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 After all these years, game still surprises

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PostSubject: After all these years, game still surprises   Fri Dec 26, 2008 11:36 am

12/26/08 10:00 AM EST
Baseball's beauty wins out in 2008
After all these years, game still surprises, unifies fans worldwide

By Tom Singer / MLB.com

A year in the life ... 365 days in the continuum. No beginning, no end, an endless loop of memorable moments, around the horn or around the bases, uplifting or demoralizing.

For baseball, 2008 began with repudiation, placed in front of a Congressional inquiry into the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and from there unfolded as a reaffirmation -- of the game's hold, beauty and ability to still charm a complex generation with simple pleasures.

The smell of freshly mowed grass. The crack of barrel meeting ball. The marvel of a body laid out for a web-tip catch. The warmth of sitting between your father and your granddaddy in the cheap seats. The intoxication of walking off in the bottom of the ninth into a mob of teammates hopping at home.

Baseball, after all these years in the life ...

... Still soothing. Temporary escape from everyday agonies.

... Still unifying. From March exhibitions in China to the signing of two pitchers from India in November, the stitches around the world got tighter.

... Still surprising. The Tampa Bay Rays were in the playoffs, and the New York Yankees were not. The Detroit Tigers weren't even in the picture.

We found new heroes (Evan Longoria, Geovany Soto, Brad Ziegler) and lost too many old icons (R.I.P., Bobby Murcer, Herb Score, Dock Ellis).

We fell in love with Josh Hamilton's talents and resolve, strained to retain some faith in Roger Clemens and, yes, missed Barry Bonds. We went from reviling Manny Ramirez in Boston to admiring him in Los Angeles, in the blink of an eye.

Winners came big (CC Sabathia) and small (Tim Lincecum), young (Johnny Cueto) and old (Jamie Moyer). We cringed (Padres), we crowed (Phillies, 2-phor-125 years), we cried (Angels, 100 wins and bust) -- all along amazed that after all these years, it is still flawless.

Greg Maddux said it all on his way out the door:

"The game, it's almost perfect the way it is. This game has been going on now the way it was played 100 years ago. That's the beauty of it."

And it's in the mind's eye of the beholder ...

Turn-styling

• On Sept. 8, the Red Sox play in front of their 456th consecutive sellout, breaking Cleveland's Major League record, and go on to finish the season with an active streak of 469 straight sellouts.

• Thanks to Fenway Park's gradually expanding capacity, the Red Sox set a new attendance record for the ninth straight season and crack 3 million for the first time -- one of 10 clubs to top that figure; 23 of the 30 teams go beyond 2 million.

• MLB posts its second-largest aggregate attendance of 78,614,880 -- a decline of less than a million in a challenging economic climate. But combined with a new Minor League record (43,263,740), more people watch pro ball than ever before.

You mean, somebody actually was taking notes?

• Famed baseball seer Bill James predicts a 5-5 record with a 4.40 ERA for Cliff Lee. (Misses by just a Maxwell Smart inch: Lee goes 22-3, 2.54.)

• Zack Greinke finishes off the Royals' season-opening sweep of top-billed Detroit and declares, "That's not going to happen too many times to that team. They might not have another stretch like that all year." (The Tigers have 11 losing streaks of three-plus on their way to the American League Central basement.)

• Cole Hamels pitches the Phillies over the Red Sox in a June 16 Interleague game, then predicts, "I believe we're destined to play each other in the World Series." (Close. Destiny isn't sidetracked until Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.)

K-rations

• On July 12, Jack Cust fans in his 19th straight game, an A's record for non-pitchers.

• The D-backs save a bundle on Chase Field air-conditioning the last two months of the season after a trade unites noted whiff-meister Adam Dunn with Mark Reynolds (204 strikeouts) and Chris Young (165) -- whose combined 369 strikeouts are the most ever by teammates.

I didn't even know there was a record for that

• Oakland rookie reliever Ziegler goes 512 pitches, 74 days and 39 1/3 innings before allowing his first run -- blowing by George McQuillan's record of 25 scoreless innings at the start of a career with the 1907 Phillies.

