- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Hardly anybody has noticed, but the Orioles could be headed for one of the most unique seasons of all time. Heading into their game Wednesday (in which they blew a 5-0 lead in New York and lost, 6-5), they were last in the league in ERA (5.35) but still had a .500 record (24-24).
How hard is that to do? Well, no American League team has ever had an ERA that high and finished the season at .500 or above. And no National League team outside of the picturesque state of Colorado has done it since 1900.
You really have to go back to the 19th century to find any kind of precedent for these Orioles. Here are the six teams in history to avoid a losing record despite an ERA that high, according to Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Encyclopedia:
USELESS EXPO-MATION -- Boxscore watching doesn't get any more rewarding than the sight of Expos pitcher Tomo Ohka batting eighth in Frank Robinson's fascinating lineup for Sunday's Expos-Reds game.
Among other things, that game made second baseman Jamey Carroll a walking trivia question (i.e., who hit ninth?). Because it isn't every day you see a position player batting behind the pitcher.
In fact, according to loyal reader Dave Smith -- founder of the invaluable retrosheet.org -- this was only the fourth time, under normal circumstances, in the 35-year division-play era that a pitcher had batted anywhere except ninth. We're not counting the 77 times Tony La Russa did it in St. Louis in 1998 when he was trying to manufacture extra at-bats for Mark McGwire.
The three other times it happened:
Aug. 26, 1973 -- (Expos) pitcher Steve Renko (2-for-3) batted 7th, 2B Pepe Frias (2-for-4) 8th, catcher Terry Humphrey (0-for-3) 9th.
Sept. 23, 1976 -- White Sox pitcher Ken Brett (0-for-3) batted 8th, catcher Jim Essian (0-for-2) 9th.
June 1, 1979 -- Phillies pitcher Steve Carlton (0-for-3) batted 8th, SS Bud Harrelson (1-for-3) 9th.
Like Brett and Carlton, Ohka went hitless Sunday. But unlike all three of those guys, at least he was the winning pitcher. The other three all got a loss.
USELESS MARIANO INFO -- Mariano Rivera just became the 17th pitcher in the 300-save club. But you don't need to be a member of the Steinbrenner family to know what separates this man from everyone else in that club.
The reason Rivera is an automatic Hall of Famer has to do with a month when none of those 300 saves were accumulated -- October. Here are Rivera's October numbers, compared with the six other 300-save men with eight postseason saves or more:
USELESS CYCLING INFO -- What would you have had a better chance of doing -- picking the Powerball or picking Chad Moeller and Daryle Ward in the pool for First Two Guys to Hit for the Cycle this year?
Ward had had five previous big-league seasons with 100 or more at-bats. He'd hit for the cycle for the season in only one of them (2000).
Moeller, meanwhile, was an unlikely candidate just because he was a catcher. He was only the second NL catcher to hit for the cycle in the division-play era (joining Jason Kendall) and only the sixth overall. But he was the first catcher to hit for the cycle who had never previously had more than one triple in a season since Randy Hundley went cycling for the Cubs on Aug. 11, 1966.
USELESS VLAD INFORMATION -- Vladimir Guerrero drove in nine runs in one game Wednesday. Here are all the guys with at least 100 at-bats who hadn't driven in nine runs all season at the time:
USELESS CALL-UP INFORMATION -- It may have looked like just another item in the transaction column. But when the Phillies called up pitcher Elizardo Ramirez last month, from Class A Clearwater, it was the first time any team had called up a pitcher from A-ball in midseason since the 1986 Expos made Sergio Valdez a September call-up in 1986.
And according to SportsTicker's Wally Kent, Ramirez was the first player to be called up from A-ball in any month before September in at least the last 20 seasons. The only four position players to earn a call-up from a Class A league in that time were also recalled in September:
Rickie Weeks (Brewers), 2003, from Beloit
Josh Booty (Marlins), 1996, from Kane County
Eugene Kingsale (Orioles), 1996, from Frederick
Mike Sweeney (Royals), 1995, from Wilmington
USELESS HEE SEOP CHOI-FORMATION -- Hee Seop Choi almost pulled an all-timer last month. You don't see many guys hit their first inside-the-park homer before they hit their first double. But Choi nearly did. He thumped his first double of the year May 18, then hit an inside-the-parker the next day against the Astros.
USELESS ERIC GAGNE INFO OF THE WEEK -- And now yet one more way to put Eric Gagne's streak of 76 consecutive saves in perspective: When the Brewers' Danny Kolb blew a save against the Dodgers last weekend, it was the 24th time that the other team's bullpen had blown a save against the Dodgers, just during Gagne's streak.
