The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: September 24-30, 2012
Baseball's Best Second-Half Surges Homer Cookin' in Pittsburgh
Eric Gagne Belittles the Clean Minority Sordid Fish Tales in Miami

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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.

Homer Away From Home
Cincinnati’s Homer Bailey threw the majors’ seventh no-hitter of the season this past Friday when he silenced the Pirates at Pittsburgh, 1-0, making him the first Red to throw a no-no sicne Tom Browning was perfect in 1988; it was the first time that the Pirates had been no-hit since 1971—the second-longest active run among major league teams. Overall, the seven no-nos tie a major league mark previous accomplished in both 1990 and 1991. (The pre-modern mark is eight during the 1884 season, but that was a time when, among other things, the pitching mound was ten feet closer to home and it took seven balls, not four, for a hitter to be granted a walk.)

For Bailey, the no-hitter brought to light just how terrific he’s been on the road this year—and how awful he’s been pitching at Cincinnati’s bandboxed Great American Ballpark. On the year, Bailey is 9-2 with a 2.41 ERA away from home; he’s 4-8 with a 5.16 ERA and 21 homers allowed at home. Only Washington’s Jordan Zimmerman has a lower road ERA; only the Yankees’ Phil Hughes has given up more gopher balls at home. Finally, if the Pirates are looking for a pitcher down the line and Bailey somehow is available, they might want to grab him; in six career starts at PNC Park, he’s 5-0 with a 1.40 ERA.

Stars of the Second Act
Remember Ryan Dempster, Carlos Ruiz and Melky Cabrera? They were some of the darlings of the season’s first half and generated a great deal of attention with their performances, but since baseball’s midseason intermission they haven’t been the same for a myriad of reasons—whether because of injury, ineffectiveness or, as we all know in Cabrera’s case, too much testosterone.

So let’s flip things around: Who’s come to life since the All-Star Break after less-than-stellar first halves, with less fanfare than they might have received had their post-break numbers been accumulated through the year’s first three months? Here’s an alphabetical list of ten players, some of whom had already caught our attention before reading the splits—but also some who hadn’t. (Statistics are based on games played between July 11 through September 29.)

Billy Butler, Kansas City. The Royals’ best pure hitter had a solid first half, but his post-break numbers really took off with a .338 average (second in the American League), 13 home runs and 55 runs batted in.

Doug Fister, Detroit. For the second straight year, the 28-year-old right-hander has really cranked it up after a subpar first half, with an 8-3 record, 2.51 earned run average and a 0.99 WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning).

Chase Headley, San Diego. A reliable soldier who never hit more than 12 home runs through any of his first five-plus years, the evolving switch-hitter has taken his power into overdrive and belted 22 home runs and led the majors with 70 RBIs since the break—all while hitting a very respectable .302. He’s obviously acquired the Mojo Adrian Gonzalez left behind at Petco Park.

Torii Hunter, Los Angeles of Anaheim. All the nationwide focus regarding the Angels has been on wowing rookie Mike Trout, but the veteran outfielder has quietly surged in the second half with a .336 average, six socks and 53 RBIs, all after a mild first half that suggested his career was headed for gradual fadeout at 38.

Kyle Kendrick, Philadelphia. Through his first six years in the majors, the Houston native struggled to find himself as he kept being bounced in and out of the Phillie rotation. But his second half numbers (8-4, 3.15 ERA) suggest a breakthrough that might solidify his place more permanently in the starting five for the next few years to come.

Jeff Keppinger, Tampa Bay. Historically a part-time utility player, Keppinger has sat on the Rays’ depth chart behind Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and Carlos Pena, but manager Joe Maddon has found ways to fit him in somewhere in the infield, game after game—and why wouldn’t he? Keppinger’s .341 batting average is the AL’s best since the break.

