The forgotten strikeouts

Ben Sheets and Brad Lidge set two strikeout records in the same game. Too bad it nearly wasn't noticed.

Originally Published: June 20, 2004
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Special KKKKs of the month
What if somebody set a record and nobody noticed?

Better yet, what if two pitchers in the same game both set records and nobody noticed?

Well, that isn't quite what happened June 13 in Milwaukee. But just about.

Brad Lidge
Lidge

Ben Sheets
Sheets

If you attended that game, between the Astros and Brewers, you got two strikeout records for the price of one. In the third inning, Brewers starter Ben Sheets became the 37th pitcher in history to strike out the side on nine pitches. In the seventh, Astros reliever Brad Lidge became the 45th to whiff four hitters in one inning.

So that's two official records -- both of them about as unbreakable as records get -- on the same day in the same ballpark. Can't beat that. Except for one little technicality:

If you weren't keeping score, you would have had no idea either of them ever happened. And that's not good, because if you ever look around, you'll notice nobody keeps score anymore.

"That's not true," Astros broadcast-humorist Jim Deshaies told Really Wild Pitches. "Barbara Bush does. She always keeps score. Every game. So if that ever happens at our park, Mrs. Bush will stand up and cheer -- but she might be the only one, because she's the only one in the park keeping score."

Exactly. And here's the proof she might be the only one: Even the guy writing the wire story for the Associated Press didn't notice that Sheets set his record. So it never even was mentioned in the national game story.

"It's one of those after-the-fact kind of records," Deshaies said. "You wake up, read the paper and tell everybody, 'I was there.' "

Well, not if that paper you read had an AP story, you didn't. But we get the idea.

At least that four-whiffs-in-an-inning record is a little more noticeable. But not much. So we feel for the thousands of people who witnessed two slices of history that day and had no clue they'd witnessed either of them. But heck, it's not their fault. And if they need to lash out and blame it on somebody, we have just the culprit:

Bernie Brewer.

Your average fan needs help these days in recognizing some of this esoteric stuff that appears before his eyes. So if you can't count on the local mascot to rise up and whip his fans into a history-minded frenzy, what's the point?

But what was old Bernie doing while these records were unfolding?

"Nothing at all," Deshaies reported. "He was up there drinking beer, handicapping the sausage race and doing the polka."

That, however, didn't come as a surprise to Deshaies. He figured out what Bernie was all about years ago.

"He's more of an offense-minded guy," said Deshaies, who once made strikeout history himself by fanning the first eight hitters in a game. "He's a mascot of our era. We needed a Turn Back the Clock era mascot -- Mr. Met or somebody like that. Mr. Met reached his heyday in a pitching-rich organization, so Mr. Met would understand these records more than Bernie did."

Bernie, on the other hand, grew up in the mash-and-bash age of the 1982 Brewers, of Harvey's Wallbangers fame. So "I don't see him ever being into these pitching-type feats," Deshaies said, sadly. "He's a big, burly, swash-buckly, beer-guzzling kind of guy."

What Deshaies would like to have seen was Bernie whooshing down his slide for all nine pitches of Ben Sheets' historic inning. And all four strikeouts by Lidge in his inning for the ages. Instead, zilch.

"Bernie needs to show a little more life up there," Deshaies said. "I mean, how many home runs get hit a game where he has to go down that slide? Two? Three? Four?"

Precisely. But those home runs are all Bernie seems to care about. The game is more complicated now, more sophisticated, more intellectual. But apparently, that's a wave that has left poor Bernie behind.

"Bernie is so old-school," Deshaies complained. "He's an offense-minded guy, but he's not a Moneyball guy. He's not into that on-base percentage stuff. And he's not into any of this pitching stuff -- WHIP, catcher's ERA, none of that kind of stuff. Bernie's just a creature from another time."

Fortunately, here in this time, you have ESPN and ESPN.com -- and even Really Wild Pitches to keep you up on these futuristic developments. But we can't always be with you while you're watching history unfold. So the best advice we can offer you is:

Fan-atic of the month
We're not sure exactly when Reds dynamo Ryan Freel became one of our favorite players. But it might have been May 15 -- the night he was playing right field in Los Angeles and decided he was going to catch a foul ball.

Ryan Freel
Freel

Despite the fact that it was going to land about 100 rows up in the seats.

And there was a big wall in his way.

Didn't stop Freel from roaring over, launching himself over that wall and landing in the lap of an elderly woman in the third row. The woman, in turn, had to be carted off to a hospital with injuries that turned out not to be serious.

