The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: September 17-23, 2012
The Pirates' (Almost) Unprecedented Freefall Melky Cabrera Concedes the Batting Title
Does Miguel Cabrera Have a Trifecta in him? Barry Larkin Goes Brazilian

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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.

Mea Melky Culpa
Worried that his name might forever be linked to a tarnished batting title, Melky Cabrera this past week said he wanted to disqualify himself from the National League batting title because the added, illicit testosterone he loaded up on and got suspended 50 games for helped fuel his average up to a current NL-leading .345 mark. The San Francisco outfielder was suspended just one plate appearance shy of the minimum for automatic qualification for the batting title—but he still could have won if the highest qualifying player had a lower average than Cabrera’s with the one 0-fer added to his plate appearance total.

Cabrera’s bow from the record book is a major league first; no other player, by request or force, has ever won an award or placed first in a major category only to be stripped of it, whether it be for steroids, gambling or grand theft auto. There was talk of taking away Ryan Braun’s NL MVP last year after it was revealed he had tested positive for steroids, but the Baseball Writers Association of America frowned on the thought and let him keep it—all before he was cleared on a technicality, anyway.

By the Way...
The Giants are 25-11 since Cabrera’s suspension began.

Yo Ho, Oh No! (2012 Edition)
Really, Pittsburgh Pirates? You’re practically handed your first winning campaign in 20 years and you’re fumbling it? No team since the 1905 Cleveland Naps (Indians) has been 15 games above the .500 mark at the end of July and finished the season below it, but leave it to the Pirates to give it a try. On August 1, the Bucs were 59-44—and they were looking at the real prospect of making the postseason, let alone finishing with a winning record. Since then? They’ve been 16-33, and are all but a non-factor in the wild card race—and what was considered a shoo-in for a winning year is now in big danger, as the Pirates start this week needing to win six of their final ten games to avoid tacking on another losing season to their record run of sub-.500 finishes.

So what’s been the Pirates’ problem? A look at the numbers since August 1 shows no one glaring weakness, but an overall failure to excel in any facet of their game; they’re not hitting particularly well, their not pitching particularly well, and their not fielding particularly well. It all adds up to losses.

Maybe it also all boils down to an aversion to play after July 31. The trend is alarming; last year, the Pirates were at 54-52 and creating a buzz by going for broke, trading for—not giving away—star talent to make a positive stretch run. Instead, they were 18-38 from August 1 on, finishing at 72-90. In fact, since 2008, the Pirates are a combined 90-187 after July 31. Stunning.

What Were You Thinking, Hombre?
Toronto shortstop Yunel Escobar was suspended three games this past week after it was revealed that he wore eyeblack with a homophobic phrase (written in Spanish) during a game the previous weekend. Escobar apologized but claimed he didn’t think the phrase was offensive since many other players was using the phrase in Spanish; hey, that’s an excuse you give to your third grade teacher. He also said that he had knew two gay people—his hairstylist and his home decorator—who didn’t think it was offensive. All we hope is that these two people had already come out of the closet.

Would Chipper Had Said That Last Year?
Chipper Jones believes the idea of a second wild card for each league and a single playoff game between the two to move on in the postseason is, in a word, “stupid.” Of course, we wonder how Jones might be feeling if his Atlanta Braves were scratching for that second wild card rather than be all but assured of being the first. But for the 40-year-old third baseman playing his final major league season, the single-game concept is what really boils him, stating: “That doesn’t seem fair because anything can happen. Now if you were to say the two wild card teams will play a best two-out-of-three, I’d be OK with that. We play three-game series all the time, and we concentrate on winning those series all the time. I think it’s more fair from a standpoint that anything can happen in one game—a blown call by an umpire, a bad day at the office…at least in a two-of-three-game series you have some sort of leeway.”

Will Miggy Wear the Crown?
Could we finally be seeing our first triple crown winner in nearly half a century? If the season were to have ended this past Sunday, Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera would have won it with a .331 average, 42 home runs and 133 RBIs. That anyone is sprouting up this late in the year is a bit surprising given how few players have even made a run at the triple crown in recent times, usually making noise through the All-Star Break before something breaks down in their stat package. (Derrek Lee made for the most chatter in 2005 when he led all three triple crown categories in the summer before receding back into the pack.) There have been 13 triple crown recipients in baseball’s post-1900 modern era, but none since Carl Yazstremski achieved it for the Boston Red Sox in 1967.

