The AL Central's Believe It Or Not
This is why there needs to be more divisional races down to the wire. The Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins squared off at Comerica Park earlier this past week, each in search of the AL Central title; the four-game series ended in a draw, a good thing for a Tiger team that maintained a two-game lead over Minnesota heading into the regular season’s final weekenda lead they blew, resulting in a tie-breaker playoff to be played on Tuesday at the Metrodome.
The series was hardly a yawner. A video blogger made a stink over what he truly believed was a case of sign-stealing by Minnesota catcher (and AL MVP front-runner) Joe Mauer, leading to a nationwide discussion by more professional columnistsand instant chuckles from Twin players who laughed off the accusation. And there was the bizarre moment late in the series’ final game when the Twins’ Delmon Young, hit in retaliation for an earlier, intentionally errant throw from teammate Jose Mijares, had to be held back from going not after Tiger pitcher Jeremy Bonderman, who hit himbut after Mijares, who earlier overreacted when the Tigers attempted to steal bases trailing by seven runs. (After all, what are the Tigers supposed to do when falling behind on a day they can clinch the division? Put out a white flag?)
After the game, Mijares was cut no slack in his own clubhouse. Shortstop Orlando Cabrera called Mijares’ purpose pitch a “selfish act” and Young himself stated, “(Mijares) needs to understand how to play the game. This isn’t the minor leagues over here.” That from a man who once hurled a bat at a minor league umpire.
Wish You Were Here
Most divisional title celebrations these days are usually all business with the obligatory jumping up and down and alcoholic showers; after all, with three postseason series still hopefully yet to play, there’s a lot that still needs to be accomplished. But it was a special celebration on Monday in Anaheim when the Angels clocked the Texas Rangers, 11-0, to secure their fifth AL West crown in six years. The team made a special tribute to the late Nick Adenhart by touching his memorial tribute on the outfield wall, and then dousing his jersey in the clubhouse with celebratory champagne. The latter display didn’t sit well with some on the outside who saw a macabre irony in pouring alcohol on the jersey of a player killed by a drunk driver, but if this is baseball’s tradition of saluting a fallen comrade, so be it.
There's Some Good News From All of This
The Boston Red Sox celebrated their fifth straight loss on Tuesday by also whooping it up in the clubhouse upon learning they’d clinch the AL wild card spot. It’s the fifth time in the last seven years that the Red Sox have entered the postseason as a wild card.
Ted's Dead Head Games
We know it’s cruel to kick a guy when he’s down, but it’s even worse to kick him when he’s dead. Or, most certainly, to bat his head around when it’s attached to a tuna can. We’ll spare you the details that are even more gruesome than what we’ve already described (though if you’re game, read the full story here), but a new book coming out this week reveals some really nasty stuff about the treatment that Ted Williams’ body received when it was cryogenically frozen in Arizona following his death in 2002. The author, Larry Johnson, is no outsider; he’s the former COO of Alcor, the corporation that has the frozen remains of, arguably, baseball’s greatest hitter. Alcor has sued to keep the book from being released. One thing’s for sure: If Johnson’s claims are true, there’s some real sick puppies out there.
Tiger Scratch Fever
Never mind the AL Central race; what’s up with Miguel Cabrera’s face? Before Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Chicago White Soxwhich thrust the Tigers into a flat-out tie with the TwinsCabrera, a prime contender for the AL MVP award, was seen in the clubhouse with a bruise on his cheek and a scratch on his lip. A number of reporters asked Cabrera what happened, because it’s their natural obligation to ask questions. Cabrera was curt at first, then said it was his dog that did the damage. (Hey, wasn’t that O.J. Simpson’s explanation at first, too?) But teammates quickly told the reporters to beat it, and later manager Jim Leyland got testy when asked Cabrera’s face. Which leads us to naturally deduct: If it’s just the dang dog, why is everyone being so sensitive?
Two days later, the story began to emerge. Detroit area police released information stating that Cabrera, after an all-night bout of drinkinghis blood alcohol content was a staggering 0.26, or triple the legal levelcame home to an angry wife that led to a confrontation over a cell phone. Police responded, took Cabrera to a station where he was "uncooperative" and "incoherent," but was not arrested because, as love often dictates, his wife refused to press charges.
A Heck of a Sixth inning
Alex Rodriguez, relatively quiet throughout the 2009 campaign since making noises early on for all the wrong reasons (steroids, hip injury), had not only his best game of the year in the Yankee regular season finale on Sunday at Tampa Bay, but a rather historic one at that on several fronts. His seven RBIsthree on one home run, the other four on a grand slamduring a ten-run Yankee rally in the sixth inning broke an all-time AL record for most RBIs in one inning. Rodriguez’s grand slam also gave him exactly 30 homers and 100 RBIs for the seasonhis 13th season with at least those amounts to set another all-time mark (breaking a record previously co-owned by himself, Jimmie Foxx and Manny Ramirez), and the 12th straight year he had reached those milestones, tying Foxx with yet another record. Finally, A-Rod’s initial blast of the sixth established a Yankee franchise mark for home runs in a season, with 243.
