- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Top five injuries of the half year
Fifth prize (TKO division): Phillies third baseman Abraham Nunez was minding his own business in the batter's box May 23 when Marlins catcher Miguel Olivo unleashed a throw to second base, inadvertently conked Nunez in the jaw and knocked him out of the next two games with a concussion.
Fourth prize (coaching staff division): So which is more hazardous to your health -- fitness or recreation? Well, Brewers manager Ned Yost tried the fitness route by jogging to Wrigley Field -- only to trip on some loose concrete and break his collarbone. Meanwhile, Devil Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey tried to sneak in a little golf last month -- only to be attacked by his own errant shot, which ricocheted off a curb and drilled him in the eyebrow. He needed surgery for a detached retina.
Third prize (beware of Fox Sports division): Yankees manager Joe Torre loves to complain about ESPN. But clearly, it's Joe Buck and Tim McCarver he needs to keep his eye on. Twice in three weeks, the Yankees started rookie pitchers on a Saturday afternoon Fox game -- and had both of them break some kind of bone when they got nailed by rockets back to the mound launched by the second batter of the game. Jeff Karstens broke a leg. Darrell Rasner broke his right index finger. Neither has thrown a pitch for the Yankees since.
Second prize (pain in the buttocks division): For what turned out to be obvious reasons, the Nationals were a little vague about an injury suffered last month by reliever Jesus Colome. It was first described as "a soft tissue injury in a lower right extremity." But later, the team fessed up and admitted Colome was suffering (literally) from a dreaded "abscess on his right buttock," which actually landed him in the hospital for more than a week. "It's a serious situation," GM Jim Bowden told the Washington Post's Barry Svrluga. "We pray for his buttocks and his family."
First prize (thrill of the grill division): You know it's been a year for creative injuries when Cubs reliever Bobby Howry could wrench his back trying to carry a gas grill across his patio and have it not even be the No. 1 barbecuing injury of the year. Pirates pitcher Ian Snell fired up that one last month -- when he had a little mishap while grilling up some chicken, burned the tip of his index finger and had to miss a start. Fortunately, Tom Gorzelanny filled in for him, beat the Mariners and announced afterward: "Ian owes me dinner for this -- takeout."
Box score lines of the half year
Amazingly, Mariners rookie Ryan Feierabend cranked out these three lines in back-to-back-to-back starts:
• June 22 vs. the Reds: 2 2/3 IP, 6 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 5 BB, 2 K, 2 HR, 84 pitches to get 8 outs (final score: Reds 16, Mariners 1)
• June 27 vs. the Red Sox: 5 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K (final score: Mariners 2, Red Sox 1)
• July 3 vs. the Royals: 1 1/3 IP, 8 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 2 HR, 61 pitches to get 4 outs (final score: Royals 17, Mariners 3)
As innovative as it was to allow nine runs, zero runs and 10 runs back-to-back-to-back, it was just as challenging to give up 10 earned runs in a game without getting even five outs. Feierabend was the first Mariner in history to do that -- and just the eighth pitcher to do it for any team in the last 50 years.
Deja vu division
What's rarer than a 14-hitter? How about the same pitcher throwing two 14-hitters in the same season?
Astros rookie Chris Sampson pulled that off with these doozies:
• April 23 vs. the Phillies: 4 IP, 14 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 HR
• June 18 vs. the Angels: 6 IP, 14 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 1 K
In the first start, Sampson became only the second pitcher in the last 65 years to give up that many hits and get that few outs. (The other: Scott Sanders -- a 16-hitter in four innings pitched -- on April 14, 1998.) In the second start, Sampson became just the second pitcher in the last 25 years to allow 14 hits or more twice in the same season. (The other: Jason Marquis, just last season.)
The wildest minor league game of the year (Lake Elsinore 30, Lancaster 0) gave us two memorable box-score lines.
In the individual competition, Lancaster's Mario Pena had the most action-packed relief outing of his lifetime: 1 1/3 IP, 8 H, 11 R, 11 ER, 3 BB, 0 K, 1 HR, 1 HBP.