But that, we've discovered was just a typical day in the life of a man who rolled off the Rex Hudler assembly line. Freel believes every ground ball he hits is a potential double -- or at least he runs to first that way. And when you give him a glove, he believes every ball hit -- anywhere -- is one he can catch.

"Ryan Freel is out of control," teammate Danny Graves told Really Wild Pitches. "When we see him running after balls, we close our eyes. Sometimes, when he's playing right field, he wants to catch foul balls behind the plate.

"We have to give him a shot or something to calm him down. Maybe Valium. Or a sleeping pill."

Be like Barbara Bush. Let your spouse sky-dive. And always keep score.

Injuries of the month
Third prize: Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson reached down to pick up his son's toy and twisted his knee.

Second prize: Your minor-league winner is Nashville pitcher Jason Boyd, who gave up a game-losing home run, bent down and punched out the pitching rubber and broke his hand. He's out about two months.

First prize: Poor Brewers third baseman Wes Helms was waiting out one of those daily rain delays in San Juan before a game with the Expos, went outside to check out the conditions, slipped in the tunnel, blew out his knee and needed knee surgery.

"It took a forklift to get him back up. I'll tell you that," Brewers coach-witticist Rich Donnelly told Really Wild Pitches. "He's a big man. The only good thing about that injury is that there's a lot more food now for the guys after the game."

Schneid-buster of the month
It happened on a day eight months ago. Josh Paul, then a catcher for the Cubs, was standing in the outfield in Wrigley Field with his buddy, Doug Glanville, shagging flies before a Cubs playoff game. And then they noticed something very different.

The hallowed ivy of Wrigley Field wasn't green anymore. It was red.

That, of course, was because it was October. Which is a month when the Cubs haven't played many baseball games. Which means very few Cubs have ever played in front of red ivy.

Sensing there might be something meaningful about that shade of flora (or was it fauna?), Paul tore off a piece of red ivy and slipped it into his cap. Maybe, he figured, there was some symbolic link between red ivy and the Cubs' last World Series victory, back somewhere around the Abraham Lincoln administration.

Oh, well. Guess not. But well worth a try.

So flash-forward with us to this year. Paul catches for the Angels now. But when June arrived, not only did he not have a World Series ring. He also didn't have a hit this year.

In fact, as many of you loyal readers have pointed out, he was the only player in baseball who was on an Opening-Day roster and still didn't have a hit. But finally, on June 9, he broke that 0-for-the-year thing with a two-hit game against the Brewers. And that made him the official winner of our annual Last Guy To Get A Hit competition.

But why did it take so long? His pal, Glanville, says it's all the red ivy's fault.

"From what I understand about the red ivy," Glanville told Really Wild Pitches, "those who touch it have a 50-percent chance of having the curse passed on to them. That is the only way the Cubs can make the postseason: The curse must be passed on to someone or something. The red ivy is its conduit. Josh took the fall so we could make it to the NLCS last year.

"The curse," Glanville went on, "can appear in many forms. You can actually turn into a goat. You can hear Ozzy Osborne's version of the seventh-inning stretch perpetually in your head. You can be forced to hit the whole season with glasses that matched the beloved Harry Caray's prescription. Or you wouldn't get any hits until June. Clearly Josh got the curse that made sure that he didn't get any hits for two months."

Well, that cleared that up. As for Glanville, who admits he also "frolicked in the red ivy," at least he has 13 hits this year -- "and since I have not taken goat form," he said, with an audible sigh of relief, "the curse must have skipped over me."

OK, maybe that isn't quite why any of this happened. But you never know. After all, they're the Cubs.

Perfecto of the month
What do you say after your team has just had a perfect game thrown against it?

Daddy longball of the month
And now, a Father's Day salute to baseball's father of the year (so far), Rob Mackowiak.

Rob Mackowiak
Mackowiak

It's safe to say that no player in history ever had a day like Mackowiak had for the Pirates on May 28:

11 a.m.: Wife, Jennifer, gives birth to their first child, Garrett Matthew.

8 p.m.: Hits a walkoff grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Cubs in Game 1 of a doubleheader.

11 p.m.: Hits a game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth in Game 2 and the Pirates win in the 10th.

We know, thanks to SABR's David Vincent, that no one has ever equaled the home-run half of that equation. So fortunately, we don't even need to research the childbirth half. And we don't need anybody's computer to know this was a feat that, ahem, gave birth to a beautiful new American folk hero.

