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Friday, September 2, 2011
Three Strikes: September History Watch


Now that we've flipped our calendars to September, you know what that means. Right you are. It means it's time to ask yourself what the heck you were thinking when you took Brett Favre in your fantasy football draft. That's what.

But that, fortunately, isn't all it means. It also means it's time to revive one of my favorite annual features of this blog -- the ongoing September History Watch.

I regret to announce that not all of that history is going to turn out to be good history. But us History Watchers can't help that. It's our job to unearth historic pursuits of all sizes and shapes. You can make of them what you will. You can also help us with this gig by sending your own nominations to uselessinfodept@yahoo.com or, via Twitter, to @jaysonst.

So on that note, on with the show.

STRIKE ONE: BATTLE OF THE HR CHAMPS

If you check out your handy dandy list of league leaders, you may notice something that definitely got Three Strikes' attention.

Your NL home run leader is Albert Pujols, with 34.

But your NL gopherball leader is Bronson Arroyo. And he's served up 36.

So if you're following this, you've just correctly deduced that this league has given us a gopherball leader who is, astoundingly, outhomering the home run leader.

Now this sort of thing used to happen all the time -- back in, like, 1880, when you could hit six home runs and lead the league. But lately? Uh, not so much.

In fact, according to the Sultan of Swat Stats -- SABR home run historian David Vincent -- we've only had two occasions in the last 35 years where the home run champ in either league got outhomered by his league's gopherball champ.

There was 2004 in the AL: Jamie Moyer 44, Manny Ramirez 43.

And there was 1986, also in the AL: Bert Blyleven 50, Jesse Barfield 40.

It actually happened a bunch of times in the AL in the '70s. But to find the last time a NATIONAL LEAGUE gopherball king beat the home run king, you have to travel back more than a half-century, to 1956: Robin Roberts 46, Duke Snider 43.

And before that, you have to rewind all the way to 1937: Lon Warneke 32, Mel Ott and Joe Medwick (HR co-leaders) 31.

So Bronson Arroyo finds himself in nearly uncharted post-World War II territory. And ohbytheway, that's not the only historic territory he's hanging out in.

His 36 home runs, heading into September, were only two fewer than Blyleven had served up in 1986, when he was on his way to the all-time gopherballing record of 50.

So I ask you: Is there anything more exciting than a thrilling duel for home run history? Of course not. So watch those box scores!

STRIKE TWO: PACIFIC OCEAN'S 11

Speaking of unusual home run leaders, out in San Diego, the Padres have a fascinating little home run race of their own going on.

Back on July 7 -- three days before the All-Star break -- Ryan Ludwick hit his 11th home run of the season for the Padres, by far the most on the roster. Well, it's nearly two months later. Ludwick is now a Pirate. And he still leads the Padres in homers -- with 11.

Padres

So what's the historic significance of that, you ask?

Well, if we toss out strike-shortened seasons, only one team in the last 32 years has made it through an entire season without having anybody hit at least a dozen homers. That would be Joe Torre's 1991 Cardinals, whose home run champ was Todd Zeile, also with 11.

But at least Zeile spent the whole season as a Cardinal. And the current Padres roster has no player in uniform who is even in double figures. And just so you know, the last team that ended a full season with everybody on its roster in single digits in homers was Bill Virdon's hard-hitting 1979 Astros, who were led by Jose Cruz -- with nine.

So is this a fate that's about to befall the 2011 Padres? Well, their runner-up in homers is Cameron Maybin. He's hit eight. But only three of them have come in his last 316 trips to the plate. So it's tough to count on him.

The best bet, then, is the mammoth Kyle Blanks -- all 6-feet-6, 255 pounds of him. He's next, with seven. And he hit all of them last month. Before that, he'd bopped 15 in the minor leagues this year. So he has four weeks to rescue the Padres from this dubious, though definitely historic, feat. They'd better hope he doesn't spend those four weeks firing, ehhhhh, blanks. Right?

