Stark book excerpt: 'Wild Pitches'
Stark's "Wild Pitches"
Editor's note: This excerpt from "Wild Pitches: Rumblings, Grumblings, and Reflections on the Game I Love" by Jayson Stark is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/WildPitches.
Strange But True Feats of the Millennium
What's the best thing about baseball? It's stranger than Lady Gaga's wardrobe, stranger than My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé, maybe even stranger than Brian Wilson's beard. The impossible becomes possible every day of every season. The madness never ends. And we can't stop watching -- or loving every minute of it. So here they come, my favorite Strange But True Feats of the 21st century (so far):
Strangest But Truest Home Run of the Millennium
Haven't we always suspected that nobody was a bigger threat to stretch a home run into a single than that fabled sprint champ, Bengie Molina? Well, on September 26, 2008, the Giants' always-innovative catcher did something even more impossible:
He hit a home run -- but didn't score a run.
So how'd he become the first man in major league history to pull that off? It took a rare, Molina-esque combination of muscle, leadfoot-itude, and modern technology. But it happened, all right. Here's how:
In the sixth inning of this game, Molina lofted a fly ball that looked as if it hit the top of the right-field wall at AT&T Park. So Molina stopped at first. Emmanuel Burriss pinch-ran for him. And nothing seemed amiss -- until Omar Vizquel told Giants manager Bruce Bochy he thought he'd heard the ball clank off the metal roof just above the wall.
So Bochy asked the umpires to use replay. And whaddayaknow, the call was reversed and Molina had himself a two-run homer. But the umps wouldn't let Molina come back to finish his trot because Burriss was already in the game and couldn't exit. So Burriss finished circling the bases. And Molina wound up with a box-score line that went 3-0-1-2 -- on a night he hit a home run.
Want to know how impossible that is? When official scorer Michael Duca tried to enter this sequence into his computer, the computer program wouldn't let him -- because every computer ever built knows a guy can't hit a home run without scoring a run. Right?
So even the box scores of this momentous event are all mixed up. Retrosheet has it right. But our friends over at baseball-reference.com still can't make their box-score program believe this happened. But it did. In actual life. And all of us Strange But True Feats of the Millennium fans will be eternally grateful that it did.
Strangest But Truest Base Running Feat of the Millennium
On the fateful evening of April 19, 2013, we finally found baseball's version of Leon Lett.
We're talking about Brewers shortstop Jean Segura, who, like the mixed-up grandma who made a U-turn on a one-way street, performed an act of base running madness that he'll be seeing, on scoreboard video-screen blooper reels, for the rest of his life.
To even try to describe this adventure is almost as challenging as actually doing it. But basically, here's the simplest way to sum it up:
This guy stole second. Then he tried to steal third but somehow wound up on first. Then he got thrown out trying to steal second again. All in a span of five pitches.
Just try that on your PlayStation sometime. Excellent chance smoke starts pouring out of it within seconds.
"Bizarre," umpire Tom Hallion said afterward. "Technically, he stole second, stole first, then got thrown out stealing second."
Well, "technically," he didn't, to be honest, because that's impossible. But in real life, here's what actually happened:
On a 2-2 pitch to Ryan Braun, in the eighth inning of a game against the Cubs, Segura stole second. On the next pitch, Braun walked. So far, pretty standard stuff. But not for long.
Three pitches after that, Segura broke for third. But his first mistake was, he forgot to wait until the pitcher, Shawn Camp, delivered the ball.
So Camp whirled and got Segura hung up between second and third. That led Braun to follow Baseball 101 protocol and roar into second base. Which was proper and cool -- until Segura scrambled back to the bag to join him.
The Cubs started tagging everyone in the vicinity. And the rules say it was Braun who was out. But that was news to Segura, who thought he was the one who was out. So he started trotting toward the dugout.
Along the way, though, he got the memo that he wasn't out after all. So he pulled back into first base. And first-base coach Garth Iorg wouldn't let him leave.
Not until two pitches later, anyway -- when Segura burst toward second again and, in take two, got thrown out.
So there you have it -- a man who stole second and was caught stealing second in the same inning.
