Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Pursuit of history not always pretty
By Jayson Stark ESPN.com
Historic times are upon us. Granted, they may not be quite the kind of historic times that we'll be interrupting regular Baseball Tonight programming to show you. But as we're pretty sure Doris Kearns Goodwin once said, history is history. So bring it on.
And stay tuned as all of these dramatic, historic pursuits unfold down the stretch:
Wayne Franklin is no relation to Ryan Franklin. But that doesn't mean they don't have something very powerful in common.
In Milwaukee, Wayne Franklin leads the National League in gopherballs, with 36. In Seattle, Ryan Franklin headed into the last two weeks of the season tied for the American League gopherball lead, with 32 homers served.
If they wind up leading their respective leagues, it's more than just a fun coincidence. It's a slice of baseball and name-game history. Believe it or not, we've never had a season, ever, in which both leagues' home run champs -- pitching or hitting versions -- had the same last name.
Russ and Ramon Ortiz never did it. Jim and Gaylord Perry never did it. Bobby and Mike Witt never did it. Dennis and Ramon Martinez never did it. No Joneses, no Smiths, no Browns, no Gonzalezes ever did it. But Franklin and Franklin have a chance. If they pull this off, they ought to at least win free tickets to the Franklin Institute.
NOT ENOUGH ZEROES FOR OUR HEROES:
It wasn't so long ago (1985) that Dwight Gooden threw eight shutouts in a season -- and didn't even lead his league (because John Tudor threw 10). Well, it's apparently a lot different age we live in now.
If you peruse your American League leaders at the moment, you might be stunned to learn that to lead that distinguished league in shutouts this season, a guy needs to have thrown exactly two of them.
Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Joel Pineiro have all reached that modest number. But it's good enough for a three-way tie for the lead. It's also low enough that unless one of them cranks up nine zeroes in a hurry, they're going to set a major-league record for Fewest Shutouts by a League Leader.
It can't be that superhuman a feat to throw three in a season, because Jeff Weaver actually did it last year. But nobody in his league has matched that this season.
So if this doesn't tell you Johnny Vander Meer has the most unbreakable record in sports, what would? How is somebody going to throw three no-hitters in a row when we don't have a single AL pitcher who can throw three shutouts in a whole season? Boy, where's that Old Hoss Radbourne when you need him?
Kerry Wood likes throwing inside, maybe a little too much.
THE DRILL SERGEANT:
If you're going to face Kerry Wood any time soon, bring your bat -- and your ice packs.
At Wrigley Field last weekend, Wood hit his 19th and 20th batters of the season. So for all the talk about the plunk-happy reputations of Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson, it's Wood who is about to become the foremost power-drill champ of his time.
If he stops at 20, Wood would join Chan Ho Park and Jamey Wright as the only active pitchers with 20 HBP's in a season. But if he doesn't stop, get out your history books.
Last pitcher with 21: Tom Murphy, in 1969. Last pitcher with more than 21: Howard Ehmke, who hit 23 in (we kid you not) 1922. Last pitcher with more than 23: the immortal Jack Warhop, who plunked 26 in 1909.
So this is some seriously rarified territory. Wood has nailed at least one hitter in four starts in a row. He has even drilled two hitters apiece in two straight starts. He could get three more starts if the Cubs need to go down to the final day to make the playoffs. And if he does, we bet that won't be all that'll be going down that final day.
THE TRIFECTA:Victor Zambrano (10-9, 4.44 ERA) is one of the Devil Rays' bright lights of this season. But let's just say that as strike-throwing machines go, he isn't quite Curt Schilling.
Zambrano leads the American League in walks. He also leads the league in wild pitches. He also leads the league in hit batters. That's not quite the same triple crown that Albert Pujols is trying to win. But amazingly, it's harder to win.
The last time a pitcher hit that off-kilter trifecta, Franklin Roosevelt was president, Joe Nuxhall was a rookie and the hottest new product to hit the stores was (ta-da) the ball-point pen. It was 1944, and the pitcher was Brooklyn's Hal Gregg, who threw 10 wild pitches, hit nine batters and walked 137 in 198 innings.
By our calculations, it hasn't been done in the American League since the Warren G. Harding administration. That was 1926, when the Indians' George Uhle walked 118, plunked 13 and tied for the wild-pitch lead with eight.
Zambrano is so far ahead in all of these categories, he's a lock to lead in all three. But if it makes him feel any better, at least Hal Gregg came back to win 18 games the next year.
WALKING ON THE WIN SIDE:
Your dad probably told you once that the first lesson you need to learn to be a winning pitcher is: Throw strikes. But now, along comes a pitcher who is proving otherwise.
Braves pitcher Russ Ortiz is going to lead the National League in wins. But that's not all. He's also going to lead the league in walks. And that's not a combination you see a whole lot.
