Friday, September 10, 2010
Troy Tulowitzki and Rockies on a roll
By Jayson Stark
There's nothing like a good September stretch drive to work up a guy's appetite. So it's time once again to hand out the Generic Sandwich Awards, still unsponsored by any sandwich shops near you.
But before I salute the most sandwich-worthy feats of the week, grab a toothpick, because there's always room for the ...
Munchies of the Week
Historic Parallel Dept.: No team ever wants to learn it's the "first since the 1964 Phillies" to do anything. But the bad news for the Padres is that since 1900, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, they're the only team besides those infamous '64 Phillies to tumble through a 10-game losing streak that started with their team in first place this late in a season. The good news is that at least the Padres were still in first at the end of the streak. Which is more than those poor Phillies (who held exactly the same size lead at the start of their streak -- 6.5 games) could say after one of the most disastrous collapses of all time.
One more thing: Before those two clubs, according to Elias, the previous first-place team to have a double-digit losing streak that spilled into any part of September was an 11-gamer by Farmer Vaughn's 1896 Cincinnati Reds. That team careened all the way from first place to third in its final 28 games -- and finished 12 games out. Yikes.
Sweep revenge: On the other hand, after losing those 10 in a row, the Padres turned right around and swept the Dodgers. Now you might think it's rare for a team coming off a double-digit losing streak to sweep its next series, right? Guess again. To find the last team to do it, Elias reports that you have to go all the way back to ... well, last year, when the Indians lost 11 straight and then swept the Orioles in September.
Still rockin': Had a bunch of e-mails this week from Rockies fans saying I'm not giving Ubaldo Jimenez enough Cy Young love. OK, how's this for love? Bronson Arroyo gave up almost as many home runs at Coors Field in 4 1/3 innings Wednesday (three) as Jimenez has allowed at Coors all season (four). And the great Ubaldo hasn't served up any home runs at home since July 3. He's faced 185 hitters at Coors since his last long ball. Unbelievable feat.
Box this up: Our box-score-line-of-the-week non-trophy goes to Gavin Floyd of the White Sox, for this fascinating line Thursday in Detroit: 6 IP, 13 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 0 extra-base hits. Claim to fame: Floyd was the first pitcher in nine years, and only the fourth in the last 24 years, to give up that many singles in a game but no extra-base hits. Last to do it: James Baldwin on Aug. 29, 2001.
Alas (and I just love saying "alas"), if Floyd had allowed only one more single, he'd have been just the second pitcher since the 1930s to give up 14 singles but no doubles, triples or homers. The only 14-hitter like that since 1937: Tom Poholsky, for the Cardinals, on Aug. 3, 1956.
The story of O: How has that Roy Oswalt trade worked out in Philadelphia? The Phillies have won seven straight games Oswalt has started. That's how. To find the last time a team won that many in a row after trading for a pitcher in midseason, you have to go back to the CC Sabathia (Brewers) and Rich Harden (Cubs) trades in July 2008.
One on one: It isn't often you see a pitching matchup like the duel last Sunday in Pittsburgh: Jason Marquis (1-7) versus Charlie Morton (1-10). The last mano a mano between two starters who were both 1-7 or worse entering the game: June 20, 2006, in a Braves-Blue Jays interleague tussle matching Jorge Sosa (1-9) versus Josh Towers (1-8) in a dramatic battle of Cy Yuk candidates.
Hit parade: Forgot to get to this last week, after sweet-swinging Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda finally got his first hit of the season -- off Roy Halladay of all people. Kuroda kicked off his season by going a spiffy 0-for-45 at the plate. And according to baseball-reference.com's phenomenal Play Index, that made him just the fourth pitcher to start a season with an 0-for-45 streak (or worse) since Bob Buhl finished off his historic 0-for-70 season in 1962. The others: Bill Hands (0-for-56) in 1972, Dean Chance (0-for-53) in 1967 and Ron Herbel (0-for-47) in 1964.