USELESS DEVIL RAYS INFO -- Gotta love those Devil Rays. It took them 40 games this year to piece together their first two-game winning streak. Then, naturally, they won back-to-back games four days in a row (i.e., they won five straight games).
Only 10 other teams ever went 40 games into a season without winning two consecutive games. But just one of the previous 10 busted up that streak with a winning streak as long as Tampa Bay's. That was Pretzels Getsien's pesky 1889 Indianapolis Hoosiers, who needed 42 games to win two in a row, then won seven in a row.
And just one of the other nine -- Pinky Hargrave's 1926 Browns -- even went on to have a five-game winning streak at any point in that season.
On the other hand, Devil Rays DHs were hitting .178 this season through Wednesday. As the Boston Globe's Gordon Edes just reported, there were 22 NL pitchers with 10 or more at-bats who had a higher average than that -- and two entire pitching staffs (Mets .208 and Astros .206).
USELESS ICHIRO-MATION -- As you may have heard, Ichiro Suzuki just became the second player in history to have two 50-hit months in his career, joining only Pete Rose. According to Elias, all other active players combined have just six 50-hit months -- by Todd Helton, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Albert Pujols and (of course) Joe Randa.
The closest any of those players ever came to a second 50-hit month was 47, by Damon in August, 2000. But A-Rod nearly had two 50-hit months in a row, in July (46) and August (54) of 1996. And your best bet to join this 50-50 Club is actually Pujols, who has spent 20 full months in the big leagues -- and had one 50-hit month, plus three other 40-hit months.
USELESS PLUNK-AMATION -- If you paid attention to that Cubs-Pirates series last weekend, you might have noticed there was an amazing subplot that wasn't named Rob Mackowiak. We can sum it up in three letters:
Cubs pitchers somehow nailed Pirates hitters with a pitch an amazing 10 times in that series. They'll be honored to know that the Elias Sports Bureau reports that in the expansion era (all 44 seasons of it), that's the first time any team has ever been plunked 10 times in the same series. Send those guys a congratulatory ice pack.
Strange But True Useless Info Of The Week
How does all this happen?
In Kansas City, Tony Pena has yanked Jimmy Gobble in mid-inning in seven consecutive starts.
In San Diego, Ismael Valdez's last four starts have come in four different time zones -- Pacific (vs. the Cubs at home), Eastern (vs. the Pirates in Pittsburgh), Mountain (vs. the Rockies in Denver) and Central (vs. the Brewers in Milwaukee).
The Twins' Kyle Lohse just made six straight starts on the road.
Toronto's Justin Miller just made six straight starts at home.
And the Expos' Livan Hernandez made exactly one of his first 10 starts at Stade Olympique. But of course, we know all too well how that happened.
Finally, explain this: The Rangers went 44 games into the season without getting shut out (longer than any team in the big leagues except the still blank-proof Red Sox). Then, naturally, they got shut out in two games in a row (by the White Sox).
Elias reports that no team had gone that deep into the season without being shut out and then got shut out twice in a row, since the 1996 Yankees (by the Angels, in game started by Jason Grimsley and Chuck Finley).
UNLIKELY WIN-STREAK INFO -- The Giants had only a .400 winning percentage (16-24) before they took off on their recent 10-game winning streak. According to Elias, just three other teams in the last 15 years had won that low a percentage of their games before embarking on a double-digit winning streak:
2003 Brewers, 10 straight, started at 48-75, .390
1999 Padres, 14 straight, started at 25-39, .391
1993 Dodgers, 11 straight, started at 14-22, .389
USELESS B.S. INFO -- Nothing was automatic at Yankee Stadium on May 11, when two of the most reliable closers of our time -- Troy Percival and Mariano Rivera -- blew saves in the same inning. According to Elias, this was only the second game in history in which two pitchers with at least 250 career saves both blew a save. The other: April 4, 1996, when Dennis Eckersley (Cardinals) and John Franco (Mets) did the honors.
USELESS STREAK-OMATION -- Nobody has scored a run in more consecutive games this year than the Phillies' Bobby Abreu (who just finished a streak in which he scored in 11 straight). In fact, Abreu and his teammate, Jim Thome (10 in a row), are the only players in baseball this year with double-digit scoring streaks.
