- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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How wild and crazy was the thrill-a-minute baseball season of 2013?
So crazy that a guy actually stole FIRST BASE! . . . So insane that an Angels rookie had to hit the first homer of his career TWICE -- both off the same pitcher, but against two different teams! . . . And so downright nuts that Mariano Rivera entered a game in a save situation, spun a one-two-three inning and then DIDN'T GET A SAVE!
And if all that could happen in one year, it tells you everything you need to know about what a wacky, wonky, Strange But True kind of season it was. So now, before you get swallowed up by bowl games, confetti and Korbel Brut (not necessarily in that order), let's look back at the 2013 collection of the awesome Strange But True Feats of the Year.
Strangest But Truest Base Stealer of the Year
On the fateful evening of April 19, we finally found baseball's version of Leon Lett.
That would be Brewers shortstop Jean Segura, who, like the bollixed up driver whose GPS runs amok, performed an act of baserunning goofiness in a game against the Cubs that he'll be seeing, on 1.2 trillion blooper videos, for the rest of his life:
First, he stole second. Then he tried to steal third but somehow wound up "stealing" first. Then he got thrown out trying to steal second again. All in a span of five pitches.
Just don't try that on your Wii any time soon, OK? You might break both legs. Here's how this madness went down:
On a 2-and-2 pitch to Ryan Braun, Segura stole second. So far, pretty innocent, right? Don't worry. That'll change.
Three pitches later, with Braun on first (via a walk), Segura took off for third -- but broke too soon, got hung up in rundown mode and wound up (momentarily, at least) back on second base, where Braun was kind enough to join him.
So the Cubs, naturally, started tagging everyone in Milwaukee except Bob Uecker. And that meant Braun was out. But that was news to Segura, who thought he was the one who was out and started jogging toward the dugout.
A few seconds later, though, he got the memo that he was actually safe. So he did what any desperate human would do at a time like that: He saw that first base was unoccupied -- and "stole" it. Whereupon first-base coach Garth Iorg wouldn't let him leave.
Not until two pitches later, anyway -- when Segura broke toward second one more time and, in Take 2, got thrown out.
So, got all that? What you had here was the first man ever to steal second and get caught stealing second in the same inning -- without his team batting around. Except, of course, that that's not possible (or legal). So check out how our friends at Baseball-Reference.com tried to account for the fact that their computers still won't believe this really happened.
But as massive computer/baserunner/umpiring screwups go, this one was so much fun that former Brewers third-base coach Rich Donnelly told us he had an idea: Once a year, he said, baseball should liven things up by having EVERYBODY run the bases backward.
"Who said that when you hit the ball, you have to go to first?" Donnelly wondered. "Abner Doubleday? No he didn't. The important thing is, you have to get home. It's like when we were teenagers. All your parents said was, 'You have to be home.' They didn't say which way you had to go. Did they?"
My Five Favorite Strangest But Truest Feats of the Year (non-Jean Segura Division)
• So what were the odds that the first team in baseball to clinch its division would be a team that was in LAST place on the morning of July 1? Well, that actually happened, courtesy of your Strange But True Dodgers -- 30-42 in their first 72 games, 62-28 in their last 90.
• It isn't easy to hit the first home run of your big-league career TWICE. But J.B. Shuck did it for the Angels (sort of). He thought he'd gone deep for the first time June 5 against Matt Garza and the Cubs, but a trip to the replay monitor turned that mighty blast into a foul ball. It took another 54 days, but Shuck finally thumped that first career homer again, in a game against Texas. And who was pitching? Yup. That noted Cub-turned-Ranger, Matt Garza.
• Just when you thought the great Mariano Rivera had done everything a closer could possibly do, he pulled off a Strange But True all-timer Sept. 12. He entered a game in Baltimore with a 6-5 lead in the ninth, retired every hitter he faced, shook hands and STILL didn't get a save. (He can thank the official scorer, who decided the seeming pitcher of record, David Robertson, didn't pitch "effectively" enough.)