The last pitcher to do it was Jack Morris. But he did it in the 1981 strike-ravaged season (when he was actually in a four-way tie for the lead in wins). Before him, the last pitcher to do it was a knuckleball king -- Phil Niekro in 1979.
But strike years and knuckleballers don't have much in common with this year or with Russ Ortiz. So if you toss them out, the last time a non-knuckleballer hit this quiniella in a full season was 1959. Amazingly, that year, it happened in both leagues -- Early Wynn doing the honors in the AL, Sam Jones doing both (tying for the lead in wins) in the NL.
We don't know what this means, exactly, because Russ Ortiz has had a great year. He's just done it in a slightly more unorthodox fashion than the rest of his profession.
A BYGONE ERA:
In Texas, Colby Lewis has had his ups. And Colby Lewis has had his downs. He's won eight games. His team has a winning record when he starts (13-11). But whether he wins or loses or does none of the above, every time you look up, it seems as if his ERA never moves.
Which isn't such a good thing when your ERA is 7.67.
Lewis' ERA hasn't been below 7.00 since May 6. It was 8.66 when he was sent to the minors in June. He hasn't whittled it down below 7.57 since he returned in July, even though he has beaten four above-.500 teams -- the Blue Jays, White Sox, Royals and Mariners.
But if he doesn't keep it precisely where it is right now, he could set a record he never dreamed about growing up. That would be the unforgettable Leo Sweetland's post-1900 record for highest ERA by a guy who pitched at least 100 innings -- 7.71, for the 1930 Phillies.
If it inches up by even by a tenth of a run, Lewis would pass Chauncey Fisher (7.76 for the 1894 Cleveland Spiders and Cincinnati Reds) for the second-highest ERA of all time, trailing only John McDougal (8.32, for the 1895 Cardinals).
If you're curious, McDougal never won another game. But Sweetland and Fisher both had winning seasons the next year. So there is life after an ERA over 7.70. But we're pretty sure Colby Lewis would rather throw two straight shutouts than find out what it looks like.
If you look over those NL wild-pitch leaders, you'll find (surprise) a relief pitcher, the Phillies' Carlos Silva, just one back of the league leader, Matt Clement (13-12 if you're scoring WPs at home). Last pitcher to lead his league in wild pitches while pitching exclusively in relief, according to Elias: Richie Lewis, of the 1994 Marlins.
But if Clement holds onto that WP lead, he'll make history himself. It would be the third time he's led the league in that quirky department. But if it makes him feel better, the five other pitchers who have done that in the last 50 years all turned out OK: John Smoltz, Joe Niekro, J.R. Richard, Jack Morris and Nolan Ryan. Niekro actually led the league four times. The NL record is six, by Larry Cheney, for the 1912-18 Cubs and Dodgers.
No one noticed, but Craig Biggio has already made history, by getting drilled with at least 20 pitches for the sixth time in his career. That ties him with the human bull's-eye, Ron Hunt, for the all-time record in that painful category. But coming on strong is, Jason Kendall who has topped 20 HBPs for the fourth time in the last six years. Only Hunt, Biggio and Don Baylor (five) have done it more. And Kendall doesn't even turn 30 until next year.
But some of our obscure history-makers out there have reason to be happy about their feats. Like Curt Schilling. He's about to lead the NL in strikeout-to-walk ratio for the third straight season. The only four guys to do that in the last half-century are all Hall of Famers or Hall of Famers to be: Greg Maddux, Ferguson Jenkins, Juan Marichal and Robin Roberts. It hasn't been done in the AL since Lefty Grove. And nobody has done it four straight years since Carl Hubbell, in 1932-35.
Then there's inexhaustible Dodgers reliever Paul Quantrill. He's tied with Arizona's Oscar Villareal for the league lead in appearances. And if Quantrill holds on, he'll become only the eighth pitcher since 1900 to lead his league in games pitched in three straight years. The others: Steve Kline, Mike Marshall, Wilbur Wood, Firpo Marberry, Ace Adams, Ed Walsh and "Iron Man" McGinnity.
And finally, Albert Pujols might not win the classic triple crown (batting, homers, RBI), but he could win that other triple crown (batting, homers, runs scored). Think that one is easier to win? Nope. Carl Yastrzemski, in 1967, is also the last player to win the other triple crown. And there actually have been fewer winners of that triple crown (11) than the official triple crown (16). Nine of those 11 "official" winners also won the other triple crown. Pujols would join just Ted Williams (1941) and Babe Ruth (1924) as the only non-triple-crown winners to do it. But it will be tight. Through Monday, he was tied with Barry Bonds in homers (42) and tied with Todd Helton in runs (127). He had a 10-point lead over Helton in average (.367-.357).
So with all that to follow breathlessly, you'll need to keep one eye on the standings and the other on the stat sheet for the next two weeks -- and then we know a terrific laser surgeon we can refer you to.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.