The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: September 26-October 2, 2011
Blown Saves, Blown Seasons for Boston and Atlanta Jose Reyes' Quick Exit
The End of Three Historic Streaks Why the Ghost of Bill Bergen is Smiling

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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!

The Greatest Day?
The final night of the regular season was a baseball fan’s dream (to say nothing of the commissioner’s), with three wild finishes neatly following one another for all to see, determining both wild card spots. What made the evening all the more incredible was that it capped not just one, but two September comebacks that officially rank at the top as the greatest in baseball history.

Within an hour through ESPN (though some of you might have also been tuned into the MLB Network), we bore witness to the end of Atlanta’s 4-3, 13-inning loss to Philadelphia—which, combined with St. Louis’ 8-0 win at Houston, knocked the Braves out of the NL wild card slot in favor of the Cardinals; Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon’s one-strike-away implosion at Baltimore, allowing the Orioles to come from behind to upend the Red Sox and leave them clinging for life in the AL wild card race; and, just moments later, Evan Longoria’s 12th-inning, line-drive homer down the left-field line that brought the Tampa Bay Rays—trailing 7-0 in the eighth—back to defeat the New York Yankees, 8-7, knock out Boston and win the AL wild card.

For the Braves—up 8.5 games in the NL wild card race earlier in the month—it was a September collapse unsurpassed in the senior circuit and matched only by the infamous 1964 Phillies. But Boston one-half-upped the Braves, blowing a nine-game lead earlier that now ranks as the largest September lead blown.

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s nonstop entertainment, we make these two observations: Commissioner Bud Selig did the right thing in moving the end of the regular season to the middle of the week, where it wouldn’t have to muscle for airtime on “SportsCenter” with the NFL. But also, Selig would be wise to back off any plan to add two wild card teams for next season; had that system been in place this year, there would have been no Wednesday drama as the Braves and Red Sox would have squared off against, respectively, the Cardinals and Rays the next day to determine the wild card. We always think it’s best that these things get decided over 162 games, not one.

Et tu, Tito
Somebody had to take the fall for Boston’s historic collapse, and so the Red Sox took the most financially painless path and waived off the option on retaining manager Terry Francona. It was a mutual parting; Francona said he had lost control of his clubhouse in September—unable to motivate the pricey Red Sox players—and was looking forward to a fresh start elsewhere.

Is Francona’s departure short-sided? We think so. Yes, he’s failed to take a big-budget roster to the postseason two years in a row, but remember: He led Boston to its first two world titles since World War I, and his calm, assuring demeanor was just right for the Red Sox job. It’s widely reported that Francona’s next managerial job will be with the Chicago White Sox; we’ll come back twelve months from now and see if the Red Sox are missing him.

Is This Any Way to Win a Batting Title?
What looked to be another exciting finish to end the season fizzled early and ended with Jose Reyes becoming the first member of the New York Mets to win a batting title. Reyes began the day one point ahead of Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun, bunted for a base hit his first time up—and asked to come out of the game to preserve his expanded lead over Braun, who was now going to need a 3-for-4 or better in his later game against Pittsburgh to overcome Reyes and become the first Jewish batting champion. (Braun would go 0-for-4 and finish at .332 to Reyes’ .337.)

Reyes’ decision to depart early was discussed in advance between himself and Met manager Terry Collins and probably was suggested to him before that by his new agent, one Scott Boras. After all, it’s a lot easier to sell a guy on the free agent market with a batting crown attached to his head.

The few fans enjoying the Mets’ final game of the year at Citi Field were none too pleased with Reyes, aiming a smattering of boos towards him as he left. From their perspective, they were hoping to see a little more from Reyes, who possibly was playing his last game as a Met.

It's All About Value
As if the Red Sox are angry enough about losing out to Tampa Bay for the AL wild card and missing the playoffs, this certainly won’t make them feel any better: Desmond Jennings, Carl Crawford’s replacement in Tampa Bay, hit a little better, drew more walks and stole more bases in half as many games. Crawford was paid $14 million by the Red Sox this year; Jennings made a prorated portion of the MLB minimum wage ($410,000).

Checking Out the Turnstiles
For the first time in five years, major league attendance rose, albeit at less than 1%. Nine teams surpassed the 3 million mark, led by the Philadelphia Phillies at 3,680 million. At the other end of the spectrum, ten teams failed to clear 2 million, bottomed out by the Oakland A’s at 1.477 million. (When, exactly, does Bud Selig’s blue ribbon panel make that decision on the A’s future?)

Making the biggest jump this year was the Cleveland Indians, buoyed by a fast start that gave their fans hope; attendance rose 25% from a major league-worst 1.391 million in 2010 to 1,840 million this year. Toronto had the biggest drop-off by the percentages (a 19% fall to 1.529 million), but the Los Angeles Dodgers lost more fans per game, losing 7,700 per game as they dropped below the 3 million mark for the first time since 2000.

