- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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All this stuff really happened in the Strange But True season of 2012:
• There was a rain delay in a domed stadium (in Milwaukee).
• The Pirates hit back-to-back homers that clanked off the same foul pole.
• The Mariners -- yes, the Mariners -- scored 21 runs in one game on May 30 in Texas, then ripped off five straight series in which they didn't score 21 runs.
• Pedro Alvarez unfurled a Golden Sombrero (0-for-4 with four whiffs) -- in a game he didn't start.
• In one week in May, Josh Hamilton put 16 fair balls in play -- and nine of them left the park.
• Todd Frazier lost the grip on his bat in midswing and still hit a home run -- even though he wasn't holding the bat in his hands at the moment he hit it.
• Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario committed four passed balls in one game -- without a single knuckleball being thrown.
• Michael Morse hit a grand slam, trotted three-quarters of the way around the bases, then reversed himself and circled the bases backward after a video review, returned to home plate, pantomimed his home run swing with an invisible bat and ball, and then rounded the bases again.
• And there were so many no-hitters (seven) pitched this year, even the Mets threw one.
Yes, it was one improbable turn of events after another, all right. So fasten those seatbelts securely around your waist, low and tight, and settle in for another turbulent, regular-season edition of the Strange But True Feats of the Year:
Strangest But Truest Player of the Year
Has there ever been a stranger but truer baseball player than Adam Dunn? I mean, seriously. At least he didn't hit .159 again. But he still did all this:
• In 328 of Dunn's always-entertaining trips to home plate, the ball never got around to leaving the batter's box (222 strikeouts, 105 walks, 1 HBP)! So who else has ever had that many trips like that in one season? Nobody, obviously.
• Dunn also worked only 110 hits into his repertoire (amid those 222 strikeouts). That means he's now had back-to-back seasons with at least twice as many punchouts as hits. So how many other position players have done that two years in a row? You guessed it. Zero.
• In yet another bid for swing-and-miss history, the Big Donkey had more strikeouts (156) than the pitcher who was leading the big leagues in strikeouts, Justin Verlander (152), as late as Aug. 5! Alas, a late-season oblique strain got in the way of that quest.
• But not this one: Dunn struck out at least once in every one of his first 32 games of the season, barely squeaking by the old record -- of 14!
• In yet more unprecedented Human Air Conditioner developments, Dunn became the first man in history to whiff 134 times before the All-Star break. Would you believe Albert Pujols has also whiffed 134 times -- in the past two seasons combined?
• In non-strikeout news, this man hit his 30th homer this year before he hit his 30th single! And kids, all we can say is, don't try that at home.
• But finally, here's this important question: Who had the better year -- Dunn or his "hot-hitting" teammate, Alex Rios? Don't answer too hastily now. Dunn hit .204 in 649 trips to the plate. Rios hit .304 in 640 trips. But Dunn still reached base more times (216) than Rios did (214)? You can look it up!
Strangest But Truest Game of the Year
Here we go. Orioles 9, Red Sox 6, in 17 surreal innings at Fenway, back on May 6.
• Your losing pitcher that day: the Red Sox's DH, Darnell McDonald. So when was the last game in which the winning and losing pitchers were both position players? Let's not go to the videotape, because the Elias Sports Bureau reported it was played on Sept. 28, 1902: Sam Mertes (White Sox) over Jesse Burkett (Browns).
• But before Davis ever reached the mound (in the 16th), he'd already struck out five times and grounded into a double play. Only two other players in the live ball era (Jim Thome and Bobby Darwin) had ever done all that in any game. But no previous humans had ever done it in a game their team had won, let alone a game where they were the winning pitcher!
• Ever seen a guy whiff five times, go 0-for-8 and wind up as the winning pitcher? Not if you aren't, like, 110 years old, you haven't. According to Elias, the last fellow to go 0-for-8 and end up as the winning pitcher in any game was Rube Waddell on July 4, 1905.
• J.J. Hardy got five hits in this game -- and got the fifth off a position player (McDonald). Adam Jones became the first Oriole in 45 years to hit a home run in the 17th inning (or later) in this game -- and launched that bomb off a position player (McDonald). Meanwhile, Adrian Gonzalez went 0-for-8 -- and put the perfect capper on that debacle by striking out against a position player (Davis) in the bottom of the 17th.
• And in case you didn't catch this, 16 guys pitched in this game who weren't position players. Which meant that only one American League game in history had ever featured more pitchers than this one: a 19-pitcher Rays-Yankees tussle on the final day of the 2011 season -- a game that, come to think of it, was way more memorable for, heh-heh, other developments.
