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Thursday, December 23, 2010
Hitting some strange patches in 2010

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

A Molina brother hit for the cycle. A Pirate got tagged out in the middle of a home run trot. And the same baserunner stole third -- and got caught stealing third -- in the same inning. And if all that could happen in one year, it's just more proof it was another Strange But True kind of season. So what better excuse to look back at the Strangest But Truest Hitting Feats of 2010.

The Very Strangest But Truest Hitting Feat Of The Year

Every once in a while, a stat erupts in baseball that's so mind-warping, it feels like it must have been dreamed up by the guys who created "Lost." But there's a reason we crank out these Strange But True columns every darned year. And it's all because stuff like this happens, in real life.

Ichiro
Ichiro got plenty of hits in 2010. His teammates, though, rarely drove him home.

So here it comes, a little tidbit we've broken out before. Heck, we confess we've even broken it out before this week. But every time we type it, we still have trouble believing it. So we're rolling it out there one more time.

It involves our man Ichiro Suzuki.

He got the most hits in the American League last season. No shocker there.

Yet he still, somehow, scored fewer runs than the man who got the fewest hits in the National League (among players who qualified for the batting title).

Seriously.

It makes no sense, but it's a 100 percent true fact. Here. See for yourself:

Ichiro: 74 runs, 214 hits
Mark Reynolds: 79 runs, 99 hits

Is baseball the Strangest But Truest sport ever invented, or what?

Strangest But Truest Trip Around The Bases Of The Year

On Aug. 11, Astros sprint champ Michael Bourn pulled off a feat we've never heard of. You should try it on your Xbox 360 sometime -- except, of course, that you should be aware there's an excellent possibility it might blow up.

So here's what Bourn did:

On back-to-back pitches, he stole third base -- after getting caught stealing third base.

Here's his amazing journey around the bases, as passed along by Astros broadcaster/Strange-But-True fan Brett Dolan:

Bourn led off the fourth inning with a single. Then he stole second. Then, on the next pitch, he took off for third.

Oops. The pitcher, Atlanta's Tommy Hanson, was on to him. So Hanson whirled and got him in a rundown. Which seemed like a stupendous idea until Hanson dropped a throw. So Bourn -- probably America's greatest escape artist since Curtis Lovell -- scrambled back into second. Score it caught-stealing/E1.

And what happened on the very next pitch? He roared off for third again and made it -- this time, with no muss, no fuss, no rundowns and no E's on the scoreboard.

So there you go. That's an SB of third and a CS at third in the same inning. We swear we're not making this up. You can watch it for yourself. And it won't look anything like an episode of "Lost." We promise.

Strangest But Truest Home Delivery Of The Year

Chris Nelson
Chris Nelson won't ever forget his first stolen base. Ever.

We're still not sure how this happened.

On Sept. 9, September call-up -- and emergency pinch-runner -- Chris Nelson almost single-handedly won a game for the Rockies in which he never batted and never wore a glove.

By doing something he'd never done before in his life.

By pulling off a straight steal of home.

To score the winning run.

In his team's final at-bat.

For the first stolen base of his career.

Pretty amazing feat. But there's more.

It was Nelson's only steal of the year, in 17 games in the big leagues.

He stole only seven bases in the minors. And five the year before that. And six the year before that.

And he'd never stolen home anywhere, any time, not even in T-ball.

Oh, and he was the first player in 25 years to steal home in a game in which he never batted or played the field. (Gary Pettis was the last, on June 11, 1985, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.)

So how strange was that? But still as true as it gets.

Strangest But Truest Cyclist Of The Year

Bengie Molina
Molina

Never get tired of mentioning this.

Bengie Molina hit for the cycle this year (on July 16, to be exact). Bengie Molina.

And of course, his final hit in that cycle was a triple.

In a season in which he hit no other triples in 416 trips to the plate.

In a season in which he got fewer extra-base hits all year (18) than his teammate, Josh Hamilton, got in one month (20, in June).

And it took the guy 14.7 action-packed seconds to "dash" from home plate to third base -- which was only three-quarters of a second faster than it took A's motorist Adam Rosales to touch all four bases on a June 12 home run "trot."

So we sure hope Bengie doesn't retire. He's a Strange But True nugget waiting to happen every time he takes the field.

Strangest But Truest Debut Of The Year

John Lindsey
Lindsey

It was the most heartwarming Strange But True tale of 2010.

In September, the Dodgers called up 33-year-old rookie John Lindsey, after 16 years in the minor leagues. And on Sept. 8, he made his long-awaited big league debut.

By playing in a game he never played in.

True.

He was announced as a pinch hitter. The Padres switched pitchers. Then Joe Torre sent up Andre Ethier to hit for Lindsey. And that, according to the old record book, was the entire story of John Lindsey's major league debut.

Oh, you can find him in the box score. But only in baseball could a guy wait 16 years to play in a game he never actually played in.

In Other Strange But True News …

Troy Tulowitzki outhomered the Orioles -- all of them -- after Sept. 1 (15-14).

David Eckstein struck out nine times in his first 226 at-bats of the season. Rick Ankiel struck out in nine at-bats in a row in September.

• The first walk-off home run of 2010 came off the bat of a man who hit no walk-offs in 2009 and, in fact, hadn't hit one in five years. That would be Reds bopper Jonny Gomes, who then -- yessir -- hit no more walk-offs all season.

Curtis Granderson played 674 games for the Tigers in his career and never hit a game-winning extra-inning home run. So what did he do in the first extra-inning game he ever played for the Yankees? Hit a game-winning 10th-inning home run, naturally.

