- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Once again this year, the amazing sport of baseball was stranger than fiction, stranger than a Britney Spears trip to the hair salon, stranger even than the Jonathan Papelbon School of Dance.
So before the 2008 sign flashes in Times Square, let's look back at the Strange But True Feats of the Year:
Strangest But Truest Event Of 2007
• How the heck did this happen? Yankees rookie Chase Wright, a pitcher who had given up four home runs to the previous 673 hitters he'd faced (in the majors and minors), needed a mere 10 pitches to serve up four home runs in a row to the Red Sox on April 22. Naturally, the four hitters who bashed them had combined for only four homers all season before that, in 218 at-bats.
Strange But True Poster Boy Of 2007
• You can't beat Troy Percival's year, can you? On Opening Day in Anaheim, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch (on the soon-to-be-disproved theory that he'd retired). But six months later, that very same Troy Percival was the Cardinals' starting pitcher in the last game of the year. And by November, Tampa Bay had signed him to a two-year contract. Anybody see that coming?
Five All-Time Strange True-isms Of 2007
• Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain Dept.: Melvin Mora managed to get ejected during a rain delay of a June 28 Yankees-Orioles game. So what got him booted? He was arguing that the umpires should have started the delay while the Orioles were leading, instead of waiting until the Yankees took the lead. Another great moment in Bird Land.
• This Is Modern Managing Dept.: In an Aug. 21 game against the Royals, hyperactive White Sox magician Ozzie Guillen used five different pitchers -- in a span of five pitches. We kid you not. Ehren Wassermann got a fly-ball out. Mike Myers gave up a single on the next pitch. Ryan Bukvich allowed a single on the next pitch. Matt Thornton got a double play on the next pitch. Bobby Jenks started the next inning with pitch No. 5.
• Two for One Dept.: Meanwhile in Cincinnati, Brandon Phillips also made every pitch count -- by stealing two bases on one pitch Aug. 1 (while the Nationals were in The Shift on Adam Dunn). Dunn wound up flying out to center (over all those shifters) to end the inning. So did that Shift work, or not?
• No Stretching Allowed Dept.: The White Sox managed to do something on May 31 that no other team since 1900 has ever done, according to the Elias Sports Bureau -- lose a game in which the opposing team (Toronto) had no baserunners. How'd that happen? The Blue Jays got two hits -- both solo homers -- and no other hits, walks, HBPs or any other kind of event that might have caused Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle to throw a single pitch from the stretch.
• Two Days in May Dept.: On back-to-back May nights in the same ballpark, the Padres and Braves unfurled a matchup of two starting pitchers with 532 combined wins (Greg Maddux versus John Smoltz) 24 hours after a matchup of pitchers with exactly one win (Justin Germano versus Anthony Lerew).
Five October Strange True-isms Of 2007
• Just for Starters Dept.: We should have known what kind of World Series we were in for when the first inning of Game 1 featured a leadoff homer by a fellow who hadn't hit a leadoff homer all year (Dustin Pedroia) -- off a pitcher who hadn't allowed a leadoff homer since 2004 (Jeff Francis).
• Just Getting Warmed Up Dept.: The Red Sox had a longer winning streak in the postseason (seven games) than they had at any point in the regular season (five games).
• October Sky Dept.: Even more amazingly, the Red Sox scored 11 runs or more in three straight postseason games (Games 6 and 7 of the ALCS, Game 1 of the World Series). Before that, they'd done that once in all 107 of their regular seasons combined. But heck, that's only about 16,500 games.
• No Experience Needed Dept.: When did we know the Rockies were officially out of control this October? Game 2 of the NLCS was saved by a pitcher who had never saved a big league game before (Ryan Speier). And their biggest hit of Game 4 was a two-run single by a hitter who had never driven in a big league run before (Seth Smith).
• Infield Fly Rule Dept.: After arriving in the Bronx in August, Joba Chamberlain pitched 24 innings, faced 91 hitters, blew zero leads, gave up only one earned run and threw just one wild pitch. Then the dreaded Lake Erie midges came into his life (not to mention his nostrils, eyeballs and earlobes) in October -- and six hitters into his postseason career, he'd already blown a save, given up an earned run and thrown two wild pitches. So where was the Sultan of Swat when the Yankees really needed him?
More Strange But True Insanity
• He Was Just 17 Dept.: Billy Wagner collected his 17th save of the year in the 17th inning of a July 7 Mets-Astros game -- an inning that took him (what else?) 17 pitches.
• Fab Four Dept.: The Cardinals scored in precisely four innings during their entire four-game series with the Padres, Aug. 6-9 -- and still managed to win three out of four.