Somehow, He Saved Them
Brian Fuentes set an AL record by recording the most saves in his first year for a new team, with 48 for the Angels. It hasn’t all been rosy for Fuentes, who’s blown seven save opportunities, lost five games and put up a so-so 3.93 ERAbut it’s better than Joe Borowski, the previous record holder; Borowski somehow saved 45 games for Cleveland in 2007 despite a 5.07 ERA.
The Two-Bagger is in His Blood
Brian Roberts’ 56 doubles this season is a major league record for a switch-hitter. It’s the third time that the 31-year old second baseman has produced 50 or more doubles in a season.
Momentum For the Pitcher
The 2009 regular season gave us 11 starting pitchers with earned run averages under 3.00up from eight a year ago, and a definite improvement from 2007when just one pitcher (Jake Peavy, at 2.54) registered a sub-3.00 ERA.
If He Can Just Keep Managing Until 2029...
This past week, St. Louis skipper Tony LaRussa surpassed John McGraw and is now second on the all-time ledger in total games managed, with 4,773. LaRussa, who turned 65 on Sunday, has a long way to go before passing the guy at the top of the list: Connie Mack, who piloted 7,755 games in managing the Philadelphia Athletics from their inception in 1901 all the way to 1950.
One Bad Run After Another
Last week, the Cleveland Indians avoided tying a franchise record for most consecutive losses. But they couldn’t stop from breaking out of another long slump soon enough in the season’s final week, establishing a team record by losing 13 straight on the road. The record was insured with a 6-2 loss at Boston on Friday, breaking the old mark set in 1963 and tied in 1991.
Another Case of Roid Rage?
Former All-Star second baseman and Mitchell Report suspect Chuck Knoblauch was arrested in Houston after his wife claimed he hit and choked her. Perhaps she would have been safer had Knoblauch, who became an outfielder late in his career because he couldn’t throw accurately in the infield, picked up a baseball and pretended she was a first baseman; his throw might have easily missed.
Here’s more evidence of how no two days in MLB are ever the same: Pittsburgh pitcher Charlie Morton, who was rocked for ten runs in an inning-plus at Chicago’s Wrigley Field on August 14, returned to the scene of the crime this past Wednesdayand fired his first career shutout, a four-hit 4-0 win over the Cubs in the first game of a doubleheader.
Missing the Plate
Here’s one reason the Washington Nationals lost 100 games yet again this year: They walked more batters than any other major league teamand struck out the fewest.
Finally Above Water at Sea Level
The Rockies finished the 2009 season with a 41-40 record on the road, the first time they’ve finished over .500 away from Coors Field.
B.J. Upton became the first player in a Tampa Bay uniform to hit for the cycle when he achieved the milestone Friday in the Rays’ 13-4 rout of the Yankees. What made Upton’s cycle all the more impressive was that he had accomplished it by the fifth inningthe first major leaguer to do it that early since 1954. Upton’s feat leaves only two teamsSan Diego and Floridawithout having one of their players hit for the cycle.
Looking Through the Lens of a Clouded Crystal Ball
Who do we think we’ll prevail in October? It’s a tough assignment to take on. As witness to the fact that eight wild card teams have made it to the World Series this decadeand three of them have won itthere’s a deep underscoring that when the postseason starts, all the records in the regular season before it are thrown out.
In the AL, TGG’s Ed Attanasio believes the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will gang up once again for another ALCS showdown between two historic rivalsand the Yankees will progress. TGG’s other half, Eric Gouldsberry, is more skeptical of Boston’s chances; they have pockets of vulnerability for a team that, at season’s start, appeared to have no weaknesses. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have the veteran leadership both on the field and in the manager’s office, and have a strong sense of family after Nick Adenhart’s death to intangibly carry through to the ALCSwhere they have a darn good chance of knocking off the Yankees.
The NL serves up a more confounding set of circumstances; all three divisional winners are stumbling into the postseason with a combined record of 15-23 over the last two weeks of the regular season. Only the Colorado Rockies have the look of a team with momentum right now, and both Eric and Ed agree this will carry them past the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies toward the NLCS; but they also agree that the St. Louis Cardinals, with sage managing, stout pitching and a knockout 1-2 hitting punch of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, will seize the NL flag.
For the Fall Classic, Ed gives it to the regular season’s most deserved: The Yankees. Eric, however, sees a grand send-off for manager Tony LaRussa and pitching coach/pal Dave Duncan, both of whom could very well leave if the Cardinals reign at the World Seriesas Eric expects them do, over the Angels.
But really, the World Series will go to the team that’s hottest in October. And for who that is, no one knows for now.
Let us know what you think by going to our Facebook page.