Hello, Brazil
Maybe it’s not John Candy teaching a group of Jamaicans to bobsled, but recent Hall of Fame inductee Barry Larkin has been tabbed to manage the Brazilian team for next spring’s World Baseball Classic. Though the large South American country is close to many baseball hotbeds such as Venezuela, it has produced a grand total of one major leaguer, and that happened only this year when Yan Gomes debuted for the Blue Jays. Larkin had previously visited Brazil to help tutor young prospects of behalf of MLB, but beyond that, his only connection to the country is that his sister recorded a theme song for a hit soap opera there. By the way, Brazil is currently ranked 26th in the world according to the International Baseball Federation—not a bad standing considering the list includes 76 nations. (No, the United States is not no.1; that distinction belongs to Cuba.)

They Played a Game and Nobody Came
September is not usually considered peak time at the gate for baseball, but this past week saw some very embarrassing displays of fans—basically, a lack of them—especially in Cleveland where lousy weather, kids back in school and a team going nowhere all added up to almost nothing in the Progressive Field stands, as the shot below clearly shows. And to think: The Indians once sold out 455 straight games.

Rays-ing the Bar
With 12 games to spare, the Tampa Bay Rays—whose 2.68 team earned run average is easily tops in baseball since the All-Star Break—set an AL record for team strikeouts, previously set at 1,266 by the 2001 New York Yankees. Their 1,292 K’s as of Sunday is still third in the majors this year, trailing NL teams in Milwaukee and Philadelphia; remember, the Rays or any other AL team do not have the advantage of pitching against the opposing pitcher three-to-four times a game.

Real Money Behind the Star Facade
So former basketball star Magic Johnson appears as the main face of the new Los Angeles Dodger regime, one that paid a whopping $2.15 billion this past spring to purchase the club. But how much of Johnson’s own money was part of the sale? All was revealed on the HBO program Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel this past week when Johnson stated that he put in $50 million—roughly 2.5% of the purchase price. You could say Johnson had the cash available after making that same amount of money on a 16-year investment in the team he played for, the Los Angeles Lakers.

It's Not All His Fault
Yes, Ricky Romero has been terrible of late—losing a Toronto-record 12 straight decisions while going winless in 14 straight—but he hasn’t gotten much love from his teammates in the form of offensive support. During the 27-year-old pitcher’s run of woe, the Blue Jays have averaged just 2.2 runs per start, including one four-game stretch in July in which they didn’t notch a single run. Romero has actually produced six quality starts (at least six innings pitched and three or less runs allowed) during his slide, but he hasn’t helped himself by walking more batters (52) than he’s struck out (49).

Wounded of the Week
Injuries to key players on teams with playoff implications took center stage this past week. Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw flew to New York to have his right hip checked—with the possibility that he would leave the visit being told that his season was over. That didn’t happened, and he did return to the mound on Sunday—but it will be curious to see what he has left in him to salvage the Dodge’s fading postseason hopes.

There’s also serious concern over Texas slugger Josh Hamilton since he contracted a sinus infection early this past week; he sat out the rest of the road trip and his return is listed as “uncertain,” though many believe he’ll be ready for the postseason.

Definitely out for the rest of the year is Oakland pitcher Brett Anderson, who took an awkward fall off the mound at Detroit and severely injured his oblique muscle. In a difficult week for the A’s, Anderson’s absence will be felt as he has contributed since returning from injuries that kept him out through mid-August (he was 4-2 with a 2.57 ERA in six starts).

Finally, it remains a mystery as to when Cincinnati skipper Dusty Baker will return to the dugout. A day after managing his 3,000th game, the 63-year-old Baker was sent to a Chicago hospital where he stayed through week’s end with an irregular heartbeat.

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, September 17
Four days after it was rained out, the final game of the important AL Central series between the division’s two top teams is played at Chicago with the White Sox tipping Detroit, 5-4, increasing their lead over the Tigers to three games. The tying and go-ahead runs score in the fifth inning for the White Sox on a bases-loaded ground ball by Dayan Viciedo; Adam Dunn comes home on the play, and Paul Konerko follows after Omar Infante’s throw to first goes wild.

