The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: September 19-25, 2011
The Open-and-Shut Case For Mariano Rivera The Citi Grows Smaller
Baseball's New Evil: Energy Drinks? The Closer Formerly Known as Leo Nunez

We Go With Mo
By surpassing Trevor Hoffman and becoming the all-time saves leader this past week, Mariano Rivera statistically confirmed what we’ve known all along; that he’s the greatest closer ever.

You can make an argument for Hoffman, who never had the luxury of playing for the Rivera’s New York Yankees—though when given his chance to shine in the postseason, he often fell flat.

You can make an argument for Dennis Eckersley, who probably was the most untouchable closer when he ruled between 1988-92, but he reigned for only those five years—while Rivera has been at the top of his game for over 15 years. And Eck will always be haunted by Kirk Gibson.

You can make an argument for Eric Gagne, the power-throwing closer who converted 84 consecutive saves for Los Angeles while serving as the game’s hottest ninth-inning pitcher in the mid-2000s. But his time was also brief and, as it later turned out, shot up with steroids.

You can make an argument for Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Dan Quisenberry and Goose Gossage, closers of another generation who were often asked to go two, sometimes three innings to earn their saves instead of the systematic three outs now required. But their overall efficiency just doesn’t match up well with that of Rivera’s.

In the end, the argument of the greatest closer ever should always end with the answer being Mariano Rivera. Consistent, efficient and ageless, Rivera has been highly reliable for the Yankees, never suffering the bad season and lasting as long as he has on basically just one pitch, the cut fastball. And beyond all he’s done in the regular season, the clincher for any argument must be his uncanny numbers from postseason play, in which he’s saved 42 games with an 8-1 record and 0.71 ERA.

It’s Rivera, folks. Trust us.

Shrinkage in the Citi
The New York Mets announced this week that they’ll be bringing in the fences at Citi Field, which opened in 2009; general manager Sandy Alderson added that the changes would be “not subtle.” Fans, along with the Mets’ hitters, have been complaining that the expansive outfield and tall walls make for few home runs and little scoring, claims backed by statistics that show that the ballpark has been towards the bottom of offensive productivity; in 2010, no NL ballpark yielded fewer runs and homers than Citi Field.

Many Met players were pleased at the news—especially third baseman David Wright, whose home run total plummeted from 33 in 2008—the Mets’ last year at Shea Stadium—to a mere ten in 2009 when the team moved to Citi Field. “It’s nice to have a front office that recognizes the situation and tries to correct it,” Wright said, using officialese to hide his inner emotions that wanted to sing out, “Yee-hah!

That's a Bunch of Red Bull
First, steroids. Then amphetamines. And now what’s being banned in the clubhouse? Energy drinks.

USA Today reports that two major league teams, Arizona and Houston, are banning Red Bull and other popular energy drinks in their clubhouses in an attempt to discourage players from using them, believing they can be harmful to one’s health—as they appeared to be for Houston reliever Wesley Wright, who in 2009 ended up in the emergency room from dehydration after crashing from the aftereffects of the drink.

Some players are anything but thrilled with the idea. “What are they going to ban next, coffee? Soft drinks? It’s so bizarre,” said Arizona closer J.J. Putz.

Sorry Manny, You Can't be Manny
Barred from the majors until he serves a 100-day suspension for his second failed PED test, Manny Ramirez announced his intentions of playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic. One problem: Major League Baseball’s authoritative powers reach over the Caribbean via the Winter League Agreement, so Ramirez is ineligible to play there as well. If Ramirez was hoping to have the players’ union gripe on his behalf, he’s SOL: The union is publicly behind MLB on this one.

So, it Was You All Along
It got weirder this past week for the Florida Marlins, who recently kicked Mike Cameron off the team for having a hissy fit with a flight attendant and was struck with a grievance from the players’ union for demoting Logan Morrison when he failed to show up for a meet-and-greet with season ticket holders. (Maybe Morrison didn’t think there were any.) On Thursday, the Marlins told closer Leo Nunez to go home early for the remainder of the year when it was discovered that his real name is Juan Carlos Oviedo, and that he’s a year older than his listed age of 28.

Yes, Nunez, er, Oviedo hails from the Dominican Republic, where desperate prospects fudge their age and (sometimes) their names to better their chances of making it to America. In case you’re wondering why players will change their name, it’s to make it more difficult for those tracking down their real age as well. Anyway, Nunez, er, Oviedo is back in Dominica to “sort out” the issue—and face possible jail time.

Those Specs are Loooooooong Gone!
Sculpture theft seems be on the rise. Last month we reported the case of a missing girl outside of Toledo’s minor league ballpark, one of several bronzed kids peaking through knotholes into the facility; it was later recovered when it appeared the people trying to run off with it found it too heavy to continue the haul. This past week, it was reported that someone went up to the Ernie Harwell sculpture outside of Detroit’s Comerica Park—which is only 61 miles away from Toledo, you know—and removed the long-time Tiger sportscaster’s glasses. While the Tigers solder on a new pair of spectacles, Hugh Bernreuter of the Saginaw News came up with ten suggested punishments for the thieves including, at number three, “Have lunch with Steve Bartman and argue which one is more despised by the hometown fans.”