Strangest But Truest Team of the Year
The 2012 Houston Astros wouldn't be the first team to rebuild on the fly. There was just one minor difference between them and pretty much all the other teams in modern history that went into that rebuilding mode:
At least those other teams worked in a win once in a while. The Astros, on the other hand
• Went through a 2-25 stretch in June and July. Last NL team to do that: Pancho Herrera's 1961 Phillies.
• Went through a 38-game stretch in June, July and early August in which they went 4-34. Last team to do that: Dizzy Sutherland's 1949 Senators. Last NL team to do that? The legendary 1899 Cleveland Spiders juggernaut that finished up its historically inept season by going 1-40.
• Went through a 50-game span in June, July and August in which they went 7-43. The Mariners won eight times in one homestand in August. The Astros won seven times in 50 games.
• Went 38 straight days in July and August without having any starting pitcher not named Lucas Harrell win a game. Opposing starters, on the other hand, went 23-3 against them in that time.
• Won four road games between June 14 and Labor Day (4-31). They played 11 road series in that time -- and got swept in seven of them.
• And after all that, you know what might have been the strangest but truest thing that happened to the Astros all year? They had a better record after Labor Day (13-13) than the Rangers (13-14).
Strangest But Truest No-Hitters of the Year
Not so long ago, from 2000 to '05, there were seven no-hitters pitched in the first six seasons of the 2000s combined. Then came this year -- when there were seven no-hitters pitched in six months. So how strange but true was that? Here ya go:
• It took only 8,020 games, over 51 seasons, for the Mets to get around to throwing a no-hitter. But Johan Santana finally ousted them from the No No-No Club with his June 1 masterpiece against the Cardinals. So how challenging was it for a team like this to go that long without a no-hitter? Well, the Astros/Colt .45s came into existence the same year as the Mets (1962) -- and they threw 10 no-hitters while the Mets were throwing none.
• Just so you know, in their half-century of avoiding no-hitters, the Mets had 18 no-hit bids broken up in the eighth or ninth innings and 42 in the seventh or later they got no-hit themselves six times and all the other teams threw 133 no-hitters in the 50 years in which the Mets were throwing zero.
• On the other end of all that Mets no-hit history, Santana was the fourth pitcher in the past 50 years to no-hit the Cardinals. All four of those men were Cy Young Award winners: Santana, Fernando Valenzuela in 1990, Tom Seaver (as a Red, not a Met) in 1978 and Gaylord Perry in 1968.
• In non-Mets news, there were three no-hitters pitched this year just at Seattle's Safeco Field. That's three more than Wrigley Field has hosted -- by either team -- in the past 40 years.
• There haven't been many stranger no-hitters in the history of the planet than the first of those no-nos -- the Mariners' wild, six-pitcher special on June 8. Among those highlights: The guy who got the save (Tom Wilhelmsen) was an ex-bartender who once quit baseball for six years. The winning pitcher (Stephen Pryor) allowed more hitters to reach base (two) than he got outs (one). And the plate ump, Brian Runge, was working the plate for his second no-hitter of year -- in the same ballpark.
• So that was one Mariners no-hitter. The second was an Aug. 15 Felix Hernandez perfect game. But other than the hit column, those two games had less in common than the Aaron brothers' home run totals. The winning pitcher in the first no-hitter (Pryor) got only one out -- but still allowed more baserunners in a third of an inning (two) than King Felix did while getting all 27 outs (zero). Is baseball awesome, or what?
• And now for that third no-hitter in Seattle: The good news for the White Sox's Philip Humber was, he threw an April 21 perfect game against the Mariners. The bad news was, over his next three starts, 33 of the 72 hitters he faced reached base. He went on to compile a 6.44 ERA, highest in history by a man whose season included a perfect game (and at least 100 innings). And he capped it all off by becoming (best we can tell) the first pitcher ever to get non-tendered in the same year he pitched a perfect game.
• How weird is it that two pitchers who were once traded for each other would throw no-hitters in the same year? Well, Humber and Johan Santana did that in 2012.
• My other favorite no-hitter of 2012 was Matt Cain's June 13 perfect game against the Astros -- because it was saved by one of the most astonishing catches you will ever see. That was an insane, diving, eat-some-warning-track-for-dessert seventh-inning Web Gem by the right fielder, Gregor Blanco, on a Jordan Schafer shot to what can only be described as nearly dead center field. So what makes it so strange but true? Because, according to Baseball Info Solutions, no right fielder has caught a ball hit that hard to that part of any park in any other game over the past three seasons.