Longest scoring streaks in the division-play era, according to retrosheet.org's Dave Smith: 18 games by Kenny Lofton (2000) and 16 games by Paul Molitor (1987).
The only longer streaks by Phillies since 1969: 15 games by Lenny Dykstra (1993), 12 by Mike Schmidt in 1976 and 12 by Abreu in 2001.
Useless 1-0 Information
We recently saw two 1-0 games about as different as 1-0 games ever get. In one, (Mets at Diamondbacks, on May 12), the only run scored on a homer by the first batter in the game (Kazuo Matsui). In the other (May 28, A's at Indians), the only run scored on a walkoff homer by the last batter in the game (Casey Blake).
The Sultan of Swat Stats, SABR's David Vincent, reports there had been just four other 1-0 games in the last 25 seasons that were won on a homer by the leadoff man in the game. And one of the guys who homered is now Matsui's hitting coach (Denny Walling):
April 26, 1981 -- Denny Walling (Astros) vs. Mario Soto
Aug. 7, 1991 -- Darren Lewis (Giants) vs. Charlie Leibrandt
June 19, 1992 -- Greg Briley (Mariners) vs. Kevin Tapani
Sept. 14, 1993 -- Carlos Garcia (Pirates) vs. Chris Hammond
Meanwhile, in that Cleveland-Oakland game, Blake became only the seventh active player to hit a walkoff homer in a 1-0 game. The others, according to the Sultan:
June 16, 1997 -- Jeromy Burnitz (Brewers) vs. Alan Benes in 9th
Sept. 26, 1998 -- Alex Gonzalez (Marlins) vs. Ricky Bottalico in 13th
Sept. 20, 2000 -- Eric Karros (Dodgers) vs. Byung-Hyun Kim in 9th
May 12, 2001 -- Gary Sheffield (Dodgers) vs. Matt Whiteside in 9th
Sept. 2, 2001 -- Ryan Klesko (Padres) vs. Byung-Hyun Kim in 13th
Sept. 27, 2002 -- Paul Lo Duca (Padres) vx. Jeremy Fikac in 10th
Last AL player to do it: Scott Brosius (A's) vs. Chuck Finley on June 29, 1994.
But we're not through. On May 18 and 19, the Yankees and Mets both lost 1-0 games (to the Angels and Cardinals, respectively). According to loyal reader Jerry Beach, it was only the third time in history the Mets and Yankees had lost 1-0 games on back-to-back days. The others:
Aug. 19-20, 1968 (Yankees lose to Twins, Mets lose to Giants)
Aug. 25-26, 1973 (Mets lose to Giants, Yankees lose to A's)
And while we're on this New York-New York theme, that May 18 loss by the Yankees was part of a unique New York-New York daily double uncovered by ESPN research whiz Mark Simon.
The Yankees' loss (to Anaheim in 11 innings) marked the first time they had lost an extra-inning 1-0 game since Sept. 19, 1990. And the same night, the Mets won -- for the first time since Aug. 31, 1990 -- a game in which they trailed with two outs in the home half of the final inning, then tied and won it on hits by back-to-back hitters (Matsui and Cliff Floyd).
And the Randy Johnson perfect-game trivia keeps on coming.
Loyal reader Doug Greenwald reports that in the only two perfect games in the National League in the last 14 seasons (by Johnson and Dennis Martinez), both umpiring crews included Larry Poncino (home plate for Martinez, third base for Johnson).
Greenwald also reports that in the last four NL perfectos, both pitchers threw a complete game (Mike Hampton vs. Johnson, Mike Morgan vs. Martinez, Tim Belcher vs. Tom Browning and, Bob Hendley vs. Sandy Koufax).
Since Jason Schmidt threw a one-hitter the same night Johnson threw his perfect game, many readers have inquired about the last time there was a perfect game and a one-hitter on the same day. The answer, courtesy of Greenwald: Sept. 9, 1965, when Koufax threw his perfect game and the losing pitcher, Hendley, twirled a one-hitter.
What's Shea Hillenbrand's special place in no-hit history? Only five pitchers (Johnson, Hideo Nomo, Nolan Ryan, Jim Bunning, Cy Young) have ever thrown no-hitters in both the American and National Leagues -- and Hillenbrand has played for the winning team in two of them (with Nomo in Boston and Johnson in Arizona).
Finally, what's Robby Hammock's special place in perfect-game history? Elias' Randy Robles reports that only one catcher in history had ever caught fewer games in the big leagues than Hammack (56th game) at the time he was on the other end of a perfect game. Just Charlie Bennett (41st) game had caught fewer, back on June 12, 1880, when he caught history's first perfect game, by Worcester's Lee Richmond.