STRIKE THREE: USELESS INFO DEPT.

Meanwhile, in other news:

Andre Ethier did something Tuesday that seems as if it ought to be impossible: He got the Dodgers' first AND second hit in the same inning. Here's how that happened:

He led off the second inning with a single. The next eight hitters went: walk, strikeout, walk, walk, sacrifice fly, walk, walk, walk. Then Ethier stepped back in and hit a grand slam. Amazing.

Retrosheet founder Dave Smith reports that he checked every game back to 1950 and found only two other players who had ever gotten their teams' first and second hits in any inning:

One was Derek Jeter. (Who else?) He got the first two hits for the Yankees in a seven-run eighth inning, on Aug. 8, 2001.

The other was Greg Vaughn. He collected the first two hits for the Padres in a five-run sixth inning on Sept. 12, 1998.

Of those three, only Ethier got his team's first two hits of the GAME. And only Ethier worked in anything besides a single. Hard to do, friends.

• Meanwhile, the starting pitcher on the other end of that insanity -- the Padres' Tim Stauffer -- rolled up a box-score line you sure don't see much:

1 2/3 IP, 1 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 7 BB, 2 K

According to baseball-reference.com's fabulous Play Index, Stauffer was only the third pitcher in the live-ball era to find a way to give up seven runs (or more) on only ONE hit, in less than two innings. Amazingly, one of the other two, Ryan Dempster, did it TWICE.

• Speaking of box-score madness, an incredible thing happened in Wednesday's Indians-A's marathon (besides the fact that they wound up playing like 1,000 innings): Both starting pitchers -- Ubaldo Jimenez and Rich Harden -- unfurled the same pitching line:

6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 K

So how often does THAT happen? Glad you asked. Until about two months ago, it had happened just once in the last 30 years, according to Dave Smith -- a John Smoltz-Donovan Osborne duel on Aug. 19, 1995 (3-4-4-4-2-3). But we've now seen it twice just in the last nine WEEKS, since Gavin Floyd and Jason Hammel just spun matching 7-6-2-2-2-0 lines in a June 28 White Sox-Rockies game. Tremendous sport, isn't it?

• As you might have heard, the Yankees became the first team ever to hit three grand slams in one game last week. But think of it this way: That day, the Yankees hit three slams in four innings. Across town, the Mets have hit two grand slams in their last 354 GAMES.

• Phillies rotation stat of the day: 27 times this year, a Phillies starter has given up zero runs. If that happens four more times in September, it would be the most scoreless starts by any staff in a season since the mound was lowered after 1968. And even if you go back further, only two rotations have rolled up 31 starts like that (or more) in any season in the expansion era: Bob Gibson's 1968 Cardinals (31) and Sandy Koufax's 1964 Dodgers (34).

Craig Kimbrel stat of the day: There are 98 starting pitchers out there who have worked enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Kimbrel now has racked up more strikeouts (110, in only 66 2/3 innings) than 32 of them -- including a guy who leads the league in ERA (Johnny Cueto), a guy who could win the AL Rookie of the Year award (Jeremy Hellickson) and six opening-day starters (Mike Pelfrey, Carl Pavano, Mark Buehrle, Kevin Correia, Livan Hernandez and Fausto Carmona). This guy boggles our brains.

• Finally, Jim Thome was sitting on 601 home runs the day he was traded to the Indians. And that makes him the fourth player in history to get traded after joining the 600-Homer Club. It's possible you'll recognize the others:

Ken Griffey Jr. had 608 when the Reds traded him to the White Sox in 2008; Willie Mays had 646 when the Giants dealt him to the Mets in 1972; and Hank Aaron had 733 when the Braves traded him to the Brewers in 1974.

And for all of you shouting, "What about Babe Ruth," Ruth was released by the Yankees -- not traded -- and then signed by the Boston Braves, in 1935. He had a mere 708 homers at the time.