"Some of us," chuckled Mackowiak's buddy, Craig Wilson, afterward, "are going to be talking to the doctor to see if we can have kids now, too."

But it turned out the next day that Mackowiak could do more than just smell a magical moment when he sensed one coming. He could pick up the scent of, well, other stuff, too.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ron Cook reports that the next afternoon, Mackowiak was visiting his wife and brand new son when he sniffed something.

"That," he said, "is when I looked at my watch and told my wife, 'It's 2:30, honey. I have to get to the ballpark.' "

Hey, who among us hasn't had a moment when we preferred changing pitchers to changing diapers? To Rob Mackowiak, we say: Keep up the good work, pal.

Sometimes, it's tough to find the right words. And after Randy Johnson's perfect game against the Braves in Atlanta last month, Arizona GM Joe Garagiola Jr. told Really Wild Pitches that he ran into a Braves usher who was overcome by that what-do-I-say-now syndrome.

Usher to Garagiola: "We'll do better tomorrow."

Garagiola to usher: "Well, I like your chances."

Clone-a-thon of the month
There are times all of us suspect we're seeing double. But during a May 14 Braves-Brewers game in Milwaukee, the number of fans who were having trouble telling one team from the other rose to pretty much record heights. By which we mean:

All of them.

That's because the promotion du jour was "Milwaukee Braves Night." So the visiting Braves wore the uniforms of the old Milwaukee Braves. And the Brewers wore the uniforms of ... well ... the old Milwaukee Braves.

Of course, the Brewers wore the home whites, and the Braves wore the road grays. But everywhere people looked, there was a Brave doing something. And there wasn't a Brewer to be found -- not without an undercover agent, anyway.

"I don't want to say our fans were getting a little confused," coach Rich Donnelly told Really Wild Pitches. "But they were doing the Tomahawk Chop."

Crazy eight of the month
When the Montreal Expos' lineup hit the dugout wall May 30, it even had the guys on the other team (the Reds) checking their eyesight prescriptions.

That, you see, is because -- for the first time since June 1, 1979 (in a game not involving Mark McGwire pursuits of Roger Maris, anyway) -- a pitcher was batting someplace other than in the No. 9 hole.

That pitcher was Tomo Ohka. His batting average for the season was a scenic .118. He was 0 for his last 13 (with five strikeouts). And his last hit was April 19. But what the heck. Manager Frank Robinson was so desperate for a way to ignite his snoozing offense, he batted Ohka eighth, ahead of second baseman Jamey Carroll.

The Dayton Daily News' Hal McCoy reports that when Reds pitcher Aaron Harang took his first look at the lineup card, he said: "That has to be a mistake."

When McCoy then informed him it was no mistake, Harang replied: "I'm asking to bat fourth for my next start. You saw my power in Cincinnati (when he hit a double off the wall May 11)."

Teammate Adam Dunn's reaction to that suggestion: "Turn the page, Dude. That was three starts ago."

But at least this idea inspired all kinds of creative thinking in that Reds' locker room.

"I told (manager) Dave Miley to bat Ken Griffey Jr. ninth in the order," said outfielder Jacob Cruz, "so he can protect the entire lineup."

Double play of the month
We don't even know how to describe the goofy 3-2-9 double play turned by the Minnesota Twins against Kansas City on May 30 -- except to say we've never seen one like that before.

We'll do our best to sum this up as succinctly as possible: Bases loaded, one out. Mike Sweeney hits a pop-up behind first base. Let the lunacy begin.

First-base ump Jeff Kellogg signals for the infield fly rule. But just as Doug Mientkiewicz prepares to gather in the pop-up, second baseman Michael Cuddyer slams into him, and the ball drops.

It's still hard to say exactly who thought the infield-fly rule had been called at this point, and who hadn't. But essentially, total chaos then busts loose.

Runners can advance at their own risk on an infield fly, even though the batter is out. So the man on first, Carlos Beltran, bursts toward second, only to find the next runner, Angel Berroa, already there, yelling: "Get back."

As Beltran is U-turning, Mientkiewicz is retrieving the ball, whirling and firing home -- unaware that Sweeney is hanging out near first base, watching to see if anybody scores. So Mientkiewicz's throw drills Sweeney right in the back, and down he goes.

"I thought I got shot," Sweeney told the Kansas City Star's Jeff Passan.

Six spot of the month
Carlos Pena has been a Tiger for less than two years now. But already, he and Ty Cobb are walking through Tigers history together.

Carlos Pena
Pena

Last year, Pena hit three home runs in one game. And last month, he got six hits in one game. According to Booth Newspapers' Danny Knobler, the only two Tigers in history to do both in a nine-inning game are Pena and Cobb. Quite a duo.