• You didn't have to play in the big leagues -- or even for a paycheck -- to make it into our Strange But True pantheon this year. In a U.S. semifinal game in the Little League World Series, the team from Connecticut gave up a 10-run inning to the team from the state of Washington -- and won anyway (14-13). Try that on your Xbox sometime.
• And there couldn't possibly have been a Stranger But Truer feat all year than the one the Lansing Lugnuts, of the Midwest League, pulled off July 2. They got a walk-off hit -- and still lost. Seriously. After Chris Hawkins' "game-winning" ninth-inning hit up the middle, the runner on first joined the celebration instead of running to second base. So he got forced out at second in the middle of all the delirium, to end the inning. And the Lugnuts wound up losing in the 10th. True story!
10 Strangest But Truest Reader Favorites of the Year
Submitted via the Strange But True nomination vehicle known as Twitter…
• From Dan Sostek: The Red Sox scored in every inning of their June 4 game against Texas -- except for the inning that Rangers outfielder David Murphy pitched.
• From Ryan Wood: For Strange But Trueness, you just can't beat Will Venable's unprecedented, symmetrically correct season -- 22 homers, 22 steals, 22 doubles.
• From Greg Lenihan: In the third inning of his May 10 start against the Padres, Alex Cobb faced four hitters, struck out all four and still gave up a run (thanks to: WP, SB, SB, balk). Last known instance of an inning like that? Never.
• From Neal Kendrick: So who do you think led all National League hitters (with 200-plus PA) in road OPS this year? It was Carlos (Don't Call Me A Coors Field Creation) Gonzalez. Who else?
• From Jay Virshbo: Jonny Gomes pulled off an unassisted double play July 31. Which was pretty cool, considering he was playing left field! In the 15th inning! Gomes made a diving catch of a Michael Saunders line drive. He then stopped to tag second on the way to the dugout, doubling Raul Ibanez. Voila!
• From Diane Firstman: When Jason Castro caught Jarred Cosart in Houston, they made anagram history, if not baseball history -- joining Matt Nokes and Randy Nosek as the only catcher-pitcher anagram duos ever to mess with both the alphabet and the box scores.
• From Doug Hughes: Billy Hamilton finished second on the Reds in stolen bases (with 13) -- in a season in which he only got 22 big-league plate appearances.
• From Steve Sirk: Justin Masterson won two complete-game 1-0 games. The run scored in the first inning in one of them -- and the ninth inning in the other.
• From Jason Cloutier: In their last regular-season game of the season, the Red Sox scored 20 runs against the Tigers in one game. When they met again in the ALCS, the Red Sox scored 19 runs in the whole series -- and still won it in six.
• From Eric Longenhagen: Finally, what did the winning pitcher (Greg Smith) in an April 10 International League game between Pawtucket and Lehigh Valley have in common with the pitcher who saved that win for him (Luis Garcia)? Correct answer: Neither of them even had a job in that league that day. So how'd that happen? The game got suspended, was finished in July, and all records reverted back to the day it started. Fortunately, Smith and Garcia both signed deals with Lehigh Valley in between. Proving once again that nothing in baseball is stranger than suspended animation.
Strangest But Truest Cy Young Feats of the Year
• Scherzer may have won the Cy Young -- but he didn't even lead his own team in ERA (because Anibal Sanchez did).
• And if you're ever looking for a lovely set of bookends, you might want to ask Kershaw to carve them for you. He finished the season by winning the Cy Young. He started it by hitting the Dodgers' first home run of the season (a tiebreaking, eighth-inning bomb on Opening Day). And bookends don't get much lovelier than that. Do they?
Strangest But Truest Brother Acts of the Year
• Colby Rasmus earned some serious family trash-talking capital May 28, when he hit a double off his little brother, Cory. Colby was only the ninth man in big league history to even come to bat against his brother.
• Who hit the tiebreaking home run that turned into the game-winning run in John Danks' 5-2 win over Texas on Aug. 25? That would be his brother, Jordan. The Elias Bureau tells us it was the first time one brother had hit a home run that turned the other brother into a winning pitcher since Billy Shantz did that for Bobby Shantz on June 3, 1955.