Precedent for Colorado
For the Colorado Rockies, they enter the 2009 postseason knowing that they have friends in the 2003 Florida Marlins. That year, the Marlins started the year 16-22 for manager Jeff Torborg, who at that point was fired; 72-year old Jack McKeon took over, watched the Marlins lose six of the first eight games he pilotedand then guided a sudden Marlin surge, as Florida went 73-43 for the balance of the regular season, knocked NL West champ San Francisco out in the NLDS, survived a famous (or infamous, if you’re a Cub fan) seven-game NLCS against Chicago and stunned the New York Yankees in the World Series.
This year’s Rockies have remarkable similaritiesso far. After an 18-28 start, the team fired manager Clint Hurdle. His replacement, Jim Tracy, lost four of his first six gamesand then proceeded to go 72-38 the rest of the way. Like the ’03 Marlins, the Rockies enter October as the NL Wild Cardand if they survive the first two series, may come face-to-face with the titanic Yankees in the Fall Classic, assuming all goes as expected in the AL playoffs.
If the Rockies pull it all off and win their first world championshipsomething we opined four years ago would never happenthey’ll have accomplished the second biggest midseason turnaround by a World Series champion, surpassed only by the 1914 Miracle Braves of Boston, who were 16 games below .500 before rampaging to an October triumph over the Philadelphia Athletics.
The 2009 regular season finished without a 20-game winner for only the fifth time in major league history, not including years shortened by work stoppages. The Yankees’ CC Sabathia and the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright each had their chance to secure no. 20 on Friday, but both were denied; Sabathia was stomped all over by the Rays at Tampa Bay, and Wainwrightwho left in the seventh inning with a 6-1 lead and two Milwaukee runners on basehelplessly watched as the St. Louis bullpen completely collapsed and allowed 11 runs to score in three innings. The majors were also without a 20-game winner during a full campaign in 1931, 1983, 1987 and 2006.
More Fat New Yankee Stadium Home Run Factoids
Another home run record that earlier appeared to be in jeopardy at new Yankee Stadiummost blasts hit in one ballpark during a season by both teamsis safe. New Yankee Stadium yielded 237 total home runs, well short of the mark established in 1999 at Denver’s Coors Field when 303 were hit over the fence.
Last week we mentioned that the Yankees set an all-time franchise mark for home runs playing at home. They established a few other marks after completing their home schedule this past week; they homered in 73 games at the new Yankee Stadium, more than any team has accomplished in any season; and home runs were hit in all but one game at the first-year ballpark, setting another standard. The only game without a longball took place on June 18 when the Washington Nationals shut out the Yankees, 3-0.
Keeping Fans on the Edge of Their $4,000 Seats
Of the New York Yankees’ 57 wins at the new Yankee Stadium this season, 15 of them came in their last at-bat.
Having It Both Ways
Cardinal pitcher Chris Carpenter locked down the NL ERA title in Thursday’s 13-0 rout of the Reds, and in the process ruined the ERAs of a few Cincinnati hurlers by knocking in six runs on a double and his first career home runa grand slam. Ironically, his last two RBIs came off Micah Owings, the last pitcher to knock in as many as six in a game when he did it for Arizona on August 18, 2007.
From Automatic to Clutch
A walk-off grand slam by Washington’s Justin Maxwell off New York Met closer Francisco Rodriguez on Wednesday, resulting in a 7-4 victory to cap off an otherwise miserable home schedule for the Nationals, ended a 0-150 stretch when the team had trailed after eight innings.
From Clutch to Automatic
As great a turnaround as it was for the Seattle Mariners84-77 after losing 101 games in 2008it might have been even better this season had it not been for the team’s obvious lack of ability in the clutch: The Mariners hit just .193 with runners in scoring position and two out.
Washington slugger Adam Dunn fell just shy of 40 homers for the season, ending a five-year streak in which he had belted at least 40. The record belongs to Babe Ruth, who hit 40 or more longballs for seven straight years, from 1926-32.
Petco: Good for Animals, Bad for Hitters
If folks in the San Diego organization are trying to convince slugging free agents-to-be that Petco Park is okay for hitters, this nugget didn’t help: The Padres hit a franchise-worst .220 at home this year.
Partying Too Hard at Night?
The Milwaukee Brewers hit .280 during night games this past seasonand .224 during the day. Some blame the glare and tough hitting conditions at Miller Park on a sunny day when the roof is open.
This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Miguel Tejada has six months to sleep and study up on how to knock out a base hit in each of his first 35 games next season and match the great Joe DiMaggio for the longest hitting streak ever. With a fourth-inning double at New York in the Houston Astros’ season finale. Tejada extended his hitting streak to 21, a run that will remain the longest active in the majors when the 2010 regular season commences in April.
Take the TGG All-Time Hit Quiz
How well do you know your knowledge when it comes to baseball’s all-time hit leaders? Here’s 22 questions that will test your trivia know-how.
Coming Soon to TGG
TGG's Ed Attanasio interviews former big league slugger Jim Gentile in our latest installment of They Were There; our review of the 2009 regular season, with a team-by-team profile of the biggest hits, busts and surprises of the year that was; and finally, next week's Weekly Comebacker will reveal our choices for the Best and Worst of the year, as well as our picks for baseball's postseason awards.
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.