USELESS ONE-HITTER INFORMATION -- Then there was Tom Glavine, who threw the 27th one-hitter in the history of a team that has never thrown a no-hitter (the Mets). The losing pitcher in Glavine's game was Shawn Estes, who threw the Mets' 23rd one-hitter (on April 26, 2002). Jerry Beach reports that that made Estes only the second pitcher to win AND lose one of the Mets' one-hitters. The other: Glendon Rusch, who was the loser in Estes' one-hitter and the winner in the Mets' previous one-hitter (July 14, 2001).
USELESS COMEBACK INFORMATION -- The Phillies may have won the wildest game of May, when they trailed Arizona on May 2 in both the ninth inning and the 14th -- and still won. According to Retrosheet's Dave Smith, just six other National League teams in the division-play era have won games in which they were behind in both the ninth inning and any other inning after the 13th:
Sept. 20, 1970 -- Dodgers beat Astros after trailing in 9th and 14th
July 15, 1971 -- Pirates beat Padres after trailing in 9th and 17th
May 30, 1984 -- Reds beat Pirates after trailing in 9th and 14th
April 12, 1986 -- Phillies beat Mets after trailing in 9th and 14th
Sept. 28, 1986 -- Giants beat Dodgers after trailing in 9th and 16th
April 26, 1995 -- Rockies beat Mets after trailing in 9th and 14th
USELESS DIAMONDBACK INFO -- What's the Diamondbacks' biggest problem these days? Their pitchers can't throw a strike. Through Wednesday, they were on a pace to walk 688 hitters this year. And, according to Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Encyclopedia, only one NL team in history has ever walked that many hitters and finished with a winning record -- the 1911 Cardinals (75-74, despite 701 walks).
Useless Boxscore Information
DÉJÀ VU BOX-SCORE LINES OF THE MONTH -- Brad Penny just did something we've seen only a couple of times in 20 years of following epic boxscore lines -- repeat exactly the same pitching line in two straight starts (May 16 at St. Louis, May 22 vs. Arizona):
6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 HR.
BACK-TO-BACK BOX-SCORE LINES OF THE MONTH -- Nobody fills up more columns in those box scores than Devil Rays pitcher Victor Zambrano. How about these two lines:
May 15 vs. Cleveland -- 1 1/3 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 7 BB, 1 K, 1 HR, 72 pitches to get 4 outs.
May 20 vs. Boston -- 4 2/3 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 9 BB, 8 K, 1 HR, 1 HBP, 132 pitches to get 14 outs.
So over two starts, this guy ...
Gave up 12 earned runs on only eight hits (hard to do).
And had almost many walks (16) as balls put in play (17).
And issued more walks over two starts (16) than any pitcher since Tim Wakefield walked 19 over two equally mind-boggling outings on April 22-27, 1993.
And became, according to the Devil Rays, only the third pitcher in the last 18 years to throw that many pitches without going at least five innings. The others: Cal Eldred (134 in 4 2/3 on July 2, 1993) and Dwight Gooden (132 in 4 2/3 on Sept. 3, 1996). Special Devil Rays citation: Wilson Alvarez (threw 131 in 4 2/3 on May 28, 1999).
And, altogether, fired 204 pitches just to get 18 outs. For comparison's sake, Greg Maddux has gotten 42 outs in his last 204 pitches (which would be 133 percent more than Zambrano got).
Useless Hinterland Information
Attention Fernando Tatis: Out there in the independent Central League, Jackson Senators right fielder Tommy Bost just did something that only one big-leaguer (Tatis) has ever done. He hit two grand slams in the same inning. But Bost also hit a three-run homer later in that game, giving him 11 RBI. Which, by the way, is more than twice as many as he has accumulated in all his other games this season combined (5, in the other 20).
If there is one pitcher those Greensboro Bats, of the Class A South Atlantic League, don't want to see coming, it's Dodgers prospect Chuck Tiffany, of the Columbus Catfish.
On May 3, Tiffany pitched five hitless innings in a combined no-hitter against the not-very-aptly name Bats. Then, on May 20, in his next start against them, he threw a 12-strikeout perfect game. They were Tiffany's first two professional wins. But he's really slipping. In his third win, Tuesday vs. Charleston, he gave up one hit (in five innings).
The Orioles can hit, but they sure can't pitch. If they keep up the routine, they could be in for an historic year.