Bring Me the Head of Stomper the Bear
While on the subject of thievery, the head of a minor league mascot in Avon, Ohio has been recovered—but the rest of the body remains missing. Earlier this summer, a break-in at the ballpark for the Lake Erie Crushers resulted in the loss of the costume for Stomper the Bear. This past week, the head was recovered under a tarp outside the ballpark. Why that was returned and not the body is puzzling; when a deer trophy is put up in a lodge, it’s usually the head that gets proudly displayed, not the trunk.

The Future is Around the Corner
For Cleveland Indian fans, here’s a sign of hope for the near future: Their Triple-A team, the Columbus Clippers, won their second straight minor league title by defeating the Omaha Storm Chasers in the Triple-A championship game.

He's Trouble Even When He's Happy
Even in the moment of celebration, controversial Milwaukee outfielder Nyjer Morgan couldn’t help but provide for a moment of news he’d rather soon forget. Scoring in front of Ryan Braun’s three-run, go-ahead home run in the eighth inning that would give the Brewers the NL Central-clinching 4-1 win over Florida at Miller Park, an over-exuberant Morgan made solid contact with his elbow upon Braun’s face, leading to what Braun said he expected to become a black eye.

The Rivalry Gets Nasty
Just hours before taking the mound for Boston on Tuesday, Red Sox pitcher Erik Bedard was served papers at Fenway Park seeking increased child support. The man who delivered the notice was wearing a New York Yankee shirt.

He Said What?
Minnesota pitcher Kevin Slowey, on the Twins’ long losing streak: “At this point in this clubhouse, it’s like we’re watching the fate of Sisyphus himself.” That’s a reference to the mythical Greek king who pushed a boulder up the top of a hill only to have it roll back down each time.

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.

TGG Programming Note
The Best and Worst of the Week is being held over until our next edition of the Comebacker to review the final week-and-a-half of the regular season. A week after that, we'll deliver our final Best and Worst, naming the best and worst hitters, pitchers and teams of the 2011 season.

A Day-by-Day Review of the Week:
Monday, September 19
New York closer Mariano Rivera retires the Minnesota Twins 1-2-3 in the ninth inning of the Yankees’ 6-4 win to earn his 602nd save and become the majors’ all-time career save leader, breaking a tie with the retired Trevor Hoffman.

Arizona’s Ian Kennedy fires eight innings of one-hit shutout ball and strikes out a career-tying 12 batters to edge the Pittsburgh Pirates, 1-0 to become the NL’s first 20-game winner of the year. Justin Upton provides the only offense of the game for the Diamondbacks with the rarest of home runs—a broken-bat homer.

Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez becomes the first player to reach 200 hits on the year by accumulating five in the Red Sox’ doubleheader split at Fenway Park with the Baltimore Orioles. Gonzalez’s previous career high was 182 in 2007 for the San Diego Padres.

Tuesday, September 20
Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw outduels San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum for the fourth time this year and earns his 20th win in the Dodgers’ 2-1 win over the Giants at Dodger Stadium. The odds-on favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award, Kershaw lowered his ERA to a league-leading 2.27 and increased his strikeout total to 242, also tops in the league.

Yankee starter Ivan Nova wins his 12th straight decision—the longest run since Larry Jansen in 1947—and improves to 16-4 on the season in New York’s 5-0 win over Tampa Bay. The 24-year old right-hander has not lost in any of his previous 15 starts, during which he has a 3.09 ERA—and has been supported with an average of seven runs per game by the Yankees.

You have company, Mark Reynolds; Cincinnati center fielder Drew Stubbs becomes the second player in major leaguer history to strike out 200 times in a year when he whiffs twice in the Reds’ 6-4 win against Houston. Reynolds has struck out over 200 times in three different seasons, peaking with 223 in 2009 for Arizona.

Wednesday, September 21
The Yankees sweep a doubleheader from Tampa Bay—clinching a playoff birth in the first game and the AL East title in the second. Both games are won by 4-2 scores; the sweep is particularly damaging for the Rays, who lose a half-game on Boston (who loses at home to Baltimore) in the AL wild card race and now trail the Red Sox by 2.5 games with seven to play.

Florida pitcher Javier Vazquez sets a Florida team record by increasing his run of consecutive scoreless innings to 25, throwing seven zeroes in the Marlins’ 4-0 win over slumping Atlanta. The 35-year old right-hander, who struggled through the All-Star break, has now won each of his last five starts—allowing just one run in 36 total innings.