• Wearing Gloves for No Apparent Reason Dept.: The fielders could have gone out for a pizza when Ryan Howard came to the plate from June 24-29 -- since he made 20 consecutive plate appearances without hitting a ball that landed on the field. That's two homers, five walks and 13 strikeouts if you're scoring at home.
• Road Wearier Dept.: Those Rockies might have looked unbeatable in September and October. But in June? Uh, not so much. They embarked upon the road trip from hell on June 22 -- a trip in which they A.) lost four straight games in which they held a lead in the ninth inning or later, B.) lost three straight games in which Troy Tulowitzki hit a home run to give them the lead in the ninth inning or later and C.) lost every game in which they made the mistake of giving up a run. (They were 1-0 on the trip when they threw a shutout, 0-9 when they didn't.)
• Life Is a Coaster Ride Dept.: That innovative Phillies pitching staff ripped off a three-game stretch in June in which it gave up no runs, then 17, then zero again.
• His Life Was Also a Coaster Ride Dept.: Maybe the Phillies should have traded for Mariners rookie Ryan Feierabend. He made three straight starts in June and July in which he gave up nine, zero, then 10 runs.
• Not Him Again Dept.: You think Padres pitcher Chris Young was rooting for Tony Clark to sign with an American League team this winter, or what? Young gave up a home run to the third batter he faced this year -- a gentleman named Barry Bonds. Between that swing and Aug. 15, Young faced 518 hitters and allowed three home runs -- all of them by Clark.
• Small Ball Dept.: Are home runs overrated? The Angels went three full weeks without a home run, from July 1-22. And in the middle of that, guess who won the Home Run Derby at the All Star Game? An Angel, of course (Vladimir Guerrero).
• Only in Tampa Bay Dept.: Carlos Pena lofted three batted balls off those pesky Tropicana Field catwalks in the same series against the Twins in May. He clanked a foul ball and a single off the infield catwalks one night. Then the next night, after the mysterious arrival of a mannequin wearing a Twins uniform up there on an unoccupied catwalk, Pena did it again. This time the human catwalk magnet whomped a game-winning homer off an outfield catwalk. This is stuff that could never happen in Wrigley, friends.
• Now That We've Got That Out of the Way Dept.: In an Aug. 10 Phillies-Braves game, Cole Hamels gave up four runs in the top of the first inning, Chuck James gave up four in the bottom of the first, and then neither of them allowed a hit the rest of the night. James went six innings. Hamels went seven.
• Crazy Eights Dept.: After the White Sox scored eight runs against the Yankees in the top of the second inning Aug. 2, what do you think the Yankees did? Score precisely eight in the bottom of the second. Of course.
• Comeback of the Year Dept.: A man who had gotten just 50 at-bats in the previous four seasons (Josh Hamilton) outhomered the entire Yankees outfield in April, 6-3.
• They Say It's Your Birthday Dept.: In the Rangers' Aug. 3 game against Toronto, a pitcher born on Dec. 24, 1974 (Kevin Millwood) pitched the first four innings. He was relieved by a pitcher also born on Dec. 24, 1974 (Jamey Wright), who pitched the next four innings. No one born on any other day in the history of the universe threw a pitch for the Rangers that day.
• Anybody Got a Map to First Base Dept.: That always-creative Richie Sexson went 69 at-bats, 78 plate appearances and 20 games before he managed to hit his first single of the season.
• Strange Brew Dept.: How tough is this? In an April 10 game against the Marlins, Prince Fielder reached base seven times (four hits, three walks) -- but never scored a run.
• Stranger Brew Dept.: But that was just a clue to how innovative those zany Brewers could be at their finest. In June, they became the first team in history to get 22 hits in one game and then no hits the next.
• Strangest Brew Dept.: And during that no-hitter (against Justin Verlander), Bill Hall became the second player in history to bat at least three times and reach base in all of them (on three walks) while everyone else on his team was busy getting no-hit.
• Farm Land Dept.: In the whacked out California League, a three-game series between the Lancaster Jet Hawks and the Lake Elsinore Storm produced a 30-0 game one day, a four-homer game the next day (by Lancaster's Alan Bates), a cycle the next day (by Lake Elsinore's Yordany Ramirez) and a total of 83 runs, 95 hits and 23 home runs in one series.
• Why We Love Baseball, Chapter 8,946, Dept.: There were two 1-0 games in the big leagues on May 9. In one of them (Cubs 1, Pirates 0), the only run scored on a leadoff homer in the first inning by Alfonso Soriano. In the other (Orioles 1, Devil Rays 0), the only run scored on a walk-off homer in the 10th inning by Aubrey Huff. What are the odds?