• In an Aug. 30 game in the Pacific Coast League, stud Royals prospect Mike Moustakas had as many homers (three) and RBIs (11) in one night as Diamondbacks outfielder Rusty Ryal had all season in Arizona -- in 101 games and 222 plate appearances.

• On the very first pitch thrown to him in the big leagues, fabled Chico Outlaws alum Daniel Nava hit a grand slam. So how many home runs did Nava hit in his 187 trips to the plate for the Red Sox after that fairy-tale moment? Zero, of course.

• Only one qualifying hitter in the National League swung at a higher percentage of pitches last season than Giants hackmeister Juan Uribe, according to FanGraphs. But not on May 9. That was the night the Mets threw him 21 pitches -- and Uribe, channeling his inner Barry Bonds, swung at none of them, for the first four-walk game of his career. Only took him 1,136 games to do it, too.

• Nobody had a "wilder" trip around the bases last season than Ryan Church. In an Aug. 29 game against Matt Cain, he reached first base on a strikeout/wild pitch, made it to second on a wild pitch, then moved up to third on (right you are) another wild pitch. Naturally, they were the only three wild pitches Cain threw in any game (or inning) after July 22.

• A tale of two phenoms: Carlos Gonzalez got an extra-base hit in 10 games in a row in September. Brandon Wood got an extra-base hit in six games all season.

• Columns like this wouldn't be possible without guys like Justin Maxwell. He's a .201 career hitter with nine homers and 219 lifetime at-bats in the big leagues. And he just hit his third career grand slam. George Brett -- who played 21 seasons, got 10,349 at-bats, hit 317 home runs and got 3,154 hits -- hit only two grand slams. Maxwell has gotten five career at-bats with the bases loaded. He's whomped slams in three of them. Ohbytheway, he whiffed in the other two.

• Only one team in the big leagues had two different hitters strike out against position players guest-starring as pitchers. And that team was -- who else? -- the Yankees. First, Brett Gardner K'd against Boston's Jonathan Van Every in May. Then Nick Swisher punched out against Cleveland's Andy Marte in September.

• But in more upbeat news, Swisher became the first man since Jack Clark (1981-82) to hit walk-off home runs on the same date (Sept. 8) exactly one year apart. And, as ESPN Stats & Information guru Mark Simon reminds us, Gardner played an indispensable role in teammate Colin Curtis' first (and only career) homer -- by getting ejected. Curtis then pinch hit for him and thumped a three-run bomb.

Dan Haren, who normally pitches for a living, had a higher OPS (.902) than Adam Dunn, Ryan Braun, Hanley Ramirez and Ryan Howard. As our friends at You Can't Predict Baseball told us, this was the same guy whose career OPS before last season was .493 (in 230 plate appearances).

• We'll give him a concussion asterisk for this, obviously, but Jason Bay never did hit a home run at Citi Field after May 23. Among those who did: Luis Hernandez, Lucas Duda and Johan Santana.

• On his way to a $126 million contract, leading the league in doubles and nearly leading the league in sacrifice flies, Jayson Werth somehow went three months (from May 19-Aug. 18) without getting a single hit with a runner in scoring position and two outs. In between, he went 0-for-35. Really.

• Grand slams don't get any stranger than Josh Willingham's April 11 slam at Citi Field. Catcher Rod Barajas got crashed into at the plate twice -- by both Willingham and the runner on first, Adam Dunn. And not only did Willingham never get to trot, he was actually called out at home -- until umpires looked at the replay and realized his rocket to center had cleared the magic yellow line. So in other words, you know all that colliding and running around? Uh, never mind.

• Here's another one you have to see to believe. On May 9, the Pirates' always-creative Lastings Milledge managed to get tagged out -- during a home run trot. How'd that happen? Well, he thought he'd just hit his first career grand slam. Fireworks even went off. But there was one minor hang-up: The ball forgot to leave the park. Unfortunately, Milledge was still busy trotting from second to third when that bulletin arrived -- via tag.

Kevin Kouzmanoff and Wilson Valdez both managed to ground into a double play five games in a row. In a slightly quicker universe, Ichiro has only grounded into a double play in five of his past 338 games.

• How sweet are the swings of Joey Votto and Buster Posey? They didn't hit a single popup to the infield all year. No kidding.

• On April 18, Jason Heyward arrived at home plate with two outs in the ninth and his team trailing -- and hit a walk-off single. In his next game, he came to the plate with two outs in the ninth and his team trailing -- and mashed a game-tying homer. It had been nearly 40 years (since Carlos Lee, 1972) since anybody had done that in either order.

• But no rookie beat Starlin Castro for Strange But Trueness. Not only did the first major leaguer born in the '90s get a hit off a guy who was 27 years and 8 months older than him (Jamie Moyer), but he also crammed a homer, triple and six RBIs into the first three at-bats of his May 7 big league debut. So in two hours, Castro owned one more six-RBI game than Chipper Jones, a fellow who's fifth among all active players in RBIs. That strange enough for ya?

• Finally, in back-to-back plate appearances, in back-to-back innings April 11, the Rangers' David Murphy made it to first base on catcher's interference calls on the same catcher, Seattle's Adam Moore. Don't ask us what's up with that. Murphy has never even drawn two catcher's interference calls in the same month other than that. And Moore has never been called for catcher's interference in any of the other 64 games he's played in the big leagues. But we appreciate their stellar contribution to Strange But Trueness more than they'll ever know.

Coming Friday: Strangest But Truest injuries of 2010.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.