Kris Medlen, Atlanta. There seemed to be nothing special about the 26-year-old spot starter, even after beginning this season in the bullpen as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. But since being inserted into the rotation after the break, Medlen hasn’t simply been good—he’s been off the charts, registering a sensational 8-0 record and 1.01 ERA.

Mike Minor, Atlanta. Perhaps inspired by Medlen, Minor has been another major surprise in the Braves’ rotation, toiling to a 6-4 record but with a sharp 2.16 ERA that’s second in the majors behind Medlen. Not bad for a guy whose career ERA still lags at 4.37.

Buster Posey, San Francisco. The third-year catcher wasn’t exactly quiet in the first half—he received All-Star honors—but his second-half numbers make his pre-break numbers look awfully pale by comparison. Posey’s .389 average since mid-July is easily the majors’ best and, combined with 13 homers, 57 RBIs, he’s become a prime candidate for the National League’s MVP.

Jeff Samardzija, Chicago. The reliever-turned-starter had a forgettable first half (6-8, 4.71 ERA), but turned it on after the break with a much lower and stellar 2.58 ERA—even as his Cub teammates gave him little offensive love in the form of a 3-5 record.

I Was the 80%
Eric Gagne and Jose Canseco have a few things in common. One, they’re both admitted to using steroids while playing baseball. Two, they both believed 80% of the rest of baseball was at some point on the juice. Actually, Gagne claims that figure among his Los Angeles Dodger teammates while playing there in the early 2000s, according to a new autobiography he’s set to release—in French.

We do know that Gagne wasn’t alone in the Dodger clubhouse when it came to steroid use; Gary Sheffield, Paul Lo Duca and Kevin Brown are among those who either admitted to or were proven to be taking PEDs. But it also rehashes suspicions of other ex-Dodgers who played alongside Gagne who had out-of-body seasons, such as Shawn Green and Adrian Beltre—who, for one, challenged Gagne to provide not just a percentage, but names, adding: “I know for sure I’m not one of them.” When Beltre, currently with Texas, was asked if he would read Gagne’s book, he said: “My French is not too good.”

Rumble Fish
The ugly postmortem to the Marlins’ 2012 season has already begun. Former Marlin manager Fredi Gonzalez, about to lead the Atlanta Braves into the postseason while Miami stews with a disappointing sub-.500 record, told the Miami Herald that “there’s not a manager dead or alive that (Miami owner) Jeffrey (Loria) thinks is good enough”—leading Loria to remark that Gonzalez was a “colossal failure” while with the Marlins, never mind that Goznalez steered the team to its only two winning seasons over the last seven years.

Then there was reliever Heath Bell, who dished on current Marlin skipper Ozzie Guillen. Bell, who lost his role as closer after an abysmal first half, told a local radio station that the year has been “interesting” with Guillen and that the Marlins could use a manager “that everybody respects and looks up to.” A few days later, Bell had a long conversation with reporters he vowed would be his last until after his contract expires in 2014, saying his words had been taken out of context and that he’s “always given Ozzie respect,” but also said, “It’s hard to respect somebody that doesn’t tell you face to face.” Bell’s teammates apparently have soured on Bell in light of his commentary, with Bell saying he has “pretty much lost” any respect in the clubhouse.

He Just Can't Get his Acta Together
Remember when Manny Acta was the hottest new commodity since the discovery of oil? Since making a solid impression as the manager of the star-studded Dominican team during the first World Baseball Classic in 2006, Acta has clearly shown that the magic wand hasn’t work in the major leagues. Acta had two-plus thoroughly disappointing campaigns for the Washington Nationals; maybe, the Cleveland Indians thought, the Nationals were the problem and not Acta. But now Acta has lived the frustration all over again, getting fired by the Tribe just shy of finishing his third campaign in Cleveland—again without once forging a winning record.

Granted, the 43-year-old skipper was handicapped by underwhelming rosters in Washington (before the arrival of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Bryce Harper) and Cleveland, where fiscally tight-fisted management appears to have no commitment to winning. But the troubling aspect to Acta’s rule is that things seemed to grow worse, not better, as his time in town progressed. It’ll be curious to see if he gets a third shot, but a 372-518 record in the majors just doesn’t look very appealing on a resume.

