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Sunday, June 8, 2014
Kernels: Leadoff hitters in leading role

By Doug Kern

Our look at the week's interesting and unusual baseball stats takes us to the front of the line.

Leadoff hitters are selected carefully. Teams generally want someone who can get on base, has a little bit of speed, and can "set the table" for the power hitters who follow. This week, however, it was the leadoff batters putting up some big games of their own.

The speedy Dee Gordon of the Los Angeles Dodgers had two triples on Friday, and stole a base after singling in the sixth inning. The last Dodgers leadoff hitter with two triples and a steal was Steve Sax in 1984. Add Gordon's three RBIs and he's only the second Dodger ever with those numbers-- from any spot in the order. Willie Davis, batting third, did it twice (1962 and 1970).

The Pittsburgh Pirates' Josh Harrison did his part on Wednesday, knocking a triple and two doubles. His teammates, however, never drove him in; two hits came with two outs and he was stranded at third once. He's the first Pirate in four decades to have a triple and two doubles without scoring at least one run. Al Oliver, batting third, pulled it off against the St. Louis Cardinals on June 28, 1973. Their last leadoff hitter with that line was Ira Flagstead in 1930.

Cardinals leadoff man Matt Carpenter posted the team's first five-hit game in five seasons (Ryan Ludwick, 2009) on Wednesday. Carpenter added a walk to reach base in all six plate appearances, joining Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies as the only players this season to have a perfect day at the plate over six or more plate appearances. (Blackmon, of course, has what is still the season's only six-hit game.)

The Cardinals have had just one other leadoff hitter do it in the past 60 years. Fernando Viņa had five hits and a walk in a 14-13 slugfest at Coors Field on April 16, 2000. Before that it was Tommy Glaviano in 1950.

Danny Santana of the Minnesota Twins added to the leadoff parade on Saturday when he went 4-for-5 with five RBI. Santana came up with five runners in scoring position and drove them all in, but he was stranded on all four trips and never crossed the plate himself. Only four leadoff batters have ever had four hits and 5 RBI without scoring at least once themselves: then-Pirate Pokey Reese in 2002, longtime Baltimore Orioles outfielder Al Bumbry in 1980, and Raymond "Rip" Radcliff of the Chicago White Sox in 1936.

Diamondbacks leadoff hitter Didi Gregorius was 3-for-6 with a homer on Wednesday, but it was the players after him that made the game notable. No. 2 hitter Gerardo Parra had three hits. So did No. 3 Paul Goldschmidt. Cleanup batter Martin Prado... three hits. And Miguel Montero, batting fifth? You guessed it. Three hits and six RBIs as Arizona hung 16 on the Rockies. It was the first time in team history that any five batters had three-hit games, and it had been more than a decade since any team had its first five batters get three each. On May 13, 2004, the Pirates had their first six batters do it in a 21-hit outburst that also occurred at Coors Field.

Follow-up: First homer madness
Last week we highlighted three players who each hit their first career home runs, notably Ben Revere of the Philadelphia Phillies. We concluded by mentioning that Kolten Wong now had the most career plate appearances of any active non-pitcher who hadn't homered yet. Guess what?

In plate appearance number 200 on Tuesday, Wong not only hit his first home run, but his first grand slam. The last Cardinals position player whose first homer was a slam was Willie McGee in 1982. That put Leury Garcia of the White Sox "on the clock" with 162 career plate appearances heading into Wednesday. Garcia got a rare chance to start that night, and of course he homered, meaning the top five players on the list all got themselves off the list in a 15-day span.

So, new list. Jumping from sixth to first is Luis Jimenez (139), who has played nine games with the Los Angeles Angels this season but is currently in triple-A. The top three on active rosters are James Jones (122), Irving Falu (101), and Ender Inciarte (76).