• Has anyone mentioned yet that all those no-hitters can be hazardous to a guy's health? Twice in 12 days, no-hitters were the chief culprit in sending two different players to the disabled list -- just not the guys who pitched them. First, Mets reliever Ramon Ramirez charged out of the bullpen on the way to celebrating Santana's no-hitter -- and blew out his hamstring. A week and a half later, Aubrey Huff leaped over the dugout railing after Cain's perfect game -- and forgot to nail the landing. He sprained his knee -- and started only one more game the rest of the season.
• Finally, those strange-but-true Rays have now lost four no-hitters in the past four seasons. The Yankees have lost four in the past 95 seasons.
Strangest But Truest Hitting Feats of the Year
• The team that won the World Series (the Giants) hit 30 home runs at home during the entire regular season. The man who won the Triple Crown (Miguel Cabrera) practically did that by himself (with 28 at home).
• Nine different teams never scored 14 runs in any game all year. The Yankees scored 14 in a span of 18 batters in an April 21 eruption at Fenway.
• There wasn't much doubt about the Strangest But Truest Brother Act of the Year. Let's hear it for the fabulous Upton brothers. On Aug. 3, B.J. hit the 100th home run of his career. A mere 44 minutes later, Justin hit his 100th. So what were the odds of them both hitting No. 100 on the same day? Well, of the six brother acts to hit 100 apiece, there had only been one time before that that any of those brothers had hit any number on the same day. And that was the Uptons hitting their 99th with the synchronicity they were about to become so world-famous for.
• So which is more strange-but-true? That all four Josh Hamilton rocket launches in his four-homer game were two-run homers? Or that the guy on base for all four was Elvis Andrus? How many times in history had any player hit four two-run bombs in one game with the same runner on base? Never. Ever.
• Did you know that Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun played five years together in Milwaukee and never once hit two homers apiece in the same game? So how long did it take this year for Prince and his new Tigers tag-team partner, Miguel Cabrera, to go multi-homering in the same game? About 10 minutes. They both went deep twice in the second game of the season.
• Strangest But Truest Switch-hitting Feat of the Year: On May 8, Carlos Beltran hit two homers in a game left-handed. Three days later, he hit two in a game right-handed. And how many switch-hitters had ever done that, in either order, in the same week? That would be zero, friends.
• Ever heard of a team trading for a guy who was 3-for-43? The Red Sox did it this year, dealing for Marlon (3-for-43) Byrd on April 21.
• Strange But True feats often come in twos. Just ask Ryan Doumit. In the second inning of a Sept. 4 game against the White Sox, he made two outs in one inning. In the fifth inning of that same game, he got two HITS in one inning. First man to do that in the expansion era, if you were wondering. And of course you were!
• How Strange But True was this? Jose Reyes went 27 straight days and 24 straight games in June without even attempting a stolen base.
• Strange But True Friday the 13th Hitting Feat of the Year: It was incredible enough that Jayson Werth got a 13th-inning walkoff hit on Friday the 13th (April 13). But wait. It gets better: After the Elias Sports Bureau figured out that he was the first hitter to do that on any Friday the 13th since Willie Stargell in 1963, Nationals media relations genius John Dever checked out Stargell's hit -- and was blown away to learn that the runner he drove in was Dick Schofield. Who was -- how cool is this? -- Jayson Werth's grandfather.
• Believe it or not, the Cubs almost made it through the entire month of April without a home run from any outfielder -- until their man Joltin' Joe Mather finally ended that schneid in their next-to-last game of the month. Meanwhile, in L.A., Matt Kemp had 11 homers before a Cubs outfielder hit any.
• The Tigers' Quintin Berry wouldn't be the first rookie in history whose first career hit was a double. But I bet he's the first whose first career hit was a bunt double. Clunked it over the head of onrushing first baseman Casey Kotchman and into right field. Strangest But Truest Double of the Year.
• The Mets' Mike Baxter did something Aug. 4 that nobody has done in 40 years: He walked five times in one game -- against five different pitchers. Meanwhile in Baltimore, Cesar Izturis came to the plate 173 times this season, against 84 different pitchers -- and walked only three times all year.
• Strangest But Truest Crazy Eights of the Year: Before they came to bat in the second inning May 30 in Texas, those sweet-swinging Mariners had scored eight runs (or more) in one of their previous 5,277 innings. Then, on the way to an astounding 21-8 win, they put up eight-spots two innings in a row. The Mariners would then go on to play 1,016 more innings after that game. You know how many times they scored eight runs (or more) in any of those innings? Right you are. None.