You're Out, Melky
The San Francisco Giants made it official this past week: Melky Cabrera will not be part of their postseason plans. The All-Star game MVP and one-time NL batting leader, disgraced after receiving a 50-game suspension for steroid use, would have been eligible to return to action in the Giants’ sixth game of the playoffs—but the Giants said no, likely for a number of reasons. One reason is logistical: Should the Giants sweep the first round and advance, Cabrera would not be available until the third game of the NLCS—leaving the team with one less roster player for the first two games of the series. Another reason is philosophical: The Giants felt burned by Cabrera’s suspension as it only deepened the team’s reputation as a magnet for drug cheats (see Barry Bonds). Finally, there’s the reason of reason: The Giants have actually played better without Cabrera since his suspension began.

Going the Extra Milo
With all the focus on the vocational longevity of Vin Scully, we should not forget Milo Hamilton, another long, long-time broadcaster who’s stepping down this season after 29 years doing play-by-play for the Houston Astros. But that’s only half of Hamilton’s major league story; his career in the bigs dates all the way back to 1954—just four years after Scully’s stint started with the Brooklyn Dodgers—when he began with the St. Louis Cardinals, bouncing around the Midwest before settling in at Houston in 1984. Hamilton’s most famous call remains his radio recounting of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run in 1974 while part of the Atlanta Braves’ broadcast team.

Dancing With the Future Stars
Rookie hazing is alive and well and getting weirder all the time. If you don’t believe us, check out what veterans of the Tampa Bay Rays recently did to their young cadets in front of Fenway Park’s Green Monster in Boston.

Wounded of the Week
With the season almost over, we were going to send this segment into hibernation—but no end to a baseball year is complete without a painful bow out from Philadelphia boomer Ryan Howard. On the Phillies’ very last bit of action last season in the playoffs, Howard stumbled out of the batter’s box on a ground ball and ruptured his Achilles. This past Thursday, with five-plus games to go in the Phillies’ lost regular campaign, Howard was on deck awaiting his turn to bat when he dropped a lead pipe he was swinging to warm up—and it fell upon his toe, causing a hairline fracture. Unlike last year’s injury, however, this one should be fully recovered by next spring.

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 24
After sitting out five days from a condition caused by too much caffeine, Josh Hamilton returns to the lineup and crushes his 43rd home run of the year, retaking the major league lead and aiding the AL West-fronting Texas Rangers to a 5-4 win over second-place Oakland. Ranger third baseman Adrian Beltre, himself hobbled of late, also homers to tie the game in the seventh—and follows up with the game-winner on a ninth-inning single.

Ricky Romero finally gets some luck. The embattled Toronto pitcher, loser of 13 straight decisions, finally sees an end to his slide despite five iffy innings in which he allows four runs on eight hits and three walks. But the Blue Jays tee off on the Orioles in the second game of a doubleheader at Baltimore, winning 9-5 and giving Romero his first win in 15 tries—all after he began the season at 8-1.

Tuesday, September 25
There will be no collapse for the Atlanta Braves this year. Freddie Freeman hits a two-run shot off of Miami closer Mike Dunn in the bottom of the ninth to give the Braves a walk-off, 3-2 win over the Marlins and clinch a postseason berth for the second time in three years.

Los Angeles of Anaheim starting pitcher Zack Greinke throws 110 pitches in just five innings of work but allows only one run and sets a major league record by becoming the first starting pitcher to strike out 13 batters in a five-inning performance; the Angels’ relievers strike out seven more to total 20 on the game (tying another record for a nine-inning affair) and hold off the Seattle Mariners at Anaheim, 5-4.