Marmol-ade: Time for the Carlos Marmol note of the week. As loyal reader Robert Seaman reports, the action-packed Cubs closer actually had a 1-2-3 inning Monday that didn't include either a walk or a strikeout. Well, it's not as if he's never had one of those. Heck, he had one as recently as, uh, 104 appearances ago -- on June 29, 2009.
Chapstick: And now your Aroldis Chapman note of the week: Chapman has now launched 71 pitches since arriving in the big leagues. According to the Reds, 37 of them have been clocked at 100 miles per hour or higher. You know how many other pitches all the other left-handed pitchers in the big leagues have thrown combined that hit triple digits this year? Exactly three, says Pitch f/x: two by Phil Coke, one by Chris Sale.
Debut of the week: 33-year-old Dodgers rookie John Lindsey is one of the best stories in baseball. So it was almost fitting that, after 16 years in the minor leagues, his big league debut Wednesday turned out to be what my buddy Doug Glanville used to call an "invisible appearance."
Lindsey was sent up to pinch-hit for Scott Podsednik -- but the Padres then changed pitchers, so he was pinch-hit for by Andre Ethier without ever seeing a pitch. Only in baseball could this be considered a "game played." But since it was, that was John Lindsey's first game in the big leagues -- an exercise in invisibility.
According to Elias, he was the first player to make an "invisible" debut since Cody McKay did it for the A's on Sept. 22, 2002. And Retrosheet's Dave Smith reports Lindsey was just the 20th position player in the live-ball era to do it. But the most fun question of all was posed by loyal reader Joel Rondeau, who asked if Lindsey was the oldest player to pull this off.
And the answer is: Yes -- by four years. He was 33 years, 221 days old for his invisible debut. Next-oldest in the live-ball era: Bob Ramazzotti, who was 29 years, 94 days old, for the biggest invisible moment of his career in 1946.
Hits optional: OK, one more munchie, courtesy of loyal reader Evan Jones. He watched the Orioles rack up all four runs they scored Monday in Yankee Stadium via plays on which they made an out. Then he wondered: How rare is that? The answer, according to Elias: The Orioles were the first team to do it since the Angels scored four against Texas on Sept. 27, 2008, on three groundouts and a sacrifice fly. So the moral is: Outs are good -- sometimes.
And now, the Sandwich Awards envelopes please ...
The On a Roll Award
The Sandwich Awards Committee has now handed out two of these awards in September -- both of them to Rockies. I think that tells us something. In fact, I might need to check sometime to see if a non-Rockie has ever won this thing in September.
At any rate, it was Carlos Gonzalez's sandwich to chomp on last week. It's Troy Tulowitzki's turn this week. As if I had any other real choice.
Tulo got 10 hits over the last seven days. Precisely one of them was a measly single. The others worked out to six homers, two doubles and a triple. So no wonder the Rockies never lose. Their shortstop is en fuego -- and he isn't even the hottest hitter in his own lineup.
"He's such a competitive guy," says one NL scout, "that I really think he sees one of his teammates (i.e., "Cargo") doing what he's doing, and he takes it as a challenge. And for me, that's the best part about Tulowitzki. He doesn't want anyone to be better than him on the other team, so why would he want anyone to be better than him on his own team? And when I say that, I mean it as a compliment. I love how competitive this guy is."
It's a little too simple to say that as Tulo goes, the Rockies go, considering he has a teammate who might win the MVP award. But how about these stats: The last time the Rockies lost a game in which Tulowitzki got an extra-base hit was Aug. 21. (They're 8-0 in those games since.) And the last time they lost a game in which he homered was June 15. (They're 9-0 since, and 15-2 for the season when he makes a trot.)
That, friends, is the kind of stuff that makes a guy eminently sandwich-worthy. And he had to be, considering this week's runners-up: Carl Crawford (12-for-24, with four doubles and two triples), Logan Morrison (11-for-25, with five doubles, three triples, seven walks and only three strikeouts -- while playing with a shiner under his eye) and Jim Thome (5-for-10 -- with four homers and a double).