• Mark Reynolds -- yep, we said Mark Reynolds -- had three multihomer games against the Yankees in one week this year. Meanwhile, David Ortiz has gone seven consecutive seasons without having any multihomer games against the Yankees.
• I don't know if this is a hitting feat or a pitching feat. But whatever, the good news for Rockies pitcher Alex White was: He hit a home run in two starts in a row in September. The bad news was: He didn't win either game.
• The Mets had an Aug. 1 inning in San Francisco in which they got three walks, a hit batter and three stolen bases -- but still didn't score. (The strange-but-true script: walk, steal, walk, HBP, double play, double steal, walk, groundout!)
• On Sept. 19 in New York, the Phillies hit a home run to lead off the first inning (by Jimmy Rollins), hit another home run with two outs in the ninth (by Ryan Howard), never scored in between and still won.
• The next night in New York, the Phillies won another game in which they scored eight runs in the first inning and seven runs in the ninth inning -- and scored one run in between. Aw, those middle innings are overrated, anyway.
• In just one week in August, Adrian Beltre got so en fuego, he went 15-for-30 with four doubles, five homers, zero strikeouts, a three-homer game and a cycle. The only other man in history to have a cycle and a three-homer game within seven days of each other, according to Elias: Joe DiMaggio, in 1948.
• Speaking of three-homer games, my friends at You Can't Predict Baseball remind us that nobody had hit three on the final day of any season over the past 43 seasons in a row -- until two men did it on the last day of this season: Evan Longoria and Dan (Game 162) Johnson. Over the past two years, Johnson has thumped four homers in six at-bats in Game 162 -- and one big league homer in 100 at-bats in Games 1 through 161.
• Strangest But Truest Home Run Trot of the Year: David Ortiz missed 71 of the Red Sox's final 72 games after a trotting mishap -- and it wasn't even his home run. He was rounding second after an Adrian Gonzalez homer, came down funny on his Achilles and ended up playing one game the rest of the season. He'd have been better off getting passed on the bases.
• Then there was Mark DeRosa. He made the mistake of jumping off his seat in the dugout to high-five Bryce Harper in May after Harper had just stolen home -- and aggravated an oblique injury when the Boy Wonder got a little carried away with his palm-pounding routine. DeRosa didn't play again for six weeks. And you thought Harper's takeout slides were scary.
Strangest But Truest Pitching Feats of the Year
• Justin Verlander didn't allow a home run to a cleanup hitter all year. Derek Holland allowed 10 of them.
• Only one pitcher in the National League struck out nine hitters in a row in any game this year. But it wasn't Cliff Lee, Stephen Strasburg or Clayton Kershaw. It was (who else?) Aaron Harang, who punched out nine straight Padres on April 13. So how many other times do you think Harang has struck out nine in a game in his last 73 starts? None. Of course!
• Strange But True Friday the 13th Pitching Feat of the Year: While we're talking Aaron Harang thanks to those nine straight K's, guess who put up 13 strikeouts on Friday the 13th? Yep. That same Aaron Harang. It was the first 13-K Friday the 13th by anybody since Dwight Gooden did it in 1986.
• Strangest But Truest Save of the Year (first prize): Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma proved that not all saves are created equal on May 30, by "saving" a game his team won by 13 runs (21-8). It was baseball's "cheapest" save since Dale Thayer "saved" a 15-2 win for the Rays on May 22, 2009. I keep track!
• Strangest But Truest Save of the Year (narrow runner-up): In the very same ballpark (in Texas) two months later, the Angels' Jerome Williams got a "save" in a game in which he threw 83 pitches, gave up eight hits and allowed five runs. How long had it been since any pitcher had allowed that many hits and that many runs, and gotten a save out of it? How bout June 6, 1973, says fabled ESPN Kernel collector Doug Kern, when Dave Goltz pulled off a 13-hit, eight-run save. Hard to do, folks.
• Strangest But Truest Relief Outing of the Year: Shawn Camp marched out of the Cubs' bullpen in an Aug. 1 game against the Pirates, faced seven hitters and allowed a hit to all seven of them. You can probably guess how many other relievers have done that in the live ball era. Yep. Not one.
• It was tough to top that outing, but 18 days later, Camp showed up in the ninth inning of a tie game against the Reds and threw two pitches. Xavier Paul hit the first for a triple. Ryan Hanigan hit the second for a walkoff single. So that went: 2 batters, 2 pitches, 2 hits, 1 loss.
