Commentary

Strange But True year in review

Originally Published: December 31, 2008
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Once again this year, the always-inventive sport of baseball was stranger than Amy Winehouse, stranger than the plot of "Knight Rider," even stranger than Plaxico Burress' night life.

So before the Rose Bowl parade bursts into full bloom, let's look back on our favorite Strange But True Feats of 2008.

STRANGEST BUT TRUEST HALL OF FAME FEAT OF THE YEAR

• We've always thought that nobody was a bigger threat to stretch a home run into a single than that fabled sprint champ, Bengie Molina. But this year, the Giants' always-innovative catcher did something even more impossible:

Bengie Molina

Molina

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, lead-foot-itude and modern technology. But it happened, all right. Here's how:

On Sept. 26, 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 trotted out to pinch-run 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 they ruled 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? Our buddy, Andy Baggarly, of the San Jose Mercury News, checked in to tell us that when official scorer Michael Duca tried to enter this sequence into his computer, the computer program wouldn't let him do it -- because even computers know a guy can't hit a home run without scoring a run. Right?

So check the box score over at baseball-reference.com. It still doesn't believe this happened. But it did. In actual life. And all us Strange But True Feats of the Year fans will be eternally grateful that it did.

FIVE ALL-TIME STRANGE-BUT-TRUE-ISMS OF 2008

BEWARE OF MAD DOG DEPT.: The only Padre to steal a base in the entire month of July was that world-famous base bandit, Greg Maddux.

EQUAL TIME DEPT.: CC Sabathia tied for the lead in shutouts in BOTH leagues in the same season.

CRIME DOESN'T PAY DEPT.: Willy Taveras stole five bases in one game on June 14 -- but still didn't score a run.

SIX OF ONE, HALF-DOZEN OF THE OTHER DEPT.: Matt Holliday reached base six times in one game April 17 -- but didn't score OR drive in a run.

DÉJÀ VU DEPT.: And the Padres somehow won four games in a row in June by exactly the same score -- namely, 2-1. So how insane was that? (A) They had only one other stretch all year in which they won four games in a row by ANY score. And (B) they were the first team in history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, to win four straight games with exactly the same score of any size, shape or numerical denomination.

OCTOBER STRANGE-BUT-TRUE-ISMS OF THE YEAR

'23 SKIDOO DEPT.: Here's why columns like this exist: In Game 2 of the World Series, the Rays became the first team since the 1923 Giants to score two runs on RBI groundouts in one World Series inning. In Game 3, the Rays became the first team to pull off that very same feat in, oh, about 48 hours.

JEKYLL-HYDE DEPT.: Over the first 24 innings that the Red Sox played against the Rays in Fenway during the ALCS, Boston hit .186, scored five runs and got outscored 29-5. Then, naturally, after finding themselves trailing, 7-0, in the seventh inning of Game 5, they batted .563 over the next three innings, scored eight runs and became the first team in history to win an elimination game in which they trailed by seven runs.

SCOUT'S WORST NIGHTMARE DEPT.: In his first start of the postseason, sweet-swinging Phillies pitcher Brett Myers had back-to-back at-bats against CC Sabathia in which he saw nine and 10 pitches, respectively. In his next start of the postseason, Myers swung at EVERY pitch thrown (all four of them). And got three hits. Which, of course, was almost as many as he got all season (while going 4-for-58).

BIG EEE DEPT.: Rafael Furcal committed more errors in one crazy NLCS inning (three) than Omar Vizquel committed all season (two).

MIRROR IMAGE DEPT:: Finally, when the Phillies win the World Series, they really do do it with mirrors. Just check the calendar -- and the closers:

Won in:

'80 and … '08

Last out collected by a reliever wearing No.:

45 (Tug McGraw) and … 54 (Brad Lidge)

MORE STRANGE BUT TRUE MADNESS

THIS TIME IT DIDN'T COUNT DEPT.: Who was the losing pitcher in the All-Star Game? Obviously, it had to be a pitcher who didn't lose a game or blow a save all season -- Brad Lidge.

IN THE STARS DEPT.: While we're on the subject, poor Dan Uggla committed more errors on back-to-back pitches in the All Star Game (two) than he'd committed in the previous 2½ months (one). Then again, it was that kind of night. Uggla crammed three errors, three strikeouts and a double-play groundout into FIVE INNINGS of the All Star Game -- a combination unmatched by any player in history in any regular-season, postseason or All-Star Game ever played.