• But for sheer Strange But Trueness, can any set of brothers top the Uptons? In an April 6 game against the Cubs, B.J. Upton led off the ninth with a game-tying homer. Then his little bro, Justin, whomped a game winner two batters later. The only other brother acts who have ever homered in the same inning? That would be the Aarons, Ripkens and Waners. You were expecting maybe the Ringling Brothers?
Strangest But Truest Marathon Men of the Year
In a season in which 12 games went 16 innings or longer, you'd have to look long and hard to find a nuttier baseball game than the 7-hour, 6-minute, 18-inning epic staged by the Diamondbacks and Phillies on Aug. 24 (the fourth-longest game, in time, in major league history). Among the Strangest But Truest developments:
• Phillies outfielder-turned-mystery-reliever Casper Wells had a day us Strange But True historians will never forget. He went 0-for-7 at the plate. And up gave five runs on the mound, in two-thirds of an inning. And even wound up as the losing "pitcher." That's what you call a rough night!
• Wells' three Strangest But Truest claims to fame? First, that he saw 42 pitches as a hitter -- and threw 40 pitches as a pitcher. Second, as SI.com's Joe Sheehan observed, he drove in one run all season -- but gave up five in 10 minutes. And finally, as legendary ESPN Kernel collector Doug Kern reported, Wells became the first man to go 0-for-7 as a hitter and give up five runs as a pitcher in the same game since Chalmer (Lum) Harris did it on Sept. 14, 1942. Except Harris needed to twirl a 16-inning complete game to pull it off.
• Because Wells couldn't even throw a complete inning, let alone a complete game, he also contributed to yet another historic event. The Phillies had to haul in infielder John McDonald to relieve him in the top of the 18th. So it made them the first team to pitch two position players in the same inning since Dave Martinez and Junior Noboa did it for the Expos on July 20, 1990.
• But that little plot twist didn't work out so well for Diamondbacks catcher Tuffy Gosewisch -- who was creative enough to make outs against both Wells and McDonald in the same inning. The last known human to do that, according to the Elias Sports Bureau: Brian Milner, on June 26, 1978.
• Finally, here's your Strange But True Fun With Numbers note of the day: The game started at 7:06 – and lasted for 7:06.
Strangest But Truest Pitching Feats of the Year
• Has there ever been a Strange But True no-hitter quite like the one Miami's Henderson Alvarez spun on the last day of the season? It was just your basic walk-off no-hitter, in which the winning run scored in the bottom of the ninth on a wild pitch -- with Alvarez finishing his no-hitter on the field, but in the ON-DECK CIRCLE, not on the mound. In case you're wondering, it was the first no-hitter in modern history to end on a wild pitch.
• Barry Zito's final road start of 2012 was his stunning, October-altering 5-0 win over the Cardinals in St. Louis in Game 5 of the NLCS. But it wasn't exactly a portent of things to come. Zito made 11 road starts as a Giant this year -- and won none of them (going 0-9, 9.56).
• Max Scherzer and Matt Harvey pulled off a dèjá vu act this year never before witnessed in Strange But True history. They started against each other in the All-Star Game, and enjoyed that so much, they then started against each other again Aug. 24 -- in the same ballpark (Citi Field).
• Twins relief pitchers struck out more hitters this season (508) than Twins starters (477) -- in 291 2/3 fewer innings. Whatever happened to Johan Santana and Frank Viola?
• Between April 13 and May 31, Cole Hamels made nine starts for the Phillies in which he threw 927 pitches to 240 hitters. You know what all those pitches had in common? He never threw one of them with his team holding a lead.
• Andy Pettitte pitched 18 seasons in the big leagues and never once struck out 13 hitters in a game. Alex Cobb struck out 13 Padres on May 4 -- and never even got through the fifth inning. (Pitch-count police intervened with two outs in the fifth after he threw his 117th pitch.)
• Matt Cain might have had the Strangest But Truest inning of his career June 1, when he gave up nine hits and seven runs just in the third inning of a start against the Cardinals, But here's why that inning belongs in the Strange But True Hall of Fame: You know what happened in the other five innings Cain was out there that day? He faced 15 hitters -- and they went 15 up, 15 down (with seven whiffs). Naturally.