• Did any pitcher have a stranger but truer season than Cliff Lee? On the way to history's first six-win, 200-strikeout season, it took him 14 starts to win a game, despite the fact he had a better WHIP on the day of that first win than Zack Greinke. By the time Lee won a game, 279 other pitchers -- yessir, 279 -- had beaten him to it, including a DH (Chris Davis), a guy who hadn't won in eight years (Travis Blackley) and a pitcher whose only win over the previous two years was in an independent league (Kip Wells).
• Your Strangest But Truest Pitching Staff of the Year? Gotta be those Colorado Rockies. They racked up the grand total of 27 quality starts -- the same number as R.A. Dickey, and the fewest, by far, by an entire team in the live ball era.
• But that wasn't even the Rockies' Strangest But Truest Feat of the Year. Thanks to an innovative team rule limiting all starting pitchers to 75 pitches, they didn't have a single pitcher on the roster who even threw 115 innings. And how many teams since 1900 could say that? Zero, of course -- including strike years!
• Freddy Garcia threw five (count 'em, five) wild pitches in one game -- in a game where he didn't even make it through five innings. Meanwhile, Madison Bumgarner has pitched 534 innings and faced 2,205 hitters -- and still hasn't thrown five WPs in his career.
• Within two weeks of each other, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz served up five gopher balls in a game. It was the second time in four years they'd given up five bombs in a game in the same season. You know how many sets of teammates have done that, for all other teams in all the other seasons in history? Exactly one (Cory Lidle and Vicente Padilla of the 2005 Phillies).
• Speaking of five-spots, in a May 27 game in Cincinnati, Reds starter Mat Latos served up five home runs, gave up no other hits and won. The other starter, Jamie Moyer, gave up four homers and lost. And there were only two singles all day (one of them an infield hit), making this the first nine-homer, two-single game in the live ball era.
• It was crazy enough that Ubaldo Jimenez and Brandon Morrow compiled nearly identical box-score lines (7 IP, 1 hit, 2 runs, 3 walks, 3 strikeouts) in an April 7 Indians-Blue Jays game. But here's what made that extra tough: It was the first game in the live ball era where two pitchers went at least seven innings in the same game, gave up no more than one hit but still managed to give up two runs.
• On the night he became the oldest pitcher to win a game, Jamie Moyer beat a pitcher (Anthony Bass) who hadn't debuted on Planet Earth at the time Moyer was making his debut in the major leagues, back on June 16, 1986. Had to be the baseball gods at work, right?
• If you were going to nominate anybody to become the first pitcher since the invention of earned runs to allow 12 earned runs without getting nine outs in a game, where would A.J. Burnett rank? Well, if he was tops on your list, you won -- because he did just that in a May 2 start in St. Louis. Amazingly, it took him eight starts to give up his next 12 earned runs.
• We regret to report that Aaron Cook (20 strikeouts, 18 starts) just missed becoming the first pitcher in 67 years to get through a season with more starts than whiffs. But he did make it through seven innings of a July 6 start against the White Sox without racking up a strikeout or a walk. Has anyone ever done that against a lineup Adam Dunn was hitting in? Impossible!
• Does Tommy Hanson know the way to Vegas? He should head there immediately, because on July 25, he pulled off one of those slot-machine jackpot box-score lines: 7 (walks), 7 (strikeouts), 7 (stolen bases). And guess what? He won. The only other pitcher in the live ball era to win a game in which he allowed seven walks and seven steals? Randy Johnson in 1989.
• And I guarantee this was Tim Kurkjian's favorite Strangest But True Feat of the Year. On May 1, Mets reliever Jon Rauch, all 6-foot-11 of him, stomped into a game in Houston and found Jose Altuve, all 5-foot-5 of him, waiting in the box, 60 feet away. And if you can't recall any other 18-inch height differentials other than A) Eddie Gaedel, B) Rudy or C) Timmy the K interviewing Randy Johnson, you're correct. My buddy, Trent McCotter, actually looked it up!
Strangest But Truest Injury of the Year
Finally, I promised Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt he'd win this award. So he can call off the lobbying blitz.
Only a guy who has cornered the market on Strange But True Household Calamities could burst through the door after a game, crouch down to wait for his 4-year-old son to jump into his arms and then (uh-oh!) get bowled over, sprain a medial collateral ligament in his knee and spend the next two weeks on the disabled list.
In 2011, you'll recall, Affeldt stabbed himself in the hand in September while trying to separate frozen burger patties with a knife -- and knocked himself out for the season. So "the trainers are tired," he told the San Francisco Chronicle's Henry Schulman, "of getting that call: 'Hey, I'm at home and I hurt myself.'"
Chronicling the wildest, the weirdest and the wackiest events of the 2012 regular season. Yeah, this stuff really happened!