Without his team batting around.
This was another play the computers of America weren't ready for. The baseball-reference.com play-by-play account lists him as "advancing" to first base -- from second. The MLB.com box and play-by-play don't even bother explaining how any of this happened. And the official ruling, at the time, was that he was caught stealing third, even though he actually slid into second (three different times, in fact), just because there was no way to make a computer understand how he wound up on first.
It was such a mess, it took three days for baseball's umpiring gurus to step in and say he should have been called out the first time. But by the time that happened, some of my favorite creative thinkers had so much fun kicking this around, they decided this could trigger a whole new way to liven up the sport. Former Brewers third-base coach Rich Donnelly (who will be heard from again in this piece) devised the perfect plan: once a year, he proposed, baseball should liven things up by having everybody run the bases backward. Hitters would run to third instead of first. And then they'd just keep going, left to right instead of right to left. Hmmm, why not?
"Who said that when you hit the ball, you have to go to first?" Donnelly wondered. "Abner Doubleday? No, he didn't. The important thing is, you have to get home.
"It's like when we were teenagers. All your parents said was, 'You have to be home.' They didn't say which way you had to go. Did they?"
Strangest But Truest Grand Finale of the Millennium
I still can't believe this happened, but millions watched it unfold with their hearts pumping.
It was the final night of the 2011 baseball season. Remember?
The Red Sox were one out away from beating the Orioles ... the Rays trailed the Yankees 7-0 in the eighth inning ... and then ...
Amazingly, it was the Rays who wound up winning and making the playoffs. It was the Red Sox who wound up losing and completing the most epic collapse of all time. And it all happened. In real life.
So here come the Strange But True developments that sum up the monumental improbability of that turn of events:
• Until that night, the Red Sox were 89-0 in games they led in the ninth inning or later. Yep, 89 and 000000000.
• The man they had on the mound, Jonathan Papelbon, had blown one save since May 9, had struck out the first two hitters in the ninth, and had two outs and nobody on with the No. 8 and 9 hitters coming up.
• Meanwhile, in Tampa Bay, the Yankees hadn't blown a seven-run lead in the eighth inning or later in any game they'd played, against anybody, since August 18, 1953.
• All the Rays were trying to do was become the first team in history to find themselves seven runs down -- at any point -- in their final game of the season and then come back to win a game that launched them into the postseason.
• The Red Sox would lose this game on a walkoff single by Robert Andino -- who before that moment was hitting .170 in the ninth inning, .196 with two outs and runners in scoring position, and .239 against all AL East teams not known as the Red Sox. But amazingly, this was his seventh Red Sox-killing RBI against Boston just in the last nine days of the season.
• The Rays would tie their game on a two-out, two-strike Dan Johnson pinch homer. Before that swing of the bat, Johnson was hitting .108 and hadn't had a hit in the big leagues since April 27.
• Then the hit that finished off the Red Sox -- and one of history's strangest but truest comebacks -- was Evan Longoria's 12th-inning walkoff homer. And where'd that home run leave the yard? It barely cleared the left-field fence in a spot known as "The Crawford Cut-out" -- because the Rays had lowered that section of the wall to help Carl Crawford rob home runs. Instead, incredibly, it wound up robbing Crawford and the Red Sox of a trip to October.
Strangest But Truest Blowout of the Millennium
This was the real score, of an actual major league game, played on August 22, 2007:
Rangers 30, Orioles 3.
"I kept thinking about the announcers all over the country giving the scores during their games," Orioles first baseman Kevin Millar told me after the most lopsided baseball game of modern times. "They had to be saying, '30-3? That's gotta be a misprint.'"
Ah, but that was no misprint. And all these years later, I'm still trying to digest a game that couldn't possibly happen -- but did.
• Four Orioles pitchers gave up six, seven, eight, and nine runs apiece. And that was the first time four pitchers on one team had ever allowed six-plus earned runs in the same game.
• The Orioles' bullpen gave up 24 (yep, 24) earned runs in this game-a record for any bullpen, any time, any place, any season.