"Wow," Pena said, when informed of this feat. "Maybe we should go out for a beer."

The ball ricochets off Sweeney, right to catcher Henry Blanco, who has just arrived to back up first. So Blanco picks it up and fires to the (seriously, folks) right fielder, Jacque Jones, who has raced in to join the fun -- and cover first base. Jones then applies a sweep tag on Beltran -- for a very weird second out in a totally unprecedented double play.

"I've never seen a runner be a cutoff man," center fielder Torii Hunter told the St. Paul Pioneer Press' Gordon Wittenmeyer, astutely.

So that'll go 3-2-9 on your scorecard, with both outs at first base. Sweeney gets no credit for his "assist." And Mientkiewicz admits he had no idea what had just happened, because he didn't even know the infield fly rule had been in effect until someone told him a half-hour later.

"Honest to God, I think I'm mentally dumber than I was before the game," Mientkiewicz told Wittenmeyer. "I know less about the game now than I did before this game started."

"I" formation of the month
After Brandon Inge and Omar Infante of the Tigers hit back-to-back homers May 14, SABR's David Vincent dug through his Sultan of Swat Stats data to determine they were the first back-to-backers ever by teammates whose names begin with "I."

When informed of this prestigious honor by Booth Newspapers' Danny Knobler, Inge replied: "That's a very stupid stat, but I'll accept it. You know what? We're here to make history."

Stroller of the month
After the Brewers beat the Dodgers on May 27, seniors got to walk around the bases on Senior Stroll Day. Joining them was a guy a little too young for normal strolling eligibility -- Brewers third-base coach Rich Donnelly, age 57.

"I told (trainer) Dan Wright that if we won today, I'd do it," Donnelly told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Drew Olson -- and it turned out to be a major boon to his social life.

"I sold four season tickets, booked three appearances and I've got two Parcheesi games in Appleton," Donnelly reported. "People were talking to me, and they said, 'Where are you from?' I don't think they noticed that I was in full uni."

Youth movement of the month
They used to be one of the most recognizable teams in baseball. Now, you don't just need a media guide to recognize the Arizona Diamondbacks. You need a Tucson Sidewinders media guide.

At last look, the Diamondbacks had run through 41 players and 20 pitchers. They'd placed 12 different players on the disabled list. Eleven of their 25 active players started the season in the minor leagues. And eight weren't even on the 40-man major-league roster on Opening Day.

"We're going to have to get out some name tags here pretty soon," Steve Finley told the East Valley Tribune's Ed Price.

"I keep thinking they're going to cancel the Triple-A season here shortly," quipped Luis Gonzalez. "You (usually) mix in one or two rookies in the blend. Now, it's the total opposite. Now we're mixing in a couple of veterans."

But one good thing about this much roster turmoil: It sure provides the opportunity for a lot of firsts.

So three days in a row last week, the Diamondbacks had a player hit his first major-league homer against the Yankees -- Andy Green on Tuesday, Tim Olson on Wednesday and Juan Brito on Thursday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they're the first team since the 1980 Yankees, and fifth of all time, to have a player hit his first career home run three games in a row.

"I think we'll keep calling up guys to hit their first homer," joked manager Bob Brenly, "and then send them back down."

Technology critic of the month
The good news in Cleveland is: The Indians just spent $7 million to update their scoreboard and video board at Jacobs Field.

The bad news, if you're hitting .162, is: Those $7-million scoreboards never seem to go out of order.

"I told my wife, 'When you're not hitting and you go to the plate, it's hard to miss your batting average on the scoreboard,' " Indians catcher Tim Laker told the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes. "My wife told me, 'Just don't look at it.'

"I told her, 'It's the biggest scoreboard in North America. It's hard to miss.' "

Quotes of the month

  • From Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella, after pitcher Victor Zambrano struck out six, walked six, pitched six no-hit innings and won his sixth game of the year:

    "He should be at the dice tables in Vegas, rolling sixes."

  • From Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who became the first player of the year to work "esophagus" into a quote -- when he was revealing that a game-turning homer in Baltimore came after he got sick to his stomach following a post-lunch 45-minute cab ride to Camden Yards:

    Hunting buddy of the month
    For reasons no one has quite been able to explain, Phillies pitcher Kevin Millwood is 0-6 against his old team, the Braves, with a scary 9.10 ERA.

