitches. He still gets the win as the A’s roll over the Royals, 7-0. The lone bright spot on the day for the Royals comes when A’s rookie Michael Taylor grounds out—to right field, as outfielder Jeff Francouer (owner of one of the majors’ best throwing arms) takes a quick one-hop line drive and fires a bullet to first to beat Taylor to the bag. It is said to be the fifth such play in the AL since 1974.

Thursday, September 8
The Atlanta Braves sweep a doubleheader from the New York Mets at Citi Field during what was originally supposed to be an off-day—but because two earlier games were wiped out because of Hurricane Irene’s potent remnants a few weeks earlier, they had to be made up. All four starting pitchers in the twinbill are rookies, only the fourth time since 1965 that has occurred.

Friday, September 9
Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel blows his first save opportunity in three months and allows his first run in 37 innings—the longest streak among relievers since Brad Ziegler began his career with 39 straight scoreless frames in 2008 for Oakland. It happens in St. Louis, where Kimbrel can’t hold a 3-1 lead when Albert Pujols hits a two-out, two-run single to tie the game. The Cardinals will go on to win the game in ten innings, 4-3.

For the third time this season, aspiring Cy Young Award candidate Clayton Kershaw outduels two-time Cy winner Tim Lincecum as the Dodgers defeat the Giants at San Francisco, 2-1. Kershaw’s gem is his 18th win of the year and ties him with Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto for the NL ERA lead; his nine strikeouts keeps him well ahead of second-place Lincecum for the league lead. Finally, Kershaw continues to be more than comfortable pitching at AT&T Park—where he is now 4-1 in five starts with a sensational 0.45 ERA.

Saturday, September 10
With two catchers hurt and another playing designated hitter, the Yankees turn to Jorge Posada—the former backstop now primarily used as a DH at age 40—to go behind the plate for the first time this year at Anaheim. The Angels immediately try to test his arm, but Howie Kendrick is thrown out trying to steal. The Yankees go on to lose, 6-0, as Dan Haren throws his third shutout of the season.

Florida pitcher Anibal Sanchez throws his third one-hitter of his career—and his second this season—while blanking the Pirates at Pittsburgh, 3-0, for only his second win over his last 16 starts. Sanchez, who also has a no-hitter in his resume, allows his only knock in the second inning when Neil Walker doubles.

Pitcher Alex White, traded to Colorado in the deal that sent ace Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland, gives up a franchise record-tying five home runs in five innings at Coors Field against Cincinnati—and still wins the game, as the Rockies rampage with four homers of their own to knock off the Reds, 12-7.

Sunday, September 4
Detroit closer Jose Valverde sets a Tiger record with his 43rd save of the season, preserving the Tigers' 2-1 in over the Twins. The win is the ninth straight for the Tigers, their longest run since 1984—the last year they won the World Series.

The Arizona Diamondbacks lose for the first time in their last 15 home games when they're tipped by the San Diego Padres, 7-6. The Padres lead 7-0, then hold off a furious Arizona rally.

Yo Ho, Oh No! (2011 Edition)
Sometime this week, the Pittsburgh Pirates will likely lose their 82nd game of the season and clinch their 19th straight losing record, extending a North American pro sports record they began back in 1993 when Bill Clinton had just taken the Oval Office for the first time, Nolan Ryan was still pitching and 19 current major league ballparks had yet to be built.

Long-suffering Pirate fans are probably now thinking that they must have been dreaming, remembering a time back in late July when the Pirates actually were in first place in the NL Central. Yes, it appeared that the future had finally, finally arrived in the Steel City; the pitching staff had dramatically improved, the young hitters were putting together one clutch knock after another and manager Clint Hurdle—who had seen all of this back in 2007 at Colorado under his watch—was confident enough to believe the mirage was real. So was the front office, which for a change used the trading deadline at the end of July to acquire, not give away, front-line players—dealing for Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick.

But alas, poor matey, this was not to be. Lee lasted a week before suffering a hand injury that cost the Pirates almost a month of his playing time. Ludwick has been nothing to get excited over. Kevin Correia, the Bucs’ All-Star pitcher, had his ERA blow up before hitting the shelf with an oblique injury. Only the San Francisco Giants have hit worse and the Colorado Rockies (playing a mile high) have pitched worse than the Pirates since the All-Star break. Since going for broke at the end of July with the Lee/Ludwick acquisitions, the Pirates have gone 12-27 and fallen out of contention—not to mention off a cliff. Just seven weeks ago, they were tied for first, and now they finish this past weekend 19 games back of the first-place Brewers.

Those in the know will recall a Pittsburgh team that gave it a good shot in 2011, but when the final record hits the log of Pirate history, the season will come off as just another in a long line of losing efforts.

Over-Optimistic?
The Associated Press reports that the Florida Marlins’ new ballpark is 80% complete. Given the club’s attendance woes throughout its existence, maybe they need to stop right there.

The Mound is Now in Session
Best name among the mass call-up of minor leaguers this month: Cleveland reliever Josh Judy.

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.