• The Rangers' No. 3 hitter, Michael Young, drove in none of his team's 30 runs. But the Rangers' eighth and ninth hitters, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ramon Vazquez, knocked in seven apiece --the first time any 8-9 hitters had ever done anything like that in the same game.
• The Rangers hadn't scored 30 runs in any series in their last 54 series, then scored 30 in one game.
• They also hadn't scored 16 runs in any of their previous 371 games, then put up 16 just in the last two innings.
• And somehow, they scored those 30 runs in a game in which they had more innings where they didn't score (five) than innings where they did (four).
"The last time I was on a team that gave up 30, I was playing high school football," Millar laughed. "Our secondary defense was terrible that night."
Strangest But Truest Delay of Game of the Millennium
It was a game only Samantha Bee, BB King, and the late great Bea Arthur could have loved. The Bee Gees should have sung the anthem. And why B.J. Surhoff wasn't recruited to throw out the first pitch, I have no idea.
Normally, when there's a buzz in the ballpark, that's a good thing. But it wasn't such a good thing in San Diego on July 2, 2009 -- when the Astros and Padres got stung by the longest bee delay in modern baseball history.
They spent 52 minutes watching thousands of bees mistake the left-field ballgirl's Padres jacket for a rhododendron bush, or something. And it wasn't until their friendly neighborhood bee-keeper showed up and provided his own special brand of outfield extermination that they actually got to finish their little ballgame.
"You know, it's so ironic to have this happen in San Diego," then-Astros broadcaster Jim Deshaies told our Strange But True investigative force, "because they're never going to have a rain delay. I don't even know if they have a tarp. But they have a bee-keeper on speed-dial."
If you somehow stumbled onto the feed of this game on the MLB Extra Innings package, you know that Deshaies was the true MV-Bee of that telecast -- providing 52 minutes of hilarious bee quips and info. So we've called on him to fill in our bee-sieged readers on just what they missed:
On the bee-keeper's extermination techniques: "I was thinking, if this were you or I, we'd just go out there with a couple of cans of Raid and blast away. But with the bee-keeper, I expected something greater, something different -- like maybe he herds them back into the comb somehow and leads them off to safety. But no, the bee-keeper shows up and just does the same thing you or I would do: PSSSSSSSSSSHHH."
On how bizarre it was that this could happen to an Astros franchise known for its killer bees (Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio): "We should have tried to get Bagwell and Biggio on a satellite hook-up, so we could ask: 'Who are the real Killer Bees?'"
On the most important fact he learned from the "bee quiz" that he sprung on partner Bill Brown during the delay -- that all worker bees are females: "So the question Brownie asked me was, if the worker bees are females, then what do the male bees do? And my theory is: all the males just sit at home in their little bee recliners with a beer, watching SportsCenter. I can see them now. They're watching E-S-B-N, drinking a honey-rum lager."
10 More Awesome Strange But True Feats of the Millennium
1. How good was Luis Sojo at hanging on forever? In 2003, he played for the Yankees in a regular season game and their Old-Timers Game.
2. Whatever you do, don't say the Mariners "hit" into a triple play back on September 2, 2006, against Tampa Bay. Why not? Because this was one trifecta that got turned without a ball being put in play. So how'd that happen? It wasn't easy. Raul Ibanez got called out on strikes for the first out. Adrian Beltre got nailed stealing second for the second out. Then Jose Lopez bolted for the plate and got thrown out at home for the third out. Try that one on your Xbox sometime.
3. Has there ever been a stranger (but truer) hitting streak than Dan Uggla's out-of-the-blue 33-gamer in 2011? Let the record show that: On the day this streak started (July 5), Uggla was hitting .173. That was worse than Russell Branyan (.200), Jack Cust (.215), and Bill Hall (.214)-three guys who hit so badly, they got released.
That .173 average enabled Uggla to accomplish something during this streak that nobody has ever done, according to Strange But True streak guru Trent McCotter: the guy started out so low, he was able to raise his batting average in 27 games in a row!
And by the time his streak finally came to an end, nearly a month and a half later, Uggla was still only hitting .231 -- after a 33-game hitting streak. Not only was that the worst average in history at the time a streak that long ended -- but nobody else was within 66 points of him.