• On June 15, Jacoby Ellsbury steals two bases to jack his total to 33 -- breaking the century-old Boston rookie record of 31 set by Amby McConnell, with 90 games remaining.

• On July 30, Indians catcher Kelly Shoppach matches the MLB record with five extra-base hits against the Tigers, two home runs and three doubles.

• The Marlins slash their way to the Majors' first all-25-homer infield of shortstop Hanley Ramirez (33), second baseman Dan Uggla and first baseman Mike Jacobs (32 each), and third baseman Jorge Cantu (29); the Fish quartet's 126 knocks top the team totals of seven other clubs.

• Ichiro Suzuki banks his eighth consecutive 200-hit season on Sept. 17, breaking Wade Boggs' AL record and matching the Major League record of "Wee" Willie Keeler, whose streak began in 1894.

Spoken

• "Tell you what, it doesn't stink." -- Jhonny Gomes, describing life with the Tampa Bay Rays on May 13, minutes after scoring the 11th-inning run that beat the Yankees and leapfrogged the Rays over Boston into the AL East lead.

• "I don't know who the heck you are, but nice hitting." -- Tampa Bay senior baseball advisor Don Zimmer to Don Johnson, who capped his first day in a Rays uniform with a crucial ninth-inning pinch homer out of Fenway Park off Jonathan Papelbon on Sept. 9.

• "I'm like his mini-me." -- 270-pound Prince Fielder on 290-pound Brewers teammate Sabathia.

• "At least the guy stayed for eight innings." -- San Francisco reliever Tyler Walker, complimenting the fan who was arrested for invading the Giants' dugout in the ninth inning of their July 28 game in Dodger Stadium.

• "I mean, the organization tried the Greek priest. I don't know what else I can do." -- Lou Piniella, after another 0-for-Cubs postseason, even after team brass recruited a Greek Orthodox priest to sprinkle holy water in their Wrigley Field dugout.

• "I think when we're all old and retired and we come back and they still stand up and give us a standing ovation, just like they did to all the guys of the 1980 World Series." -- World Series MVP Hamels, on when the magnitude of winning Philadelphia's second Classic will sink in.

• "With the economy being the way it is ... the huge amount of money, it was, you know, pretty crazy. But that's our game, I guess." -- Sabathia, contemplating his $161 million Bronx bonanza.

Man bites dog

• On May 13, Hank Steinbrenner urges the Yankees to "start playing the way the Rays are playing."

• Tony Pena Jr., a Royals reserve infielder, pitches a perfect ninth inning against the Tigers on July 21, spicing it with a strikeout of Ivan Rodriguez.

• San Francisco's outfield transition from (Barry) Bonds to Aaron (Rowand) is especially confounding to Giants TV announcers Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper, who spend the first two innings of the Aug. 9 game referring to their center fielder as Scott Rowand. In 2007, of course, Bonds broke Hank Scott's record for career homers.

Top cliches of 2008

• "For the first time in Rays history ..." They seemed to set new standards daily on their way to 27 more wins than ever before.

• "Bullpen unable to hold lead; Mets fall." It was unable 29 times.

• "Manny being Manny." But, suddenly, it went from cute to galling.

Ripley's File

• From June 4 to June 7, the Padres won four consecutive games by the same 2-1 score.

• Preacher Roe, the storybook left-hander, passes away on Nov. 9. Four days later, left-hander Lee is awarded the 2008 AL Cy Young Award for his 22-3 record. Roe (1951) is the only other pitcher in history to have gone precisely 22-3.

• On Nov. 11, the A's acquire outfielder Matt Holliday for, among others, reliever Huston Street. Matt's father, Tim, was Street's pitching coach at the University of Texas in 2004.

Amazing comebacks, team division
For 2 1/2 weeks in July, there was something weird in the bullpen water coolers:

• July 3, the D-backs erupt for six in the bottom of the ninth for a 6-5 win over Milwaukee.
• July 4, the Rockies are nine down to Florida by the fourth and rage back for an 18-17 win.
• July 12, the Pirates trail 10-4 going to the bottom of the eighth and rally to stun the Cardinals, 12-11, in 10.
• July 20, the Dodgers score five in the top of the ninth for a 6-5 win at Arizona.
• July 22, the Phillies jump the Mets for six in the ninth and an 8-6 steal in Shea Stadium.