These Runs Are Done
The majors witnessed the end of three record career streaks on the final day of the season. The Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, who missed 63 games this year due to various injuries, failed to hit 30-plus home runs with 100-plus RBIs for the first time in 13 years. Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki failed for the first time to earn 200 hits, ending a ten-year streak. (He also hit below .300 for the first time ever, at .272.) And Albert Pujols came tantalizingly close to extending his streak of .300-30-100 seasons to start a career to 11; he got the 30-plus home runs with 37—but hit .299 with 99 RBIs.

Goodbye, And Good Riddance
On the final day of the season, the Florida Marlins played their last game ever at The Stadium That Changes Its Name Every Year (it was originally called Joe Robbie Stadium, when sports facilities were named after worthy people and not corporate sponsors). A crowd of 34,000 fans—yes, most of them were actually there—came one last time to one of the few venues left that MLB can’t wait to be done with, and witnessed the Marlins losing to Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals, 3-1, in a game that actually featured no rain delays; throwing out and catching the first pitch were, respectively, Charlie Hough and Benito Santiago—the same battery that took the field for real in the very first Marlin game at the stadium in 1993. The Marlins move into a new ballpark in 2012, to be henceforth known as the Miami Marlins.

Missing Out
The Chicago Cubs were the only team in the majors this year that didn’t hit a grand slam; the San Diego Padres, meanwhile, were the only team who didn’t have a starting pitcher register a complete game.

Maybe if George Clooney Had Played His Part...
Moneyball has generated mostly positive reviews since opening a few weeks back, but count former Oakland manager Art Howe in the minority of those giving the flick thumbs down. Played in the movie by Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, Howe told the San Jose Mercury News that the film was “character assassination” likely generated by Billy Beane, the A’s general manager portrayed by Brad Pitt as the center of the film. Beane responded in kind: “I was wondering who was going to be the first guy to think I produced, wrote or directed this movie. Now I have my answer.”

Klutzes in the Clutch
One reason the San Francisco Giants didn’t return to the postseason: They hit .173 with two outs and runners in scoring position.

This, And They Won the AL Wild Card?
The Tampa Bay Rays became the first AL team since 1976 to not score ten or more runs in any home game.

This, And They Won the NL Wild Card?
The St. Louis Cardinals set a NL record this year by hitting into 169 double plays.

He Can Barely Drink to It
Chicago second-year shortstop Starlin Castro finished the season as the youngest National Leaguer (at 21 years and 188 days) to lead the league in hits, with 207. He also ended the year having reached base in 40 straight games, four shy of the club record.

Did This Red Miss Out on Extra Green?
If Cincinnati pitcher Bronson Arroyo has a bonus clause in his contract by throwing 200 innings, then he’s got to be one unhappy guy. For the second straight year, Arroyo finished the season with 199. But here’s the good news for the 34-year old right-hander, who gave up 46 home runs this season; he won’t have to worry about entering the recordbooks for the most allowed by a NL pitcher, as the late Jose Lima still holds the mark with 48 in 2000.

Use Him When Ahead
Detroit closer Jose Valverde finished the regular season converting all 49 of his save opportunities; only Eric Gagne, in 2003, saved more games without blowing any when he registered 55 for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Here’s the funny part about Valverde’s year: When brought in during a save situation, his ERA was 0.55; when on the mound in non-save situations, it was 5.01.

Get in Line, It's a Long One
Fox Sports is the latest legal plaintiff against the Los Angeles Dodgers, suing the bankrupt team for violating their existing TV contract. Fox says it has exclusive negotiating rights with the Dodgers through November 2012 and claims the Dodgers have not met those conditions.

Will They Call it Yenball?
For the second time in five seasons, the Oakland A’s will open the regular season abroad in Tokyo, facing off against the Seattle Mariners (who will likely be the local favorite with star hitter Ichiro Suzuki—unless the A’s resign Hideki Matsui). The two teams were also scheduled to begin the 2003 season in Japan, but the looming Iraq War put a halt to the plans.

He Said What?
“We’re going to say a prayer that Boston wins the wild card spot. I’m worried if in fact they don’t, he’s going to be so damn miserable he will not jump in front of a bullet.”—Vice President Joe Biden, speaking of his top Secret Service agent.

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.

A Day-by-Day Review of the Week:
Monday, September 26
Kansas City outfielder Melky Cabrera becomes the first Royal since 2000 to have 200 hits for the season when he reaches the milestone in the Royals’ 7-3 win at Minnesota. The former Yankee has set career highs in virtually every major offensive category this season.