4. On September 8, 2010, after 16 long years in the minor leagues, 33-year-old Dodgers rookie John Lindsey finally made his long awaited big-league debut -- by playing in a game he never played in. True story. He was announced as a pinch hitter. The Padres switched pitchers. Andre Ethier then pinch-hit for him. And that, according to the record book, was the entire story of John Lindsey's major league debut.
5. In the Strange But True postseason classic that was Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, the Cardinals trailed by scores of 1-0, 3-2, 4-3, 7-4, and 9-7 -- and won. Just so you know, the Cardinals had played 19,387 regular season games in their history at that point. Not once, in any of them, had they won a game in which they trailed five different times.
6. There have been many, many insane baseball games in the 2000s. But for seven mind-boggling hours of pure, cue-the-Twilight-Zone-thememusic strangeness, you couldn't beat this classic: Mets 2, Cardinals 1, in 20 seemingly never-ending innings, on April 17, 2010.
• This game began with neither team scoring for 36 consecutive half-innings -- after which, of course, the same two teams scored in three half-innings in a row!
• How 'bout this: the Mets won this game even though precisely one of the first 37 hitters they sent to the plate got a hit.
• The winning pitcher (Francisco Rodriguez) was the only guy on his team who gave up a run-in 20 innings.
• This was the first game since 1979 in which a pitcher (emergency Cardinals outfielder Kyle Lohse) recorded two putouts in a game he wasn't pitching in.
• The Cardinals needed to point two different position players (Felipe Lopez and Joe Mather) to the mound to get nine outs as pitchers.
• And fittingly, it was the first game in the history of baseball in which a position player (Mather) took the loss, a closer (K-Rod) got the win, and a starter (Mike Pelfrey) wound up with a save. Of course it was!
7. How allergic to scoring runs were the 2010 Mariners? All you need to know is that Ichiro Suzuki -- the guy who was first in the American League in hits that year -- still managed to score fewer runs (74) than Mark Reynolds (79), the guy who was last (among qualifiers) in the National League in hits. We kiddeth you not.
8. Thanks to the miracle of suspended animation -- or at least a suspended Nationals-Astros game in 2009 that started on May 5 (in Washington, D.C.) and didn't end until July 9 (in Houston) -- the Astros managed to lose a game on a walkoff hit in their home park. (First team to do that since the 1975 Twins). And Washington's winning pitcher was Joel Hanrahan, who had been traded to the Pirates during that two-month intermission. So he was actually taking a nap at the moment he was awarded that win. "You know," quipped Rich Donnelly, a Pirates coach at the time, "if he'd have gotten a good eight hours in, he might have had a chance to win 20."
9. Ever played that card game, Crazy Eights? The 2012 Mariners obviously had. In a May 30, 2012, game in Texas, they mysteriously awoke from their perpetual offensive funk to put up eight-run innings in two innings in a row. Before that, naturally, they'd scored eight runs (or more) in precisely one of their previous 5,277 innings. And afterward? Well, as this book went to press, they'd played another 2,490 innings since that game. You know how many times they'd scored eight runs (or more) in any of those innings? Right you are. None.
10. Finally, the ultimate proof that literally anything is possible in baseball appeared before our eyes on September 18, 2006, when the Dodgers entered the bottom of the ninth inning of a game against San Diego, trailing by four runs. And then:
• Hit four home runs in a row to tie the game.
• And did it in a span of seven pitches.
• And hit them off two pitchers (Jon Adkins and Trevor Hoffman) who had given up three homers all season to the previous 432 hitters they'd faced.
• And then, after falling behind in the top of the 10th, hit another homer in the bottom of the 10th to turn a loss into a win.
• Oh. And one more thing we forgot to mention: the Dodgers were last in the league in home runs at the time.
"It might be the most amazing thing that ever happened in sports," said Rich Donnelly, who was coaching third as all those Dodgers trotted by. "It's like the Stanford band thing-without the trombones."
MLB ON ESPN.COM
The Giants cruised to a lopsided win in Game 1.