• The Astros played three games in five days in April in which their starter didn't make it through the first inning. Just to put that in perfect Strange But True perspective, the Dodgers have played one game like that in the last seven seasons.
• In his regularly scheduled no-hit bid against the Astros on Aug. 12, Yu Darvish got mixed up in a game that featured more catchers (two) than hits (one). How'd that happen? Easy: A.J. Pierzynski got ejected in the middle of it. That'll do it!
• On July 24 and 29, David Price won back-to-back starts in the same ballpark -- but it wasn't Tropicana Field. It was Fenway Park, thanks to the miracle of raindrops and creative scheduling. Oh. And how many times did Price win back-to-back starts at the Trop this year? You guessed it. Zero.
• Stephen Strasburg was a Strange But True phenomenon unto himself this year. Let's start with his Aug. 18 outing against the Braves, when he threw three wild pitches in one at-bat against Andrelton Simmons. How weird (and possibly intentional) was that? The guy threw four wild pitches to the other 730 hitters he faced this year.
• Two weeks after that bizarre episode in Strange But Trueness, Strasburg committed two run-scoring balks in the same inning. So how many balks do you think he committed in the other 182 innings he pitched this year? That would be one.
• And, finally, guess which pitcher made more starts of six outs or fewer than any other starter in the big leagues this year? Right you are. That, too, would be Stephen Strasburg, with four. The Strange But True research department would like to thank him for his contributions to this year's column.
Strangest But Truest Hitting Feats of the Year
• Was the term "Bronx Bombers" really an accurate description of the Yankees this year? They went 28 games in a row at one point in June and July without getting a single home run from a right-handed hitter. Then Derek Jeter came off the disabled list -- and homered on the first pitch he saw.
• In between Pablo Sandoval's three-homer game in the 2012 World Series and his three-homer game Sept. 4, you know what all the other Giants hitters forgot to do? Even hit TWO home runs in one game. They would have made it through the entire season without a two-homer game if Hunter Pence hadn't come to their rescue Sept. 15.
• What did David Ortiz do that Joe DiMaggio never did? Had a 311-day hitting streak, that's what. From July 2, 2012 until May 8 this year, he hit in 27 games in a row – with a handy little Achilles injury in between to make this note possible.
• What did Marlins glove artiste Adeiny Hechavarria do that Chipper Jones never did? Drove in seven runs in one game, that's what. He knocked in seven in a May 5 game against the Phillies. And then he took almost six weeks and 35 games to drive in his next seven.
• What was Jay Bruce's excellent contribution to the Strange But True annals this year? On Sept. 8, he curled a second-inning home run around the right-field foul pole off Clayton Kershaw. And why was that a big deal? Because no other left-handed hitter had homered off Kershaw since June 15, 2012. So how long did it take until Kershaw gave up another home run to a left-handed hitter? Exactly two innings. Whereupon Bruce homered off him again. Kershaw faced 165 left-handed hitters not named Jay Bruce this year. They combined for zero homers.
• More proof that all walking streaks are not created equal: The Phillies went four straight games without drawing a single walk. The Royals drew a bases-loaded walk in five straight games. I'm still not sure which of those is harder to do.
• Roy Halladay has made numerous forays into this column over the years with his pitching. But his final contribution to Strange But Trueness was his "hitting" exploits this year. He racked up 18 at-bats -- and struck out in 17 of them. If he's interested, Tony Gwynn once made 577 plate appearances in a season (in 1995) without striking out 17 times.
• When the Braves decided last winter that paying B.J. Upton $75.25 million over the next five years was a good idea, I'm guessing they didn't figure that one season into that deal, he'd still be in search of his first-ever hit as a Brave with a runner on third base. But somehow, he managed to go 0 for the entire season (0-for-28, with 18 strikeouts) with runners on third. And that's about as Strange But True as anything that happened all year.
• What was so Strange But True about Matt Adams' two-homer game Sept. 14? Well, he neglected to hit any of those homers in the first 13 innings -- but then went deep in the 14th and 16th. So how many other men have ever thumped two home runs in a game in which they hit NO homers in the first 13 innings? Not a one. Of course.