The Chicago White Sox’ 4-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays is the last to be managed by White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen, who is informed after the game by management that they will let him go after the season. Guillen has managed the Sox for eight years and led them to two divisional titles and, in 2005, the team’s first World Series triumph since 1917.

The Philadelphia Phillies secure their 100th win of the year and deal the host Atlanta Braves a serious blow to their chances of winning the NL wild card spot with a 4-2 win. Meanwhile, the New York Yankees lose any shot at 100 wins by losing for the 63rd time this season at Tampa Bay, 5-2—helping even the Rays with Boston in the AL wild card race.

Tuesday, September 27
The Braves, leading the wild card race by 8.5 games three weeks earlier, now finish the regular season’s penultimate day in a dead tie with the St, Louis Cardinals. With Derek Lowe losing for the 17th time this year, Atlanta drops to Philadelphia, 7-1—while the Cardinals outlast the Astros at Houston, 13-6.

After allowing five runs in the top of the tenth inning to Los Angeles, the Arizona Diamondbacks rebound with six runs in the bottom half of the inning—the final four coming on a walk-off grand slam by Ryan Roberts—to overcome the Dodgers, 7-6; as he rounds the bases, Roberts pays tribute to his manager, Kirk Gibson, by emulating his famous home run trot from Game One of the 1988 World Series. Reliever Micah Owings, who allowed all five Dodger runs in the tenth, gets the win to improve to 8-0 on the year.

Prince Fielder has his first three-homer game of his career and grabs a share of the NL home run lead with the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp (at 38) to help give the Brewers a 6-4 win over Pittsburgh, keeping Milwaukee in the lead for the second seed of the NL playoffs.

Wednesday, September 28
After St. Louis whitewashes the Astros at Houston, 8-0, the Braves must beat Philadelphia to force a one-game playoff to determine the NL wild card winner; but Atlanta closer and likely NL Rookie of the Year Craig Kimbrel blows a 3-2 ninth inning lead by giving up a run on a hit and three walks as the Phillies force overtime. In the 13th, the Phillies strike on a Hunter Pence single that scores Brian Schneider; David Herndon closes out the Braves for the season (and continues it for the Cardinals) with his first career save. The Braves led the NL wild card race by 10.5 games as late as August 26. For the Phillies, their 102nd win of the year sets a franchise record; Charlie Manuel also becomes the team’s all-time winningest manager with his 646th victory, surpassing Gene Mauch—who could probably feel the Braves' pain.

The Red Sox take a 3-2 lead into the ninth inning at Baltimore, and closer Jonathan Papelbon is one strike away from retiring the Orioles in order and keeping Boston alive for at least one more day. But Chris Davis lashes a double down the right field line, Nolan Reimold hits a gapper to right-center to score Davis, and Robert Andino hits a soft liner that Carl Crawford can not snare in left, scoring Reimold and giving the Orioles a 4-3 win. The Red Sox now look to the scoreboard and hope the Rays lose to the Yankees to force a one-game playoff of their own to determine the AL wild card.

Just moments after the Red Sox’ collapse, the Rays—who earlier had trailed 7-0 in the eighth inning—complete their stunning rally when Evan Longoria barely parks a solo home run next to the left field foul pole to give Tampa Bay an 8-7, 12-inning win and, outright, the AL wild card. The Rays scored six times in the eighth to draw within a run of New York, and in the ninth—with two out, no one on and the count at two strikes—Dan Johnson, owner of a .108 batting average, hits a solo shot off Yankee fill-in closer Cory Wade (Mariano Rivera has the night off) to force extra innings.

Both the Texas Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers each earn second-seed positioning in the postseason and win their 96th game of the year, both setting franchise records. Credit for the Brewers’ 7-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates (losers of 38 of their past 42 games at Milwaukee) goes to Zack Greinke, who finishes the year 11-0 at Miller Park—the most wins by a pitcher without a loss at home since Orel Hershiser went 12-0 at Dodger Stadium in 1985.

Minnesota’s Trevor Plouffe singles in the winning run—and the only run on the night—with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to give the Twins a 1-0 victory and keep the franchise from losing 100 games for only the second time since moving to Minnesota 50 years earlier.

Friday, September 30
Tampa Bay’s Matt Moore, the youngest starting pitcher to open an AL postseason series and the least experienced to start any postseason game in major league history, fires seven shutout innings—allowing just two hits, both to Josh Hamilton—as the Rays hammer the Rangers at Texas in Game One of the ALDS, 9-0. Kelly Shoppach aids the Ray offense with three hits including two home runs and five RBIs.

An outstanding matchup pairing the Tigers’ Justin Verlander and the Yankees’ CC Sabathia is ruined after one-plus innings when heavy rains arrive at Yankee Stadium and postpone Game One of the ALDS to Saturday. The game is tied at 1-1 in the second inning when umpires call it a night.

