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Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Updated: January 20, 1:23 PM ET
Rollins will be on the spot right away

By Tim Kurkjian
ESPN The Magazine

A new year brings historic milestones to reach, records to break and streaks -- good and bad -- to be extended, or ended. The name of Wee Willie Keeler, who hasn't played in almost 100 years, will come up more than once in 2006, which should be a fascinating year.

It all starts with Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who finished last season with a 36-game hitting streak, the ninth longest in baseball history, the longest since Paul Molitor's 39-game streak in 1987. Hitting streaks carry over from season to season, so if Rollins hits safely in his first 10 games of 2006, he would break Keeler's National League record of 45 consecutive games. Keeler hit safely in the final game of the 1896 season, and the first 44 games of the 1897 season. If Rollins hits safely in his first 21 games, he would break Joe DiMaggio's record for the longest hitting streak of all time.

Jimmy Rollins
April could be a memorable month for Jimmy Rollins.
There will be, as always, two entries in the record book, one for the longest streak over two seasons, and another for the longest streak in a single season, which, obviously, DiMaggio holds, with Keeler and Pete Rose second on that list with 44. Rollins' run at history is unprecedented given the length and lateness of his streak last season. Few, if any, players have had their first game of a season -- or, who knows, maybe the first three weeks -- watched more closely than will Rollins. Will he benefit from having six months off after 36 in a row, or will six months off ruin the continuity that he had at the end of 2005?

Miguel Tejada's streak of consecutive games played is at 918. Eighty-two more and he'll become the seventh player ever to play in 1,000 games (presumably, he'll get to 1,000 as an Oriole now that he says he doesn't want to be traded). And Hideki Matsui should extend his record for most consecutive games played (487) at the start of a career.

Ichiro Suzuki will be gunning for his sixth straight season of 200 or more hits; Keeler had eight in a row (1894-1901) and Wade Boggs holds the modern record (1900-present) with seven straight. Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz will attempt to do what no teammates have ever done, not even Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig: hit 40 home runs and drive in 130 runs each in three straight years. That's assuming, of course, that Ramirez isn't traded before then. And Albert Pujols will attempt to extend his unprecedented streak: until he arrived, no player had ever finished in the top five of the MVP voting in each of his first three seasons. Pujols has done it five seasons in a row, and last year, finally, won the NL honor.

There are several team streaks in play. The Red Sox hold the American League record for most consecutive years (73) without the lowest winning percentage in the league, and the Cardinals hold the NL record for most consecutive seasons (87) without the worst record in the league. Those two streaks surely will be continued. The Devil Rays have lost 90 or more games in eight straight seasons, the longest since the St. Louis Browns/Baltimore Orioles did it nine consecutive years, from 1947-55. The record is 10 straight by the Phillies, from 1936-45.

There are more milestones to reach than streaks in 2006. Barry Bonds needs seven home runs to pass Ruth for the most home runs in history by a left-handed hitter (and with 88 runs scored, Bonds would pass Rose into fifth on the career list). Sammy Sosa, if he finds a team to sign him, needs 12 home runs to become the fifth player ever to hit 600. A far greater stretch is Rafael Palmeiro's finding a team, then hitting 31 home runs for 600. Julio Franco, 48, found a new team for two years in the Mets. If he hits a home run this year, he will replace pitcher Jack Quinn as the oldest player to do so in a major-league game.

Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, 38, needs 43 saves to pass Lee Smith as the all-time leader. Hoffman, who has 84 saves the last two years, nearly signed with the Indians this winter. His breaking Smith's record for any team other than the Padres just wouldn't have seemed right. Mets closer Billy Wagner needs 16 saves for 300. If he saves 50, which is possible, he would move into ninth all time, behind Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers.

Kenny Rogers
Rogers

Pedro Martinez
Martinez

Several pitchers have a shot at 200 wins, led by Pedro Martinez, who is at 197. With another shutout, Martinez would pass Ruth on the all-time list with 18. Curt Schilling needs eight wins for 200 and Kenny Rogers needs 10 -- amazing considering when he was drafted in the 35th round in 1982, he was so raw, he didn't even know how to pitch from the stretch. John Smoltz needs 23 wins for 200, which would help his chances of making it to the Hall of Fame. Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux has 300 wins, but if he wins a Gold Glove in 2006, as he did in 2005, it would be his 16th, tying Jim Kaat for the most Gold Gloves ever won by a pitcher.

More records will fall and more milestones will be reached depending on what Roger Clemens decides to do. Craig Biggio, Clemens' teammate the last two years, continues his run at 3,000 hits -- he's 205 away. And if Biggio scores 100 runs, he will pass seven Hall of Famers into 16th place, one run behind Ted Williams. But Biggio and Jeff Bagwell don't have to worry about the record for most runs scored by teammates: they already hold it.

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.