• Tuesdays With Mornie Dept.: There wasn't much doubt which day of the week was Justin Morneau's favorite. Morneau erupted for two-homer games on three straight Tuesdays in May. In between, he hit one home run on all those other days of the week.
• National Guard Dept.: Normally, there wouldn't be anything strange about a pitcher whose first four career starts were all against teams from the National League. Except that the pitcher who did that was Andrew Miller, who happened to play for an American League team (the Tigers) at the time.
• Who Needs the DH Dept.: It was just another year in the life of the Don't Call Us Devil Rays. Their DHs combined to bat .239 -- which was 125 points lower than their pitchers (who hit .364 in interleague play).
• 600 Club Dept.: Ya ever think some things are just meant to be? Sammy Sosa's 600th homer came against the only team in the big leagues he'd never homered against -- the Cubs. And he hit it off the first guy to wear his No. 21 since he left the Cubs -- Jason Marquis. Spooky.
• Can't Finish What You Start Dept.: The White Sox gave new meaning to that expression, "you've gotta get 'em early." They went 0 for 61 against opposing relief pitchers over eight games, from May 27 to June 3.
• One and Done Dept.: What was the most mathematically impossible pitching feat of the year? Kiko Calero marched into a July 12 A's-Twins game, threw just one pitch, gave up a hit and still worked 2/3 of an inning. So how'd he do that? Torii Hunter singled into a double play (Morneau thrown out at third, Hunter nailed trying to get to second). Beautiful.
• One and Really Done Dept.: Our other favorite one-pitch wonder was Antonio Alfonseca, who threw one pitch in a spectacular July 29 appearance -- and got a strikeout of it. (He inherited a 1-2 count after Ryan Madson got hurt.)
• Mission Control Dept.: Yankees rookie Edwar Ramirez had a July 20 outing in which he threw 19 pitches -- only two of them for strikes. And one of those two was mashed for a grand slam by fabled .179 hitter Dioner Navarro.
• Out-free Dept.: Reds rookie Phil Dumatrait gave up three homers, but got zero outs, in a Sept. 9 start against. Milwaukee. Think that's easy? Trevor Hoffman faced 235 hitters this year, got 172 outs, and only gave up two homers.
• Walk This Way Dept.: A free pass, huh? Tell it to the Cubs' Ronny Cedeno. He got thrown out April 20 trying to advance from first to second on a walk. (Tried to steal. Overslid the bag.) Oops.
• Feels Like We Forgot Somebody Dept.: For the first time in franchise history, seven different Yankees homered in one game on July 31 -- and none of them was the guy who led the major leagues in homers this year, A-Rod.
• Happy Halladays Dept.: Roy Halladay knocked off a four-start stretch in August and September in which his innings pitched went: 9, 8, 9 and 8. Just as we all expected, he came out of that with two complete games. Just as nobody expected, neither of the nine-inning starts counted as a CG, because they both went extra innings. But he did get complete games out of the two eight-inning starts because they were both losses on the road. Go figure.
• Why'd He Hit Ninth Dept.: Not once from 1954 through 2006 -- that's 53 seasons -- did any pitcher have two four-hit games in the same season. Then Arizona's astounding Micah Owings had two four-hit games in six weeks (Aug. 18 and Sept. 29), with three extra-base hits in each of them. That gave him more four-hit, three-XBH games in a month and a half than Gary Sheffield, David Ortiz or Ryan Howard have in their whole careers.
• Sum of All Fears Dept.: And for the 10th straight year since the release of "Good Will Hunting," the Red Sox lost on Ben Affleck's birthday (Aug. 15).
Strange But True Game Of The Year, Century & Millennium
This all happened, in real life, in the Rangers' 30-3 win over the Orioles on Aug. 22:
The Orioles' bullpen gave up 24 earned runs. How hard is that? The Red Sox bullpen gave up 18 earned runs in the entire month of July.
The Rangers hadn't scored 30 runs in a series in their past 54 series. Then they scored 30 in one game.
The Rangers hadn't scored 16 runs in any of their previous 372 games. But they rang up 16 just in the last two innings.
And somehow, some way, the Rangers scored 30 runs in a game in which they had more innings in which they didn't score (five) than innings in which they did (four). And that, like every other item in this column, has been certified as 100 percent genuine, factual and true.
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 available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.
20hJesse Rogers and Jerry Crasnick
20hTony Lee, Special to ESPN.com