Wednesday, September 26
Re-Wrighting the Record Book: David Wright collects two hits to become the all-time hit leader for the New York Mets, unseating the long-standing mark of 1,418 held by Ed Kranepool. The Mets defeat Pittsburgh at Citi Field, 6-0, dropping the Pirates to 76-79; the Bucs now need to win five of their final seven games to avoid a 20th straight losing season.

The Baltimore Orioles tie a franchise record by belting seven home runs in a 12-2 rout of the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards. Manny Machado and Chris Davis each hit a pair of jacks, and single shots are added by Nate McLouth, Mark Reynolds and Jim Thome (the 612th of his career). Blue Jay starter Carlos Villanueva gives up four of the homers in 4.2 innings of work.

Thursday, September 27
Detroit pitcher Doug Fister sets an AL record by striking out nine batters in a row and watches as five Kansas City errors are committed—and the Royals still almost steal a win from the Tigers. But alas for the Royals, their fifth and final error on the day sets up the winning run in the ninth for Detroit, who prevails 5-4 to increase their lead in the AL Central over Chicago by two games.

An admittedly exhausted R.A. Dickey throws 128 pitches and strikes out 13 to earn his 20th win of the year over the sinking Pirates, 6-5, in the New York Mets’ final home game of the year. The 37-year-old pitcher is the first Mets pitcher to reach 20 since Frank Viola in 1990 and the first knuckleballer to do so since Joe Niekro in 1980; his previous high for wins in a season was 11.

Friday, September 28
Cincinnati pitcher Homer Bailey comes to Pittsburgh and no-hits the beleaguered Pirates, giving the majors their seventh no-hitter of the season to tie a modern major league record. There are only two baserunners for the Bucs against Bailey; Clint Barmes reaches on a third-inning error by Scott Rolen, and Andrew McCutchen walks in the seventh. McCutchen, who led the NL in hitting for much of the summer, goes 0-for-2 and now trails Buster Posey in by five batting points; the Pirates’ loss eliminates any chance of a winning season, one they haven’t had since 1992.

Los Angeles of Anaheim’s Jered Weaver tames the Rangers at Arlington for seven innings and becomes the majors’ third 20-game winner—and the first within the AL—with a 7-4 decision. Weaver’s previous personal best was 18, set just last year; he’s only lost four games in 2012.

The Marlins get a walk-off single from Carlos Lee in the ninth inning to defeat Philadelphia at Miami, 2-1, and officially knock the Phillies out of postseason competition after they had made an unexpectedly late charge. It snaps a five-year run in which the Phillies had made the playoffs, all via a NL East title.

Boston’s Scott Podsednik gets a leadoff hit to start the game at Baltimore, but the Red Sox go 0-for-25 the rest of the night off Oriole starter Chris Tillman and reliever Troy Patton while the O’s pummel Red Sox starter Aaron Cook for six first-inning runs on their way to a 9-1 rout. The victory puts the Orioles, now 23 games above the .500 mark, into the plus column in run differential for the first time since June.

Saturday, September 29
Trailing the Mariners 4-1, the A’s notch a run in the eighth, two in the ninth, and then three in the tenth on Brandon Moss’ 21st home run of the season to defeat Seattle at Oakland, 7-4, to move closer to a wild card spot and just 2.5 games within Texas, rained out at home against the Angels. It’s the A’s 14th walk-off win of the year.

The Colorado Rockies lose at Los Angeles to the Dodgers, 3-0, and assure a franchise-worst record with their 96th loss of the year. Matt Kemp slugs two homers for the Dodgers as they remain alive in the NL wild card chase.

Sunday, September 30
The Pirates’ fall from winning grace is complete. The Bucs blow a 3-2 ninth-inning lead to the Reds when closer Joel Hanrahan give up two runs in the ninth, and their 4-3 loss clinches the team’s 20th straight losing campaign—all despite being 16 games above the .500 mark as late as August 8. Since that date, the Pirates are 14-35.

