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Thursday, August 27, 2009
Three Strikes: Break up the Rockies edition

By Jayson Stark


STRIKE ONE -- CAN'T STOP THE ROCK DEPT.


I was talking about those rampaging Colorado Rockies this week with an executive of another club. And he got me thinking when he uttered these words:

"No one does this."

Colorado Rockies

Does what, you ask? Run off a 2.5-month stretch in which your team goes 30 -- yep, 30 -- games over .500. That's what.

But the Rockies did. From June 3 until their loss to the Dodgers on Wednesday, the Rockies went an insane 52-22. And folks, those 52-22 streaks don't come along every year. Here's just how rare they are:



• It's the first 52-22 blitz by any team since 2006 (Tigers and Twins).

• It's the first by any National League team since 2004 (Cardinals and Braves).

• Seven different franchises -- the Angels (49 seasons), Astros (48 seasons), Padres (41 seasons), Rangers/Senators (41 seasons), Blue Jays (33 seasons), Marlins (17 seasons) and Rays (12 seasons) -- have never had a 74-game stretch like that at any point in team history. Ever.

• The Cubs haven't had one since 1945.

• The Dodgers haven't had one since 1962.

• Four teams -- the Reds (1975), Phillies (1977), Royals (1977) and Red Sox (1978) -- haven't had one in more than 30 years. And all four have won at least one World Series since then.

• Two other teams -- the Orioles and White Sox -- haven't had a stretch like that in more than 25 years. The last time both did it was 1983, the year they met in the ALCS.

So that's 18 of the 30 teams in baseball. They've all gone more than a quarter-century without getting as hot, for as long, as the Rockies have been since June 3.

We should probably mention that none of the past 13 teams to have a run like that won the World Series. (The '98 Yankees were the last team to do it.) But that doesn't mean it isn't the most remarkable stretch of baseball we've witnessed all season -- from anybody.

STRIKE TWO -- BEGINNING-TO-END DEPT.


In the last edition of Three Strikes, I tried my best to determine whether any team in history had ever done what the Mets did Sunday -- have its first hitter of a game (Angel Pagan) hit an inside-the-park homer and have its last hitter of the game (Jeff Francoeur) hit into a game-ending triple play.

New York Mets

I made it all the way back to 1936, then ran out of resources to keep going. Fortunately, the Sultan of Swat Stats, SABR home run historian David Vincent, came to the rescue. He passed along a list of every leadoff inside-the-park homer in history. And by double-checking that list with SABR's game-ending-triple-play list, I can now make this dramatic announcement:

The Mets are the first team in the history of baseball to lead off the first inning of any game with an inside-the-park homer and then end the same game with a triple play.

The fact that it happened to be an unassisted triple play just adds to the bizarre legacy of the '09 Mets. If it could be done, they were the team to do it.

STRIKE THREE -- UTTTER USELESSNESS DEPT.


In other news this week ...

Justin Verlander

Verlander





• According to ESPN's sensational research department, Justin Verlander is going to hit an amazing round number in his next start. He leads the majors in accumulating swings and misses, with 366. He also leads the majors in pitches fouled off, with 626. So that means he's six fruitless hacks away from this astounding stat:

He'll have thrown 1,000 pitches this year that the poor hitters out there swung at but didn't put in play. (For the record, he's fired 2,967 pitches in all.) Anyone else out there find that as mind-boggling as I did?

• If you didn't (ahem) "catch" the debut of Colorado rookie Eric Young Jr., the son of ESPN's own Eric Young, well, that means you obviously weren't playing against him. As loyal reader (and editor) Nick Pietruszkiewicz reports, Young managed to get himself caught stealing after the first and the second hit of his career Tuesday and Wednesday. He's the first guy to pull that off since Bobby Moore, of the 1993 Royals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Oliver Perez

Perez





• Mets manager Jerry Manuel did something Sunday I couldn't ever recall seeing: He yanked his pitcher -- the mightily struggling Oliver Perez -- in mid-at-bat, in the first inning, with the pitcher (Pedro Martinez) hitting.

But incredibly, as loyal reader Aneel Trivedi reports, it's only the first time in two years that's been done. Last time it happened (without an injury complicating the proceedings) was Sept. 5, 2007, when Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez gonged Sergio Mitre after he'd issued back-to-back bases-loaded walks and then gone 2-and-0 to Nationals pitcher Tim Redding. Hey, at least Manuel waited until Perez had gone 3 and 0, so does that make him 50 percent more patient?

• More from that same game: After leading off Sunday with an inside-the-park homer, Pagan then bopped an outside-the-parker in his next at-bat. So according to the Sultan, he's the first man in more than 50 years (and just the sixth ever) to hit a leadoff inside-the-parker and a later outside-the-park shot in the same game. The others to do it:

Tony Taylor (Cubs), July 1, 1958

Luis Aparicio (White Sox), Sept. 7, 1957

Lou Klein (Cardinals), June 30, 1943

Joe Judge (Senators), July 10, 1921

Emmett Seery (Reds), July 24, 1891

• Then, the very next day, Pagan led off the game by circling the bases on a double-error by the Phillies' Chase Utley. And you sure don't see that much, either. Retrosheet's Dave Smith reports that Pagan was only the second player in the last 60 seasons to kick off a game with a four-base error (or errors). The other: Toronto's Rick Bosetti, on May 5, 1978.

Nick Swisher

Swisher





• Meanwhile, across town, the Yankees' Nick Swisher apparently didn't get the memo that the new Yankee Stadium is a home run hitter's best friend. Only three of Swisher's 21 homers this season are at home. And the Sultan reports that only five other 20-homer men in history hit just three of those homers (or fewer) at home:

Leon Wagner (Angels), 1963 -- 2 of 26

Gene Tenace (Padres), 1979 -- 2 of 20

Donn Clendenon (Pirates), 1966 -- 3 of 28

Jose Guillen (Nationals), 2005 -- 3 of 24

Elston Howard (Yankees), 1962 -- 3 of 21

• The Twins' Scott Baker should sue his own stats for not making sense. As ESPN research wiz Mike Lynch points out, Baker's WHIP this year is 1.15 -- which ranks him ahead of Cliff Lee, Matt Cain, Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez. So how in the heck can Baker have a 4.47 ERA? That's the question.

Hey, ya got me. If both numbers stay where they are now, Baker will break the "record" for highest ERA by a pitcher with a WHIP that good. The current "record" is held by Dave Bush (4.41 in 2006), a guy who's so good at this, he also has the third-highest ERA on this list (4.18 last year).

Armando Benitez

Benitez





• Finally, in case you missed this blockbuster transaction, the Astros signed the long-lost Armando Benitez to a minor league deal last week. And in his very first Triple-A appearance, Benitez's debut went this way: routine out, fly-ball out to the center-field fence and then homer-homer-homer-homer. He was only the second pitcher in the history of the Pacific Coast League to serve up four homers in a row. The other: Juan Mateo. Just for the record, in Benitez's first year as a closer for the Mets, in 1999, he faced 312 hitters -- and allowed four homers all year.

SHAMELESS BOOK-PLUG DEPT.


The book tour for "Worth the Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies" marches onward Friday in Reading, Pa. I'll be signing books at Reading's spectacular First Energy Stadium, before Friday's Reading Phillies-Bowie Baysox game, from 5 p.m. until whenever the line disappears. Hope to see you there if you're in the neighborhood.