• But I'm still not certain that Adams can top Mets outfielder Andrew Brown for back-to-back Strange But Trueness. The good news is, Brown hit home runs in two straight big league plate appearances. The bad news is, they came 40 days apart (thanks to a little detour to the minors in May and June). Last man to homer in consecutive trips that many days apart? Bo Jackson in 1990. Then again, Bo always did know Strange But Trueness.
The Five Strangest But Truest Injuries of the Year
• A's outfielder Michael Taylor, um, chewed up his chances of making the team this spring when he missed 11 days after gashing a finger on his throwing hand -- trying to throw away a piece of gum. (He smashed it on the dugout ceiling light.)
• Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti survived 718 appearances on a big league mound without ever visiting the disabled list with an arm injury -- but needed reconstructive elbow surgery this July after blowing out his elbow lifting a suitcase.
• The Rangers had to shut down Elvis Andrus for two days this spring -- because of an inflamed tattoo.
• Brewers GM Doug Melvin thought he was performing a heroic act when he tried to scoop up a "bug" his wife spotted crawling across the floor of their spring training abode -- until he got stung by a scorpion and ended up in the emergency room.
• And you probably won't be hearing Astros outfielder J.D. Martinez yelling, "Check, please," any time soon. He sprained his knee in April -- checking his swing.
Strangest But Truest World Series Champs of the Year
The team that won the World Series -- those scraggly Boston Red Sox -- had quite the Strange But True saga of their own. Perhaps you noticed that.
• As recently as 2012, they won the same number of games as the Marlins (69). And had a worse run differential (minus-72) than the Mets (minus-59). And had a worse record in their hallowed home park (34-47) than the Astros (35-46). Pretty zany formula for winning the next World Series, don't you think?
• But in 2013, those same Red Sox turned themselves into the first team in the major leagues to win 90 games -- a year after they neglected to win 90 ALL SEASON. Hey, of course they did.
• Their unhittable closer, Koji Uehara, was a guy who started out the year pitching the SIXTH inning.
• Their World Series MVP, David Ortiz, was a guy who went 2-for-22 in the ALCS.
• Their fearsome lineup batted a combined .169 in the World Series – if you didn't count Ortiz, that is. (He hit .688.)
• The 7-8-9 spots in that fearsome lineup went 0-for-44 at one point in that World Series. Yep, 0-for-44.
• Over the first three games of the ALCS against Detroit, that same fearsome lineup got no hits through five innings in Game 1, no hits through five in Game 2 and then one hit through five in Game 3 – which added up to the picturesque total of 1-for-46. Yeah, 1-for-46. And they somehow won two of those three games.
• Have we mentioned that was a lineup that led the major leagues in runs scored during the season?
• Oh, and one more thing: This was a team that finished off the World Series in a park (yes sir, that would be Fenway) where the Red Sox hadn't won a World Series in a mere 95 years. In between, more than 8,000 baseball games were played there. And 1,166 different Red Sox marched up to home plate at Fenway with a bat in their hands.
So who ever would have guessed that the team that won this World Series would be a group just one year removed from the worst season by any Red Sox team in nearly half a century? Only those of us who understand how Strange But True EVERY baseball season is, that's who.
10 More Strange But True Postseason Classics
• In that ALCS against the Tigers, the Red Sox became the first team in history to get no-hit through five innings of back-to-back postseason games -- at home yet. So how many times were they held hitless through five innings at Fenway during the past four regular seasons? Not a one. Naturally.
• And remember that fabled, Torii Hunter-toppling, bullpen-cop-immortalizing, David Ortiz grand slam in the ALCS? It produced four runs -- charged to four pitchers. Want to guess how many previous slams in postseason history resulted in four runs credited to four pitchers? Right you are. Zero.
• As you might have heard someplace, the Pirates finally busted the Curse of Sid Bream and played their first postseason game in 21 years. In between, the Yankees played 166 postseason games. The Penguins played 100. The Steelers played 29. And the Pirates played zero.