But it's the combined tag-team line by his whole pitching staff that gives you the full flavor of this madness: 9 IP, 28 H, 30 R, 29 ER, 8 BB, 7 K, 6 HR, 2 HBP, 2 WP, 1 balk, 9 doubles. Try duplicating that on your Xbox sometime.
Last season, not one manager in baseball could summon up the courage to let even one of his position players make it to the mound to finish up a blowout. So we salute the Devil Rays' Joe Maddon and the Cardinals' Tony La Russa for allowing these box-score gems to unfold this season:
• Tampa Bay's Josh Wilson, June 8 vs. Florida: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, in a game in which he pinch hit in the eighth inning, then stayed in the game to pitch.
• St. Louis' Scott Spiezio, June 15 vs. Oakland: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 20 pitches, 10 strikes. The St. Louis Post Dispatch's Rick Hummel reports that the next day, Spiezio was the starting DH in Oakland, walked in the first inning and scored. After he arrived back in the dugout, he imparted this valuable lesson on his teammates: "Shows you what can happen when you walk the pitcher."
Now here's our valuable lesson to those 28 other managers out there: What was the combined ERA of Wilson and Spiezio in those games? It was 0.00, of course. And what was the ERA of all the real pitchers who pitched for their teams in those two games: 17.36. Any more questions?
There's no box-score-perusing experience cooler than the sight of a no-hit box-score line. So relive those chills and thrills by basking in these two lines one more time:
• Mark Buehrle, April 18 vs. the Rangers: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, just 27 batters faced (thanks to a pickoff of the only baserunner). Claim to fame: It was only the second nonperfecto no-hitter in which the author faced the minimum 27 hitters since a Sandy Koufax no-hitter in 1964. (The other: by Terry Mulholland, on Aug. 15, 1990.)
• Justin Verlander, June 12 vs. the Brewers: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 12 K. Claim to fame: In their previous game, the Brewers had gotten 22 hits -- making them the only team since 1900 to get 22 hits or more one game and zilch the next.
No outs in a no-hitter division
It isn't often you can look at a hitter's line in a game in which his team gets no-hit and say, "Wow." But Bill Hall's line during Verlander's no-hitter was an all-timer:
0 AB, 0 R, 0 H, 0 RBI, 3 BB
After way too much time poring through way too many no-hit box scores, we determined that Hall was only the second man since 1900 to play a whole game during a no-hitter, come to bat at least three times and not make an out. The other: Dale Long, for the Pirates, against the Cubs' Sad Sam Jones, on May 12, 1955.
More spectacular offensive box-score lines
• 4 AB, 0 R, 4 H, 1 RBI, 3 BB -- by Prince Fielder, April 10 vs. the Marlins. So what's so tough about that? How about reaching base seven times in one game -- and not scoring a run. Fielder was just the fifth player to do that in the last 50 years.
• 6 AB, 1 R, 6 H, 3 RBI, 1 walk-off triple -- by the Angels' Chone Figgins, June 18 against the Astros (during one of those aforementioned Chris Sampson 14-hitters). Figgins was the first man to end a 6-for-6 game with a walk-off hit of any kind since Jim Northrop in 1969. "I don't think I've gone 6-for-6 in a video game, let alone a big league game," he said.
More great moments in pitching lines
• Yankees reliever Colter Bean, May 4: 0 IP, 2 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 17 pitches, 4 strikes.
• Royals starter Jorge de la Rosa, May 24: 4 1/3 IP, 6 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 7 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 1 HBP, 98 pitches, 44 strikes.
• Tampa Bay's Jae Seo, May 24: 5 IP, 13 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 3 doubles, 1 triple -- in a game he actually won (13-12).
• Oakland's Lenny DiNardo, June 5: 6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 6 BB, 0 K. How hard is it to walk six, strike out nobody and give up no runs in an outing that long? Only one other pitcher in the last 30 years (Omar Olivares, in 1999) has managed that trick.