ONLY IN TEXAS DEPT.: The Rangers had a winning record in July -- even though their ERA for the month was a picturesque 6.63.

ONLY IN TEXAS DEPT., PART 2: The team that led the major leagues in runs scored -- yep, the Rangers -- managed to get shut out in back-to-back games in August (and did it, in a possibly related development, while its pitching staff was in the middle of giving up 44 runs in 32 innings).

EXPERIENCE IS OVERRATED DEPT.: You can't run a youth movement more enthusiastically than this: In the seventh inning of their Sept. 24 game with Colorado, the Giants became the first team since the 1983 Dodgers to field an entire lineup of nine rookies.

TIME FLIES WHEN YOU'RE THROWING STRIKES DEPT.: Rockies strike machine Aaron Cook zipped through a nine-inning complete game in just 79 pitches on July 5. Five days later, his teammate, Jorge De La Rosa, threw 90 pitches and didn't even make it out of the FOURTH inning.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Zambrano
Mike DeSisti/Getty ImagesCarlos Zambrano threw a no-hitter … in Milwaukee … against Houston. Go figure, huh?
STORM WATCH DEPT.: The National Weather Service never warned the Astros about THIS: They celebrated the arrival of Hurricane Ike in Houston by heading for Milwaukee to play the Cubs -- and then going 0-for-47 in their first 16 innings of raindrop-free at-bats against Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly. So that's a 100 percent probability of precipitation, but a zero-percent probability of getting a hit, if we've calculated this correctly.

HITLESS WONDERS DEPT.: Then again, no team in baseball made more out of its hitlessness than the Astros did in an Aug. 13 win over the Giants. The 'Stros put together a six-run sixth inning and somehow got an RBI from six different players without getting even ONE stinking hit in the inning. So how'd that happen? Two bases-loaded walks, two bases-loaded hit batters and two sacrifice flies -- and presto. Put that six on the old scoreboard.

CRAZY EIGHTS DEPT.: But for sheer hits-are-optional creativity, it was tough to beat the eighth inning of a Sept. 5 A's-Orioles game. How goofy was it? So goofy that the A's got one hit in the inning -- and scored EIGHT runs. Along the way, there were six walks, four bases-loaded walks, a hit batter and the only grand slam in the major-league lifetime of Rakin' Rajai Davis (who had entered the game that inning, as a PINCH RUNNER). Before that inning, naturally, the A's hadn't scored more than five runs in a whole GAME in 40 consecutive games. And no team had scored eight runs or more in an inning while getting just one hit (or zero) since the 1959 White Sox.

Pudge Rodriguez

Rodriguez

HARBINGER OF SPRING DEPT.: Here's how meaningful spring training is: Pudge Rodriguez bopped six homers in 39 at-bats in the spring -- and that was one more than the five he hit in 302 at-bats during the season before the Tigers shipped him off to the Yankees.

CATCH OF THE DAY DEPT.: More Pudge-iness: In a July 6 game against Detroit, Mariners catcher Jamie Burke went to the mound in the 15th inning and became the first catcher in 107 years to exit as the losing pitcher. But here's the good news: Burke did get out our man Pudge -- who got four hits that day against the Mariners' REAL pitchers.

WASHINGTON STREAKED HERE DEPT.: The Nationals had losing streaks of 12 and nine games in their first 39 games after the All-Star break. The Yankees haven't had a losing streak as long as either of those two since Sept. 21, 1982 -- which was more than 4,000 games ago.

MULTITASKER DEPT.: Not only did Carlos Zambrano pitch a no-hitter this year. He also outhomered Andruw Jones (4-3), had a higher batting average than the AL batting champ (Zambrano .337, Joe Mauer .328) and had a hitting streak (a 13-gamer) longer than Joe DiMaggio's -- well, in days, anyway.

LOST CONTACT DEPT.: Nationals pitcher Jason Bergmann blew away the two most esoteric records of the year. He made it to the plate 42 times -- and failed to reach base via a hit or walk in ANY of them. He broke two exalted records in the process -- (1) most plate appearances without a hit or walk (previously set by Vicente Palacio, 36, in 1994) and (2) most official walkless and hitless at-bats (previously set by Hackin' Hal Finney, 35, in 1936).