The Cold Cuts Award
You want to root for Rick Ankiel. If he could ever figure out a way to complete the journey from power arm to power bat, we'd have a mini-Bambino tale on our hands. But the Sandwich Awards Committee is seeking a temporary restraining order banning the telling of that tale this week.
Why? Because the Braves center fielder is going through one of those stretches where he's hitting like, well, a pitcher. I can sum up his last nine at-bats this way:
0 for 9.
With nine strikeouts.
First, a little historical perspective: He'd need to whiff in his next six at-bats to equal Mike Thurman's all-time record. But Thurman was a pitcher. So what's the record for a non-pitcher? Fortunately for Ankiel, nobody keeps it.
Ah, but our favorite streak guru, Trent McCotter, has tracked it over the last 60 seasons. And he reports Ankiel is just two K's away from the post-1950 Special K record of 11 in a row, which is shared by Bill Melton (1970) and Steve (Bye-Bye) Balboni in 1984.
Now obviously, Ankiel is a better hitter than this. Nevertheless, this Punchout Parade isn't what you'd call a real promising sign, either.
"You just can't live with a guy who strikes out this much," says one scout. "And he makes no adjustments at all with men in scoring position. Early on, you could maybe forgive the strikeouts because at least he had power. Now, he just leaves too many holes for the pitcher to attack ... And time is running out."
Yeah, sure is, since Ankiel is now 31. But then again, at least it's never too late for a sandwich.
Other September cold-cutters: Todd Helton (1-for-22 in September, with 7 K's), Andres Torres (3-for-22, with 12 whiffs), Andre Ethier (4-for-25, with 10 K's).
The Super Sub Award
Isn't it amazing how one mad scramble down the third-base line can vault a guy from total anonymity to the lead story on SportsCenter -- not to mention right here into the winner's circle at International Sandwich Award Headquarters?
Well, meet Chris Nelson, of those (here they come again) Colorado Rockies.
He never batted Thursday in the Rockies' game against the Reds. And he never wore a glove, either. But what he did do was change a game -- and maybe the shape of three different September races (NL West, NL Central, NL wild card).
What Nelson really did was pull off one of the most unforgettable pinch-running appearances of modern times -- when he stunned the planet (and the Reds) with a straight steal of home. To score the winning run. In the eighth inning. For the first stolen base of his career.
Asked afterward, by the Denver Post's Troy Renck, what his teammates said to him afterward, Nelson replied: "The guys told me I was fast -- and 'Good job.'"
So how amazing is it that this is a man who stole exactly seven bases all season in the minor leagues? And five the year before that? And six the season before that? And how mind-bamboozling is it that he said he'd never stolen home in his life -- anywhere?
I'll let other folks debate the role that oblivious Reds reliever Nick Masset played in allowing this heist. It's my job to try to give you a feel for how unprecedented this is.
Last player whose first career steal was a straight steal of home: Mike DiFelice (a CATCHER), for the Cardinals, on April 17, 1997.
Last player to steal home with the go-ahead run in the eighth inning or later: Omar Vizquel, for the Indians, on May 27, 2003.
Last time any player stole home in a game where he didn't bat or play the field: June 11, 1985, when Gary Pettis pinch-ran for the Angels and did it.
But now the kicker: Has anyone ever pulled off a straight steal of home, that late in a game, to score the winning run -- for the first SB of his career? Well, not in the last half-century -- not that anyone I know can find, anyway.
Loyal reader Trent McCotter combed through the Retrosheet files back through 1954. The only other player who even came close was former Molina-esque Cardinals catcher Glenn Brummer, whose second career steal was a legendary 12th-inning "swipe-off" (with the bases loaded) to beat the Giants on Aug. 22, 1982.
But nobody had ever done what Chris Nelson did Thursday. So you know what means: Give that man a sandwich!