• Yankees rookie Chase Wright, April 22 in his second career start: 3 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 3 K and (in the big news of the day) 4 HR in a row. If you count his starts in the minor leagues, Wright had allowed four home runs to the previous 673 hitters he'd faced, then gave up four in 10 pitches. What a sport.
Wildest pitch of the half year
It isn't every day a pitcher can wind up, throw a pitch and have it land in the stands between the plate and first base. But Nationals rookie Matt Chico did that April 21 -- when he lost the grip on a changeup and instantly entered it in the Wildest Pitch of All Time Derby.
"Dontrelle Willis had a better chance of catching it than I did," Young chuckled. "And he was in the on-deck circle."
Debut of the half year
The good news for Cardinals rookie Brendan Ryan was, his first career home run was an extra-inning game winner against the Mets on June 26.
The bad news was, the day before, he'd tried to take a taxi to Shea Stadium -- and his cab driver took him to Yankee Stadium instead.
Eventually, he finally got to the right park. But when he did, he discovered that all the clothes hanging in his locker had been frozen by his always-hospitable teammates. So he tried warming up his clothes with a hair dryer -- and blew a circuit in the clubhouse, shorting out all the power in the office of his friendly neighborhood manager, Tony La Russa.
All of which proves it's better to be a hot hitter than a cool dresser.
Trifecta of the half year
Since we live in an era of raging do-it-yourself madness, it was only fitting that Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki pulled off the 12th unassisted triple play in history April 29. But it was the way Tulowitzki did it that got our attention.
Tulowitzki then looked up and saw Edgar Renteria heading his way, so he tagged Renteria. That was three outs. And at that point, Tulowitzki was enjoying himself so much, he fired the baseball to first baseman Todd Helton for
Uh what exactly was he firing that ball to first for?
"I guess," Tulowitzki confessed, "I was trying to be the first person to get four outs."
Walk-a-phobiac of the half year
Unlike Tulowitzki, we know one guy in baseball who has no desire whatsoever to count to four.
That's Indians pitcher Paul Byrd, a guy who went into the weekend with seven wins this year -- and just six walks (two of them intentional).
Byrd went 11 straight starts -- and more than two months -- without issuing a single unintentional walk. So halfway through his season, he was threatening to become only the second pitcher in the live-ball era to make it through a year with more wins than walks. (The other: Bret Saberhagen -- 14 wins, 13 walks -- in 1994.)
So what's Byrd's inspiration for this historic allergy to ball four? Pure fear, he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes.
"I give up so many hits," Byrd said, "I'm afraid to give up walks."
Special K's of the half year
Only the Devil Rays could crank up four straight double-figure strikeout games in one four-game series -- and still get swept (by the White Sox).
No team had done that, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, since the '72 Astros did it against the Big Red Machine. But hey, it could have been worse.
Because those four games took place at home, it meant that every fan who showed up for that series got a free pizza. We can't vouch that they were in any mood to eat it, but at least the price was right.
But for the White Sox, their work wasn't done. After feeding the masses in Tampa Bay, they moved on to Kansas City, where they were informed that if they struck out 12 times, all the Royals fans in the house would get free doughnuts.
"I told the guys, 'We go from pizza to doughnuts,'" calorie-conscious manager Ozzie Guillen told the Chicago Sun Times' Joe Cowley. "I don't know which one is worse for your health."
Rafter blaster of the half year
Only the Devil Rays, Part 2.
If Carlos Pena hadn't figured out that there's no ballpark in the world quite like Tropicana Field, he learned all he needed to know on May 2 and 3. Three times in two days, he hit balls that clattered off the Trop's ever-lurking dangling catwalks -- including one gravity-defying popup that became the fourth baseball in Trop history to go up but not come down.
"That's what -- three rafters in two games?" noted gravity fan (and manager) Joe Maddon told the St. Petersburg Times' Marc Topkin. "I think that's a modern-day baseball record. You probably want to check that with the Elias Sports Bureau."