TRIPLE THREAT DEPT.: After going triple-less in his first 521 at-bats of the year, Seattle's Adrian Beltre came to the plate in the eighth inning on Sept. 1 needing a triple for the cycle -- and, of course, hit a triple.

MATH MAJOR DEPT.: Angels rookie Sean Rodriguez will never forget his Sept. 4 strikeout against the Tigers -- because it came on a 4-and-2 pitch, when everybody lost track of the count, including the umpires AND Rodriguez. "That's a new trick of ours," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland.

[+] EnlargeFelix Hernandez
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesThe Mets gave up two grand slams this season -- both against pitchers. Felix Hernandez, an AL pitcher at that, had one.
DAMN SLAM DEPT.: Mets starting pitchers gave up just two grand slams this season. And they were both to PITCHERS -- a June 23 stunner by the Mariners' Felix Hernandez off Johan Santana and a Sept. 22 bomb by the Cubs' Jason Marquis off Jonathon Niese. How unlikely was Hernandez's shot? Off-the-charts unlikely. It was the first slam by an AL pitcher in the history of interleague play -- and it came off the bat of a guy who has been to the plate eight other times in his career and put the ball in play only TWICE.

FISH FOOD DEPT.: In the Marlins' first 150 games of the year, they scored at least 14 runs in a game twice -- and lost both games. In the history of the franchise before that, they'd never lost a game in which they scored that many runs (19-0).

FILM AT 11 DEPT.: In August, Houston's Brandon Backe gave up 11 runs in a game twice in 1½ weeks. Does he even want to know that Mariano Rivera gave up 11 runs all season (in 70 2/3 innings)?

GO FIGURE DEPT.: The Angels won a July 10 game in which their ace, John Lackey, gave up 15 hits but got only 17 outs. And the Yankees won a June 7 game in which Andy Pettitte gave up 10 runs. But Red Sox rookie Charlie Zink DIDN'T get a win in an Aug. 12 game in which his team scored 10 runs for him in the first inning of the first start of his career. (More on that later.)

WHY'D THEY BOTHER DEPT.: The Braves became the first team since 1910 to come from behind in the ninth inning to tie up each of their first two games in a season -- and then went on to lose both of them.

NEVER ON SUNDAY DEPT.: Who says those Detroit Lions were the first team in history to lose on 15 straight Sundays? Heck, they weren't even the first team of the YEAR to do that. The Orioles beat them to it by losing 15 Sundays in a row -- the longest Never On Sunday losing streak since the 1960 Phillies took 16 Sundays in a row off from entering the old win column.

AIN'T THAT A SWITCH DEPT.: In a Sept. 16 game against the Red Sox, two different Rays switch-hitters (Willy Aybar and Fernando Perez) hit home runs. Which would be no big deal if they hadn't both been batting right-handed off a RIGHT-HANDED pitcher (Tim Wakefield). First time in the division-play era two switch-hitters homered from the "wrong" side of the plate in the same game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

THREE-PEAT DEPT.: Nobody took a nuttier path to October than the White Sox. Remember how they won the AL Central? By winning their last three games of the season -- against three different teams (Indians, Tigers, Twins).

ONLY AT ALTITUDE DEPT.: The Diamondbacks became the first team in history to take a 6-foot-10 pitcher (Randy Johnson) out of a game and replace him with a TALLER pitcher (6-foot-11 Jon Rauch).

ANYBODY HAVE A CALCULATOR DEPT.: In one stretch covering three games May 25-27, the Phillies scored 38 runs in 14 INNINGS. Two weeks later, the same team kicked off a stretch in which it scored 38 runs in 14 DAYS.

ZERO HEROES DEPT.: The Angels and Mariners played an April 12 game that would have caused Nolan Ryan to change the channel. The two starting pitchers, Carlos Silva and Jon Garland, faced a combined 61 hitters -- and struck out NONE of them.

HOW SWEEP IT ISN'T DEPT.: In a May 12 doubleheader against the Blue Jays, both Indians starting pitchers (Fausto Carmona and Cliff Lee) shut out Toronto for nine innings. And the Indians still didn't sweep -- because they forgot to score in Game 2 and lost 3-0 in 10 innings.