• If you go back to his last start of the regular season, Cardinals phenom Michael Wacha became the first pitcher since Dave Stieb to take a no-hitter into the eighth inning in two straight starts. The first was broken up by an infield chopper that traveled about 95 feet. The second was broken up by a Pedro Alvarez home run that went, in Wacha's words, "about 18,000 feet."
• In the ALCS and World Series, Shane Victorino came to bat three times with the bases loaded -- and went 3-for-3, with eight RBIs. In all the at-bats where the Red Sox forgot to fill up the bases for him, he went 2-for-34. Just a bases-loaded kind of guy, I guess.
• Red Sox reliever Brandon Workman finally got to take his bat into the batter's box for the first time in his career this October -- and in pretty much exactly the situation we all would have expected, too: In the ninth inning of a tie game, in an actual World Series. Right!
• I've often said I want to be Cardinals reliever Randy Choate when I grow up. He made nine appearances in this postseason. He threw a TOTAL of 33 pitches -- and only twice launched more than FOUR. In an unrelated development, Pirates ace A.J. Burnett threw 37 pitches in an NLDS inning in which he never even got an out.
• Then there was Choate's bullpen amigo, Kevin Siegrist. He threw 678 pitches during the regular season and unfurled no wild pitches. So guess what happened to Siegrist in Game 2 of the NLCS? He threw wild pitches on back-to-back pitches -- with Yadier Molina catching. Um, sure he did.
• The Dodgers lost an NLCS start by Kershaw by the score of 9 to zip. How many times do you think they've lost by nine runs or more in any game Kershaw started over the past five seasons combined? Yessiree. Nada.
• Then again, it was a weird October to be any kind of Cy Young winner. As MLB.com's Tom Singer so astutely observed, the Cy Young trio of Kershaw, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer started five games in the LCS. Their team's record in those starts? Uh-huh. Oh and five. How Strange But True was that?
10 Final Strange But True All-Timers
• Your Strange But True payroll annals don't get any crazier than this: In a May 13 Yankees-Indians game, the Yankees actually fielded a lineup that was earning 10 million fewer U.S. dollars than the Indians' lineup. We kiddeth you not.
• If that Yankees payroll tidbit didn't sum up their Strange But True season, this did. In September, they scored eight runs (or more) in three straight games against the Red Sox -- and lost all three of them.
• Those Strange But True Astros somehow pulled this off on July 19-20: They lost back-to-back games to the Mariners, even though in the first one, Brandon Barnes hit for the cycle and, in the second one, their starting pitcher (Erik Bedard) gave up no hits (but three runs) in 6 1/3 innings.
• Has any team ever designated the guy who was leading its team in homers for assignment? Well, the Indians did with Mark Reynolds in August.
• You can always count on the Mariners to contribute some fabulous Strange But True magic. So how about this: They homered in the eighth, ninth and 10th innings of a May 20 game in Cleveland -- and still lost it (by giving up three in the bottom of the 13th).
• For sheer degree of difficulty, the Strange But True game of the year had to be the bizarre June 5 marathon between the Mariners and White Sox. Why? Because in the first 13 innings of that game, those two teams combined for zero runs. And what happened in the 14th? They scored FIVE runs apiece. So how many times, in all the other games in history, have two teams matched innings that large that late in a game? Not a one. Of course!
• One more Strange But True White Sox feat: They had eight-game, nine-game and 10-game losing streaks this year -- in the same season. It'll really warm their hearts to know the Yankees haven't even had one streak that long in any of their past 18 seasons.
• Speaking of Cleveland, the Indians played an April 20 game in which they took a 14-0 lead on the Astros. The Strange But True part involves the local football team, the Browns, who haven't held a 14-0 lead in any of their past 96 games!
• On Jackie Robinson Day in Cincinnati, the guy who scored the winning run for the Reds was a man named Robinson (Derrick), wearing No. 42.
• And here comes the Strange But True rehab-option note of the year: During Bryce Harper's June injury-rehab tour of Class A Potomac, the youngest player on the team was -- who else? -- HIM.
If you thought that the 2013 season wasn't jam-packed with strange but true feats on and off the diamond, Jayson Stark's here to disabuse you of that notion.