Reunion of the half year
For the first time in 15 years, John Smoltz got to pitch against his buddy, Greg Maddux, May 9 in Atlanta. And while Smoltz got the win, Maddux got the last laugh -- by lining a hit off Smoltz in his first at-bat.
No one understands the magic of a moment like that better than Smoltz. So he took off his cap, doffed it at Maddux and bowed in salute.
Asked afterward if the sight of Smoltz's nearly bald dome had shaken him, Maddux quipped: "No. It was great. I saw the ball better."
Human fireworks show of the half year
He's the Santa Claus of baseball. Or possibly the Easter Bunny. OK, forget all that. But Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is definitely a one-man parade.
Matt Holliday ought to be the big leaguer most likely to celebrate every holiday on the calendar. Instead, Nationals public-relations whiz John Dever reports that Zimmerman's 4th of July homer this week makes five different holidays that he's commemorated by hitting a game-ending or go-ahead home run over the last two years.
For the record, that's two straight Father's Days, two straight Fourth of Julys and one Mother's Day, thanks to a game with the Marlins that started the day before Mother's Day but didn't end until Zimmerman whomped a game-winning grand slam at 1:42 a.m.
"I wish every day was a holiday," Zimmerman said. To which we can only say: Hey, don't we all?
Quotes of the half year
Top three Ichiro quotes of the half year (courtesy of the Seattle Times' Larry Stone):
• Third prize: On how his first visit to Wrigley Field reminded him of an old stadium from his youth in Japan: "It had a similar smell of fresh garbage."
• Second prize: On the Mariners' crazy schedule, which caused them to make three first-half trips to Cleveland because of a four-game April snowout: "If I ever saw myself saying I'm excited going to Cleveland, I'd punch myself in the face, because I'm lying."
• First prize: On the prospect of meeting his countryman, Daisuke Matsuzaka, for the first time in the big leagues: "I hope he arouses the fire that's dormant in the innermost recesses of my soul. I plan to face him with the zeal of a challenger."
Two more from the Pacific Rim:
• From Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima, on why it's not so bad being overshadowed by Dice-K Fever: "I am happy to be a hero in the dark."
• From Red Sox center fielder Coco Crisp, to the Boston Globe's Gordon Edes, on what it was like to watch Dice-K's first big league start from the unique vantage point of center field: "He's got a nice butt."
The five funniest quotes of the half year
• Fifth prize: From Cubs closer Ryan Dempster, on what Lou Piniella said to him during an especially brief April trip to the mound: "'He said I looked good in my pants, which was nice. I hadn't noticed."
• Fourth prize: From Giants manager Bruce Bochy, after witnessing the hero's welcome that one-time Red Sox October icon Dave Roberts got on his return to Boston: "I was hoping to get on his float from the hotel to the ballpark."
• Third prize: From Reds reliever Todd Coffey, to the Dayton Daily News' Hal McCoy, on whether there was any air conditioning in the bullpen in Philadelphia on a 96-degree night: "There is no air conditioning and no electric fans. The only fans out there are full of hot air."
• Second prize: From Twins utility wit Jeff Cirillo, on why he decided he'd better go for arthroscopic surgery on his knee: "It feels like I have a little person down there playing a little guitar on it."
• First prize: From legendary quote machine Andy Van Slyke, to Booth Newspapers' Danny Knobler, on what he thought of Tigers pitcher Jeremy Bonderman's journey to first base for an infield single that was the first hit of his career: "I've never seen an athlete get to first base hyperventilating. Even a poker player should be able to run 90 feet without hyperventilating. I thought I was going to have to revive him. I told him, 'I know CPR, but I'm not going to perform it on you.'"
Quote we can't figure out why we love
• From the Mets' Carlos Delgado, on his reaction to being informed that his May 9 homer into San Francisco's McCovey Cove gave him more Cove shots than any visiting player (three): "Useless information."
Late-night quote of the half year
• No. 7 on David Letterman's list of Top Ten Ways Paris Hilton Is Preparing For Jail: "Attending Tampa Bay Devil Rays games to get used to solitary."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and is now available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.