Amazing comebacks, personal division

• Johnson & Johnson ... & Johnson: On July 29, the Dodgers' Jason Johnson picks up his first win since May 28, 2006, a span of 587 days; the next day, the Marlins' Josh Johnson picks up his first win since Aug. 28, 2006, a span of 498 days; on Sept. 12, St. Louis catcher Mark Johnson knocks his first hit since Sept. 28, 2004 -- a span of 1,444 days.

• On April 6, Milwaukee's Ben Sheets records his first shutout since May 29, 2001; the 2,868 days between blankings was believed to be a record.

• On June 15, the Mets' Robinson Cancel delivers a pinch-hit single in the sixth inning against the Rangers. It is the 32-year-old Puerto Rican catcher's first big league hit since a seventh-inning single for the Brewers on Sept. 21, 1999, a span of 3,188 days.

Haley's Comets

• On Sept. 28, Lincecum notches his first nine outs against the Dodgers on strikeouts, the first to do that since the Mets' Sid Fernandez on July 30, 1986, against the Cubs.

• On Aug. 12, the Rangers' Scott Feldman allows 12 runs to the Red Sox -- but avoids losing. He is the first big league pitcher to absorb so much damage without a loss since St. Louis' Gene Packard gave up 12 runs to the Phillies on Aug. 3, 1918 -- and beat them 16-12.

• On Sept. 1, Arizona's Stephen Drew -- against the Cardinals -- and the Mariners' Adrian Beltre -- against the Rangers -- become the first players to hit for the cycle on the same day since Sept. 17, 1920, when Detroit's Bobby Veach cycled against Boston and the N.Y. Giants' George Burns did it against the Pirates.

Men will be boys

• Ken Griffey Jr. makes good on a lost wager with pitcher Josh Fogg and promptly covers the $1,500 debt ... in pennies, 150,000 of them, 960 pounds' worth. Says Fogg, who had fallen out of the Reds' rotation and was serving mop-up penance in the bullpen, "I'm going to take them out to the bullpen and count them. I've got a lot of time on my hands out there."

• On July 27, Randy Johnson, whose fastball used to stop men's hearts, delivers the ultimate changeup: a first-inning pitch to the Giants' Fred Lewis that is too slow to trigger the AT&T Park radar gun. After taking the pitch for a strike, Lewis figured "it was a purpose pitch. It kind of shocked me."

• Early in the season, Jason Giambi reveals to have a pet slump-buster -- a gold lame thong -- which has been known to make its way around the Yankees clubhouse. Take it from Derek Jeter, wearing it makes it "so uncomfortable running around the bases."

When pigs fly ...

• On May 12, Indians lefty Lee takes an ERA of 0.81 into his seventh start of the season -- and lowers it to 0.67 by shutting out the Blue Jays.

• Headline in the May 27 edition of the Tampa Tribune: "Rays are best in baseball"

• On Sept. 4, Sean Rodriguez of the Angels strikes out on a 4-and-2 pitch from the Tigers' Aquilino Lopez; plate umpire Tim Welke apparently had a clicker glitch.

• On Sept. 5, in the eighth inning of their game in Baltimore, the A's score eight runs on one hit, a grand slam by Rajai Davis, who enters the game as a pinch-runner after Cust draws a leadoff walk. Five more walks, four with the bases loaded, and a hit batter ensue.

• Stories of the Giants' Aug. 24 victory over San Diego note that Bengie Molina "finished a triple shy of his first cycle." Nobody saw that coming, except maybe the scouts who time the burly catcher down the line with a calendar.

Clippings

• Jeff Schultz, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, on yet-another setback for the Braves' hapless left-hander: "If you're [Mike] Hampton, what's keeping you from throwing in the towel? I mean, except maybe the fear of a torn rotator cuff."

• Sept. 26 headline in the Los Angeles Times: "Man accused of posing as Dodger on field." (No, the suspect was not Andruw Jones.)