The Braves’ Kris Medlen allows an unearned run over six innings and Chipper Jones collects a single and two walks in his final regular season game in Atlanta in a 6-2 win over the Mets. For the Braves, it’s the 23rd straight time they’ve won when Medlen starts, establishing a major league record previously held by Whitey Ford with the Yankees (1950-53) and Carl Hubbell with the New York Giants (1936-37).

David Price wins his 20th game for the Rays as Tampa Bay knocks down the White Sox at Chicago, 6-2, keeping alive the Rays’ faint hopes for a wild card spot—while all but knocking Chicago out of the playoff picture, as the Sox now fall behind AL Central leader Detroit by three games…with three games left to play.

Are You Happy Now?
The final numbers are in on Citi Field’s first season with the fences moved in. It is calculated that 46 home runs hit this year at the home of the New York Mets would not have been so last year with the fences further back; 21 of those were hit by the Mets. Overall, there were 155 home runs hit at Citi Field, a 44% increase over 2011 and 25 more than the previous high water mark of 130 hit in the ballpark’s inaugural 2009 season. Despite the encouragement of more offense from the smaller field dimensions, the Mets scored fewer runs at home than in any of their previous three seasons at Citi; that translated to a 36-45 home record that was the NL’s third worst.

Failing at the Worst Possible Moment
Until Franklin Guiterrez hit a RBI double in Tuesday’s game at Anaheim, the Seattle Mariners had one hit with runners in scoring position…over their last 47 at-bats. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s a .021 batting average. For the season, the Mariners are hitting an AL-worst .234 with runners at second or third (though four NL teams have even lower marks, with Atlanta at the very bottom with a .231 average).

Making the Freak Look Meek
Chili Davis once owned Dwight Gooden in the mid-1980s when no one else could touch him; when asked what his secret was, Davis quipped, “He ain’t God, man.” Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt obviously thinks the same of Tim Lincecum. In his short career against the two-time Cy Young Award winner, Goldschmidt is 8-for-14 with five home runs and ten RBIs. Five of those RBIs came on Tuesday in the Diamondbacks’ 7-2 win at San Francisco to set a career high, all in the first five innings—and all off of Lincecum.

Righting a Wrong
The Tampa Bay Rays are starting to look awfully good in baseball’s record book. At the start of the year, they held the American League record for the most times striking out in a season; that mark, set by the then-Devil Rays in 2007, was erased by the Oakland A’s this past Wednesday at Texas, collectively swinging and missing for the 1,325th time. This, in the same year that the Rays established a new AL record for most strikeouts pitched by a team, done a week earlier.

So Close, Yet So Tied
Chicago Cub second baseman Darwin Barney was less than an inning away from breaking the all-time record for most consecutive errorless games in one season by a player at his position, when, in the eighth inning at Arizona on Friday night, he threw wildly past first on a Justin Upton ground ball. Upton was given a base hit, but the bad throw allowed Aaron Hill to score—and thus, the error, Barney’s first gaffe after 141 clean games that tied Placido Polanco’s 2007 record. It’s just been that kind of year for the Cubbies, who lost to the Diamondbacks, 8-3.

The Ultimate Model of Consistency
Miami pitcher Mark Buehrle has become the majors’ version of the Honda Civic: He’s neither fancy nor ugly and, when his engine’s running, you can depend on him. This past week, Buehrle became the first pitcher since Greg Maddux (from 1988-2001) to pitch at least 12 straight seasons and accumulate at least ten wins, 200 innings and 30 starts per year. Buehrle’s 13-13 record and 3.74 ERA in 2012, has been nothing to get excited over—but in this day of age of every other pitcher going under the knife in the name of Tommy John, it’s refreshing to see a guy take the mound every turn and make the most of it without fear of breaking down.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Marco Scutaro, a godsend for the Giants in their run to the NL West crown after being traded from Colorado, ends this past week with the majors’ longest active hitting streak at 17 games. During his run, the 36-year-old infielder has hit a remarkable .441 with four doubles, a home run and 14 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!

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.