The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: October 4-10, 2010
Doctober in Philly The 2010 Season: It's Not 1968 All Over Again
Another Early Frost in Minnesota Will the Umps Ever Get it Right?

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Baseball's Ten Most Memroable Home Runs
Our list of ten long balls that are the most deserving for their fame, importance and pure spectacle. Check it out now!

After Further Review: Making the Right Call on Replay
As baseball struggles to grasp video replay, here's a suggestion on how to expand upon it and make it efficient—if not flawless. Check it out now!

A Postseason Baptism to Remember
Two of the game’s best pitchers threw for the first time in a postseason game this past week and delivered with some of their absolute best stuff, ever.

In San Francisco, Tim Lincecum completely flustered the Atlanta Braves in Game One of the NLDS, firing a two-hit shutout with 14 strikeouts; what was amazing was the number of times Atlanta hitters swung and missed at Lincecum’s pitches. It was utter dominance for a pitcher who just a month ago was coming out of the worst funk of his short career.

But the bigger headlines were deservedly afforded to the masterpiece delivered by Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay, who made his playoff debut a historic one with baseball’s first postseason no-hitter since Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956. It was the season’s second no-no for Halladay, who pitched a perfect game against Florida on May 29; his only blemish on the day was a fifth-inning walk to Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce. The final out didn’t come easy for Halladay; catcher Carlos Ruiz had to rush out in front of home plate and ignore the discarded bat of Brandon Phillips to pick up the ball and fire to first, barely retiring the speedy Cincinnati second baseman.

None and Done
A couple of weeks ago, we were signing the unheralded praises of Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire, suggesting that the only way he would ever get his overdue glory on a national stage was by winning some postseason games. Didn’t happen. The Twins were once again swept in the ALDS by the New York Yankees, who won their first postseason series as a wild card—proving that the Bronx Bombers still have some firsts left in them.

But back to the Twins, whose bitter loss was especially tough to take, given their self-promotion to the big time with a new ballpark and $100 million payroll. They have now lost 12 straight postseason games, an all-time record; what stings more, they’ve led at some point in eight of those losses. And in this particular playoff series, a severe lack of clutch hitting killed the Twins; they were 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position until late in Game Three, when Denard Span finally brought home a run after the Yankees had built up a 6-0 lead.

The Departed
This is how far Barry Zito has fallen for the San Francisco Giants: The high-priced pitcher was left off the NLDS playoff roster against Atlanta. Zito’s lousy finish to the regular season—a 1-8 record and 6.80 ERA in his final ten starts—is much to blame.

At least Zito took the demotion in stride; the same could not be said for Tampa Bay catcher Dioner Navarro, a former All-Star whose decline prompted the Rays to knock him off the ALDS roster against Texas. An angry Navarro basically told the Rays to drop dead, refusing to be available even if the team came calling for a replacement down the line.

Close, But Still No Sellout Cigar
Congrats to the Tampa Bay Rays for nearly filling up Tropicana Field for the first two games of the ALDS against Texas. The attendance for both games came to within some 500 tickets of being sold out, while SRO crowds dominated at other playoff venues—even in Atlanta, which last decade hosted NLDS games with whole sections in the top deck unoccupied.

A Splendid Splinter of an Idea
The Minnesota Twins partnered with Minnesota State Parks and Trails this season for a program called “Break a Bat, Plant a Tree” in which 100 new trees would be planted every time a Minnesota player broke a bat. Question: Do the Twins have a similar program for every heart they break in the state of Minnesota?

At season’s end, reports ran rampant that manager Jerry Manuel and general manager Omar Minaya would be served with their walking papers—but beyond that, the Mets have bigger problems, with some clubhouse dissension, definite tension between players and management, fighting between players and relatives (Francisco Rodriguez), an owner likely still reeling from the loss of mega-millions from Bernie Madoff and, as referenced earlier, a new ballpark in a major metropolis that’s far from filled on a daily basis.

Remember that crying kid splashed across the daily New York tabloids after watching the Mets give away a postseason spot on the season’s final day in 2007? He’s probably a Yankee fan now.

Think About It, Kids
For those ballplayers who keep hearing the sacred-straight messaging on the evils of chewing tobacco, here’s another reference they may pay heed to: Tony Gwynn. The 50-year old Hall-of-Famer revealed this past week that he has cancer of the salivary gland, likely due to his use of chew during his playing days. Gwynn now faces up to eight weeks of chemotherapy.

Does Z Have AAA?
Chicago pitcher Carlos Zambrano had a fitting finish to his turbulent 2010 season; he was involved in a car accident while leaving Wrigley Field after the Cubs’ final game of the season. Zambrano is said to be okay, but the car was reported to be “significantly damaged.”

Now Playing at TGG
Check out the latest installment of They Were There, with TGG's Ed Attanasio chatting with former speed burner Maury Wills.

The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.