Later in the evening on the North Side of Chicago, the Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates have to wait out rains for three hours and 37 minutes—and finally get the first pitch in at 10:42 p.m., making it the latest starting time for a ballgame in Wrigley Field history. The Pirates go on to win, 3-0, with the game ending at 1:28 in the morning. The original announced crowd of 33,000 is reduced down to a few hundred by the game’s final pitch.

Tuesday, September 18
The Baltimore Orioles, stymied for eight innings by Seattle rookie pitcher Erasmo Ramirez, fight back to tie the Mariners with two ninth-inning runs—then need nine more frames to undo the deadlock and prevail in 18, 4-2. The Mariners finish the night 0-for-17 with runners in scoring position in a game that lasts five hours and 44 minutes long.

Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker becomes the 19th manager to pilot 3,000 games and gets a win out of the milestone with a 3-1 triumph at Chicago over the Cubs behind a three-run, sixth-inning double from Ryan Hanigan and 7.1 sharp innings from starting pitcher Homer Bailey. Only Jim Leyland (3,322) has managed more games among active skippers.

The Houston Astros clinched their second straight 100-loss season after never having suffered one over the first 49 years of their existence. The dubious milestone is reached at St. Louis, where the Cardinals get seven shutout innings from Kyle Lohse (15-3) to quell the Astros, 4-1. The Astros now need to win nine of their remaining 14 games to “improve” on their 56-106 mark of a year earlier.

Wednesday, September 19
Derek Jeter reaches 200 hits for the eighth time in his career as the New York Yankees sweep a day-night doubleheader from the Toronto Blue Jays, 4-2 and 2-1, at Yankee Stadium. Jeter matches Lou Gehrig for the most 200-hit seasons in Yankee history; only four players (Pete Rose, Jake Daubert, Paul Molitor and Sam Rice—who did it twice) have reached 200 hits at an older age, while just three (Rose, Ty Cobb and Ichiro Suzuki) have more total 200-hit campaigns. Perhaps inspired, Suzuki collects seven hits, the most by a Yankee in a doubleheader since Dave Winfield in 1983. There’s history made on the Toronto side as well; Omar Vizquel knocks out his 2,874th career hit to pass Babe Ruth for 41st on the all-time list.

It takes 18 starts, but Liam Hendriks finally gets his first major league win as he allows two runs on two hits and two walks in Minnesota’s 6-4 win at Cleveland. Hendriks had gone 0-9 through his first 17 outings as a major leaguer. Only Bill Caudill and Mike Mohler (at 20 starts) had gone longer without a win to start a career.

Thursday, September 20
It’s official: Washington will experience postseason baseball for the first time in 79 years. The Nationals get yet another staunch effort from starting pitcher Ross Detwiler (10-6, 3.10 ERA) to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-1, and clinch a NL playoff spot; their magic number to take the NL East is now down to eight, with 13 games to play. This will be only the second time in the franchise’s 44-year history that they’ve made the postseason; it’s also the fourth team taken to the playoffs by manager Davey Johnson, who also took the New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles and Cincinnati Reds to October. (Billy Martin is the only other manager to lead four teams to the postseason.)

Earlier, the Reds become the first team in the majors to assure themselves of a postseason berth with a 5-3 win over the Cubs at Chicago. Manager Dusty Baker is not there to celebrate; he is resting away from the ballpark after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. Johnny Cueto improves to 18-9 with the win.

The Pirates continue to sink faster than a bungled band of real pirates hopelessly trying to plug the big hole in the bottom of their boat. The Bucs blow a 7-4 lead to the Milwaukee Brewers, who score five times in the final two innings for a 9-7 win and their fifth straight victory; the Pirates fall below .500 for the first time since May 29.

The Philadelphia Phillies score eight runs in the first inning at New York—the most they’ve scored in an initial frame on the road in exactly 100 years—and add seven in the ninth to demolish the Mets, 16-1. Rookie Tyler Cloyd throws eight strong innings to earn his second major league win; the Phillies’ generous support is provided by Juan Pierre’s five hits and Ryan Howard’s five RBIs (four on a grand slam). With the loss, the Mets have now won just four of their last 29 games at home.