    Kevin Millwood
    Millwood

    When the Bucks County (Pa.) Courier Times' Randy Miller asked Millwood, after his most recent loss to Atlanta, whether he expected his one-time teammates to give him any abuse about that record when they go hunting next winter, Millwood didn't sound worried.

    "I have a gun when I'm hunting," he said.

    "It might have been 25 minutes, but it felt like an hour -- especially when you have your chicken sandwich sliding up to your esophagus."

  • From Reds first baseman Sean Casey last Sunday, after learning that Reds manager Dave Miley had reacted to an 0-5 road trip by scheduling a team meeting right after chapel Sunday morning:

    "We say our prayers at 11:25 -- and get buried at 11:45."

  • From Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, urging the media to be as short and sweet as possible after a 17-7 loss to the White Sox on May 23:

    "Hurry up, I want to go see the basketball game. The football game is over."

  • From Padres manager Bruce Bochy on May 9, after sending Kerry Robinson up to pinch-hit with two men on -- only to watch him bounce into a triple play:

    "You're thinking he's a good guy to stay out of the double play. Well, we did that."

    Piazzas to go of the month
    When baseball canceled plans to put Spiderman logos on all the bases, many people applauded. But not our favorite innovative-thinking Mets catcher, Mike Piazza.

    "I was looking forward to having the attributes of a special spider," Piazza told the Newark Star Ledger's Lawrence Rocca. "I'd be more apt to find the bag. I could shoot my web at the base and pull myself there for an infield single. It would have given me added attributes as a baseball player because of the overdose of gamma rays.

    "Oh, wait. That's the Hulk. If we do that promotion, we'll save money because we can just the use the green bases from St. Patrick's Day."

    Box score lines of the month

  • White Sox starter Jon Garland, June 9 vs. the Phillies, in a game in which he was permitted to go out to start the fifth inning after giving up seven runs the inning before:

    4 IP, 8 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 4 BB, 1 K, 3 HR, 1 WP, ERA that went from 3.79 to 4.72 in one night

    Quote of the day: After taking a few questions from the media, Garland seemed shocked the questions weren't longer -- or tougher: "That's it?" he gulped. "After that beating?"

  • Cardinals starter Dan Haren, June 10 vs. the Cubs, in a one-game-only up-from-the-minors cameo appearance:

    3 2/3 IP, 10 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 3 BB, 0 K, 1 HR, 95 pitches to get 11 outs, 7 hits in a row to end his day.

    Quote of the day: "Something freak happened," said Haren, who gave up 10 earned runs in five starts combined for the Cardinals last July.

  • Rockies starter Jason Jennings, June 5 vs. the Giants, in a nearly impossible, don't-try-this-at-home kind of win:

    5 2/3 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 7 BB, 0 K, 1 HR, 50 strikes, 49 balls.

    Stat of the day: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Jennings was the first starting pitcher to win a game of at least seven walks and zero strikeouts since Arthur Rhodes unfurled a 5-2-1-1-7-0 line for the Orioles in a win against the Brewers on Aug. 4, 1993.

    Quote of the day: "I can walk nobody ... and give up seven runs," said Jennings, after consulting his make-the-stats-work-for-you manual. "It's all about how many runs you give up, in my opinion."

  • Rangers starter Kenny Rogers, June 4 vs. the Yankees, in his personal house of horrors, Yankee Stadium:

    4 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 4 BB, 3 K and the magic number: 5 HR

    Stat of the day: Rogers became the sixth pitcher in history to give up five home runs in one game against the Yankees.

    Quote of the day: "You know, I'd like to beat them just once before I die."

    Comedians of the month
    Best of the late-night baseball humor:

  • Fourth prize: From David Letterman: "You can no longer buy Cracker Jacks at Yankee Stadium -- but you can still buy crack in the parking lot."

  • Third prize: David Letterman, on Randy Johnson's perfect game: "He retired 27 men in all -- which is a record previously held by J-Lo."

  • Second prize: From Jay Leno: "In a medical first, a baby boy was born with 21-year-old frozen sperm. I didn't even know Ted Williams was dating again."

  • First prize: From Letterman: "There's a restaurant here in New York City, in a hotel called the Parker Meridien ... and they're selling a $1,000 omelet ... and I'm thinking, well hell, if I want to spend $1,000 on a meal, I'll go to Yankee Stadium."

    Headliner of the month
    From the always-hilarious newspaper parody site, ironictimes.com:

    Bush admits he made a mistake
    "The Sosa trade was a disaster," he confesses in revealing interview

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to send Jayson a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

    Jayson Stark | email

    Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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