PIECES OF EIGHT DEPT.: On May 21, the Marlins beat a pitcher whose record for the year was 8-0 (Brandon Webb). Exactly two days later, they managed to LOSE to a pitcher who was 0-8 (Barry Zito).

HAPPY NEW YEAR DEPT.: During the 2007 postseason, the Rockies swept both the Phillies and Diamondbacks. So was there any doubt the Rockettes would get swept by both of them before the end of the following April?

THIS LOOKS FAMILIAR DEPT.: With some major assistance from his August trade from Cleveland to Boston, Paul Byrd made three starts in a row against the SAME TEAM -- the Blue Jays. He won the first, lost the second, won the third. Byrd's reaction after start No. 3: "I'm looking forward to facing somebody other than Joe Inglett leading off the game."

THE STRANGEST BUT TRUEST GAMES OF THE YEAR

SUSPENDED ANIMATION DEPT.: Thanks to the miracle of the literal-minded suspended-game rule, this Orioles-White Sox game was played in two installments, four months apart, and produced all sorts of semi-impossible developments for us Strange But True devotees: Orioles rookie Luis Montanez got credit for the first hit of his career on April 28 -- even though he didn't make it to the big leagues until Aug. 5. And the box score says he got that hit in Chicago, even though he's never played there. Orioles pitcher Alberto Castillo won his first big-league game on April 28, even though he didn't arrive in the majors until July 8. Baltimore reliever Rocky Cherry collected his first save 3½ months before he became an Oriole. And when Junior Griffey walked for the White Sox, it technically enabled him to reach base for two teams in the same day. (He also singled for the Reds on April 28. And look at the mess that dumped in the hands of our ESPN.com day-by-day compilers, who had to convince our computers he got traded to the White Sox for the afternoon.) Sheez, is there a more fun rule in the whole rule book than that suspended-game fine print?

[+] EnlargeFenway Park scoreboard
AP Photo/Michael DwyerThe Red Sox scored 10 in the first. Ah, but that was just the beginning. The Red Sox won … 19-17.
HEY 19 DEPT.: How insane was this Aug. 12 extravaganza between the Red Sox and Rangers? The Red Sox took a 10-0 lead in the first inning, were actually LOSING (15-14) by the sixth inning and then won anyway, 19-17. The Red Sox scored 10 runs in the first for rookie starter Charlie Zink -- and he didn't get a win out of it. Meanwhile, Texas starter Scott Feldman gave up 12 runs in 2 2/3 innings -- BUT DIDN'T LOSE. (Which, by the way, made him the first starting pitcher to give up 12 and avoid losing since 1918.) And the Rangers' loss screwed up a 522-game winning streak by AL teams that had scored 17 runs or more in one game.

LET'S PLAY 18 DEPT.: Every once in a while, there's a game that seems as if it's played only for the sake of us Strange But True historians. This 18-inning May 25 whopper between the Reds and Padres was one of them. The Reds used FOUR members of their starting rotation just in this game. One of those starters, Aaron Harang, piled up more strikeouts in his four innings out of the 'pen (nine) than he racked up in any of his 29 starts this year. The Reds blew more saves just between the eighth and 11th innings (three) than they'd blown all season before that (two). The Padres had a different pitcher on the mound to start every inning between the sixth and 11th. The Reds managed to do something they hadn't done in almost 60 years -- get 21 hits in one game and lose. (Last time they did that: June 8, 1949.) And just for fun, Adrian Gonzalez ended it all with the National League's first 18th-inning walk-off since 1989.

CHANGE FOR A 20 DEPT.: But the heck with that game. This April 17 marathon (Rockies 2, Padres 1, in 22 innings) was the extra-inning blockbuster of the year. Neither team scored until the 14th inning. Seven different pitchers batted. The Rockies struck out 20 times and won. Brad Hawpe became the first man in 35 years to go 0-for-22 innings but still drive in a run (on a sac fly). Troy Tulowitzki wound up with a multi-hit game despite starting his evening 0-for-the-first-19 innings. And each catcher -- Yorvit Torrealba and Josh Bard -- caught all 22 innings. Afterward, that wacky Torrealba actually said he was sorry this thing went "only" 22. "I want to catch eight more," he told the Denver Post's Troy Renck. "I wanted to get 30 innings in today."

Hey, him and us both.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com