Friday, September 21
Chris Carpenter makes his 2012 debut after sitting out all season with a nerve injury and gives the St. Louis Cardinals five fine innings of pitching—but the bullpen, minus closer Jason Motte (getting a day off) can’t hold a 4-2 lead when the Cubs’ Darwin Barney hits a two-run, two-out homer in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game; two innings later, the Cubs win on David DeJesus’ two-out single.

Everything’s going right for the Orioles; they’ve got a winning record for the first time this millennium, they’re winning games that goes extra innings…and tonight, they beat Jon Lester. They defeat the Boston pitcher 4-2 at Fenway Park for their first win against him in 20 attempts. Lester previously was 14-0 against the Orioles with a 2.49 ERA.

In the White Sox’ 6-2 loss to the Angels at Anaheim, Adam Dunn strikes out three times to run his season total to 202 and join Mark Reynolds (2008-10) and Drew Stubbs (2011) as the only major leaguers to join the 200 club. The Yankees’ Curtis Granderson is currently second in the majors in strikeouts with 182.

Saturday, September 22
The Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants become the first teams in the majors to clinch their divisional titles with satisfying home wins. The Reds blank the Dodgers behind eight solid innings from Mat Latos, 6-0, to ice the NL Central; the Dodger loss shaves the Giants’ magic number down to one to clinch the NL West, and they execute with an 8-4 win at AT&T Park over San Francisco. For both teams, the divisional crowns are their second in three years.

Gio Gonzalez wins his 20th game for the Washington Nationals in their 10-4 triumph over the Milwaukee Brewers, and in the process sets a few other milestones. He’s the first 20-game winner for the franchise since Ross Grimsley won 20 in 1978 for the Montreal Expos, the first for a Washington team since Bob Porterfield won 22 for the 1953 Senators, and the first Washington pitcher since the great Walter Johnson in 1916 to strike out 200 batters in a year.

The Orioles continue to prove that when you take them into extra innings, be afraid…be very afraid. The Red Sox are the latest to feel the chill, losing 9-6 at Fenway to the O’s in 12 innings; it’s the 16th straight overtime win for Baltimore, one shy of the all-time record 17 accomplished by the 1949 Indians. The Red Sox, meanwhile, are 0-7 at home in extra inning contests.

The Yankees stay even with the Orioles for the AL East lead with a 14-inning thriller that’s far more dramatic. In the top of the 13th, the visiting Oakland A’s slam three home runs from Jonny Gomes. Yoenis Cespedes and Chris Carter to blast ahead of New York, 9-5—but the Yankees counter with four in the bottom of the frame, capped by Raul Ibanez’s second homer of the game; they win an inning later when the A’s Brandon Moss misplays a ground ball from Eduardo Nunez, scoring Ichiro Suzuki to score from third. The win is the Yankees’ sixth straight and takes five hours and 43 minutes to finish.

Sunday, September 23
The Tigers blow an exceptional opportunity to seize the AL Central lead from the White Sox, losing both games of a doubleheader at home to bottom feeder Minnesota by scores of 10-4 and 2-1 (in ten innings). The double-loss puts Detroit a full game behind Chicago.

In the White Sox’ 4-1 loss at Anaheim, Adam Dunn—two days after whiffing for his 200th strikeout—becomes the first major leaguer on the year to reach 100 walks. He’s the first player ever to reach 100 walks and 200 strikeouts in the same season.

Don't Forbid the Lid
If incessant TV timeouts, a faulty replay system and an insistence on maintaining a part-time culture for referees haven’t stripped the National Football League of total common sense, here’s one more bit you won’t believe: San Francisco 49er quarterback Alex Smith was fined $15,000 for wearing a San Francisco Giant cap shortly after a home game against the Detroit Lions. The NFL has a rule prohibiting players from wearing paraphernalia of non-approved entities (like another sports team or corporation) 90 minutes before or after a game. Silly. Just downright silly.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
The renaissance man, Derek Jeter, ends this past week with a 17-game hitting streak that’s the longest active run in the majors. It’s the 13th time Jeter has had a streak of 15 games or more; the veteran Yankee shortstop is eight games shy of his career long of 25, set in 2006.

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!

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.