Saturday, October 1
The Yankees and Tigers pick it back up and continue Game One, with New York rolling to a 9-3 win. Doug Fister, who took over for Verlander, pitches 4.2 innings and allows six runs—more than he's allowed in his last eight starts combined.

The Rangers rally from an early 3-0 deficit and defeat James Shields and the Rays, 8-6, to even the ALDS at a game apiece.

Roy Halladay survives a shaky first inning, throwing shutout baseball for the next seven innings while the Phillies score ten times between the sixth and eighth innings to pummel St. Louis at Philadelphia in the first game of their NLDS.

Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun combine for five hits and Yovani Gallardo throws eight strong innings (striking out nine) to give the Brewers a 4-1 win over Arizona in the NLDS opener for both teams.

Sunday, October 2
Max Scherzer throws six shutout innings and Miguel Cabrera gathers three hits (including a home run) and three RBIs to give the Tigers a 5-3 win at New York to even their ALDS with the Yankees.

A five-run outburst in the sixth inning off Arizona reliever Brad Ziegler (who faced five batters and retired none of them) pulls Milwaukee away from a 4-4 tie and onward to a 9-4 win over the Diamondbacks to take a 2-0 lead in its NLDS. Braun has three hits, including a double and a home run.

The Phillies break out to a 4-0 lead in Game Two against St. Louis—but starting pitcher Cliff Lee can't hold it, allowing five runs into the seventh inning before being removed, as the Cardinals go on to win 5-4 at Philadelphia to even the NLDS. Lee is now 0-3 with a 7.13 ERA in his last three postseason appearances.

The Sad Ballad of Adam and Eugenio
The regular season’s final day was a very good one for Bill Bergen, even if he’s been dead for nearly 70 years. Bergen, a catcher who played in the majors from 1901-11, was one of the worst hitters ever seen at the big league level—hitting a lifetime .170 and setting records in the worst way with the longest hitless skid by a non-pitcher and the worst season average by an everyday player.

Well, Bergen was relieved of much of his dubious status thanks to Adam Dunn and Eugenio Velez. Dunn, the $56 million bust for the Chicago White Sox, finished the year hitting just .159, the lowest average for anyone with 300 or more at-bats since Bergen hit .139 in 1909. (Dunn also struck out 177 times, making him the second player, after Mark Reynolds last season, to have a higher strikeout number than batting average.)

Velez, the exceedingly light-hitting reserve for the Los Angeles Dodgers, stretched his streak of consecutive at-bats without a hit to 46, breaking the record shared by Bergen (also from 1909) and two others, including Milwaukee Craig Counsell from earlier this season. Velez also finished the year 0-for-37, setting the mark for the most at-bats by a position player without a hit over one season.

Gone Downtown Swinging
Life away from baseball apparently has not mellowed Milton Bradley. The former Expo/Indian/Dodger/Athletic/Padre/Ranger/Cub/Mariner was arrested for the second time this year when he allegedly swung a bat at his wife and missed. It’s pretty much the way he ended his career in Seattle, too.

Using an Iron Fister
Detroit pitcher Doug Fister in his last eight starts of the regular season: A 7-0 record with a 0.65 ERA. In 55.1 innings, he allowed just five runs (four earned) on 30 hits and four walks, while striking out 52.

30-30 Vision
This season, four players joined the 30-30 club for accumulating at least 30 home runs and 30 steals: Matt Kemp, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ryan Braun and Ian Kinsler. The last time four players achieved 30-30 in the majors was 1997. It’s the second go-around on the chart for Kinsler, the first for the other three.

Rude Homecoming
The most home runs hit by a catcher for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this season was Hank Conger, with six. That matches the total hit in Angel Stadium this year by former Angel backstop Mike Napoli, who did it in 37 visiting at-bats playing for the Texas Rangers.

Help Wanted: Hitting Coach
Position available to teach employees of major league baseball team how to hit a baseball in San Diego. Requires think skin, low stress level and appreciation for seemingly endless summers along Pacific Coast and seemingly endless ballpark dimensions at Petco Park. Responsibilities include giving platitudes to frustrated hitters and short memory of fact that five people in similar position have been fired in seven years. Humility a must. Consider rental over purchase of living property. Apply at your own risk.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Detroit’s Magglio Ordonez continued his long, slow ascent towards Joltin’ Joe’s hallowed record of hitting safely in 56 straight games by finishing the season with the majors’ longest current active streak, at 18 games. During his run, the former all-star and current part-time Tiger has appeared in less than half of his team’s games, but has made his partial efforts count, hitting .385. Ordonez’s streak will stay intact into next year, but the bigger question is, where will he play? He’s a free agent after the season and will be 38 next Opening Day; sources say the Tigers are unlikely to bring him back.

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!