An Overstated Pitch
Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: This 2010 season is not the “Year of the Pitcher.” The American League did not hit a collective .230. No-hitters were not thrown on back-to-back days. Six pitchers did not have ERAs below 2.00. More than two teams hit above .250. More than one American Leaguer hit above .300. More than three major leaguers knocked in over 100 runs.

Most of the facts referenced above refer to the true Year of the Pitcher, which took place in 1968.

What 2010 should accurately be remembered as is the “Year of the Return of the Pitcher.” The .257 batting average recorded in the majors this year was the lowest since 1992; and just in comparison to last year, scoring dropped 5%, home runs dipped by 8% and the number of shutouts jumped a whopping 22% to 350. The intensive policing of steroids and amphetamines have surely helped, and after nearly two decades in which a manipulative brand of offensive baseball prevailed, it’s good to see true balance returning between the plate and the mound. So while it’s been a very good year for the pitcher, it's nowhere close to 1968.

If It's October, It Must Be Blown Calls
After last year’s disastrous postseason showing by major league umpires, baseball was crossing its fingers that a repeat performance wouldn’t take hold this October.

Sorry, Bud, but it’s déjà vu all over again.

From a “trapped” catch by Yankee outfielder Greg Golson, to a questionable safe call on Buster Posey’s pivotal stolen base, to a critical non-strike call in Minnesota, to hit batsmen not being called (Carlos Pena) and hit batsmen being called—how exactly does Chase Utley emerge painless after being hit by an Aroldis Chapman 100+ MPH pitch?—the arbiters in blue again found themselves front and center in the media over a big batch of bad and questionable calls as the playoffs rolled into gear this past week.

The missed calls weren’t as obvious as what we saw during last year’s embarrassing display by the umps, and it does underscores the fact that every such bad call is heightened and magnified by the media as every pitch, every play counts in October. Still, this is all bound to bring renewed pressure upon the commissioner’s office to expand instant replay. Here again is our solution to the problem.

In perhaps a related story, the players’ union has asked for and will meet with umpires after the season to discuss what is said to be “deteriorating” conditions between the two parties on the field. The meeting, set to take place on December 3, will be overseen by MLB.

TBS. Very Unfunny.
About the only group of folks performing worse than the umpires, the Twins and Brooks Conrad this past week were the TBS broadcasting teams. Especially embarrassing was Ernie Johnson, whose terrific in-studio hosting abilities didn’t translate well to the TV booth doing play-by-play for the New York-Minnesota series. During Curtis Granderson’s two-run, go-ahead triple in Game One, Johnson’s lack of attention made us wonder if he was instead checking out his Blackberry to get an update on the Miami Heat’s first exhibition game; he hardly reacted to the high fly ball hitting the wall, and when Jorge Posada rumbled home with the go-ahead run, Johnson finally popped to life by declaring, “This game is tied!” (Kudos to TGG friend Bill Friday for allowing us to steal the funny “unfunny” caption.)

Scrupulous to a Fault
When Pat Burrell was released by Tampa Bay back in May, San Diego owner Jeff Moorad thought highly of bringing him to the Padres—but his front office staff, led by general manager Jed Hoyer, didn’t want to. Moorad deferred to Hoyer not so much out of respect for the GM’s knowledge, but because he feared it would have come off as favoritism towards Burrell, who was once a client of former player agent Moorad. In retrospect, Moorad now wishes he had screwed his ethos and overruled Hoyer; Burrell signed with divisional rival San Francisco and hit .281 with three doubles and a home run in ten games against the Padres, who lost the NL West to the Giants by a single game.

The Patriots Are Coming! The Patriots Are Coming!
New England Sports Ventures, which owns the Boston Red Sox, announced this week that it is planning to buy soccer’s troubled English Premier League side Liverpool for $476 million. However, the process will likely go through turbulence as there’s the issue of Liverpool’s lingering debt ($450 million, in fact) and the proposed sale is also being protested by its current owners, who include Tom Hicks—no stranger to debt after driving the Texas Rangers into bankruptcy earlier this year. Also complicating matters: If the debt issue isn’t resolved, the EPL is threatening to penalize Liverpool nine points (or three wins) in the standings, which could ultimately relegate the squad to the less prestigious Championship League—English soccer’s version of Triple-A—and scare NESV away from buying the team.

Buy a Piece of Infamy
The severed barrel of an illegal corked bat used by Sammy Sosa—which led to a seven-game suspension for the former Chicago Cub slugger in 2003—is being put up for auction. The barrel has been held onto by Cub reliever Mike Remlinger, who initially saw it lying around unnoticed in the clubhouse corridor; he was going to trash it, but never did. The starting bid price will be $750, bit the auctioneers in charge hope it will fetch up to $10,000. Sosa claims he used the bat only for batting practice but accidentally used it during a June 3 game against Tampa Bay; a review of his other bats at the time revealed no cork.