Thursday, September 22
Just when you thought the Rays had no more hot young pitching studs after David Price and Jeremy Hellickson, along comes Matt Moore. The 22-year old southpaw makes his major league debut at New York and throws five shutout innings against the Yankee B-team (the stars are resting a day after winning the AL East title) and striking out 11 batters. Moore’s also supported by 15 Tampa runs, a good thing since the Ray bullpen coughs up eight runs over the final four innings.

Rene Tosoni’s run-scoring double with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning gives the Minnesota Twins a 3-2 win over the Seattle Mariners and ends an 11-game losing streak that’s the longest for the Twins since 1982. The Twins need to win three of their final seven games to avoid their first 100-loss season since that same year.

Friday, September 23
The final three divisional races are wrapped up, with Milwaukee, Texas and Arizona all clinching first-place spots for the playoffs. Ryan Braun’s three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth breaks a 1-1 tie and gives the Brewers a 4-1 win over Florida and their first divisional title since 1982. In Texas, the Rangers win their second straight AL West crown after a 5-3 defeat of Seattle at Arlington, coupled later with the Angels’ 3-1 loss to Oakland in Anaheim. And out west in Phoenix, the surprising Diamondbacks clinch the NL West against the defending champion Giants with a come-from-behind 3-1 win.

On the day the Cleveland Indians announce plans to erect a statue of Jim Thome at Progressive Field, the 41-year old once-and-current Indian has three hits including a double and a home run and knocks in three runs to help the Tribe defeat Minnesota, 6-5. Thome’s homer is the 604th of his career.

The Pittsburgh Pirates may not finish the year above .500, but Ryan Ludwick’s walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth gives the Bucs a 4-3 win over Cincinnati—and ensures the team’s first 70-win season since 2004.

Saturday, September 24
In his last scheduled start before the postseason, Detroit ace Justin Verlander fails to win for the first time in 12 starts, but he doesn't lose either—replaced after seven innings with the Tigers losing to Baltimore, 5-4; Detroit will tie the game but lose it in the ninth, 6-5. Verlander finishes the season with a 24-5 record and career highs with 251 innings pitched and a 2.40 ERA.

The Philadelphia Phillies are swept in a doubleheader at New York by scores of 2-1 and 6-3 and are now 0-8 since clinching the NL East title. It's the Phillies' longest losing streak since 2000 when they finished in last place with a 65-97 record.

Not resting their everyday starters a day after clinching the NL Central with the second seed of the postseason at stake, the Brewers defeat the Marlins 6-4 and tie a franchise record with their 54th win at home. Closer John Axford earns his 45th save in the win to set a team mark.

This Week's Challenger to Bill Bergen, Dave Campbell and Craig Counsell
Los Angeles reserve Eugenio Velez tied a major league record held by the three guys mentioned above by going hitless in 45 straight at-bats. The streak is so long, it began last season when he was a member of the San Francisco Giants. Interestingly, Velez’s skid began after returning to action from a concussion suffered in the dugout during a game by a foul ball that hit him in the head when he wasn’t looking last season. He’s 0-for-36 with the Dodgers in 2011.

Goodbye, Danny
Danny Litwhiler, an 11-year veteran of four National League teams from 1940-51, died this past week at the age of 95; he was one of the ten oldest living ex-ballplayers. The right-handed batter hit .345 over 36 games in his first taste of the bigs in 1940 for the Philadelphia Phillies, then hit .305 with 18 homers in his first full season a year later. He never hit over .300 again, but he remained a reliable resource throughout his career, helping the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series in 1944 and performing in a part-time capacity after World War II playing for the Boston Braves and the Cincinnati Reds.

Defensively, Lithwhiler committed 15 errors playing the outfield in 1941—and a year later, made none, becoming the first major leaguer to record a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage at his position. In retirement, Lithwiler helped perfect one of the first radar guns used for recording the speed of pitches, and coached for 28 years at the college level, ten times making the NCAA finals.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Magglio Ordonez of the Detroit Tigers played two games this past week but got hits in both to extend his hitting streak to 16 games, slowly extending the majors' longest active hitting streak. Reduced to part-time status, Ordonez began his run back on August 15.

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!

Become a fan of This Great Game on Facebook. We’re embracing this opportunity to invite TGG followers and those of baseball in general to share their insights, queries and good knowledge with TGG’s powers-that-be, Eric Gouldsberry and Ed Attanasio.

Our goal with this page is to bring value to all who wish to become our fans, even correspondents to our continued mission of providing an enriched and unique perspective to our comprehensive catalog of baseball history, past, present and future.

Want to sound off on current events? Have good trivia you want to share? Roaming about the country on a ballpark tour? Need advice on that baseball book you’re trying to sell? Got something of interest we could share within the main site, such as our Weekly Comebacker? Have any praise or criticisms of TGG? We want to hear from you. It’s your soapbox, too.

Fun facts About Your All-Time Hit Leaders
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!