• Bob Verdi, Chicago Tribune, nominated Maddux as the top pitcher of his generation over "Roger Clemens, who generally held that designation until his body of work gave way to suspicions about work on his body. "

Numbers

• On June 24, the San Diego Union-Tribune declares that the Padres "are on pace to win 67 games and lose 85." A search party is immediately dispatched for the missing 10 games.

• No one seemed to make the connection previously, but Francisco Rodriguez -- No. 57 on your Angels scorecard -- fulfilled his uniform's destiny by tying Bobby Thigpen's record with his 57th save on Sept. 11.

• Joe Girardi's uniform lacked the same karma, after the Yanks' new manager chose No. 27 as a daily reminder of the Bombers' next World Series title. Still 26 and holding.

Here's to you, Moonlight Graham
A toast to the ephemeral Major Leaguer immortalized in "Field of Dreams:"

• Braves lefty Francisley Bueno ends his big league debut on Aug. 13 by buzzing an 0-and-1 heater behind Alfonso Soriano's head -- he is ejected, suspended for three games, not seen again. Not so bueno.

Names

• In early April, a red-tailed hawk nesting at Fenway Park swoops down and takes a bite out of the scalp of an eighth-grader on a school tour -- Alexa Rodriguez. (Red Sox fan Stephen King immediately takes out an option on her story.)

• On Aug. 12, Charlie Zink starts for the Red Sox against the Rangers and is replaced in the fifth by David Aardsma -- the first A-to-Z Boston teammates to appear in the same game since June 2, 1955 (Harry Agganis and Norm Zauchin), but the first A-to-Z pitching tandem to ever appear in the same game for the Red Sox. Paul Adams and Paul Zahniser did once pitch for the Sox on the same day, in the opposite ends of a Sept. 22, 1925, doubleheader against the Tigers.

• Scott Oki, a former Microsoft executive and prominent Seattle philanthropist, ties a nice ribbon around another progressive year for both baseball and mankind when the Mariners choose a new manager days after the country chose a new president: "The first African-American elected President of the United States, and now the first Japanese-American manager in Major League Baseball. Both are great picks. I trust Don Wakamatsu brings a similar work ethic and passion for the game."

Amen ... first the Inauguration, then pitchers and catchers, and we'll be into another year, another 365.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


“It takes pitching, hitting and defense. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable.”    
–Joe Garagiola
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PostSubject: Re: After all these years, game still surprises   Fri Dec 26, 2008 2:02 pm

Quote :
"At least the guy stayed for eight innings." -- San Francisco reliever Tyler Walker, complimenting the fan who was arrested for invading the Giants' dugout in the ninth inning of their July 28 game in Dodger Stadium.

LMAO :haha:


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PostSubject: Re: After all these years, game still surprises   Fri Dec 26, 2008 4:53 pm

I liked:

Quote :
• On Sept. 4, Sean Rodriguez of the Angels strikes out on a 4-and-2 pitch from the Tigers' Aquilino Lopez; plate umpire Tim Welke apparently had a clicker glitch.

whistle


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PostSubject: Re: After all these years, game still surprises   Fri Dec 26, 2008 4:59 pm

And this is just plain sad...

Quote :
• Tony Pena Jr., a Royals reserve infielder, pitches a perfect ninth inning against the Tigers on July 21, spicing it with a strikeout of Ivan Rodriguez.

A perfect 9th pitched against the Tigers... by a reserve infielder!


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PostSubject: Re: After all these years, game still surprises   Fri Dec 26, 2008 7:49 pm

GoGetEmTigers wrote:
And this is just plain sad...

Quote :
• Tony Pena Jr., a Royals reserve infielder, pitches a perfect ninth inning against the Tigers on July 21, spicing it with a strikeout of Ivan Rodriguez.

A perfect 9th pitched against the Tigers... by a reserve infielder!

:puke2:

The first quote I quoted is still my favorite. I about died laughing reading it. He's got a point. Going to a game at Dodger Stadium should be on everyone's must-do list. Sure, the stadium is awful and expensive but until you see it for yourself you'll never believe how long it takes to fill up (the stadium is always near capacity but you'd never know it until the 4th inning) and how fast it empties - the place is half empty by the 7th inning and almost completely empty by the 9th.


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