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Friday, September 23, 2011
Updated: September 24, 12:18 PM ET
Three Strikes: Triple Crown edition


And the September history watch rolls ever onward!

STRIKE ONE -- TRIFECTA DEPT.

Normally, here in the History Watch editions of Three Strikes, we focus on goofy little historic pursuits you may be missing. But not today. Today, we're focusing on …

One of the MOST IMPORTANT HISTORIC PURSUITS OF THE WHOLE DARNED YEAR -- which, for some reason, just about everybody STILL seems to be missing.

Matt Kemp
Can Matt Kemp do it? Nobody has been this close to winning the Triple Crown this late in the season in a half century.

It's been so long now since anyone won a Triple Crown in this sport that we're down to only two only active players who were even alive the last time somebody (i.e., Carl Yastrzemski) won it. They would be Omar Vizquel and Tim Wakefield, of course. (You were expecting maybe Starlin Castro?)

You history majors will know that Yaz won in 1967. But wait. This gets even more stupendous. That's because Matt Kemp was making his ferocious Triple Crown run in the National League the last time we checked. And nobody has won a Triple Crown in the NL since … (cue the percussion section) … Joe Medwick, in … (bass drums only, please) … 1937.

That was 74 years ago, folks. And how long ago was that? Heck, the only MANAGER who was even alive back then was good old Jack McKeon.

So don't ask us why more people aren't worked up about Matt Kemp. Can't explain that. But it's time to start paying attention -- close attention -- because Kemp has put himself in position to actually pull this off.

First off, he leads the league in RBIs (118) -- by five over Ryan Howard and six over Prince Fielder -- with only six games to go.

He's also just one home run (36) behind Albert Pujols -- and would have caught him Thursday if Pujols hadn't homered earlier in the day.

Plus, at .326, Kemp is now just four points behind Ryan Braun in batting average. And that, we suspect, is the column on this stat sheet people haven't been watching -- for good reason.

As loyal reader Trent McCotter points out, Kemp was trailing in the batting race by 19 points as recently as a WEEK ago. He was still 16 points back on Sept. 18. But over his last four games, he's gone an insane 11 for 17 (.647), which has driven him from 16 to within 13, then 11, then eight, and now four points of the league lead.

So how often has any player had this realistic a shot at a Triple Crown this late in any of those 44 seasons since the Yaz Triple Crown? We asked the Elias Sports Bureau to take a look. You know what they concluded?

Never. That's what.

According to Elias, not ONCE in all these seasons since 1967 has any player been:

• Leading the league in batting average or been within five points.

• Leading the league in homers or been within one.

• Leading the league in RBIs or been within one.

And that's not just in the final week of the season. That's in the final 15 days of any of those seasons.

So in nearly half a century of waiting around for another Triple Crown winner, we've never had a bid like this to follow in the final days of any season. Again, that's never. Ever. So if you weren't taking this drama seriously before, here's our advice:

It's time to start. Right … now.

STRIKE TWO -- TRIBE FEVER DEPT.

Indians

Once upon a time, the Cleveland Indians were the best story in baseball. Remember?

Back on May 23, they beat the Red Sox with two runs in their last at-bat, to raise their record to 30-15, the very best (at the time) in the whole sport.

Then, unfortunately, the season refused to end.

Since that fateful day, the Indians are 16 games under .500 (47-63). Which means, they're now below .500 (at 77-78), with a mere seven games left in the season.

If you're thinking, boy, THAT'S hard to do, we can only reply: Well, correctamente.

It's so hard, in fact, that in the history of baseball, only three teams have ever had that good a record over their first 45 games and then finished with a losing record.

There was Horace Helmbold's 1890 Philadelphia Athletics, of the late, great American Association. They started 30-15 and wound up 54-78.

There was Babe Young's 1940 New York Giants. They, too, were 30-15 once -- and ended up at 72-80.

And then there was a team from Cleveland that also pulled this off. That was Bunk Congalton's 1905 Cleveland Naps. They were 31-14 after 45 games -- but were 76-78 by the time they hit the finish line.

So that's no teams in the last 71 years, one in the last 106 years and only one in the entire history of the American League. To avoid joining that group, the Indians need to go 4-3 against the Twins and Tigers to finish at exactly .500, or 5-2 to finish with a winning record.

Boy, talk about adding drama to the last week of the season. You can't beat this. Heck, even Bunk Congalton will be pulling for them, wherever he is.

STRIKE THREE -- USELESS INFO DEPT.

Pirates

In other news …

• The question they're asking in Pittsburgh, though, is: Which is harder -- the Indians' tumble over their last 100 games or the Pirates' cliff dive since their first 100 games? The Pittsburgh Tribune-Reviews Dejan Kovacevic sure makes a compelling case that it's the Buccos. They were in first place after 100 games (at 53-47). They're 16-40 (a .286 winning percentage) since. According to Elias, that's the worst record in history by any team that was in first place after 100 games. The runner-up: George Mitterwald's 1977 Cubs (who finished 21-41, .339).

• Here's one feat these Pirates are now mathematically incapable of achieving, however: Losing more times in their final 62 games than in their first 100. The only team we've uncovered that somehow did that? Those same '77 Cubs.

• Speaking of ugly finishes, Elias reports that the Phillies are the first team ever to clinch a league or division, then kick off a losing streak of six games or more, starting with the very next game. Impressive feat.

• But the Phillies are also the first team since Moose McCormick's 1904 New York Giants to lose six in a row after winning their 98th game of the season. And here's the big news: NO team in that spot has ever lost seven straight.

• Now the Phillies have to go 4-2 in their final six games to avoid becoming only the third first-place team ever to have a 3-9 finish (or worse) in its final 12 games. The others: the 2000 Yankees (who went 2-10 and still won the World Series) and John Mayberry Sr.'s 1976 Royals (who went 3-9 and got beat by the Yankees in the first round of the postseason).

• A little history for Bronson Arroyo this week: He was the first pitcher in history to take the mound after giving up at least 44 gopherballs and then throw a complete-game shutout. Thanks to the Astros for making that possible.

• Finally, for the third month this year, the Red Sox have played four different games this month in which they've scored at least 12 runs. Not too shockingly, they're undefeated in those games. Here's what IS shocking: They're 1-16 in September when they score UNDER 12. We're guessing that's a first -- even for the Red Sox.